FARGO—This week, RJ Urzendowski will return to the scene of perhaps the greatest one minute in the history of North Dakota State wide receivers. At the least, it was 38 seconds of drama at the highest stage of Division I FCS football.
A true freshman in the 2014 title game, Urzendowski caught three passes for 78 yards in a game-winning drive that beat Illinois State 29-27 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
"That was a pretty special moment back then," Urzendowski said. "It seems like forever now, but it's something I'll always remember. I'll always hold it close to my heart but it's definitely not part of the thought process or anything anymore."
The thought process this week is James Madison University, who the Bison face on Saturday at 11 a.m. for the FCS championship. Urzendowski is now one of the senior leaders on a second-ranked team that will take a 13-1 record against the 14-0 and top-ranked Dukes.
Maybe when the career is done he'll have more time to think about the drive engineered by quarterback Carson Wentz that beat the Redbirds back in 2014.
The first completion got the Bison out of a hole, with Wentz rifling a 32-yard pass across the middle that hit Urzendowski in stride. That came with 1:28 left.
On the next play, Wentz hit Urzendowski in the right flat, a play the receiver took for 13 yards and another first down with 1:10 remaining. The final catch set up the go-ahead touchdown.
On third-and-10 and under a heavy blitz from the Redbirds, Wentz let fly a high-arching pass that Urzendowski tracked down at the 5-yard line with 50 seconds left.
Wentz scored on the next play.
"I was kind of a wide-eyed freshman at that time, do whatever I could to make a play," Urzendowski said. "Now I've taken on more of a leadership role on offense and have to try and bring other guys along and stuff like that."
That leadership role includes trying to put together a better passing attack against the Dukes than the Bison did last year in a 27-17 semifinal loss at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU was just 19 of 38 through the air with no touchdowns.
Moreover, it appeared quarterback Easton Stick had trouble finding anybody open. The JMU secondary won the matchup with the Bison receivers.
"They have a great defense and a very good secondary," Urzendowski said. "They had a good secondary last year, too. Part of it is a scheme thing we've worked on, and we're trying to do some different things this time around. ... we have to be pretty stout in our routes to get some separation."
It's something Urzendowski did in the final minute three years ago at Toyota Stadium.
"He's one guy who's excited to get a chance to go back there," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "You talk about a guy who has made impact plays in the playoffs ever since he's been here. When the game's on the line, you want RJ Urzendowski to be part of the game plan, part of the passing game."
NDSU vs. James Madison
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Radio: 107.9-FM, 92.7-FM, 1660-AM, 790-AM