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FRISCO, Texas (AP) — North Dakota State has gone from Fargo to Frisco for the fifth year in a row, and will get one last game with NFL prospect Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Wentz, who hasn't played since breaking his right wrist Oct. 17, will start Saturday for the four-time defending champion Bison (12-2) against No. 1 seed Jacksonville State (13-1) in the FCS championship game.
"It's been a long, frustrating process, to say the least. Lots of doctors' appointments, things I didn't want to hear for a long time," Wentz said Friday. "About two weeks ago, I really started progressing quite a bit, started practicing almost full go, kind of getting my feet wet with practice. ... This week has been a whirlwind realizing I'm going to get a chance to start one more time."
When announcing that Wentz would start, North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said Friday that he knew in the middle of last week that the quarterback would be ready to go in the championship game. And he has no concern about Wentz being rusty for the game.
"No, not at all," Klieman said. "It's Carson Wentz. He'll be fine."
A CTI scan done Monday showed his wrist was completely healed.
Jacksonville State enters its first FCS championship game on a 12-game winning streak since an overtime loss Sept. 12 at SEC team Auburn.
But the Gamecocks have been somewhat overshadowed by North Dakota State's unprecedented title streak and the ongoing questions about Wentz.
"What a run they've had," said coach John Grass, in the second year as coach of his alma mater. "It's all about us winning a championship. It's about our team, how we play, not really who we play. That's kind of the way we look at it. We have a lot of respect for what they've done."
Wentz, considered a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft this spring, took over as the starter last season after three-year starter Brock Jensen won an FCS-record 48 games and three national titles. After throwing for 3,111 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on way to the 2014 title, Wentz had 1,454 yards passing with 16 TDs and two picks in six games this season before getting hurt in a loss against South Dakota.
The Bison won all eight games, including their three playoff games so far, started by redshirt freshman Easton Stick. Klieman said the two quarterbacks split reps in practice and that Stick (1,642 total yards, 18 touchdowns in his nine games) would be ready to play Saturday.
"We wouldn't be in this position without Easton Stick," Klieman said as Wentz nodded his head in agreement.
"Can't say enough. Admire him, best friends," Wentz said. "He's done a tremendous job. I owe him so much."
The Gamecocks aren't the only Division I team from Alabama playing for a national championship. The Jacksonville State campus is about 130 miles from Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. The No. 2 Crimson Tide play No. 1 Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game Monday night.
"We don't feel like we're under the radar," running back Troymaine Pope said. "We're just living in our moment, just enjoying ourselves, just proud to be here."
A few other things to know when the FCS championship game is played in a professional soccer stadium in North Texas for the sixth consecutive season:
DIFFERENT LEVEL TITLES: Only three teams have won titles in both NCAA Division I and Division II — North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware. Jacksonville State could become the fourth. The Gamecocks won the 1992 Division II title, while North Dakota State was a five-time Division II champ before its four FCS championships.
SEC EXPERIENCE: There are three starters in Jacksonville State's front seven on defense who started their careers in the SEC. Chris Landrum, who has tied the Gamecocks record with 16 career sacks, and tackle Devaunte Sigler are Auburn transfers while nose tackle Allan Carson transferred from Tennessee.
RUNNING FOR SCORES: Jacksonville State has rushed for six touchdowns in each of its three playoff games. Pope has a school-record 1,757 yards rushing this season, 655 of those yards coming in the postseason.
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