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Game Day notebook: Karcz trying to rebound from late-season knee injury

FARGO (FNS) — The timing of Cole Karcz’s knee injury was not what the North Dakota State senior had in mind with his career coming to a close. On the other hand, he figures it could have been worse.

Karcz suffered meniscus damage in practice and missed the last two regular season games against South Dakota and Southern Illinois. Whether he returns Saturday in the Division I FCS second round matchup with Nicholls State (La.) remains to be seen, but at least he’s in the mix.

“That’s football,” Karcz said. “But I’m also kind of blessed that if you’re going to have a knee injury, then this is the one to have.”

Karcz said he underwent surgery. In the meantime, he did what he could in practice going to meetings and being a leader to the younger Bison defensive linemen like junior Matt Biegler and sophomore Lane Tucker. Both have seen more of the field in the absence of Karcz and both have made their share of plays.

“Just trying to make sure they can be prepared as they can be,” Karcz said.

Karcz has been a model of consistency in his role since getting into the regular defensive line rotation as a sophomore. He’s had years of 22, 28 and 24 tackles with 12 career quarterback sacks.

As one of 14 seniors, he’s helped answer a burning question coming into this year: Can the Bison leadership replace the 24 seniors who left the previous season?

“It’s just the process of this program,” Karcz said. “We’ve done it before and we’ve been able to do it so far this season. I’m a little biased obviously but I think we have a really good group of guys that have helped these young guys a lot.”

Balancing playoff game, recruiting

The early signing period for national letter of intents is fast approaching, meaning teams in the Division I FCS playoffs are doing double duty: preparing for a Saturday game and trying to handle recruiting.

NDSU already has 28 verbal commitments and is expecting several official visits on Saturday for the Nicholls game. While teams not in the playoffs have coaches on the road, the Bison have to find other means to stay in touch with their recruits.

“With that date coming soon, we want to make sure we get them back on campus one more time,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz, “because our staff can’t be off campus. It’s contact period for all of Division I schools right now and we’re still playing games, so that’s what we’re telling our recruits right now. That’s our recruiting ploy; we’re still in the playoffs and come see us.”

It’s the second year the NCAA has had a December signing period. The traditional date of the first Wednesday in February is still in play. Last year, NDSU signed 25 players in December and 13 in February.

“This is year two, I don’t know if we’re necessarily comfortable saying we have perfect our calendar of how to adjust to the early signing date,” Entz said.

Local players expecting to make it official in two weeks are Moorhead defensive end Seth Anderson, Ada-Borup offensive tackle Mason Miller, West Fargo Sheyenne running back Nathan Goldade and wide receiver/defensive back Tyler Terhark, Fargo Shanley defensive lineman Joe Kava and Fargo Davies safety Ty Satter.

Reinholz back in kicking mix?

It’s not certain if any true freshmen under the guise of the four-game eligibility rule will see the field against Nicholls on Saturday. Running back Jalen Bussey, who suffered a broken finger in practice after rushing for 123 yards on six carries in his only game of the season against Western Illinois, may be in line to return sooner than later.

One problem for NDSU is the NCAA playoff rule of allowing only 64 players to dress. The Bison dressed at least 75 players in games against Western and South Dakota late in the season.

“Now you have to do a great job of maybe some of your starters on offense and defense need to be backups (on special teams) this week just because you are limited,” Entz said. “You don’t have those extra 10 players you can dress at a home game. Making sure we’re covering all issues and we’re thorough in our work is what’s most important right now.”

Another hindrance in the 64-player rule could be with the Bison kicking game. Entz said sophomore kicker Jake Reinholz, out since the first game of the year with a leg injury, is starting to return to form.

“He’s finally coming back from his injury,” Entz said. “I don’t know if it will be this week but we’ll play it day by day.”

With Reinholz out, true freshman Griffin Crosa seized the job. He’s been solid hitting 8 of 11 field goals and 56 of 57 extra points. Still, Entz maintained this week he’s still concerned with the overall consistency of special teams.

“Our operation from snapper to holder and snapper to punter has just been all over the place,” he said. “We continue to keep working. Those guys do a great job, but we need to continue to do better. I’d say that if it was (offensive lineman) Cordell Volson and he wasn’t doing a good job on a vertical combo. There’s always things we need to get better at.”