Fargo, N.D. -- No. 1 North Dakota State scored touchdowns off of three Youngstown State turnovers in the first half and went on to defeat the third-ranked Penguins 48-7 on Saturday afternoon at the Fargodome.
The Bison forced a fumble on the first snap of the game, and they had a 98-yard interception midway through the second quarter when YSU was marching to possibily tie the score at 14. That pick-six accounted for the first of three Bison touchdowns in the final 8:35 of the first half that allowed them to go up 35-7 at halftime.
NDSU improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play while the Penguins dropped to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference tilts.
Youngstown State was held to 211 yards on offense in an uncharacteristic off game. Quarterback Kurt Hess was 11-for-20 for 117 yards and a touchdown, but the junior threw two big interceptions in the first half that led to two Bison scores. Jamaine Cook rushed nine times for 43 yards, and Torrian Pace ran six times for 35 yards. Kintrell Disher caught three passes for 34 yards.
Brock Jensen was 15-for-23 for 200 yards and two touchdowns, and John Crockett rushed for 103 yards and two scores on 25 carries. Ryan Smith caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, and he added a punt return for another score in the second half.
NDSU was 11-of-15 on third down while YSU was 3-for-10.
The Penguins turned the ball over on their first snap of the game to put themselves in a tough spot from the beginning. Cook bobbled a handoff from Hess, and the Bison recovered at the YSU 30-yard line. The defense forced a third-and-long from the 12, but NDSU caught another break when Trevor Gebhart recovered a fumble by Jensen at the Penguin one-yard line. On the next play, Crockett scored to put the Bison in front 7-0 at the 11:40 mark of the first quarter.
The Penguins answered with a swift moving drive to knot the game at seven. YSU had a first-and-goal at the six-yard line before being forced into a third-and-goal just outside the one. Hess rolled to his right and found just enough daylight to hit Carson Sharbaugh for the game-tying score at the 6:08 mark of the first quarter.
NDSU took the lead on a nifty flea-flicker play on its next drive. Jensen found a wide open Zach Vraa for a 46-yard touchdown toss just 1:47 after YSU had tied the contest.
After the teams traded punts, YSU was driving with a chance to tie the game midway through the second quarter after Hess hit Nate Adams on a 24-yard bass down to the NDSU 20. But the first interception of the season thrown by the Penguins quarterback resulted in a Bison touchdown. On third-and-six, Hess threw toward Andre Stubbs in the end zone but was picked off by Marcus Williams. Williams ran untouched near the YSU sideline for a 98-yard score with 8:35 left in the second quarter.
Williams was the last player to intercept Hess last year at the Fargodome on Nov. 12. Hess had 137 pass attempts between interceptions.
Following the pick-six, the NDSU defense forced the Penguins to go three-and-out. The Bison offense then went 73 yards in 11 plays to go up 28-7 with 1:45 left in the second quarter. Jensen extended the drive on a 12-yard pass to Smith on 3rd-and-9, and Crockett's one-yard touchdown put the Bison up 28-7.
Hess was intercepted on the first play of YSU's next drive, and the Bison went up 35-7 four plays later when Jensen hit Smith in the corner of the end zone with 51 seconds left before halftime.
Adam Keller kicked a 49-yard field goal on NDSU's opening drive of the second half that chewed up 7:28 off the clock, and a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown by Smith put the Bison up 45-7 with 5:27 left in the third. Keller kicked a 34-yard field goal with 7:20 left in the fourth for the game's final score.
There were 19,065 fans in attendance at today's game, which was a Fargodome record.
YSU will play on the road for the second consecutive Saturday when it travels to nationally-ranked Illinois State next weekend. Kickoff at Hancock Stadium is set for 2 p.m. Eastern/1 p.m. Central. The game will be broadcast live on 570 WKBN, WBCB TV and ESPN3.com.