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Kevin Schnepf, Published September 29 2012

Schnepf: Swing game in swing state gets away from Northern Iowa

Cedar Falls, Iowa - Every four years about this time, the state of Iowa is usually considered a swing state for the presidential election.

That’s why First Lady Michelle Obama made a campaign stop here on Friday. Two weeks earlier, her husband bought a Bud Light at Bruce Petersen’s “Pump Haus” bar and grill in downtown Cedar Falls.

“He gave our bar maid a $20 bill and told her, ‘Keep the change, you work hard for your money,’” Petersen said of Barack Obama’s one-hour visit. “He spent about five minutes at each table. I was really impressed.”

Petersen wasn’t as impressed with the Northern Iowa football team that he has been following since the UNI-Dome opened in 1976. Sitting in the same 45-yard-line seat he has had for the last 36 years, he saw his Panthers probably become the best 1-4 team in the country after a 33-21 loss to top-ranked and defending national champion North Dakota State.

Much like the upcoming election, this was a swing game for the challenger Northern Iowa and the incumbent NDSU.

With the loss, Northern Iowa is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for only the fifth time since Mark Farley took over as head coach in 2001.

“It’s crunch time now,” said quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, whose Panthers have lost close games to Wisconsin, Iowa and Youngstown State. “We’ve got to win every single game and we have to win them big if we want to make the playoffs.”

With the win, the top-ranked Bison made a big statement with their first win in the UNI-Dome since 1976. It sets up next Saturday’s Fargodome showdown with No. 3 Youngstown State – the only team to beat the Bison during last year’s title run.

“The last two times I have sat in here have not been very fun times,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said, referring to 16-9 and 23-13 losses at the UNI-Dome since 2008. “This was a quality road win and moreover, it was a quality win over a program that has been a perennial power.”

A power that has made the FCS playoffs 16 times since 1985. A power that reached the semifinals three times and the national championship once.

Word is, to get his players focused during this past offseason, Farley replayed NDSU’s national championship win on the television sets situated in the weight room.

So in the brief five years NDSU has been in the Missouri Valley Conference, it has been able to capture a national title that has eluded UNI for the last three decades.

Ironically, it was former UNI athletic director Rick Hartzell who was NDSU’s primary ally in accepting the Bison into the Missouri Valley.

UNI boosters like Petersen accepted the Bison with open arms, saying it only makes their team better. Petersen fondly remembers the NDSU-UNI games of the old North Central Conference when they played outdoors at O.R. Latham Stadium, which used to sit across Hudson Road from where the UNI-Dome now sits.

“North Dakota had an awesome tradition then and they do now,” said Petersen, who hopes come election day in November his team still has a shot at the playoffs. “We’re just good football fans. We have a good football team. We just don’t have that many wins.”

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