FARGO — A random, chance meeting with North Dakota State associate head coach Randy Hedberg at a downtown Fargo restaurant last Thursday evening turned into the full meal deal tour of Bison football for a group of East Coast fans.
John Parola of Moscow, Pa., Chad Cerrone of Saylorsburg, Pa., and their friends, mostly Penn State followers, take a destination trip every year to a college football venue, something that’s been going on for 18 years. They sidetracked from the usual trip to a major FBS venue in favor of FCS power NDSU, in part after one of them saw an article of the Bison traveling show to the FCS national title game in Frisco, Texas, almost every year.
“The article was talking about how they always run out of beer,” Parola said. “And in the article there was a picture at a November game of all these RVs lined up. I said we eventually have to go there, so we’ve been waiting for the right game.”
They found an exciting game. NDSU, on the heels of two late interceptions, defeated California Davis 27-16 before 18,425 fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome who made a difference.
The hope, Parola said, was for the group to attend a South Dakota State and NDSU Dakota Marker rivalry game, but that clash will be played in Brookings, S.D., this year. Then the news hit that UC Davis was ranked in the top five in the FCS preseason poll.
“I said, we’re going; we’re going to Fargo,” Parola said.
“We heard how crazy the fans were and how well they travel,” Cerrone said. “So let’s give it a shot.”
At dinner Thursday, Parola found himself sitting next to Hedberg and his wife, Chery, although Parola had no idea he was a Bison coach. Parola asked the Hedbergs if he knew of anybody his group could tailgate with.
It wasn’t long before Randy Hedberg invited them to a tour of the Bison football facilities on Friday.
“We were ready to run out onto the field he had us so pumped up,” Parola said. “Everybody is so nice, it’s unbelievable. It’s clear this town loves this team. That’s college football.”
Bison defense proves stat accurate
NDSU head coach Matt Entz quoted a mentor of his after the game when talking about the Bison defense, which gave up just one touchdown to the high-powered Aggie offense. University of South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson once told Entz that if a team gives up 17 points or less, there is a 85 percent chance of winning the game.
"That's the only number I worry about right now," Entz said. "We knew they were going to come in here and chuck and duck and throw it and they did a great job. But our kids were able to get some three-and-outs and get off the field and create some takeaways. ... It's all about 16 points."
Last week, NDSU bucked one of Entz's statistics when the Bison defeated the University of Delaware. Entz said teams have a 13 percent chance of winning if they get a punt blocked. The Blue Hens did just that in the first quarter, but the Bison went on to win 47-22.
Hendricks returns, Williams still out
Starting free safety James Hendricks returned to the lineup after missing the Delaware game with concussion symptoms. But NDSU played without running back Dimitri Williams for the second straight game. Entz said in his weekly press conference last week that Williams needs "to do a better job of managing his ailments."
Sophomore strong safety James Kaczor saw time at linebacker against the Aggies, which was most notable in the second half because of Davis' no-huddle offense, Entz said.
"We've done that before against some no-huddle teams trying to find our best cover people," he said. "And it's good. James needs to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage. He gets a little antsy at safety, he wants to be in the mix so this was a good test. We had it prepped for UND, did not use it, so we were able to recall it this week."
Davis had two starters leave field with injuries and not return in cornerback Jordan Perryman and center Connor Pettek.
The Bison have a bye this week and Entz hinted that it could be a good time for a few players to inch up the depth chart.
"I think there are some bodies there that can still help us that maybe haven't played as much," he said. "We'll find out over the next week."
The schedule doesn't get any easier. NDSU opens Missouri Valley Football Conference play at Illinois State, which came into the weekend ranked 15th in the STATS.com FCS top 25 media poll and defeated Northern Arizona 40-27 on Saturday. The Redbirds are 3-1 with their only loss to FBS Northern Illinois.
"Four games, have eight more, it's a little bit longer season than normal," Entz said of the 12-game regular season. "We're getting into the meat and potatoes of our schedule. As I mentioned before, we need to identify another three, four guys that can help us down the road. Not every game, but where are there four games where they can still help us? We still have some really quality young men we haven't played yet that can give us some valuable snaps."