MOORHEAD-Minnesota State Moorhead is hoping to nearly equal last year's home football attendance for the entire season in one evening.
"Every person I run into has asked me about the game," MSUM athletic director Doug Peters said. "There is definite excitement and people are fired up."
The Dragons open their season at 6 p.m. today against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Winona State at Alex Nemzek Stadium. The goal is to set a home attendance record with MSUM playing its first game on the newly installed Scheels Field artificial turf. It is its first home night game since 1986.
"It made sense to try and do something special," Peters said.
The current home attendance record for MSUM is the 6,200 fans, which was set during the 1982 season when the Dragons earned a 30-9 victory against rival Concordia in Week 2.
If MSUM is able to top that longstanding mark, it would nearly equal the number of fans the team attracted over six home dates last fall. The Dragons drew 6,805 fans last season, an average of 1,134 per game.
"From a big picture standpoint, it's a great thing because it raises the level of expectations," said Dragons head coach Steve Laqua, who is starting his fifth season. "It raises the pressure involved. I think any program that wants the be great has to and wants to play in games that have a lot of attention and pressure."
Peters said the athletic department is trying to create a "big-event feel" for the opener by surrounding the game with multiple activities and promotions for fans. The tailgate area, which is located west of Alex Nemzek Hall, opens at 3 p.m. "Big Al's BBQ" will be serving food before the game and accepting free-will donations, Peters said. The Dragons are giving away a new car for one year and giving one fan a chance to win $20,000. MSUM is also giving away an LED television and $1,500 in tuition for the spring semester. Those are a handful of the promotions MSUM has planned in an attempt to help break the attendance mark and christen the new turf and lights.
The Dragons are also setting up a portable high-definition videoboard for the game.
Peters said the permanent seating at Alex Nemzek Stadium holds about 3,500 spectators. Portable bleachers are going to be added in the north end zone. If needed, the rest of the crowd will either be standing room or seated on the grass berm.
"It's a chance for us to be the marquee game of the night," Peters said with no other varsity high school or college football games scheduled in Fargo-Moorhead. "I know that we're going to have a great crowd. It will be the best crowd we've since I've been here. If we break the attendance record, it will be icing on the cake."
Dragons senior offensive tackle Bennen Bierman is excited to play in a night home game for the first time since high school, but is trying to not focus on the added fanfare surrounding the opener.
"There is a distraction factor," said Bierman, who said he has roommates not on the football team who have asked him about the first game on Scheels Field. "I'm really working on not getting caught up in that."
Dragons senior cornerback Chris Binford said playing a home game under the lights also reminds him of his high school days. The 5-foot-7, 152-pound Binford is thankful for how hard the athletic department has worked in promoting the game, but said he's more concerned with how the team performs. The Dragons have posted 4-7 records in each of the past two seasons and are hoping to improve on that this fall.
"I'm just focused on the game to be honest," Binford said. "This is our chance to really prove to people what we can do. ... We've raised the bar every year and I feel like each year we're progressing."