FARGO – A lot has been said on how much football players from North Dakota State and Northern Iowa hate each other. Let's take a look at a couple plays – from Saturday's memorable FCS quarterfinal game in which NDSU came out on top 23-13 – to dispel this myth.
Bison running back King Frazier levels a block on UNI defensive back Tim Kilfoy to spring Darrius Shepherd free for a 17-yard gain in the third quarter. As the teams returned to their huddles, you could see Frazier and Kilfoy tapping each other on the helmets as if to say, "nice play."
Not too long after that, Bison defensive tackle Brian Schaetz and UNI center Justin Putney went at it. With Putney lying on the ground after the play ended, Schaetz extended his hand out to help Putney off the Gate City Bank Field turf.
Let Kilfoy explain what this rivalry has become – as he eloquently did moments after he saw his career end two wins shy of a national championship game, something UNI has experienced only once in its storied FCS history.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for NDSU," Kilfoy said in the postgame press conference. "I wouldn't even say it's a team that I dislike or hate ... we have respect for this team and they have respect for us.
"You're going have times when there are hostile things going on. And you're going to have times you are just playing football. We know this a huge game on a big stage. If you take away the fun of it, you take away the game."
It was indeed a huge stage with the game televised before a national audience on ESPN. It was the four-time defending national champion Bison taking on a UNI team that arguably should have won the previous two games it played in the Fargodome and the only team to hand NDSU a whipping during the last five seasons with a 23-3 win in Cedar Falls in 2014.
It was expected to be another doozy Saturday. And both teams delivered – supporting the notion of many that Saturday's game was the national-championship game.
UNI head coach Mark Farley, who fell short of reaching his sixth semifinal game as a coach, thought so.
"I thought so coming in," Farley said. "Someone asked me earlier in the week if we had the best team .... I felt the two best teams in the field were playing today."
Farley, whether you like it or not, is the face of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. As a walkon, he became a standout linebacker who led UNI to the 1985 semifinals. As a head coach during these last 15 years, he led the Panthers to the 2005 national championship game ... losing 21-16 to Appalachian State.
His program's last big playoff run came in 2008 in the UNI-Dome, when Richmond scored with 14 seconds left to claim a 21-20 semifinal win. It is Richmond that will be coming to experience the Fargodome for the first time when it plays a semifinal game against the Bison – Friday night on ESPN2.
"It hurts," said UNI defensive back Deiondre' Hall. "But I mean ... great football team."
Hall was referring to NDSU – which time after time came up with huge tackles to keep the Panthers from exploding for the big plays that got them this far. Hall and his defensive teammates like linebacker Jared Farley, the sophomore son of Mark Farley, produced its share of big tackles.
But it wasn't enough to end the Bison dynasty. But was it enough to label it the national championship game?
"It was a quarterfinal game," Klieman quickly said, knowing his team has a lot of work to do yet before claiming a fifth straight title.
"Everybody knows it's going to be a hardfought game," Klieman said, who came to NDSU after playing and coaching at UNI. "We battle them in recruiting, we battle them every year on the field. It was just about field position and who could land the knockout punch."
One NDSU landed ... with some respect.