It was one of those days when you wished the Fargodome had a retractable roof. Any time the temperature gets into the 80s in October, you do what you can to get outside.
Then again, the roof probably came off its bolts for a bit anyway. That's what over 18,000 fans can do to a building when the home team wins a game that was about as suspenseful as it gets in Division I FCS football.
It was Emotion City all day, starting with the national spotlight of ESPN's "SportsCenter on the Road" that started at 6 a.m. By the time Darrius Shepherd hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining to beat Northern Iowa 31-28, the fans who were on hand for the ESPN show and the thousands of tailgaters who started before the sun came up had to have been exhausted.
Or, about as tired as Shepherd had to have been sore.
"Oh man, the kid's an animal," said Bison quarterback Carson Wentz. "I've been saying all week he's a warrior. We saw him practice and you could tell he was hurting. What if the kid would have played the whole game? He made some plays, love the kid to death."
Shepherd was a warrior because he barely practiced during the week and played against Northern Iowa-a hard-hitting team by the way-with a sprained shoulder suffered last week against South Dakota State. He didn't practice on Tuesday, practiced Wednesday with basically one arm and didn't practice on Thursday.
It was to the point where NDSU head trainer Bobby Knodel told head coach Chris Klieman that he could have Shepherd for one half because that's how long a pain-numbing medication would last. Pick one.
Klieman took the second half.
Good pick, coach. Genius.
"What a game that young man played," Klieman said.
What a game in one half. One quarter, really. Shepherd's 33-yard touchdown reception with 7:49 left in the game gave NDSU a 24-21 lead. It wasn't an easy grab-he caught the high-arching pass knowing a UNI defensive back was about to blast him south a couple of blocks.
He still held on to the ball.
"I had my mobility," Shepherd said. "Carson said he was looking for me before the play, so keep your eyes at me."
So did UNI quarterback Aaron Bailey, who sprinted 83 yards on the Panthers' first ensuing play and the Bison found themselves trailing 13 seconds later. Things weren't looking great, either, when Wentz fumbled on NDSU's drive and UNI got the ball near midfield with 5:36 remaining.
UNI got two first downs, but misfired on a 38-yard field goal. So with 2:30 left, the Bison still had time and Shepherd's shoulder was still attached, as best we could tell.
"He's a tough, tough young man," Klieman said.
The game-winning catch was not easy schmeezy, either. He went up with a couple of other UNI defenders with his back to the ground, grabbed the Wentz pass and hung on with three Panthers all over him.
"I went up for the ball and they were trying to rip it out but I had it," Shepherd said.
Lost in all the evaluation of Shepherd's second half is his age - he's a freshman. With the steady senior in Zach Vraa, a playmaker in sophomore R.J. Urzendowski, the two-minute drill Wentz ran to perfection was all the more riveting to watch.
NDSU is now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with wins over two of its presumably toughest league foes. The Bison have South Dakota coming to town next weekend, but NDSU also got banged up against the Panthers. There will be a few backups who will get more reps with the No. 1 offense or defense this week.
Or those banged up guys could ask Shepherd how to play with pain. He landed on the Gate City Bank Field turf on his back on that last catch.
If you have a bad shoulder, it had to hurt. You know, like somebody inserting a long needle smack dab into a sensitive nerve.
"When you're in the end zone, you have no pain," Shepherd said. "It's an exciting feeling seeing your teammates all around you, then you hear the crowd and it's awesome. It was a tough battle, for us to come back showed our character."