Three-time defending national champion North Dakota State and Illinois State shared a conference title without having to play each other this season.
Until now, with a much bigger trophy at stake for the Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions in the FCS championship game Saturday.
“It’s really cool to get to play the conference championship at the same time as the national championship,” North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz said.
“Who’s the better team? It’s going to be settled,” Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich said. “Might as well, whoever wins, take both [trophies].”
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North Dakota State (14-1) again made it from Fargo to Frisco and is going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Redbirds (13-1) are making their first FCS championship game appearance.
With the eight-game league schedule in the 10-team MVFC, each team misses one conference foe.
North Dakota State and Illinois State didn’t meet in the regular season for the first time in eight years.
“Yeah, it’s kind of cool that it ended up like that … finally facing each other in the national championship,” said safety Christian Dudzik, set for his 61st NDSU start. “It’s like a storyline, or scripted.”
This is the first time two teams from the same conference face off in the FCS championship game.
The only loss for both teams was to Northern Iowa, which Illinois State beat in a rematch in the Redbirds’ playoff opener a month ago.
Now they get another conference foe.
“Early in the season I kind of eyeballed this, thought that would be something if that happened, and you’re just kind of fantasizing really,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.
“When we started getting on a roll, I said this could happen.”
FCS championship game
North Dakota State vs. Illinois State
Noon Saturday, Frisco