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Game Day notebook: On the bye week, Bison LB Kaczor said goodbye to being a single man

Senior standout got married in front of a large audience of NDSU football players and coaches.

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North Dakota State senior linebacker James Kaczor (26) got married during the Bison football bye week. Dave Samson / The Forum

FARGO — The bye week for North Dakota State didn’t mean the weekend off for linebacker James Kaczor. He did something unusual for a college football player during the season.

He got married.

Like a game day, he admitted to some nerves. Unlike a game day, he was more emotional than he’s used to being on Saturdays in the fall.

“I’m an emotional guy, I was crying quite a bit during the day,” Kaczor said. “But it was awesome, better than I could have expected. No major mishaps; everything went smooth.”

The wedding of Kaczor and Gracie Wright had a large audience of Bison players and coaches.

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“Had the opportunity to go to the ceremony, spend time with his mother and all the siblings,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz. “It was a good day. You could tell by the smile on his face and the cracks in his voice that he was super excited. I told him to make it a quick honeymoon, we have things to do on Monday.”

They were engaged last May. Not wanting to put a wedding off too long, they went looking for dates. August is fall camp for Bison players and that was immediately ruled out. Sometime in July was too soon. They settled on NDSU’s bye week.

They met in a coed dormitory at NDSU, but became more serious through church and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“After I knew she loved Jesus, I was ready to commit to a relationship with her,” James said.

Kaczor said he got a “special wedding gift” from head strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer.

“He let me lift on Friday with the team,” he said.

Kaczor missed NDSU’s last two games rehabilitating a groin injury. He’s expected to be in the lineup when the Bison play at the University of North Dakota. It was his answer when asked earlier this week what he was going to do for his honeymoon.

“We’re going to the Alerus Center on Saturday,” he said.

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Bison traveling same day to GF

NDSU will bus to Grand Forks on Saturday morning, a departure from the usual routine of traveling to an out-of-town game on Friday. Entz compared it to a road game at Western Illinois, where the Bison stayed in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Friday night.

It’s a few miles farther from Bettendorf to Macomb, Ill., than it is from Fargo to Grand Forks. Moreover, country singer Eric Church is performing at the Alerus Center on Friday, a concert that is expected to pack the facility.

“All of a sudden we’re going to be in a hotel that could have a number of interruptions,” Entz said.

'It's an electric atmosphere'

The Bison and Fighting Hawks haven't played in Grand Forks since Oct. 18, 2003, when UND earned a 28-21 overtime victory and both programs were NCAA Division II programs.

Saturday marks the first Division I matchup between the two programs in Grand Forks. NDSU has a 3-0 record against the Fighting Hawks during the D-I era with all those games played at the Fargodome.

“It’s been 18 years since North Dakota State has been in Grand Forks," said UND head coach Bubba Schweigert. "We’re excited about this opportunity. This is the reason we wanted to be in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.”

UND was in the Big Sky Conference before it joined the MVFC. The Alerus Center officially holds 12,283 fans and the game is sold out.

“I’d expect it to be pretty full of energy. We think it’s difficult to play in those atmospheres and that has helped us at home when you look at our home record," Schweigert said. “We also got to work with our team to be able to handle that noise and communicate when it’s loud, but we want it electric.”

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Schweigert was the UND defensive coordinator for that 2003 game in Grand Forks.

“None of our guys have really experienced having that game in Grand Forks and it’s been 18 years so they weren’t very old the last time we had them here, but I remember it," Schweigert said. "I was part of that. It’s an electric atmosphere.”

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North Dakota State quarterback Quincy Patterson (2) has rushed for for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts through three games this season. David Samson / The Forum

Bison run game thriving

The Bison have had a dynamic ground game through three games this season, averaging 348.3 rushing yards per game. They are averaging 7.9 yards per carry.

NDSU running backs Dominic Gonnella, TaMerik Williams, Jalen Bussey and Hunter Luepke are all averaging at least 8.2 yards per carry. Kobe Johnson is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. Gonnella leads the team in rushing with 238 yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts.

“You’re always going to have to stop the run against them. You’ve got to be good on the inside, outside, they really are multiple in the type of run plays that you defend," Schweigert said. “They do a nice job of different looks and challenge you across the field and running different types of run plays. Not only do they do it with their running backs, but they add the quarterback run game to their attack and that creates a lot of challenges.”

The Bison have limited quarterback Quincy Patterson's designed runs through three nonconference games. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Patterson has rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts.

“He’s very capable of making all the throws. He’s capable of running the football," Schweigert said. “We don’t have a large sample of his runs. ... We’re going to have to defend the run and then you can’t let them have explosive plays, which is a real challenge.”

NDSU rushed for 316 yards on 54 attempts in a 34-13 victory against UND last March at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

Odds and ends

  • UND is 8-1 against nationally-ranked opponents at home in the last four years. No. 4 Weber State (Utah) was the only blemish, a 35-30 Wildcats win in 2018.
  • Despite the layoff with the two teams playing each other after the 2003 season, the series is still tied for the eighth-oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River dating back to 1894. They've played 113 times with UND holding a 62-48-3 lead.
  • UND's Isaiah Smith ran for 125 yards two weeks ago against Drake, the first time a back has run for 100 yards or more in his first game since John Santiago in 2015. Fighting Hawks running back Otis Weah needs 62 yards to reach 1,000 for his career.
  • NDSU has won 34 straight games after a bye week. The streak comprised 19 home games, seven road games and eight national championship games.
  • This week marked the 150th straight week NDSU has been ranked in the Stats Perform FCS top 25 poll, which dates back to 2010.
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