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FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Traveling to play four-time defending Football Championship Subdivision winner North Dakota State in the earsplitting confines of the Fargodome would seem like an unfavorable scenario for opposing quarterbacks. Richmond's Kyle Lauletta had it on his bucket list.
The Spiders sophomore said that as a high school student in Exton, Pennsylvania, he followed the Bison closely as they began their dominance of Division I's second tier. He'll get his wish Friday night when Richmond (10-3) faces NDSU (11-2) for a trip to Frisco, Texas, and the FCS title game.
"It has always been a team I have dreamed about playing, especially in the Fargodome," Lauletta said.
The quarterback's apparent lack of fear for the circumstances — NDSU is 15-0 at home in the FCS playoffs — isn't the only factor that might cause pause for the No. 3-seeded Bison. The No. 7-seeded Spiders have shown they can perform on the big stage.
Richmond beat James Madison in a regular-season game when ESPN's popular College GameDay program — which came to Fargo in 2013 and 2014 — aired the show from Harrisonburg, Virginia, to feature the favored Dukes. And last week, the Spiders won at Illinois State, last year's national runner-up, by holding quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich to a combined 66 yards on the ground. Coprich, the nation's leading rusher, had just 30 yards.
"That's a pretty impressive deal to shut those guys down. We have a lot of respect for Illinois State and the guys that they have," Bison quarterback Easton Stick said. "That's a big testament to Richmond and their defense."
That defense has shown they can handle a slugging match, anchored by linemen Andrew Clyde and Winston Craig. Richmond coach Danny Rocco said the pair have "been warriors for us all year long" and lead the team in combined sacks and tackles for losses. Their pressure on quarterbacks has helped the Spiders intercept 21 passes.
"They have been leaders all year," Rocco said of Clyde and Craig. "I have been very, very impressed with their ability to continue to get better, play with great energy, stuff the run and then offer us some pass-rush ability."
Asked if the Bison might have their usual physical advantage, NDSU All-American offensive tackle Joe Haeg said, "Honestly, no. They are a big d-line so I think that is something that is going to help them a lot. We're just going to have to play our brand of football and see how well they can react to it."
And how they react to the decibel level in the 18,700-seat dome. In preparation, Rocco brought his offense into the school's basketball facility to run plays in simulated noise and Lauletta has been sharpening up on hand signals. The quarterback said the Spiders faced a similar scenario in the James Madison game.
"I remember there were points in the JMU game when people were having trouble hearing the call. Just me talking to them in the huddle," Lauletta said. "I think it will be a challenge for us, but something we have already handled very well previously this season."
The buzz in Bison nation last week was the return to throwing by senior quarterback and NFL prospect Carson Wentz, who broke his wrist in mid-October. That is barely a dull roar this week and it appears like Stick, a redshirt freshman, will be gunning for his eighth straight victory.
"We're confident in Easton. More importantly, Easton's teammates are really confident in him," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. "He is getting better and better and he's feeling more comfortable."
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