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Plenty of Bison fans make trek to Twin Cities for NDSU win

MINNEAPOLIS - The last time Paula Gimmestad saw the Bison take on (and beat) the Gophers here, she was a Minnesota season ticket holder rooting for the home team. This round, she and her husband, Bill, showed up in yellow and green and made thems...

MINNEAPOLIS - The last time Paula Gimmestad saw the Bison take on (and beat) the Gophers here, she was a Minnesota season ticket holder rooting for the home team. This round, she and her husband, Bill, showed up in yellow and green and made themselves at home in the North Dakota State tailgating lot.

The reasoning behind the reversal was sound: Their son Tyler now starts on the Bison offensive line. And in spite of past allegiances, Bill said they brought no mixed emotions into Saturday's showdown.

"We want the Bison to do well," he said.

He predicted a 14-point NDSU win. After three quarters, that looked like it might be too low. For a stretch in the fourth as the Gophers mounted a comeback bid, it looked like it might be flat-out wrong. But when the dust settled, he was a botched extra point away from nailing the final margin on the nose in a 37-24 NDSU victory that sent visiting fans into a spirited celebration.

The Gimmestads and their entourage - both sides of the family, a trailer, a tent, and a very busy grill - were among the thousands of Bison backers who made the trip here to catch NDSU's first-ever visit to TCF Bank Stadium. Fans devoured their allotment of about 2,200 visitor's tickets and snatched up plenty more via online brokers and other venues.

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Getting in was a little trickier than it was in 2007, when the Bison knocked around the Gophers in the cavernous Metrodome. The Bank, which opened in 2009, has about 13,000 fewer seats.

But that hardly seemed to slow the NDSU faithful, who accounted for perhaps half the crowd by kickoff. The Bison drew a wave of cheers when they took the field for warm-ups, and a few unmistakable "Let's go Bison!" chants broke out.

In the hours before the game, many of those fans and fanatics set up camp at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, turning the area set aside for Bison tailgating into a yellow and green tent city. They brought with them all the familiar comforts of a home Fargodome tailgate: the flags, the grills, the beer, and the confidence that they'd come away with a win.

"Bison by six," predicted Craig Roth, a season ticket holder of about 30 years. He came down from Fargo with his wife and a group of friends. He's a Moorhead State alumnus, but "their football's no fun," he said.

Roth, who was here for the last win, savored the chance for a repeat performance in NDSU's first trip to open-air TCF.

"Beautiful day, perfect football weather - couldn't be better," he said.

Elsewhere at the sprawling pregame party, Ty Dressler, who drove in all the way from Dickinson with his wife, Deneen, for the game, was more optimistic still.

"Bison win by about 28 points," he said, with more than a hint of hyberbole.

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His friend Colin Marcusen offered a more measured assessment.

"We know they're both good teams," he said. "It's going to be a good game."

Mike Hanson of Hanson Brothers Construction in Fargo brought the whole company down for the game. He came in with high hopes but figured the Bison were in for a slugfest.

"I think it's going to be a tough game, but they can do it," he said. "It's fun to come down here, see a bigger venue, and stick it to our neighbors a little bit," he said.

About an hour after the tailgating lot opened, he was busy grilling a few savory slabs of ribs - and attracting new friends in the process.

"We started with 10 people, but I think we're picking up more as the day goes on," he said.

Perhaps the most formidable tailgating machine on the premises came courtesy of West Central Inc. The Willmar, Minn.-based agricultural chemical wholesaler showed up with an entire semitrailer outfitted as a mobile bar and grill.

"We mostly have it at Bison games," said Tim Erickson, a company representative who was manning the truck. "A lot of customers come to these events. We're here to accommodate them and enjoy the game."

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The action wasn't limited to the fairgrounds. Two groups of NDSU fans rented out the parking lot of Valu Liquors near the stadium and threw private pregame parties.

Larry Persons, a Bison Team Makers booster who hosted a group of fans on one side of the lot, said he was looking forward to seeing the Bison pick up where they left off - and avenge a missed opportunity from 2006, when a potential game-winning Bison field goal against the Gophers was blocked.

"We have the one win, we should've had the two wins, but we're going to get the second one today," he said. "It's the Gophers and the Bison. Who could ask for anything better?"

Michael Amundson of RBC Wealth Management, which threw an equally lively party in the other half of the lot, said it was an opportunity to give the company and its clients a taste of NDSU home football flavor on the road.

"What a great event to have here down in Minneapolis," he said. "I think the Bison are showing that they can compete at this level."

At Sally's Saloon a few blocks south of the game, at least one group of fans crossed party lines to mingle in mixed company, as Tara Anderson and her boyfriend Jim Topp - both Gopher fans from Maple Grove - shared a drink with Bison stalwart Tony Staiger and a group of his friends from Fargo.

The two groups met at WE Fest a few years ago and made it a point to meet up here to take in the rivalry in friendly fashion.

"It's all in fun," Anderson said. "We hope it comes out ahead for the Gophers, but we won't be too upset if they go home happy."

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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