ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Schnepf: Victory caps long, entertaining day for fans

FRISCO, Texas - An estimated 11,000 North Dakota State football fans celebrated the school's first national championship in its seven-year Division I era after watching their Bison claim a 17-6 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday.

FRISCO, Texas - An estimated 11,000 North Dakota State football fans celebrated the school's first national championship in its seven-year Division I era after watching their Bison claim a 17-6 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday.

Here is just a taste of what the historic day was like:

7:30 a.m.

Brian Gordon, NDSU's director of football operations, just got done emptying the 53-foot semi trailer - the one easily spotted on the interstate with "Bison Football" scrolled on one side and images of Bison rumbling through the prairie on the back doors.

The trailer was full of equipment for 70 players, practices and meetings. The trailer, donated by GMR Trucking of West Fargo, left Fargo at 1:50 p.m. Tuesday and pulled into Frisco on Wednesday. It started a much slower journey back to Fargo after Saturday's game.

ADVERTISEMENT

"This has been a great asset," Gordon said of the trailer NDSU has had the last four years. "We would never fit all this into a plane."

8:50 a.m.

Ryan Kuehne and six other NDSU students were carrying a cooler toward the tailgating area. They all piled into a Chevy Tahoe at 4 a.m. Thursday and headed south.

Their first stop was Tulsa, where they watched the NDSU men's basketball team play Oral Roberts.

"To tell you the truth, I think there were just as many Bison fans at that game as Oral Roberts fans," Kuehne said.

Six of the students predicted a Bison. The seventh refused to make a pick.

"The last time I did that, they lost," he said, referring to NDSU's only loss of season to Youngstown State.

9:05 a.m.

ADVERTISEMENT

Former Bison players like Kyle Carlson, Chad Pundsack and Tony Satter are part of a group that has invested in upgrading its tailgating equipment over the years. There's a green-and-yellow trailer that includes a giant-screen television hooked up to a satellite dish. There's a giant grill attached to a separate trailer that was slow cooking tri-tips, rib eye and brisket.

"And we just bought these flags for this trip," Carlson said, pointing to two 10-by-15 foot sized Bison flags waving in the cool Texas air.

9:12 a.m.

Not far from the simmering brisket, sounds of the Bison school song could be heard. It was the NDSU marching band lined up on a berm on one side of a four-lane road separating the tailgating sites. On the other side of the road were Bison fans enjoying the band's concert that included their usual hits of "Hey Baby" and "Wipe Out."

"This is a lot to take in," said tuba player Mitchell Huisman, a freshman from Worthington, Minn., who rode down on one of three buses that hauled the band to Frisco. "It just seems like yesterday we were playing in TCF Bank Stadium at the Gophers game and now here we are in the national championship game in Frisco."

9:24 a.m.

Father Jim Meyer, the priest of West Fargo's Holy Cross Catholic Church, was milling around Tailgate Town. Less than two hours after he held a mass for the Bison team, Meyer got two Bison decal tattoos placed on his forehead.

"Doing it for the team," said Meyer, who organized a bus that transported 24 congregation members to Frisco.

ADVERTISEMENT

9:40 a.m.

Cathy Hockman tried her best to impersonate a cowboy riding the mechanical bull set up Tailgate Town.

"Hey, the way to be a true Bison is to get on a Bison," said Hockman, who has been living in Houston for the last 22 years.

But her allegiance was to the Bison. She's a Fargo South and NDSU grad who had this date marked on her calendar ever since the Bison started making a run for the championship game.

"The state of North Dakota has taken over Frisco," she said. "I have never seen so many Bison people in one place."

9:46 a.m.

The two buses hauling the Bison players show up, much to the delight of all the Bison fans lined up for three blocks leading up to the stadium.

Craig Bohl leads the parade, donned in a shiny black suit, white shirt and a green and gold tie. Many of the players are wearing cowboy hats. But most have somber looks, trying to focus on the game that would start in about two hours.

Bob and Deb Hannestad of Fargo were among the fans cheering "Let's Go Bison." Deb, originally from Waco, Texas, is a 1979 Sam Houston State graduate.

"But there is no question my loyalty is to the Bison," she said.

11:01 a.m.

Tim Plecuk of Fargo had his brief moment of fame three years ago when he wore his apple green suit with a Bison tie to the NCAA men's basketball tournament game NDSU played in at the Metrodome.

He was wearing the same suit Saturday.

"This is the first football game I've worn it to this year," said the 27-year-old Plecuk, who works at Microsoft. "I'm in Section 2, row 2. Hopefully, I'll get some TV time."

11:31 a.m.

The lines are still long outside, with fans anxiously waiting to get in for the noon kickoff.

Inside the gates of a crowded concourse, Nathan Johnson of West Fargo greeted an old friend with a hearty handsake.

"Remember that hand shake ... I just shook Jerry Rice's hands," Johnson said, referring to the NFL Hall of Famer who attended Saturday's game.

11:54 a.m.

The 21,000-seat stadium was nearly full - with more than half packed with the green-and-yellow clad Bison fans. Those fans roared when they saw their Bison exit their locker room and packed into a makeshift tunnel.

"This is what I hated the worst," said Leo Ringey, a former Bison assistant coach watching from just above the tunnel. "Let's kick it off and get this thing going."

12:24 p.m.

Andrew Kuch and Darrick Buchholz, NDSU students from Washburn, had their faces painted green and yellow. They cheered on two first-down plays from Bison wide receiver Ryan Smith.

Seconds later, the Bison fumbled the ball away.

"Oh no, no, no," Kuch moaned along with all the other Bison fans. "We can't be doing that."

12:35 p.m.

Jerome Cheatham and Isreal Moses, who played for the Bison from 1993 to 1997, flew in from Chicago to watch their alma mater play.

"I haven't been back in Fargo for six years," Cheatham said. "When I saw they were going to playing for a national title, I had to come down."

Part of the Bison crowd moaned when NDSU coaches opted to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown on fourth down from the 1-yard line. Cheatham agreed with the coaches.

"We got to put points on the board, man," Cheatham said, just before Ryan Jastram booted a field goal to give the Bison a 3-0 lead.

12:50 p.m.

The same Jerry Rice who shook Nathan Johnson's hand was on the sidelines soaking in all the excitement.

"This is amazing, all those North Dakota fans coming from 1,000 miles away," Rice said, who himself played in one FCS national championship game. "They are fired up and they have a good reason to be. There are some good football players out there ... some, I'm sure, who will end up in the NFL."

For the record, Rice ended his NFL career as the all-time leading receiver.

1:05 p.m.

Chuck Gulsvig, the former Moorhead High School boys basketball coach, was on the sidelines with his boss Kelby Krabbenhoft of Sanford Health. When Bison quarterback Brock Jensen had to leave the game for one play after taking a hit to his back, it prompted Gulsvig to spout wisdom from his dad Sonny - the longtime Concordia coach who is now deceased.

"My dad always said there will be five plays that will decide the outcome of the game ... and that might be one of them," Gulsvig said, as he watched Jensen being assisted to the sideline.

Another one of those plays may have been a blocked punt that helped Sam Houston tie the game with a field goal. Another may have been a big punt return that help Sam Houston take a 6-3 halftime lead with another field goal.

But, it would be the last points that Sam Houston would score.

1:39 p.m.

It's halftime and the tailgate area, littered with paper cups and empty beer cans, has been abandoned. But Dale Borcherding of Fargo left the game to get another beverage from his tailgating headquarters.

"We made too many mistakes but we're a second-half team," he said with confidence.

Keith Parmley of nearby Keller, Texas, made the mistake of assuming he could get a ticket for Saturday's game. He and his son were waiting for the gates to open after the third quarter.

"I had no idea it was a sellout," said Parmley, a Sam Houston graduate.

2:01 p.m.

When NDSU's D.J. McNorton hauled in a screen pass and ran 39 yards for a touchdown and give the Bison a 10-6 lead, Scott Colville of Minneapolis jumped up and down with a box of pizza in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

"That's what we needed," he yelled. "We needed some kind of spark."

Colville and his wife Shari came down from Minneapolis. Their son Josh is a redshirt freshman who didn't suit up for Saturday's game. He joined all the other non-playing members in the front rows of the north end zone.

"And wouldn't you know, our seat is right behind our son," Shari said. "I don't know if he was too excited about that."

2:18 p.m.

The sun begins to peek through the overcast skies, perhaps a sign of brighter things to come for the Bison.

"I just don't want to drive home after a loss," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Wallaker, who like everyone else was amazed by the Bison following. "It's unbelievable."

2:35 p.m.

Craig Dahl, a Bison standout from 2003-2006, was appreciating the defensive slugfest. He plays defense in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams - whose season ended last week.

"This is electric," Dahl said standing on the sidelines, at about the time the attendance was announced at 20,586. "I'm very impressed with their defense - especially with two players, Williams (All-American cornerback Marcus Williams) and Willson (linebacker Chad Willson who led the Bison with 11 tackles on Saturday.

2:46 p.m.

The big play the Bison crowd was waiting for - and perhaps one of those plays Sonny Gulsvig often referred to - finally arrives. Travis Beck, a redshirt freshman linebacker from Munich, N.D., intercepts a pass and nearly returns it for a touchdown.

After all his teammates chested-bumped him and pounded his helmet on the sideline, longtime Bison trainer Scott Woken calmly stated the obvious: "That might help," he said. "And he's a North Dakota boy."

It did help. The Bison scored on the next play to build their lead to 17-6 with less than nine minutes left of the game.

3 p.m.

Bison free safety John Pike is sitting on the bench, knowing he and the defense will have to make one more stop to preserve a victory.

"We've just got to grab it, just grab it," Pike yelled.

Minutes later, he nearly grabbed it by breaking up a fourth-down pass. Minutes after that, he intercepted a pass. That's when NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor could quick pacing the sidelines. He gave McNorton a big hug as the Bison throng chanted "Let's Go Bison."

3:18 p.m.

Bison players make it official by dumping Gatorade on head coach Craig Bohl.

Fans in the south end zone start chanting "LSU, LSU, LSU," in reference to playing Louisiana State, the No. 1 ranked team in the top level of college football.

After fans count down the finals seconds, players swarm the field. It took a matter of minutes before the field was half full of Bison fans.

3:22 p.m.

Matt Veldman, one of the 17 seniors on the Bison team, bear hugs his dad Gregg at midfield among the throng of rushing fans.

"You dream about this as a parent but often think it is not possible," said Gregg, who played college football at Minnesota State Moorhead 30 years ago. "Well, ever since last spring, this has been our motto."

That's when Gregg pointed to his shirt that read: "Why not?"

3:29 p.m.

Bison players and coaches, perched on a stage above the north end zone, are doused with confetti as they hoist the championship trophy into the air. The fans covering half the field and the remaining fans in the stands chant "We're No. 1."

Beck, the North Dakota boy, is named the game's most outstanding player.

"I just love my teammates," he said. "We're No. 1 baby."

3:47 p.m.

An NCAA official shows up the Bison locker room with the championship trophy.

"Some kids were playing with this, I figured you might want this," he said as he hands it to NDSU President Dean Bresciani.

The trophy ends up in the hands of offensive lineman Tyler Gimmestad, who starts kissing it.

3:57 p.m.

The postgame hoopla starts to fade. Some players grab bag lunches that include a giant burrito, fruit and Powerade.

Meanwhile, the celebration continues in the nearby tailgating area.

Chad Stark, a former Bison running back, dons a horned, Bison hat on his head. He has a stoagie in one hand and a beer in the other.

"This just gave me goose bumps, that's how exciting this was," said Stark, a avid member of NDSU's Team Makers booster club. "They did it right. They stuck to the fundamentals that got us championships back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. How do you get 10,000 fans down here from Fargo if you don't do it right?"

4:18 p.m.

Back in the locker room, the Bison observe longtime rituals - like getting on one knee and praying, like singing "Hail the Bison."

Bohl thanks his seniors. And he reminds the others the offseason lifting starts in one week.

About a half hour later, after mingling with relatives outside, the players load on to bus for their memorable charter flight back to Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
What To Read Next
Mini opera serves a sweet slice of musical theater savored by audience.
The group is marking the 50th anniversary of its debut album and will make a stop in West Fargo to celebrate.
A violin concerto that has only been performed a handful of times is a big part of the concert.
One-woman show has the star mixing a cake as she sings the recipe.