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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 10 2011

Kolpack: Bison are back in national semis, this time in FCS

Fargo - The semifinals in the college football playoffs are nothing new to North Dakota State, although the last time was certainly an experience.

It was in 2000 when the Bison traveled to Cleveland, Miss., for the infamous “kitty litter” game, so-named after the substance Delta State put on the grass field to try and soak up moisture from a week of rain.

There will be no need for kitty anything next week, unless the NCAA mandates a substance to soften the Fargodome artificial turf. The old plastic grass has one more game in it before it gets replaced – next week against Georgia Southern in a Division I Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game that will determine who gets a ticket to Frisco, Texas for the title game.

The 24-0 blanking of Lehigh University (Pa.) on Saturday once again showed why a featured columnist for the online publication The Bleacher Report ranked the Fargodome No. 49 in its top “50 Greatest Stadiums in College Football.” It put the home of Bison football ahead of Big Ten Conference venues Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern.

For $48 million, the dome is turning out to be the biggest bargain since the Dallas Cowboys traded Herschel Walker for half of the Minnesota Vikings’ team.

It was loud.

It was ear-piercing loud at times.

It was an intelligent loud.

When the Mountain Hawks had the ball, especially in the first half, it sounded like 18,111 raving lunatics standing behind the ESPN pregame set of Lee Corso, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. When the Bison had the ball, they let the offense hear themselves.

“Our crowd is football smart,” said Bison quarterback Brock Jensen. “They know the game very well. That’s the home-field advantage to the max.”

The dome has always been one of the top home field advantages in the FCS, right up there with Montana (No. 48 in the Bleacher Report). But this postseason run has brought it to another level. You can’t walk through your local Hornbachers these days without hearing a “Go Bison” in the aisle. All of those tailgating trailers and buses are getting bonus action.

It wasn’t a crisp Bison offensive effort by any means. NDSU had eight turnovers in its previous 12 games, but committed three in the first half alone against the Mountain Hawks. Yet, the Bison fanatics in the stands were not deterred because when the defense is on the field, all inhibition is gone.

“The 12th man,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “We did not play error-free. We can play better but I don’t know if we can play any harder.”

As an assistant at a few major college schools, Bohl has coached in the biggest and best college venues in the country. It was a softball question when asked where the dome ranks – “Right at the top of the list, in the top grouping,” he said – but he was correct in his assessment when he said it’s important “anytime you get the offense disjointed.”

The noise makes it difficult for an offensive line to gel together on the snap. Advantage: Bison defensive linemen.

The noise makes it difficult for an offense to audible. “Just the communication with the offensive line and receivers was difficult,” said Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum.

On the other side, Jensen was able to audible with a quiet elementary school hall voice. Running back Sam Ojuri, perhaps the most valuable backup in all of the FCS who finished with 136 yards, said that happened often.

And if the situation were reversed, if his team was the opposition at the dome?

“We probably would (get to the audible), just not as easy,” he said. “Our fans are the best in the country. I love it.”


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia