Fargo

Chris Klieman is in his sixth year with the North Dakota State football program and when it comes to playing Northern Iowa-his old school-there are no longer any connections to players. There is nobody on the Panthers roster he even helped recruit.

So, for the most part, that Klieman-heading-back-to-UNI story has left the building.

What has remained, however, is the NDSU vs. UNI series and it's grown to the point that from an emotional level, it's the fiercest rivalry of the year for both teams. For NDSU, whereas the Dakota Marker series with South Dakota State was built on friendly terms in 2004 when both were like a package deal with the Division I reclassification, the first Northern Iowa game at the Fargodome as D-I opponents in 2009 was accentuated with a scuffle on the Bison sideline.

It's been a hard-edge game ever since.

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"It's a tough game for tough dudes," said NDSU quarterback Easton Stick.

It's an anniversary game of sorts for both teams-the 50th time they will have played. The UNI vein actually traces back to the Division II era when both teams were in the North Central Conference. Certainly, at the time, NDSU and the University of North Dakota was the rival game for both North Dakota schools, but a game with UNI wasn't exactly like a game with Morningside.

The old Panthers head coach, Stan Sheriff, led the Panthers from 1960-82 and he had his share of battles with NDSU.

"Stan Sheriff was a character in his own right," said Pat Simmers, a former Bison player and coach and now the NDSU senior associate athletic director and executive director of Team Makers.

In reality, however, NDSU's best non-UND Division II rival was a mixture of South Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha and UNI-whoever put together the best run of years against NDSU.

"Northern Iowa was probably most prevalent there," Simmers said. "In today's world, it's South Dakota State and Northern Iowa just because they're league teams again."

In today's world, NDSU and UNI are two teams who generally build their teams in the same fashion: recruits Midwest players with a primary philosophy of being physical at the line of scrimmage.

Both teams annually put together the best offensive and defensive lines in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It was Northern Iowa, in fact, that taught former Bison head coach Craig Bohl a lesson in recruiting when the Panthers dominated the Bison in their first D-I meeting in 2008 at the UNI-Dome.

The Bison eventually caught up and passed the Panthers in that area.

"Just the way the games have gone in the past, you know it's going to be a physical battle," said Bison running back Chase Morlock. "It's another fun rivalry game. What we pride ourselves on is being physical and they pride themselves on being physical so we're going to go out there, bang it out and it's going to be a hard-hitting game. It's what we love around here."

Also factoring into the rivalry: the head coaches of each team. It's doubtful Klieman and UNI head coach Mark Farley send each other Christmas cards. Klieman, NDSU defensive coordinator Matt Entz and Bison receivers coach Atif Austin all coached under Farley.

"Because of the crossover in coaching staff, that always generates a little bit but that's lessened," Entz said. "Now it's two teams that are always vying for a conference championship that want to knock each other off."

On Saturday, Oct. 29, UNI will be gunning to stay alive in the league race while the Bison will be fighting to try and keep pace with first place SDSU. In other words, both teams have another reason to play with a fighting mentality besides the rivalry itself.

Look for another headknocker.

"I don't think there's a lot of love lost between the teams," said Bison linebacker MJ Stumpf. "Every game is important but along with South Dakota State we circle this one."

UNI leads the series 26-23 that dates back to 1938. NDSU, however, has won five of the last six games, but has just a 5-4 edge since that 2008 game. The Bison are also coming off the biggest win in series history-a 23-13 win in last year's FCS quarterfinals.

It's a different story at the UNI-Dome, where NDSU is just 1-3 including a 23-3 defeat two years ago.

"This is always a hyped-up game," Morlock said. "I still remember pretty vividly from last time at the UNI-Dome. It's stuck with me so this is always a heated game. Everyone's amped up. Their players are probably amped up; our players are amped up. It's going to be a good game, it always is."