The game itself was an intense first half, with NDSU scoring three first with a 32 yard field goal the only score in the first quarter. The drizzle and clouds of the morning were giving way to broken clouds as the second quarter rolled around.
Though it didn’t look much better for the Bison.
Sam Houston State tied it up early in the second quarter, the Bison scored a touchdown with only about three minutes left – and Sam Houston didn’t waste anytime tying it up in time for halftime.
The Bison were playing well…but so were the Bearkats.
It was a great first half of football played by two teams that deserved to be here, at the National Championship game. But for us 15,000 Bison fans in the stands and the thousands of more outside, we were hoping for a good second half…and a Bison victory.
The sun came out at halftime to the delight of those of us in the stands – the Bison side of the stadium basked in the sunlight of a Texas winter day – and temperatures warmed enough to let us take off our jackets. The Bearkat stands (filled with more Bison fans than Bearkats) were still shaded thanks to the stadium configuration and location of the sun.
It was a good sign.
The first play of the second half did not start well for the Bison, as the Bearkats ran in for a touchdown…but wait…the stands erupted as the yellow flag was spotted well back on the field…no touchdown after all thanks to a holding penalty.
And it was almost all over from there.
The Bison scored a touchdown halfway through the third quarter after a long march down the field. It was pretty clear that the Bearkats were starting to falter, it might have been the emotional blow of the lost touchdown, or just that the Bison were that physical. With only minutes left in the third quarter, the Bison were all set up for a field goal – and instead kicked in a little razzle dazzle with a trick play – and scoring another touchdown.
That play will remain burned in the memories of every Bison fan in the stands. Officially, it was a simple trick play where the kicker, Keller, threw to Hardie for a touchdown. Though I swear the field goal attempt was blocked and caught by Keller….impossible, yes, but not on this day!
The game was done at that point. True Sam Houston State scored three points on a field goal again early in the 4th, but it was clear on the field – they were defeated. The Bison could do no wrong, and coach Bohl rotated in the second and third strings – letting everyone have a chance to play in the historic game.
With minutes left, my good friend Dave turned to me and said, “Are you planning on going down on the field?”
Darn right I was.
When the final horn sounded, the Bison were victorious – 39 to 13, and fifteen thousand fans rushed the field in a flood of green and gold that churned and screamed like a raging sea. If there was one word for it – it would be jubilation.
Screams, yells, chants, high fives, and hugs were the order of the day as players, fans, officials, and the band met in one solid mass on the field. Old friends that I hadn’t seen at the tailgating, or other pregame festivities were suddenly surrounding me – it was like some old war movie ending, where all of the cast from earlier in the movie somehow reunite on the field of battle.
And here we were.
With some rousing words from the quarterback, the coach, and the university president – the fans continued to go wild.
Then as quickly as it started, it ended – the flow of fans reversed, they quietly and patiently made for the exits without pushing or shoving or coarse words.
“Only North Dakota State!” Said one guard…amazing at the enthusiasm…and the politeness of it all.
The celebration continued in the parking lot, as we gathered one last time, and proceeded to chat and visit for several more hours, before finally heading back to the hotel (perhaps…if it is legal…with a few of us packed in the luggage section of a friend’s suburban).
I wish I could say that the celebration that night went on until the wee hours of the next day. But quite frankly, we were tired. We found a sports bar – that was packed, ate a little, drank a little, watch the Vikings loose to the Packers, and headed back for a long needed sleep.
In the grey dawn of Texas winter, packed our bags and headed for the airport the next morning. Tired. Exhausted. Maybe a little dehydrated…but happy for a Bison victory, and a great time with friends.