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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 04 2010

Schnepf: 2010 squad similar to 1976 defensive-led team

The Bison leaned heavily on defense, which prolonged the season far beyond what the most optimistic boosters could expect when the campaign began.

Those words, written by former Forum sports editor Ed Kolpack, were directed at the 1976 North Dakota State football team. They could just as well be meant for this year’s Bison.

It’s funny. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was on this day (Dec. 4) in 1976 when the Bison lost an NCAA Division II semifinal game to Montana State, 10-3. Today, the Bison play Montana State in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal game.

A lot has changed in the last 34 years.

After winning a Division II national championship in 1976, Montana State opted two years later to move up to the I-AA level (now known as the FCS).

While Montana State managed to win an FCS national title in 1984, NDSU continued to dominate the Division II level with five national championships.

Today, the rivals who played each other 12 times from 1970 to 1980, are re-united. In a way, NDSU’s evolvement as a football program has come full circle – from ending rivalries to re-uniting them with teams like Montana State, Youngstown State, Montana and Northern Iowa.

Makes one wonder what would’ve happened had NDSU decided to make the move to Division I back in the 1970s. This also makes one wonder how the heck NDSU hosted the No. 1-ranked Montana State Bobcats in that 1976 playoff game dubbed the Grantland Rice Bowl.

The simple answer: money. Much like it did to host last week’s FCS playoff game against Robert Morris, NDSU outbid other schools for a home game.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On Dec. 4, 1976, 6,100 fans bundled up in snowmobile suits, boots and facemasks to withstand 21 degree temperatures at snow-swept Dacotah Field. Today in Bozeman, Mont., an expected sellout crowd of 15,000 will be bundled up to fend off the 28 degree mountain temperatures.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 1976, Montana State’s offense relied on the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Paul Demehy. Today, the Bobcats will rely on the arm and legs of redshirt freshman Denarius McGhee.

In 1976, NDSU’s offense sputtered into the playoffs – with freshman quarterback Steve Campbell being replaced by redshirt freshman Mark Rudrud during the loss to Montana State. Today, Bison fans hope redshirt freshman Brock Jensen is able to play the whole game.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 1976, the telecast of the playoff game was replayed on Channel 11. Today’s game will be televised live on Channel 11.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The year 1976 marked the first time a Bison team qualified for the Division II playoffs – which officially began in 1973. This year marks the first time a Bison team qualified for the FCS playoffs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – just ask Dale Nordick, who was an offensive tackle and team captain of that 1976 Bison team.

“This brings back a lot memories,” Nordick wrote in an e-mail. “Who knows, maybe this will start a new tradition of playoff appearances that we started in Division II way back then.”

With a young and talented team, that could very well happen. Even if the Bison lose today, head coach Craig Bohl could easily steal some words uttered by 1976 head coach Jim Wacker.

“Our best years are ahead of us.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


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

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com