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Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications Co., Published November 17 2010

College football: Sioux to revisit NCC rivalry at SDSU

GRAND FORKS – Ryan Kasowski remembers going to Conway, Ark., late last season to play a game that would determine whether the University of North Dakota would have a winning season.

“Not too many people gave us a shot against Central Arkansas, but we went down there and just refused to lose,” Kasowski said. “It’s a game I’ll remember forever.”

The Sioux didn’t lose, blocking a late Central Arkansas field-goal attempt to win 17-16.

In 2008, UND faced a similar situation at South Dakota. The Sioux won 34-31 in overtime to finish with another winning season.

“We’ve finished the season the right way the last couple of years,” Kasowski said.

The Sioux (3-7) won’t have a winning season in 2010, but hope to end the season with another win Saturday at South Dakota State – a matchup that rekindles the memories of the old North Central Conference days.

Something new

Kasowski and the rest of the Sioux have never played South Dakota State. The series was discontinued when the Jackrabbits moved to Division I in 2004.

How many more times the game between the Dakota schools will be played in the future remains to be seen, given UND is headed for the Big Sky Conference in 2012.

From what Kasowski has heard, the Sioux-SDSU game won’t be much different from the Division II days of the NCC.

“We need to be ready for a physical game because that’s what it’s going to be,” Kasowski said. “It’s going to be cold and physical, just like the old NCC days, so we’re excited.”

UND coach Chris Mussman was the program’s offensive coordinator when the series took a break.

But Mussman said SDSU’s philosophy under coach John Stiegelmeier has remained the same through the Jackrabbits’ Division I transition and their move to the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“They look a lot like they did when we were playing them,” Mussman said. “They rely on the run game. They’re big and physical up front.”

Doing things right

The Jackrabbits’ philosophy served them well during their Division I transition.

“John has done a great job down there,” Mussman said. “He runs a good program. (SDSU) was the first one of the Dakota schools to go to the FCS playoffs. We can use that as a role model for us as we build our program.”

But SDSU hasn’t had the season it expected after reaching the playoffs last season. The Jacks are 4-6 and will play UND without their top running back – Kyle Minett, who injured his ankle against North Dakota State last week.

Minett rushed for 1,208 yards this season and is the second-leading rusher in SDSU history.

Minett’s absence will be a big loss for the Jacks. But the Sioux have had to play their final four games without starting quarterback Jake Landry, who went down with a knee injury at Cal Poly.

The Sioux hope to bank on the experience of the last two regular-season finales.

“This is a close-knit football team,” Mussman said. “These guys get along and do a lot of things together. That’s what pulled us through in the last games of each of the last few seasons. Hopefully, we can build on that one more time.”

Wayne Nelson writes for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.