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Eric Peterson, Published January 01 2013

Current Bison have plenty in common with last NDSU repeat champs

Fargo - The last time North Dakota State repeated as national champs, the team featured a veteran quarterback, a stingy defense and a game-changing cornerback.

That was 1986.

Jeff Bentrim, a four-year starter, was the seasoned QB who engineered the Bison veer attack. The defense allowed 6.7 points per game. Tyrone Braxton was the big-play defensive back.

“You never really talked repeat, but you knew what the standard was,” said Mike Favor, who was the NDSU starting center from 1985-88.

The Bison have a chance to repeat as national champions for the first time since the 1980s.

NDSU (13-1) plays Sam Houston State (11-3) for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision title Saturday in Frisco, Texas, in a rematch of last season’s title game.

“It’s been a very rigorous year just like last year,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said.

This year’s Bison have similar elements to that 1986 team. Brock Jensen is the veteran quarterback who has been a starter for two-plus seasons. The defense has been stellar, allowing 11.4 points per game. Marcus Williams is the playmaking defensive back, who like Braxton, is also a factor in the kick return game.

“Jensen reminds me a lot of Benny, just a true leader and very soft spoken,” said former NDSU running back Chad Stark, who led the Bison in rushing during the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

The Bison rolled to a 35-7 victory against North Alabama to win the NCAA Division II national title in 1985, capping an 11-2-1 season. The Bison followed that with a 27-7 victory over South Dakota for the 1986 crown to complete a perfect 13-0 season.

“There was nobody who wanted to go out with anything less than a national championship,” said Jeff Bentrim, who was the Bison quarterback from 1983-86 and started in four national title games. “And, personally, I wanted to go undefeated. … I’m probably most proud for ’86 that we did not get complacent.”

The Bison, who also won a national crown in 1983 with Bentrim at the helm, had a combined 24-2-1 record during the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

“We looked forward,” said Bentrim, who now lives in Calgary, Alb. “We didn’t rest on our laurels. I’m very proud of that. I think that’s tough to do.”

Heading into Saturday’s FCS title game against Sam Houston State, the Bison are on a similar run to the 1985 and 1986 teams.

NDSU has a 27-2 record over the past two seasons.

Bentrim attended two NDSU games last season, the semifinals against Georgia Southern at the Fargodome and the FCS title game in Frisco.

Bentrim hasn’t been to a game this season, but plans to be in Frisco again.

“I was really impressed with their resolve,” said Bentrim, who rushed for 2,945 yards and 64 touchdowns in his career. “They’re tough and resilient and just have a lot of determination.”

The 1985 team nearly didn’t make the playoffs. The Bison ended the regular season with an 8-2-1 record after a 2-2 start.

The team didn’t think that would be enough to extend the season.

“We checked in our equipment,” said Len Kretchman, who played split end for the Bison from 1985-88. “We really peaked, and that’s what was sad about checking in our equipment.”

Kretchman, who now lives in Bradenton, Fla., was in Nebraska for Thanksgiving when he got called back to Fargo because the Bison had made the 1985 playoffs.

“We knew once we made the playoffs we were going to make a deep run,” Favor said. “Once we got there, it was fine.”

The Bison allowed 8.7 points per game in the three 1985 playoff games. NDSU held teams to 6.3 points a game during the 1986 title run.

The Bison defense again has been a key factor in this season’s playoffs, allowing 10 points per game in three games.

Jensen helped clinch the 23-20 semifinal win against Georgia Southern. He scored on a 5-yard TD run with around three minutes to play in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-3 play.

“When they need a play, Jensen and that offense they get it done, so you have to admire that,” Bentrim said.

The 1986 championship proved “bittersweet” for Bentrim because it was his senior season, ending a storied four-year career.

“The realization that, ‘I’m not going to play for the Bison ever again.’ I was sad for that,” he said.

The Bison are trying to become the first repeat FCS champions since Appalachian State won national titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“They would become part of an elite group,” said Favor, who now lives in Minneapolis. “Not many people win championships. To go back-to-back is a special accomplishment.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.