Schnepf: Bison come from behind to win fourth consecutive national championship

North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz is congratulated Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, by former teammate Marcus Williams after the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

Frisco, Texas — A nationwide television audience, including Jim Tressel in Ohio and Roy Kidd in Kentucky, watched North Dakota State’s football team make history Saturday. And in fairytale fashion.

With their dramatic 29-27 victory over Illinois State, the Bison became the first team in the Football Championship Subdivision’s 37-year history to win four straight national titles. They became only the sixth team in the history of all of college football to four-peat. And they joined some exclusive company with the likes of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team and the New York Yankees’ baseball team to further accentuate their claim as a dynasty.

The man who oversees all of college athletics was certainly impressed.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert, who from his Toyota Stadium suite watched the Bison march 78 yards in 61 seconds and score the winning touchdown with 37 seconds remaining. “It’s certainly something for the record books … and the way it happened. We just witnessed one of the most phenomenal championship games you will ever see.”


The Bison celebrate their FCS title win Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. Photo by Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor


Including Tressel, who watched Saturday’s game from his home in Youngstown, Ohio, and Kidd, who watched from his home in Richmond, Kentucky.
They were the only two other coaches in FCS history to play in four straight national championships. But they fell short of what the Bison accomplished Saturday – with Tressel’s Youngstown State team going 3-1 in title games from 1991 to 1994 and Kidd’s Eastern Kentucky team going 2-2 from 1979 to 1982.

The Bison, of course, went 4-0 – compiling an amazing 58-3 record during the last four seasons. That’s insane.

“It’s a very tough road to play that many games and keep winning,” said Kidd, now an 83-year-old retired coach who has a stadium named after him.

“You always enjoy watching excellence,” said Tressel, now the president at Youngstown State. “People don’t know how hard it is to accomplish that – especially in North Dakota State’s case with so much transition.”

Oh yes, let’s not forget that the Bison not only made history, they did so after losing 23 seniors from last year’s championship team and most of its coaching staff, including the head coach. That’s insane.


North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman hugs Colten Heagle at the end of their game against Illinois State for the FCS Division 1 Championship on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“You can just tell that they have all bought in and that’s what you look for,” said first-year head coach Chris Klieman, who was an assistant during the previous three championships. “Our players generally like to be here, they like to be around each other. And if you don’t have that, we wouldn’t be where we are as a football team.”

A little luck doesn’t hurt either. Kidd and Tressel know all about luck – bad luck that is. Had it not occurred, their teams may have had four straight titles too.

In Eastern Kentucky’s 31-29 title loss in 1980, Kidd saw Boise State score the winning touchdown on a fourth-down play.

“We scored with less than a minute to go and our guys were jumping up and down thinking we had won the game,” said Kidd, portraying a mood that Illinois State players must have felt after taking a 27-23 lead with 98 seconds left of Saturday’s game.

For Youngstown, it was Marshall’s backup kicker whose wobbly 30-yard field in the closing seconds of the 1992 title game that ultimately kept Youngstown from winning four straight. Youngstown, after overcoming a 28-0 deficit in the fourth quarter, lost 31-28.

John Crockett of North Dakota State is tackled by Dontae McCoy of Illinois State during their FCS Division 1 Championship football game Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor


“It was terrible,” Tressel recalled. “The kick looked like a knuckle ball. Somehow, that backup kicker squeaked that ball through the goal posts.”

Somehow, NDSU marched nearly the length of the field in 61 seconds to win its fourth straight title – a streak even more amazing in the realm of all of college football.

The only other times a string of four or more consecutive titles has been run off occurred at the top level was when electricity, cars and indoor plumbing were groundbreaking innovations. Yale won six straight titles from 1879 to 1884, playing fewer games during three of those seasons than NDSU played this season. Michigan won four straight from 1901 to 1904, sharing titles with the likes of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Minnesota. And California won four straight from 1920 to 1923, sharing titles with 17 other teams.

If there are teams who have truly endured a modern-day, grueling playoff system like NDSU, you would have to dip into NCAA Division III football where Augustana of Illinois won four straight from 1983 to 1986 or even lower into NAIA football where Carroll College of Helena, Mont., won four straight from 2002 to 2005.

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ELITE COMPANY: Compiled by Kevin Schnepf. Graphic by Troy Becker / The Forum

The only Division II team that came close to winning four straight was – you guessed it – NDSU. Had it not been for Troy State’s last-second 50-yard field goal to beat the Bison in the 1984 title game, NDSU would have had four straight from 1983 to 1986.

“Looking back on it, it’s been an incredible experience and not something that I thought would really happen,” said Bison safety Colten Heagle, a senior from Appleton, Wis.


Bison senior defensive end Kyle Emanuel remembers when former Bison head coach Craig Bohl walked into his house in Schuyler, Neb., on a recruiting visit. The Bison were coming off of a 3-8 season.

“Coach Bohl told me ‘if you commit here I really think you will be part of a national championship … he didn’t say four championships,” Emanuel said. “He didn’t even mention about getting the opportunity for four championships. But who could have ever imagined that?”

Perhaps as much as fulfilling his dreams of becoming a pro football player. Saturday night, Emanuel – along with teammate John Crockett – flew to Tampa, Fla., to prepare for the Jan. 17 Shrine All-Star game. After that, Emanuel – already graduated – will fly to Phoenix to train in the same place where former Bison Billy Turner worked out before he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins.

North Dakota State’s Kyle Emanuel battles with Illinois State’s Michael Liedtke during Saturday’s 2015 NCAA Division I FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

Bison senior safety Christian Dudzik plans to train for the next level of football. But for now, he is relishing that fourth straight title – especially after starting in all 61 games of his Bison career. That’s a lot of football for the kid from Omaha who played much of the season with a sprained left shoulder.

It’s not as painful with four championship rings.

“It’s kind of like a fantasy really,” Dudzik said. “It’s a fantasy come true.”


The estimated 17,000 Bison fans – most of whom swarmed onto the field to celebrate after the game – were certainly in a fantasy state after that finish. That includes new athletic director Matt Larsen, who had to give his son a big hug on the sidelines after the Bison scored their winning touchdown.

“For the first time in my three months here, I am almost speechless,” Larsen said. “That’s Bison football for me. They never quit. I’m just in awe of these guys.”

So was NDSU president Dean Bresciani.

“That is the explanation mark on a storybook program,” Bresciani said.. “NCAA history was just made and in such a defining manner – you couldn’t have written it up any better than that.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or .

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