From redshirt to starter in a national championship game.
Brainerd High School graduate and Lake Shore resident Joe Haeg exploded onto the college football scene like all offensive linemen —— with little fanfare.
But the 6-foot-6, 280-pound, redshirt freshman right tackle for North Dakota State University blocked the Bison to the NCAA Division I Football Championship (FCS) National Championship game Saturday, where the defending champs defended their title.
NDSU defeated Sam Houston State for the second straight year at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The Bison, who beat Sam Houston 17-6 last season, trounced them Saturday 39-13 for their eighth straight FCS playoff victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Haeg. “After working hard all year last year, but being essentially a scout guy last year, you watched the older guys celebrate last year’s win and you didn’t really feel completely part of it. This year, being able to go out there and help the team and contribute was really special.”
NDSU outgained Sam Houston 441-391 on 11 fewer plays. The Bison rushed for 300 yards on 45 carries for a 6.7 yards-per carry average and scored five times from the ground. NDSU passed for 141 yards on 10-of-17 throwing. Quarterback Brock Jensen was sacked just one time and didn’t throw an interception.
“We knew they put a lot of guys in the box and were going to try their best to stop the run,” Haeg said. “Our coaches put together a great game plan where we took advantage of some of the risks they were taking up front. We knew they blitzed a lot. So we knew we had to grid through it and we would catch them and break a 20-yard run or a big pass play.
“All the linemen were really excited because we all had a good game. Everyone communicated well. We had a good couple of weeks of practice leading up to the game. We’re just so happy to win and finally reach the pinnacle.”
The Bison were 6-of-7 scoring in the red zone and were 1-2 on fourth-down conversions. Haeg said after the game his phone had 23 text messages on it already and he’s still taking phone calls from family and friends. The team flew back after the game to a welcoming celebration at the Fargodome. He said the weeks leading up to the game were filled with events surrounding the national championship.
“The coaches told us to enjoy ourselves, but to still stay focused on why we were there,” he said. “There was a lot of hoopla surrounding the game, but they kept reminding us to keep our minds focused and to know what we were in Texas for.”
On the season, NDSU outscored its opponents 33.0-11.5 and outrushed them 3,052 yards to 1,408. They rushed for a 4.8 yards-per-carry average and scored 40 touchdowns on the ground compared to 3.0 ypc and 5 TDs for their opponents.
The Bison also outpassed opponents to the tune of 2,501 yards to 2,109 and were an impressive 89 percent scoring in the red zone. Can the Bison three-peat? Haeg didn’t know but he knows what he needs to do to get better.
“Me personally, I have to get bigger,” he said. “I’m 280 pounds so I’m slightly underweight for our level of offensive line. I handled myself well, but it’s only up from here. I have to keep getting stronger and becoming a more intelligent football player.”