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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 22 2013

Daunting task faces Ferris State when it heads to NDSU

FARGO – The football team from Big Rapids, Mich., is thinking big this fall. It starts in September, when the Ferris State Bulldogs will take on a challenge hardly anybody else wanted to do: play a game at the two-time defending Division I Football Championship Subdivision champions.

The fact it took until the middle of June before North Dakota State found a sixth home game is unprecedented. In Ferris, the Bison will see an NCAA Division II program that is looking to extend its name recognition beyond the borders of the state’s Lower Peninsula.

That takes precedence over the $180,000 guarantee the school is getting from NDSU to play the Sept. 7 game at the Fargodome, said Rob Bentley, the assistant athletic director for communications at Ferris. He said the Bulldogs are not doing it for the money.

“More than anything, it’s a chance to get some name recognition for our program,” he said. “We want to continue to build on a national level. And we’re also trying to find out what we need to get done to get ready for the season.”

Bentley said the football program is coming off a momentum-building season under head coach Tony Annese, who will be entering his second season. The Bulldogs beat rival and Division II power Grand Valley State (Mich.) for the first time since 1999. They beat Wayne State (Mich.), the D-II runner-up in 2011 and defeated Michigan Tech for the first time in 10 years.

And the season ended with a dome-stadium win at Northern Michigan when the Bulldogs converted a

2-point conversion late in the game, rather than settling for a point-after kick and overtime.

“We had some signature wins,” Bentley said.

Like NDSU, the Bulldogs were also approaching dire mode in finding an 11th game. Bentley said last year’s success – they finished 7-4 – made it tougher to get a Division II non-conference opponent to come to Big Rapids.

“We were looking for anything and this opportunity came up,” he said. “We had to look up a little bit.”

Ferris will be NDSU’s first Division II opponent since playing Concordia-St. Paul in 2006. The two played in the 1999 Fargodome opener, a 55-35 Bison win.

The Bison aren’t the only Missouri Valley Football Conference team playing a Division II program. Indiana State and Western Illinois are both hosting Quincy University (Ill.) and Southern Illinois is playing the University of Charleston (W. Va.). Illinois State is playing Abilene Christian (Texas), which will be in its first year of a Division I reclassification.

Annese calls the Bison game “a daunting task,” citing NDSU’s No. 1 preseason ranking and the Fargodome environment.

“He enjoys the competition,” Bentley said. “I think his goal obviously is to make us the best we can be. It’s a great challenge to start the season.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia