FARGO – Chris Klieman's North Dakota State football team just claimed a last-second win over Northern Iowa – his hometown team that he used to play for, the team that he used to help coach.
But as thrilling and meaningful as Saturday's 31-28 win was, this was not-believe it or not-what Klieman will remember the most from this past weekend. As a spectator Friday night, he saw his son Devin intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown in Fargo Shanley's high school football win on senior night.
"Honestly, that was the highlight of my weekend and this was pretty doggone close," Klieman said in the postgame press conference. "For 136 pounds, my son has worked incredibly hard.
He's ... that ..."
Klieman paused and looked down, with tears in his eyes.
"Love you Devin" were Klieman's next words.
"Love you dad," Devin responded from a back-row of the team meeting room.
Also sitting back there was his wife Rhonda, his other son Colby and daughter Haley. In the same row was his dad Bob and mom Mary Kay and his brother Scott-who made the trip up from Cedar Falls, the hometown of Northern Iowa. Klieman made it a point to announce their presence during the postgame press conference.
"He loves his family deeply," said Bob, who has a framed picture of Scott and Chris hugging each other after the 2013 win at Kansas State.
These strong family ties made it even harder for Klieman to leave Northern Iowa five years ago when former Bison head coach Craig Bohl came knocking on his door. Klieman didn't want to leave his family-but he also saw an opportunity to not only get a decent pay raise, but to work at a storied program.
"It was really kind of a leap of faith," said brother Scott. "But not a bad roll of the dice."
All the Kliemans would never have imagined was has happened since the move to Fargo.
There were the three national championships as an assistant coach. Then after replacing Bohl as head coach, he guided the Bison to another national title. He's been on national television twice-once on last year's ESPN's "College GameDay" visit to Fargo and again early Saturday morning during ESPN's "SportsCenter on the Road" visit to the Fargodome.
There was Klieman, taking a bite of a giant Bison burger wrapped in bacon which was delivered to him by former Bison All-American and current New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams.
"You couldn't imagine any of that," said Bob. "I talked to a friend who Chris coached with at Northern Iowa and he told me he would die for one of those rings. Four years later, Chris has got four of them. You just can't even imagine that."
Besides his family, there are those in Cedar Falls who still love Klieman-including Bob's golfing buddies. Then again, there were diehard Panther fans this past week who made life "interesting" for Chris-whose backyard is only 100 yards from the backyard of Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley.
"I live in a neighborhood where there are a ton of Panther fans," Scott said. "It kind of gets testy."
That's why Chris made it a point to include Scott in Saturday's pregame speech. He told his players that his brother takes a beating from some of the people. But he reminded his players that his brother will have his Bison gear on Monday through Saturday.
"It was pretty moving," said Scott, the older brother. "I know this guy pretty darn good. We shared the same bunk beds for years. When we played basketball in our neighborhood, we had nine guys and he was always the tenth. We did a lot of stuff together."
When the Kliemans return to Cedar Falls, it's a sure bet they will hear Panther fans claiming that their team should have won the last two games played here in the Fargodome. And justifiably so. In 2013, the Bison scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to win 24-23.
Saturday, it appeared Northern Iowa was ready to end NDSU's 25-game home winning streak. But a missed 38-yard field goal gave the Bison some life-getting the ball back on their own 21 and trailing 28-24 with 2 minutes and 30 seconds remaining.
Bob could only think about NDSU's late-game drive that produced last January's memorable 29-27 national championship win over Illinois State.
"Because I experienced that, I had some hope," Bob said.
Much like the Frisco drive, hope quickly turned to reality when the Bison converted on two fourth-down plays. Then on first down from the UNI 18, quarterback Carson Wentz threw the perfect pass to the corner of the end zone where Darrius Shepherd hauled it in for the winning score.
"Words can't even explain it," Scott said.
"Everybody should just appreciate how great of a game that was," Farley said. "We just witnessed one of the best games of the season."
Bob agreed-realizing that one of these days this magical ride his son has been on may come to an end.
"But it happened again, and we are thrilled to death about it."