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ND State defends FCS title in Sam Houston rematch

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ND State defends FCS title in Sam Houston rematch

FRISCO, Texas (AP) The North Dakota State Bison have a second straight FCS championship in what's becoming their second home.

Backed by more than 10,000 fans wearing green and gold in the same suburban Dallas stadium where they beat Sam Houston State a year ago, the Bison outnumbered their Texas counterparts in the stands and outplayed them on the field - again.

Quarterback Brock Jensen ran for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the third quarter not long after a holding penalty wiped out a touchdown that would have given Sam Houston the lead, and Sam Ojuri scored twice in a 39-13 victory Saturday.

The field turned into a Bison pep rally after the game as thousands of fans joined a trophy presentation on a stage that makes up one end of FC Dallas Stadium.

``Let's go Bison!'' coach Craig Bohl shouted while holding up a Bison hand signal that could be mistaken for the Texas Longhorns' ``Hook 'Em Horns'' sign in the Lone Star State. ``Best fans in America!''

The Bison, who won 17-6 a year ago, improved to 10-1 in the FCS playoffs with their eighth straight postseason win.

Jensen put North Dakota State (14-1) in front for good on a 1-yard sneak in the third quarter, and Ojuri had a 2-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 after the Bison got the ball with a fourth-down stop.

Ojuri had 92 yards rushing, and Jensen added 44 to go with 115 passing yards. The Bison rushed for 300 yards.

John Crockett had 80 yards rushing, 24 receiving and a 26-yard pass to set up a score on a trick play after taking a straight-ahead handoff.

Bell threw for 255 yards against the nation's best pass defense, but had three of Sam Houston's four interceptions. Flanders, the school's career rushing leader, was held to 53 yards on 19 carries, a 2.8 average.

It was tied at 10 when Flanders broke loose on an apparent 41-yard touchdown on the first possession of the second half. Instead, Sam Houston had a third long run deep into Bison territory wiped out by a holding penalty. None of the drives ended in points.

After the holding call on Flanders' run, Carlton Littlejohn intercepted Bell's pass while falling to his knees, and the turnover was upheld on review. Ojuri had 25 yards rushing on a drive that ended with Jensen's score for a 17-10 lead.

``That's a big turning point,'' said North Dakota State cornerback Marcus Williams, who had two interceptions to set the school career record with 18. ``Whenever a team scores a TD and it gets taken off the board, it gives you momentum. In this game, you needed as much momentum as we could get.''

The Bearkats were driving again when Bell had to throw the ball away before getting slammed to the turf on fourth-and-1. He stayed flat on his back and sat out parts of the fourth quarter.

``There were some opportunities there that could have gotten us back in the game, an answer or two to a score they had,'' Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. ``But it didn't bounce that way.''

Jensen's 31-yard pass to Zach Vraa set up Ojuri's fourth-down run, and the Bison further deflated the Bearkats when they turned a botched snap on the extra point into a 2-point conversion and a 25-10 lead on a desperation pass from kicker Adam Keller to Mike Hardie.

``Sometimes there's plays that happen in the game when you think, `You know what, this is probably going to be our day,''' Bohl said. ``A play that we had never planned or designed turned out to work extremely well.''

North Dakota State scored the first touchdown in the second quarter by covering 65 yards on three running plays. Jensen ran 21 yards on third down after the field opened when Sam Houston State's leading tackler, Darnell Taylor, crumpled to the ground in front of him with an apparently leg injury. Ryan Smith ran 24 yards, and Jensen, who accounted for both touchdowns in last year's game, scored from the 20.

Sam Houston ended a championship game touchdown drought just before it reached six quarters and tied the score at 10 when Bell threw a 1-yard pass to K.J. Williams with 33 seconds left in the first half. A 30-yard toss to Richard Sincere put the ball on the 1 three plays after an interception by Andre Martin Jr. was wiped out when he was called for defensive holding.

Crockett's career-long 57-yard run set up a 32-yard field goal by Keller to give North Dakota State a first-quarter lead. Miguel Antonio kicked a tying 38-yarder in the second quarter after missing from 32 yards in the first.

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A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

ST. LOUIS -- John Carlson did a valiant job trying to defend his title for the hardest shot, but Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber took home the prize with a blistering 106.5 MPH shot at the NHL Skills on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin won the Hardest Shot in 2018 and Carlson won it in 2019. He looked to be in good position to win it again after taking the lead with only one shooter left to go.

As Carlson skated up for his turn, the number to beat was 102.4 from Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson. Carlson shattered that with a shot of 104.5, beating his own winning shot from last year of 102.8.

The only problem? Weber was the last shooter.

"With Webs going behind him you kind of just expect him to go put up some big numbers," T.J. Oshie said. "But when John put up 104.5, you thought maybe there was a chance, but obviously Shea stepped up and took care of business."

Weber had Carlson beat on his very first shot. Weber smashed the puck for 105.9 MPH on his first attempt. As he was the last shooter, he had already won, but took his second shot anyway and beat his own mark, finishing with a 106.5 MPH shot.

While the Caps had won the event in each of the past two seasons, Weber had won it three straight times before Ovechkin took the title in 2018.

Even when Carlson took the lead, he still did not believe he would win knowing Weber still had to go.

"I think I knew all along we were all just a part of the show," Carlson said.

Braden Holtby also fell short in his attempt to win the Save Streak event. Frederik Anderson had the number to beat of seven when Holtby went between the pipes. He faced shooters from the Atlantic Division and made a run at seven when he stopped David Pastrnak’s shot. A goalie's round could not end on a save. As the captain, Pastrnak was the last shooter unless Holtby saved his shot. When Holtby stopped Pastrnak, that meant he would continue facing shots until he was beaten. With two straight saves, Holtby denied Shea Weber and Brady Tkachuk to get his streak up to five saves before he was finally beaten by Jack Eichel.

"I was just hoping Shea Weber wouldn't come down and take a slap shot on me,” Holtby told the NBCSN broadcast.

St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington ended up winning the event, much to the delight of the home crowd. Andrei Vasilevskiy raised the save streak up to nine with Binnington as the last goalie to go. In dramatic fashion, Binnington went on to deny 10 straight shots to take the win.

Other highlights of the All-Star Skills:

Ryan O’Reilly’s football helmet

Next week is the Super Bowl Sunday and Ryan O’Reilly showed who he is cheering for in warmups as he came onto the ice wearing a Kansas City Chiefs' helmet.


Connor McDavid is not the fastest skater?

We all know who the fastest skater in the NHL is. It’s Connor McDavid. You might as well just declare the race over, right?

Not so fast. (See what I did there?)

Stunningly, McDavid did not win the event and was edged out by New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal who completed the event in 13.175 seconds, just 0.03 seconds away from the record.

The Justin Bieber mask

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl decided to have some fun during the save streak. Before his shot attempt on Binnington, he busted out a Justin Bieber mask and put it on before shooting.

No, he did not score. Yes, the mask was terrifying.


The women’s 3-on-3 game was awesome

If there is one complaint about the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, is that it is not competitive enough. Players have fun with it, as they should, but they aren’t exactly going 100-percent like they would in an actual game. That was certainly not the case for the 3-on-3 women’s game between Canada and USA.

The women’s teams put on a great display of skill in what was an incredibly fun game to watch. Canada took a 1-0 lead in the first period off a goal from Rebecca Johnston. Melodie Daoust made it 2-0 in the second period and Hilary Knight finally put USA on the board putting them to within one.

But really it was the goalies who stole the show. With plenty of room to work, there were a number of breakaways and odd-man rushes. Both Alex Cavallini for the USA and Ann-Renee Desbiens for Canada were strong in net to keep it a three-goal game.

"It was pretty impressive," Oshie said. "The goalies stood on their head, but the girls were making some awesome plays, some great moves. It's always fun cheering on the Americans."

Desbiens had a drop the mic moment with a glove save just as time expired to maintain the 2-1 win for Canada.

Shooting Stars

You have to credit the NHL for trying. One of the new events featured players on a raised platform in the crowd shooting at targets on the ice. It was...different. The biggest issue with it was that the players could not hit most of the targets and the one that seemed the easiest to get was worth the most points. This one will need some tweaking if they want to bring it back again next year.

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Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the Nationals is finally happening

If Ryan Zimmerman did not return to the Nationals, he at least would have a future teaching how not to negotiate.

Zimmerman openly drove down his bargaining leverage for almost a year before signing a one-year deal on Friday to return to the only professional team he’s known, a source confirmed. The deal is reported at $2 million.

Throughout the season, Zimmerman openly discussed his interest in returning and understanding it would be at a low rate. As if his stance wasn’t already clear, Zimmerman explained at a screening of the Nationals’ championship video he would return or play more golf.

“So, we’ll be good to go,” Zimmerman said.

It’s baseball for now. Zimmerman rejoins the defending World Series champions to play his 16th season. He’s a 35-year-old platoon player this season. Zimmerman’s money and legacy have been established. He’s back in the fold to pursue another title. 

And he makes an already old Nationals team older. Zimmerman turns 36 years old the day after the 2020 regular season ends. Howie Kendrick will be 37 years old by midseason. Asdrúbal Cabrera is 34 years old. Eric Thames is 33 years old. Will Harris is 35, Daniel Hudson 32, Sean Doolittle 33, Max Scherzer 35, Kurt Suzuki 36. Yan Gomes will be 33 just after the All-Star break. 

Zimmerman will share first base with Thames and, occasionally, Howie Kendrick. They provide an intriguing splits-based platoon. Thames hits right-handers well -- 23 of his 25 2019 home runs came against them, as did much of his opportunity in Milwaukee -- and Zimmerman has a .917 career OPS against left-handed pitchers. Zimmerman is the much better defender.

He’s back because he -- and the Nationals -- believe Zimmerman’s production remains directly tied to his health. His September and postseason work showed Zimmerman’s bat speed remains intact. He is quietly one of the better defensive first baseman in the league. They think they can protect him. Overall, the Nationals are so comfortable with an expanse of older players because they plan to shield them with limited usage. Also, Josh Donaldson went to Minnesota, clearing the cash and providing a need for Zimmerman. 

Kendrick, Cabrera and Starlin Castro can play various infield spots. Thames and Zimmerman will reduce the other’s role, as well as pinch-hit when not starting. Davey Martinez has options. He also has the challenge of rotating players. One thing on his side: older players know they are just that. Grousing about playing time should not be an issue with the group, the majority of which played as role players last year on the way to a World Series title. 

One other thing to note about Zimmerman: he’s 30 home runs short of 300. Can he get there with another two years on the field? He has at least one more to add to his total, assuring his driver has another lonely summer.

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