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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 18 2011

Schnepf: Party like it’s 1990

There hasn’t been this much excitement for North Dakota State football since Walmart opened its doors on Fargo’s 13th Avenue.

That was 21 years ago – one day after the NDSU football team won a home game to advance to a national championship game it later won. Since then, another Walmart store has been added but not another national championship game appearance.

That was until Saturday, when 18,108 ear-splitting Fargodome fans cheered on their Bison to their first national championship appearance since 1990. A 35-7 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal win over Georgia Southern sends the Bison to the Jan. 7 national championship game in suburban Dallas.

The long wait is over for a program that won eight NCAA Division II national championships from 1965 to 1990.

When Bison fans take the 15-hour trip down to Frisco, Texas, next month to watch the Bison play Sam Houston State, they can officially wave goodbye to the Division II glory days when they drive by schools like Augustana, Morningside, Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State, Kan.

Welcome to FCS championship football, where the likes of Randy Moss, Steve McNair, Jerry Rice, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco have played and the likes of Eddie Robinson and Jim Tressel have coached.

“This is more big-time,” said Phil Hansen, who played for the 1990 Bison and now analyzes all the Bison games as a part of the NDSU radio team. “It’s just different now. You’ve got the dome now. This is FCS now. It’s really a lot different.”

The excitement certainly was in the outdoors air during the 1990 semifinals, when NDSU defeated Pittsburg State 39-29 in one of the most memorable playoff games in Bison football history. But the buzz seems to have reached a pitch that the NDSU football program has never experienced before.

“I feel so, too,” said Bison offensive line coach Scott Fuchs, who as a backup lineman watched the 1990 classic from the Dacotah Field sidelines. “It is really the first time ever. It’s FCS.”

Although the Bison basically put a whooping on Georgia Southern, Saturday’s win will also go down as a classic, with striking similarities to the 1990 game.

“It’s been too long … way too long,” Fuchs said, referring to the last title game appearance in 1990. “That 1990 game was so phenomenal. But right now, I am so proud of our team this year. There’s more speed and bigger guys than there used to be. And we showed we do belong at this level.”

After NDSU’s memorable win in 1990, Bison fans made the trek the following week to what one reporter cynically dubbed “beautiful downtown” Florence, Ala., to witness a 51-11 championship win.

Now, Bison fans have three weeks to make plans for their trip to Frisco – an affluent city that has had the fastest-growing population in the nation this past decade.

“Everything is new down there,” said one spectator who witnessed the first FCS title game played at Frisco’s Pizza Hut Park last season.

And everything is new again for NDSU football.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com.

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