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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 17 2010

Where are they now? Nellermoe recalls ’81 playoff run for NDSU

North Dakota State’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff run that ended in the quarterfinals last week in Eastern Washington brought back the memories for many veteran Bison fans. Among the years that were comparable: 1981.

That’s when the Bison crisscrossed the country defeating Pudget Sound (Wash.) and Shippensburg (Pa.) to reach the Division II title game.

“It shows that you have to show up for every game,” said Mark Nellermoe, the quarterback of that team.

As a vice president of food services for Jennie-O Foods Inc. based in Willmar, Minn., Nellermoe is no stranger to being on the road. As somebody who went through it with NDSU and as a fan in the ensuing years, there’s nothing better than the playoff system, he said.

“Every system does it that way except big-time college football,” he said. “The BCS just doesn’t do it justice.”

If NDSU were in a BCS-type system in 1981, it would have had little chance of reaching the title game. The Bison started the season 0-2.

“Miserable,” Nellermoe said.

That would not be the case the following year. With the senior Nellermoe at quarterback, the Bison went undefeated in the regular season and defeated Virginia Union in the first round.

The road ended in the semifinals at undefeated California Davis, a 19-14 loss that ended with NDSU within 11 yards of the end zone.

“It was a close call all the way to the end,” Nellermoe said. “We had the last play and it didn’t work out.”

Still, the winner was the playoff system – something NDSU revisited this month for the first time since 2000. It included the first home playoff game in the Fargodome and a surprising pummeling at Montana State.

“I think Montana took it for granted,” Nellermoe said. “At the end of the day, you have to be there week in and week out.”