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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 21 2010

Jacobson guides Northern Iowa to stunning upset of top-seeded Kansas

Doug Jacobson, the lead singer for the Front Fenders, missed the band’s gig at the West Fargo VFW Saturday night.

That’s because he was in Oklahoma City watching his son, Ben, coach Northern Iowa to the biggest upset of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Sitting six rows up across the court from his son and his team’s bench, Doug and most of his family watched the No. 9-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers knock off the tournament’s top seed in Kansas with a thrilling 69-67 second-round win.

“Unbelievable,” Doug said over his cell phone, as he was beginning the 13-hour drive back to the Fargo area. “There is just something about being around this whole community, the fans, the university and Ben and the team … the whole group … they kind of believe they’ve got what it takes.”

The 30-4 Panthers had what it takes to become the first Missouri Valley Conference team to reach the Sweet 16 since Larry Bird’s Indiana State team advanced all the way to the 1979 championship game. They had what it took to become the first team to beat a No. 1 seed in the second round since Alabama-Birmingham and Alabama did it to Kentucky and Stanford, respectively, in 2004.

The Panthers also had what it took to limit Kansas’ high-flying offense to 67 points. The Jayhawks, whose season comes to a crashing halt with a 33-3 record, led only once the entire game … 2-0 during the early moments of the nationally televised game.

“It sounds like a dream,” said Doug, who is the superintendent for North Central High School in Rogers, N.D. “For those of us to get in the stands, it’s incredible. It’s beyond description.”

Saturday’s thriller came down to the heroics of Northern Iowa guard Ali Farokmanesh. With Northern Iowa clinging to a one-point lead with 35 seconds remaining, Farokmanesh found himself wide open for a 3-point shot – not too far from where Doug and his family was sitting.

After pausing for a brief second, Farokmanesh – often described by Ben as the purest shooter he has ever seen – fired up the 3-pointer. Nothing but net. Northern Iowa had a four-point lead, and thanks to two Farokmanesh free throws later, the Panthers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.

“For Ali to have the courage and good sense to take the shot, that was incredible,” Doug said. “There wasn’t a doubt in his mind he was going to shoot it. When he can stand there alone, there’s a 70 percent chance of it going in.”

Tim Jacobson, Doug’s brother who watched the game on television from his Fargo home, said the shot took all the momentum Kansas got while cutting into a late five-point lead.

“Normally, you would scream, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,’” said Tim, who is the girls basketball coach at Fargo Shanley High School. “But not with this guy. And I bet you Ben stood there and watched thinking, ‘That’s his shot.’”

It was only nine years ago when Ben Jacobson was watching from the sidelines in the Bison Sports Arena. He was the assistant coach for Greg McDermott for the 2000-01 season at North Dakota State. They departed for Northern Iowa to coach together for four seasons at Northern Iowa.

When McDermott left to take the head coaching job at Iowa State, Jacobson has since compiled a 117-46 record during his six seasons as the Panthers’ head coach. He has been named the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year for the last two seasons, becoming the first league coach to win back-to-back regular season and postseason tournament championships.

The 39-year-old Jacobson, the 1989 valedictorian at Mayville-Portland High School and a standout point guard at the University of North Dakota, now is garnering attention for coaching openings at high major schools like Iowa and Oregon. Such a move could easily double his current salary of $290,000.

“He’ll have some decisions to make,” Tim Jacobson said.

But the only decisions he’s worried about now will be the on-the-court ones he will be making in this week’s Sweet 16 game in St. Louis – the same place where his team won the Missouri Valley Conference championship two weeks ago.

For Doug Jacobson and his family, it means another trip to St. Louis. For now, they are savoring the memories of Oklahoma City – where they watched the team mass-hug Ben in the locker room before he could even begin his postgame speech.

“Basketball has been his joy since … forever,” Doug said. “To sit there and being able to watch what he loves doing and seeing those kids respond, it’s just make you feel there is good stuff that can happen in this world.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549