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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 12 2010

Schnepf: Perfect day falls a win short

It was almost too much to ask for in one week.

Could one of the biggest crowds to ever watch a basketball game in the Fargodome be followed by perhaps the largest crowd to ever watch a football game in the 18-year-old brick structure?

It wasn’t meant to be for North Dakota State on Saturday – a day that saw its football team’s incredible run in the playoffs come to a crashing halt with a heartbreaking overtime loss at Eastern Washington just a few hours before its men’s basketball team renewed a century-long rivalry with a commanding 81-55 win over the University of North Dakota in front of 10,709 Fargodome fans.

A sure sign that the state will always crave a Bison-Sioux game, the crowd was just shy of a Fargodome attendance record for a basketball game. It was in 1997 when 10,900 fans filled the Fargodome to watch Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg win a North Dakota Class B high school boys championship.

Had the football team pulled off a win earlier in the day, the Fargodome’s football attendance record of 19,053 would have been in jeopardy. That’s because NDSU would have likely outbid its next opponent, Villanova, to host next weekend’s semifinal game.

Talk about having everything fall into place. Then again, maybe it was just too much to ask.

“It would’ve been great if they could’ve pulled it off,” Bison basketball player Freddy Coleman said of the football team. “It would’ve been a perfect day. I felt for those guys.”

Now that the Bison-Sioux basketball rivalry is officially back on again, what about the football teams getting together again?

Don’t count on anything in the near future – especially with both schools playing in different conferences. While basketball coaches have 11 open dates to work with in scheduling each other, football has only one open date after filling one of two non-conference dates with a big-money guarantee game against a big-time opponent.

Ironically, the Sioux will play Eastern Washington more than the Bison. That’s because the Sioux have committed to play in the Big Sky Conference – which includes that team with the red-colored field and schools like Montana and Montana State.

“I will say this,” said Bison men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips. “It works out easier for us to schedule UND than any other sports. The timing is right for us.”

The timing was right for the fans and players.

Less than seven minutes into the game, a derogatory Sioux chant was heard for the first time since these two teams played in 2004.

With six minutes left of the first half, UND point guard Troy Huff broke a six-year taunting drought by glaring at the Bison student section – after he put down a fastbreak jam.

With the score tied at halftime, another tradition continued when the F-M Acro Team entertained the record-breaking crowd. A new twist was added when the nimble gymnasts ended their show by flipping over the 6-foot-5-inch Erv Inniger – the former Bison coach and current associate athletic director who plans to retire next month.

Before the second half began, Sioux fans started chanting “Eastern Washington.” “That’s uncalled for,” said one of the game’s referees.

With less than five minutes remaining and the Bison leading 71-47, the Bison students started singing “Hail the Bison.”

All in all, by Bison-Sioux standards, it was a pretty tame crowd. Was the crowd’s behavior as clean as the play on the court?

“From what I understand, yes,” Phillips said. “I thought, save a couple adjectives that could’ve been left out, it was very clean. It was good. It was as much fun as you could legally have.”

It would have been interesting to see if the Fargodome fans would’ve had more fun if the football team had won.

“I know it would’ve been a horrible day if we had played like we did in the first half,” Phillips said, referring to a second half in which the Bison outscored the Sioux 48-22.

Don’t expect a similar crowd when the Bison and Sioux play each other again next year in either the Ralph Engelstad Arena or the Alerus Center. The novelty of the rivalry renewal will be long worn off by next year.

“This may be a one-time deal,” Bison athletic director Gene Taylor said earlier this week, referring to the packed house. “I don’t know if this game will always make this kind of impact.”

The turnout will certainly make an impact for NDSU’s budget.

Although Taylor wouldn’t say how much the Bison will pocket, you can bet the net profit will more than rival the $58,000 guarantee the Bison got when they played at the University of Minnesota last month.

“Economically, it certainly is a plus,” said Phillips, who during his previous three seasons at NDSU has always wanted to play the Sioux.

If former NDSU President Joseph Chapman would’ve realized it, a gate like this would’ve helped pay for his back porch for the school’s million-dollar home.

But before Chapman boycotted the rivalry, it was UND coaches and athletic officials who imposed the first boycott – upset that NDSU’s move to Division I was ruining a good thing with the old North Central Conference. Now, of course, UND is Division I just like its rival to the south.

And for now, Phillips will receive countless text and e-mail messages about the Sioux game. And for now, Phillips is unbeaten against the Sioux.

“I was unbeaten before the day started,” Phillips said.

A day Bison fans were hoping would end with a football victory and another chance to fill the Fargodome.


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

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com