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Kevin Schnepf, Published January 02 2013

Schnepf: Familiarity surrounds Bison football team

Frisco, Texas - Allen Reed was painting letters on the field where North Dakota State’s football team will be playing for a second straight national championship Saturday.

“We still had the same stencils from last year,” the stadium grounds coordinator for FC Dallas Stadium said Wednesday afternoon.

“Bison” painted in one end zone. “Bearkats” painted in the other. Same as last year when NDSU beat Sam Houston State 17-6 for the Football Championship Subdivision national title.

To steal a phrase from baseball great Yogi Berra, this week in Frisco is like déjà vu all over again.

“A little bit,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor, who had already dined at his favorite restaurant from last year. “La Hacienda Ranch. Great Mexican food. I may go there again tomorrow.”

Déjà vu all over again.

As long as we’re on the topic of food, Rudy’s Country Store and Barbecue located a few blocks from FC Dallas Stadium was a popular hangout for Bison fans last year. So much so, nearly 100 of them have reserved the place for Saturday morning.

“We love having you all here,” said Rudy’s owner Robert Wolf.

Déjà vu all over again … but with a few subtle differences.

Last year, the Bison players and coaches stayed at the Embassy Suites, right next door to Dr. Pepper BallPark. Good thing they’re staying in the Westin-Stonebriar Hotel this year – far enough away to not be disturbed from NDSU’s Friday night pep rally where as many as 8,000 Bison fans are expected to fill up Dr Pepper BallPark.

“The Ballpark was right out my window last year,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl, who has had to decline numerous invitations to attend the pep rally. “By that time, we are in a really strict, strict regiment. Our players get really focused. But for our fans, to have a chance to celebrate like that, I think that’s a great thing.”

It just may mean less sleep for Sam Houston State players, who get to stay in the nearby Embassy Suites this week.

But Sam Houston is experiencing the same déjà vu feeling as NDSU. It marks only the third repeat championship matchup in the 34-year history of the FCS championship.

Marshall beat Youngstown State in 1992 only to have Youngstown beat Marshall the next year. Montana beat Marshall in 1995 only to have Marshall beat Montana the next year.

To avoid that déjà vu feeling, here is what the Bison have to do to repeat as champions Saturday. And we’ll rely on the wisdom of Yogi Berra – the New York Yankee Hall of Famer well known for his redundant one-liners.

E “We made too many wrong mistakes,” Berra once said.

For the Bison, mistakes – let alone wrong mistakes – are the only reason they lost a game this year. Remember the two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the Fargodome loss to Indiana State?

As long as the Bison do not turn the ball over, they will be tough to beat.

E “We have deep depth,” Berra once said.

The Bison do indeed have depth – deep depth. That’s why they still have the nation’s top-ranked defense, even though they lost standouts Colton Heagle and Leevon Perry to knee injuries this season.

But if there is a lack of depth anywhere, it is at linebacker. And if middle linebacker Grant Olson is unable to play because of what is presumed to be some sort of appendix problem, this would instantly make Sam Houston the favorite to win instead of the Bison.

That’s how much Olson means to this defense.

E “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken,” Berra once said.

Bison cornerback Marcus Williams knows all about breaking records. He holds two kickoff return records at NDSU, two interception return records, and is currently tied with the career interception record of 16.

Williams is due for a breakout game and he could well get that record-breaking 17th interception against a team that certainly passes more than NDSU’s two previous opponents – run-option happy Wofford and Georgia Southern.

E “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Berra once said.

That was never more evident than NDSU’s semifinal win against Georgia Southern – a team that had every right to be in Frisco this week. Yet despite getting outgained 430 to 276 in total yardage, the Bison found a way to win.

And don’t forget, the Bison trailed at halftime in last year’s championship game 6-3 before a fake punt and an interception sparked them to a win.

E “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” Berra once said.

It’s certainly going to be crowded with Bison fans once again this week. Last year, there were at least 12,000 Bison fans in the 20,000-seat FC Dallas Stadium. There could be even more on Saturday.

Only this time, most of them will be sitting on the east side, not the west side. Only this time, the Bison end zone will have a yellow background, not green.

Déjà vu all over again – with a few subtle differences.


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