- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Less travel. Warmer climates. Familiar surroundings. For Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia, it’s been a much smoother path to this year’s FCS playoff matchup with defending champion North Dakota State.

It’s the second straight season the Chants (12-1) have had to travel to face the Bison (12-1) with a trip to the NCAA semifinals on the line. In 2013, North Dakota State defeated Coastal Carolina 48-14 on the way to its third straight national championship.

Moglia said a big reason for the beatdown along with the Bison’s talent was his team’s physical condition after prevailing in sub-zero temperatures at Montana - some 2,500 miles each way from Coastal’s campus - before heading to North Dakota State.

This time, the seventh-seeded Chants had a playoff bye and a home game before taking on the No. 2 seeded Bison.

“We were in the middle of exams last year and in eight days we had to travel almost nine or 10,000 miles,” Moglia said. “All of that had a little bit of impact on us.”

So Moglia and Coastal Carolina went about ensuring they wouldn’t face such hassles again in its latest playoff run. The Chants started 11-0 and were No. 1 in the country until a final-game loss to Liberty ended the undefeated season.

Still, it was enough to guarantee a national seed, a week off in the 24-team playoff and a home game for the Chants, who scored the first 21 points and never looked back in a 36-15 victory over Richmond to advance.

Moglia said his players aren’t out for payback from last year’s embarrassment at North Dakota State, although it’s natural for those thoughts to pop up given the situation.

“We’re thinking about it now,” Moglia said. “And the only advantage is that we’re in a little better mental state and physical state.”

The Bison needed some drama to successfully move on in their first playoff game, getting a 12-yard TD pass from Carson Wentz to RJ Urzendowski with 54 seconds left in a 27-24 victory over South Dakota State.

A win by the Chants would put them in the FCS final four for the first time since the program began in 2003.

Coastal Carolina features the Big South Conference’s offensive and defensive players of the year in quarterback Alex Ross and linebacker Quinn Backus. Ross said the players haven’t dwelled on accomplishments throughout the season and won’t start now. “It’s about business,” he said.

Chants defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst said the players gained more resolve after Liberty spoiled the perfect season.

“It was probably the best time, if we were to lose a game, to kind of humble us a little bit and make us hungry for the playoffs,” he said.

North Dakota State safety Colten Heagle said the Chants have more balance than last year and past the awe of facing the national champs.

“I think they’re going to be a very confident group,” Heagle said.

Moglia, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade, sees a similarly strong opponent as a year ago in the Bisons. Despite losing their coach and several key players from their three championships, North Dakota State is fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game.

“I’m looking at an experience, top quality team,” Moglia said. “It’s a little different than a year ago, but it’s not all that different from a year ago.”

Where the Bison dominated Coastal most severely was up front, gaining 623 yards of offense and 424 rushing yards - North Dakota State’s most since 1996.

Moglia thinks the Chants have narrowed that disparity this time and will show a stouter, more polished group to slow down the Bison attack.

“I believe we’ll do a better job of holding our own,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Dave Kolpack in Fargo, North Dakota, contributed to this report.

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