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James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

James Madison claimed their second FCS National Championship in school history. (Photo Courtesy of JMU via Twitter).

James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

The James Madison Dukes won their second FCS National Championship in school history after defeating the Youngstown State Penguins 28-14. The Dukes used an impressive defensive performance in which they recorded 5 sacks, forced 3 turnovers, and held the Penguins to 21 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The Dukes were playing without star linebacker Brandon Hereford due to suspension and then lost fellow linebackers Dimitri Holloway and David Ezeagwu midway through the first quarter. That makes their performance even more impressive.

The Dukes were able to get going with their special teams blocking a punt to give them a short field. Two plays later, Bryan Schor hit Jonathan Kloosterman for a 14 yard score and a 7-0 James Madison lead. The Penguins had a poor punt on their next drive and the Dukes made them pay again with Schor hitting Rashard Davis for an 18 yard touchdown on a controversial call.

Trailing 14-0, Youngstown State had a decent drive going that resulted in a 45 yard field goal attempt, but the kick never got off as the snap was fumbled. Two drives later, James Madison got big back-to-back pass plays from Schor to Davis (33 yards) and Domo Taylor (31 yards). The drive resulted in Khalid Abdullah punching it in for a 21-0 lead.

The Penguins did get a late first half score thanks in large part to a partially blocked punt that set up Hunter Wells hitting Shane Kuhn for a 17 yard touchdown. That made it 21-7 at halftime with the Dukes holding a commanding yardage edge of 208-88 after 30 minutes.

The Penguins started the second half with the ball, but a fluke interception (video below) gave the ball back to James Madison.

YSU committed two defensive pass interference penalties on the drive and Abdullah ran it in from 2 yards out to extend the lead to 28-7. The Penguins mounted another solid drive, but a snap over the head of Nathan Mays was recovered by JMU’s Darrious Carter. The Penguins next drive required a fourth and 12 conversion, but the potential touchdown was broken up and the Dukes took over.

James Madison controlled the contest for the remainder of the game with Youngstown State scoring a garbage time touchdown. Wells found Jermiah Braswell for a 7 yard score to close the game out 28-14.

The Penguins were led by Wells who threw for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, but he was harassed for most of the game. Jody Webb had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with 10 catches for 63 yards while Alvin Bailey finished with 7 receptions for 68 yards.

It was not a spectacular offensive performance from the Dukes, but it did not have to be. They were efficient with Schor going 7 of 12 passing for 112 yards with 2 touchdowns and no picks along with 36 yards on the ground. Abdullah, who was named Most Outstanding Player, had 101 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing on 26 carries. The Dukes committed no turnovers.

James Madison won their first title back in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21 with Mickey Matthews as head coach. This time it was Mike Houston in his first season leading the Dukes to a national title and a 14-1 overall record for the 2016 season.

2017 FCS National Championship Preview

The 2017 FCS Championship will be determined on January 7, 2017 between Youngstown State and James Madison.

Note: This is the National Championship preview following the 2016 FCS Season.

2017 FCS National Championship Preview

The FCS season has just one game left and it is the National Championship between the Youngstown State Penguins (12-3) and James Madison Dukes (13-1). Both teams have had tough roads to get here and are deserving of their spot in the National Championship.

The FCS National Championship will be played on Saturday, January 7 at Toyota Stadium from Frisco, Texas. The game will be shown on ESPN2 with a kickoff time of 12 PM Eastern.

Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 19-3. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.

First Round Predictions (7-1)

Second Round Predictions (7-1)

Quarterfinal Predictions (4-0)

Semifinal Predictions (1-1)

Below is the 2017 FCS National Championship game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.

Youngstown State Road To The National Championship

First Round: Defeated Samford 38-24 at home

Second Round: Defeated #3 Jacksonville State 40-24 on the road

Quarterfinals: Defeated Wofford 30-23 at home in 2 overtimes

Semifinals: Defeated #2 Eastern Washington 40-38 on the road

Youngstown State Penguins Preview

The Penguins opened the playoffs with a comfortable 38-24 win over Samford and then had a great game plan against Jacksonville State (force Eli Jenkins to throw) and won 40-24 to reach the Quarterfinals. They won a hard-fought game at home versus Wofford 30-23 in double overtime and then played a wild contest out west at Eastern Washington. Kevin Rader’s catch against the defender’s back gave YSU the 40-38 win and the berth in the title game.

The Penguins average 28.5 points (37 in the playoffs), 431.6 yards, 257.5 yards rushing, and 174.1 yards passing per game on offense. Quarterback Hunter Wells has gone 7-1 since taking over the starting spot from Ricky Davis. Wells has thrown for 1,453 yards (63.5%) with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Wells will be boosted by a strong backfield combination of Jody Webb (1,301 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 6.1 yards per carry) and Tevin McCaster (616 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4.9 YPC). Webb has six straight 100 yard rushing performance and is averaging 157 yards per game in the playoffs. McCaster had a breakout game against Eastern Washington with 154 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns on 29 carries. This duo will be leaned on to get the offense going.

It is worth noting that the team’s second leading rusher, Martin Ruiz, will not play in this game. He had 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but was arrested on a weapon charge.

The receivers are not overwhelming with Alvin Bailey the leader in both receptions (40) and touchdowns (5). Bailey is third on the team in yards at 443. Darien Townsend has 32 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns while Webb has caught 26 passes for 328 yards and no touchdowns. Damoun Patterson is worth keeping an eye on because he is the big play guy. He has only 18 catches, but has 461 yards (25.6 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns. If the running game struggles, this group will have to step up.

The Youngstown State defense allows 19.4 points, 324.4 total yards, 128.1 yards rushing, and 196.3 yards passing per game. The points allowed per game in the playoffs are at 27.3, which is a concern, but they have come up with big stops when needed.

Defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss have been a menacing duo all season. Rivers had 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss on the year while Moss has recorded 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Armand Dellovade has 11.5 tackles for loss and leads the team in total tackles at 98. These three as well as the other players in the front seven will have their hands full with James Madison’s rushing attack. The Penguins have intercepted only 12 passes all season, but LeRoy Alexander has accounted for a third of those. Kenny Bishop leads the team with 11 pass breakups.

The kicking duties fall to Zak Kennedy and he has not been great this season. He has converted only 13 of 19 field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards. He has also made 37 of 38 extra points. Mark Schuler has done very well punting the ball with an average of 42.4 yards with 26 landing inside the opponent’s 20.

Jody Webb leads the team in kick returns averaging 23.9 yards per return, but has not recorded a touchdown. Darien Townsend has a 19.4 yards per average return on kickoffs, but can be dangerous on punts. He has averaged 11.9 yards per return on punts and returned one for a touchdown.

James Madison Road To The National Championship

First Round: Bye

Second Round: Defeated New Hampshire 55-22 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated #5 Sam Houston State 65-7 at home

Semifinals: Defeated #1 North Dakota State 27-17 on the road

James Madison Dukes Preview

James Madison opened the playoffs with a bye before back-to-back blowouts. They decimated New Hampshire 55-22 with quarterback Bryan Schor throwing for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the Quarterfinal versus Sam Houston State, the Dukes obliterated the Bearkats 65-7 with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing from Khalid Abdullah. The defense held the prolific passing of Jeremiah Briscoe to just 143 yards on 13 of 44 passing with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

The Semifinal was on the road against the 5 time defending National Champions North Dakota State. Abdullah ran for 180 yards on 23 carries while Schor threw for 242 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. The defense held the Bison to 132 yards rushing and a 3.4 yards per carry average.

The offense for James Madison averages 48 points, 525.6 yards of offense, 284.6 yards rushing, and 241.1 yards passing per game. Bryan Schor leads the team as the quarterback and has thrown for 2,890 yards with 27 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. More impressively, he has completed 73.7% of his passes.

Schor is complimented in the backfield by Khalid Abdullah, who has rushed for 1,708 yards with 20 touchdowns and averages 6.3 yards per carry. Schor is third on the team in rushing with 543 yards and has 10 rushing touchdowns so he can also get the offense moving with his legs. Trai Sharp had big games versus New Hampshire and Sam Houston State, but was held to just 14 yards on 4 carries against North Dakota State. He has the potential for big runs if he can get some touches in the Championship game.

The receiving group is pretty balanced with many contributors. Brandon Ravenel leads the team with 45 catches for 720 yards and 5 touchdowns. Domo Taylor has 34 catches for 547 yards and 3 touchdowns and Rashard Davis has 39 catches for 478 yards and 2 touchdowns. Terrence Alls has 39 catches for 575 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season, but he will miss the National Championship along with 6 other players.

The defense allows 21.7 points, 348 yards of offense, 137.8 yards rushing, and 210.2 yards passing per game. They have been dominant and physical the entire postseason (see both Sam Houston State and North Dakota State games for some great examples). Star linebacker Brandon Hereford had 96 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, but will miss the game along with Alls and five others.

Simeyon Robinson and Martez Stone will anchor the defensive line with Robinson recording 4 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss this year. Stone also has 4 sacks and 7 tackles for loss and both will be key to stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Gage Steele will be the main linebacker and he has 98 tackles on the season with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Leading the secondary is Raven Greene, who has a team high 6 interceptions and also is tied for second on the team with 7 pass breakups. Taylor Reynolds leads the team in pass breakups with 12 and also has 2 interceptions.

Tyler Gray will handle the field goal duties, but he is just 14 of 21 on the season with a long of 45. Gunnar Kane will be the punter and he averages 42.2 yards per punt and has landed 20 inside the opponent’s 20.

The Dukes have two dangerous kickoff returners between Robbie Walker (21.5 yard average) and Brandon Ravenel (23.9 yard average and a touchdown). The real difference could be on punt returns where top returner Rashard Davis has averaged 29.9 yards per return and taken four (!) back to the house for a touchdown.

Prediction

Youngstown State is making their first appearance in the FCS National Championship since 1999 and they have won four titles in school history (1991, 1993, 1994, and 1997). Those four titles came with Jim Tressel as the head coach and Tressel is now the President of Youngstown State. As for James Madison they have only been to one National Championship and that was in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21.

Both teams are coming into this contest facing a slew of suspensions. They have been known for a few weeks so there should not be much surprise on either side in that regard. Both teams like to the run the ball and prefer to get their offense started that way. However, James Madison can rely on Bryan Schor’s arm if needed. Hunter Wells has played admirably since taking over the starter and has shown the ability to get the job done throwing as well.

We like the more physical team to win this game and we are going with James Madison. We are taking the Dukes to win 35-21 to claim their second FCS National Championship.

2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

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2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview

The final game of the 2015-16 FCS Season will be the FCS National Championship game between the North Dakota State Bison and Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The game will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 9 at 12 PM Eastern Time. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN App.

We have predicted the results for each round of the playoffs. We went 4-4 in the first round, 5-3 in the second round, 3-1 in the Quarterfinals, and 2-0 in the Semifinals. That makes for a total of 14-8 through the first four rounds of the FCS Playoffs.

Below is 2015-16 FCS National Championship Preview along with a prediction.

North Dakota State Bison Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Montana 37-6 at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Northern Iowa 23-13 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Richmond 33-7 at home

North Dakota State Bison (12-2) Preview

The biggest question surrounding the North Dakota State offense will be whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be the starter or if the Bison continue to use Easton Stick. At this point, it is not known which of the two will start and it probably will not be known until the first offensive series for the Bison. While Wentz has the big game experience, but Stick has performed admirably in his absence. Stick has thrown only 3 interceptions and can also run the ball. In his short time filling in, Stick has become the second leading rusher on the team with 498 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The main running back is King Frazier with 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns on 201 carries. Bruce Anderson is third on the team in rushing with 492 yards and 2 touchdowns while it is not out of the question for freshman Lance Dunn (457 yards and 3 touchdowns) to see some action. The Bison as a team rank sixth in the FCS in terms of total rushing yards on the season. This will be key for the Bison to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Jacksonville State offense.

The receiving group is led by RJ Urzendowski with 43 catches for 613 yards and 6 touchdowns. Darrius Shepherd is second on the team with 36 catches for 504 yards and 5 touchdowns in what has been a very good freshman season for him. Zach Vraa will also be a target after catching 37 passes for 478 yards and 5 touchdowns. This group will be vital to moving the chains on third down passing situations.

The defense will be led by linebacker Nick DeLuca who easily has the most tackles on the team. DeLuca has 126 total tackles on the season, which is nearly 40 more than MJ Stumpf in second (78). DeLuca has also recorded nine tackles for loss, but trails to several others in that category. Greg Menard has 13.5 tackles for loss while leading the team in sacks with nine. Brian Schaetz has 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. CJ Smith leads the team with 4 interceptions with one apiece coming in the Playoff games against Montana and Richmond.

The defense will be keen on stopping the Jacksonville State running game and they rank 20th in the FCS against the run in terms of total yards allowed. They rank much lower against the pass (71st), but that could be attributed to the fact their run defense is as good as it is. The defense also ranks fifth in points allowed at 15.7 per game while they only allow 276 yards per game (4th best in the FCS). If they can hold Jacksonville State to those averages, they will have a great chance to win their fifth straight FCS Championship.

The special teams unit for North Dakota State is a mixed bag. Eric Perkins averages 11.6 yards per punt return and has a touchdown as well. Bruce Anderson is the man to watch on kickoffs as he averages 38 yards per return and has returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns. He has the chance to flip the field without the offense touching the ball. The worry for the Bison is Cam Pedersen kicking field goals. He has gone a terrible 9 of 18 on field goals attempts with the Playoffs bring out the worst in him. He has converted only 1 of his 7 field goal tries in the last 3 games.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks Road To The National Championship

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: Defeated Chattanooga 41-35 in One Overtime at home

Quarterfinals: Defeated Charleston Southern 58-38 at home

Semifinals: Defeated Sam Houston State 62-10 at home

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (13-1) Preview

The Jacksonville State offense will run through two players: quarterback Eli Jenkins and running back Troymaine Pope. The rushing offense is one of the best in the nation with 4,364 yards rushing this year, which translates to 312 yards per game. Pope averages 126 yards a game while Jenkins runs for 77 yards per contest. Pope has 1,757 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season while Jenkins has 1,073 yards and 14 touchdowns for the year. While those 2 will be the main workhorses, Miles Jones can also come in and make an impact. Jones has 689 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground this year. Expect a lot of zone read plays from Eli Jenkins.

While the rushing attack is a huge part of the Jacksonville State offense, Jenkins can also throw the ball around the field if need be. He has 2,731 yards with 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions through the air. There is one clear target for Jenkins when he is passing and that is Josh Barge. Barge has 90 catches for 1,113 and 11 touchdowns while the second leading receiver is Ruben Gonzalez with 43 catches for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns. Dalton Screws (33 catches for 374 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Markis Merrill (26 catches for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns) could also have a minor impact on the passing game.

The Jacksonville State defense is similar to North Dakota State’s in the sense that they are better against the run than they are against the pass. The Gamecocks allow about 117 rushing yards per contest compared to 178 through the air. They allow just 18.7 points and 295 yards per game.

The defense has quite a few playmakers led by Brandon Bender, who has amassed 96 tackles including 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Dawson Wells has 91 tackles on the season with 10.5 coming for a loss while Joel McCandless has 73 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Chris Landrum leads the team in sack with 8.5 while close in second is Darius Jackson with 7. Unsurprisingly, those two are the leaders on the team in tackles for loss with Landrum at 17.5 and Jackson at 18.5. Jaylen Hill is the co-leader on the team in picks with 3 along with Wells, however, Wells has returned 2 of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Josh Barge is the punt returner with an average of 10 yards per return. Lawon Debardelaben will be returning kickoffs with an average of 23 yards per return. Like North Dakota State, the kicker has accuracy issues. Connor Rouleau has gone 16 of 26 this year, but made all five of his field goal attempts in the Charleston Southern and Sam Houston State contests.

Prediction

This game is a great contrast in styles with the run based offense of Jacksonville State going up against the stingy run defense of North Dakota State. That will be fun and intriguing to watch, but it will probably come down to the other match up of the North Dakota State offense against the Jacksonville State defense. If North Dakota State can control the ball and keep the Jacksonville State offense off the field, they will have a great chance to win this game. The one thing about Jacksonville State is they do not need a lot of time to score points.

This game also features the four time defending FCS Champions in North Dakota State. They have the experience of playing in this game including last year’s contest where they had to rally to score a late touchdown. For the Gamecocks, they can play fast and loose as the underdog (North Dakota State is a 3 point favorite as of this writing). In addition to the fact they do not know the feeling of playing a game of this magnitude, which can be both positive and negative.

The lower scoring this game is, the more it favors North Dakota State and their style of play. If this game comes down to the kickers, it is hard to see either team having a big advantage though the Gamecocks’ recent success gives them the slightest of edges.

We are going to take North Dakota State to do enough to stop the Jacksonville State run game and win their fifth FCS National Championship 28-24.

2015 FCS National Championship Preview And Prediction

John Crockett will be instrumental in the Bison's offensive attack (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports Images)
John Crockett will be instrumental in the Bison’s offensive attack (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports Images)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is for the FCS National Championship Game following the 2014 FCS Season. If you are looking for the 2015-16 FCS Championship Preview, it can be found here.

2015 FCS National Championship Preview And Prediction

 Saturday, January 10 will see the crowning of the FCS National Champion for the 2014 season. The #5 Illinois State Redbirds (13-1) will face the #2 North Dakota State Bison (14-1) in Frisco, Texas. Game time is set for 1 PM Eastern Time. Let’s start by taking a look at each team’s road to the Championship.

 

Illinois State Redbirds (13-1) Road To The FCS National Championship

First Round – Bye

Second Round – 41-21 over Northern Iowa at home

Quarterfinals – 59-46 win over Eastern Washington on the road

Semifinals – 21-18 win over New Hampshire on the road

The Redbirds had an average score of 40 to 28 in their three playoff games.

 

North Dakota State Bison (13-1) Road To The FCS National Championship

First Round – Bye

Second Round – 27-24 win over South Dakota State at home

Quarterfinals – 39-32 win over Coastal Carolina at home

Semifinals – 35-3 win over Sam Houston State at home

The Bison had an average score of 34 to 20 in their three playoff games.

Below is the 2015 FCS National Championship Preview And Prediction.

 

FCS National Championship Preview

North Dakota State is favored by 6 points with the Over/Under at 53 points.

For those who have not followed the FCS season, North Dakota State is the three-time defending FCS Champions. They won in 2011, 2012, and 2013 by an average score of 30 to 9 and have not yielded higher than 13 points in any game (2012). Plus, in the 2014 they have done all of this with a new coach in Chris Klieman. Klieman was on the staff since 2011 first as the defensive backs coach before being elevated to defensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013. He was tabbed to replace former head coach Craig Bohl last year.

The Bison will be led on offense by their running back John Crockett. He has run for 1,920 yards and 20 touchdowns (128 yards a game). In the three playoff games he has rushed for 495 yards and 5 touchdowns. In addition, he has caught 4 passes for 82 yards.

Handing the ball of to Crockett will be Carson Wentz. Wentz has not put up gaudy numbers, but he is clearly excellent at leading the offense. He has 2,874 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. During the playoffs he has gone 38 of 61 for 587 yards with 5 touchdowns passes and only 1 interception.

Wentz’s top target for 2014 has been Zach Vraa but he was injured against South Dakota State in the second round and has not played since. His status is questionable for Saturday’s tilt. In his absence, RJ Urzendowski has filled in well with 7 catches for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns.

2014’s playoff run has not been easy for the Bison. They needed a last minute comeback against South Dakota State to move on while also needing a fourth quarter score to get past Coastal Carolina in the quarterfinals. Against Sam Houston State, the score was 7-3 before routing the Bearkats 28-0 in the final 30 minutes. With all that said, a win is a win no matter how small the margin.

The other team playing the National Championship game has a great story behind them as well. They are led by former Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson. Roberson played at Indiana from 2011 through 2013 compiling 2,433 yards passing and 20 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. He also ran for 982 yards and 10 touchdowns. In June of 2014 Roberson decided to leave Indiana and headed to Illinois State.

That turned out to be great for both Roberson and the Redbirds. This year, Roberson has thrown for 3,064 yards with 27 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. On the ground Roberson has 868 yards and 10 touchdowns, which makes him dangerous regardless of the play call. In the three playoff games Roberson has gone 59 of 88 for 866 yards with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions through the air. Roberson has also rushed for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns.

As excellent as Roberson has been this season, he had a great boost from Marshaun Coprich. For the season, Coprich has 2,168 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground. During the playoffs Coprich has run for 485 yards and 6 touchdowns. His 258 yards and 4 touchdowns performance against Eastern Washington on the road in the quarterfinals is the game that stood out the most.

At wide receiver will be the duo of Cameron Meredith and Lechein Neblett. Meredith has 65 catches for 1,047 yards and 9 touchdowns while Neblett has 52 catches for 995 yards and 8 touchdowns. James O’Shaughnessy has been an excellent third option overall, but is deadly near the red zone. He has 27 catches for 500 yards and 7 touchdowns. Those three have accounted for 81.5% of all the passing yards for the Redbirds.

Meredith has 21 catches for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns in the playoffs. Neblett has caught 15 passes for 241 yards and 1 touchdown. O’Shaughnessy has 8 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns.

 

Prediction

Now we reach the prediction part of the article. These two teams did not meet during the regular season despite both playing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Still, there is plenty of familiarity with North Dakota State playing the Redbirds in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The Bison won in 2012 and 2013, but fell in 2011. Those teams, however, are not the 2014 versions for both schools.

What we do know is that both teams can win a close ball game or a shootout. However, this game does not seem like it will be a shootout given how strong of a defense the Bison boast. The Bison have given up an average of 13 points per game and have given up 20 points or more only three times. The first game was their 23-3 loss at Northern Iowa. The other two games were in the playoffs against South Dakota State (27-24) and Coastal Carolina (39-32). Of course, the Bison won those games so they can hang with anyone.

Illinois State showed excellent resolve coming back in the semifinals at New Hampshire in the fourth quarter. They trailed 18-6 before scoring the last 15 points and getting the birth to this game. However, another deficit like that would be extremely difficult to overcome.

North Dakota State wins 20-17 to capture their fourth straight FCS Championship.