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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 31 2013

Schnepf: Bohl reflects on what he calls best win of his career

Manhattan, Kan. - The clock had already struck midnight. Bill Snyder Family Stadium, which on a hot Friday night was filled with a record crowd of 53,315, was now empty.

The only sounds emanating from the grandstands were the blowers sweeping up the debris of countless plastic water bottles that kept all those fans hydrated.

Quietly, in the northeast corner of the stadium, Craig Bohl walked down the ramp that led to the field where his North Dakota State football team had just posted its stunning 24-21 win over Kansas State, worthy of leading off ESPN’s “SportsCenter” that night.

Bohl, dressed in his suit and tie, reached the artificial surface and gazed over the stadium. It was as if he wanted to savor one last moment from one of his most memorable nights during his 32 years of coaching.

“Yeah, there have been many trips here,” said Bohl, who was an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1995 to 2002 when the Huskers won only one of four games in this stadium. “It is a special win … a very special win.”

Bohl’s eyes started glazing up with tears when he started explaining what he was thinking about when he took one last look at the stadium.

“Oh gosh,” he said with a big sigh of relief. “It’s about us. It’s about our players. I don’t know if our players understood the magnitude and how difficult it is to beat a program like this and to come into Manhattan and do what they did. I think if they really would’ve understood all the odds that were stacked against them ….”

Bohl chuckled at the thought.

“They just didn’t. They didn’t.”

Those odds, at least from Vegas, had Bohl’s Bison as 12-point underdogs, down from 17 a couple of weeks earlier. The odds of beating legendary coach Bill Snyder were not good either. After all, he had won his previous 20 season-opening games. Heck, they even unveiled a statue of Snyder prior to Friday night’s game in front of the $90 million revamped west stadium addition.

Even more outlandish were the odds of overcoming a third-quarter 21-7 deficit against the defending Big 12 champions who played in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.

Yet somehow, Bohl’s experienced group that includes 20 returning starters from last year’s FCS national championship team found a way to win.

“We had tried to play for a fourth-quarter game to where it was going to come down to where we had a shot to win,” Bohl said. “And … uh … I think we pushed it right to the limit.”

To say the least. After marching 80 yards and milking most of the final nine minutes off the clock, the Bison scored their winning touchdown with 28 seconds remaining.

The drive was textbook Bison. As they had done in previous upsets, they simply wore their opponent down. But this was against Kansas State – a team that flirted with a national championship last year.

“Yeah, we were in better condition,” said Bohl, who now boasts a 7-3 record against major-college programs.

When Bohl decided to put Kansas State on his schedule a few years ago, Ron Prince was the Wildcats head coach. Enough said.

Ron Prince is no Bill Snyder.

For that matter, neither is Tim Brewster, Jerry Kill, Turner Gill or Jim McElwain – who were all rookie coaches when Bohl’s Bison pulled off upsets against Minnesota (twice), Kansas and Colorado State.

You can bet your Bison tailgating RV that Bohl would not have scheduled Kansas State if he knew Snyder was going to come out of retirement. But that’s what happened when Prince – who struggled with 7-6, 5-7 and 5-7 seasons – was fired on Nov. 5, 2008.

Snyder is known for being the architect of the greatest turnaround in the history of college football. When Snyder first arrived in Manhattan in 1989, Kansas State had a football program that Sports Illustrated described as: “Futility U: America’s most hapless team.” The Wildcats had won only 37 percent of their games in the previous 93 years, further accentuated by going 0-26-1 the three seasons before Snyder’s arrival.

Snyder had a 136-68-1 record during his first stint at Kansas State from 1989 to 2005, flirting with a national championship in 1998. Since his return in 2009, he now boasts a 47-18-2 record.

“He is one of the most-seasoned, veteran coaches Craig will have ever faced,” NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said prior to Friday night’s game.

“This guy is as good as any football coach in America and his record proves it,” Bohl said of the 73-year-old Snyder, who last January signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract.

But Bohl and his coaching staff matched wits with Snyder – especially in the second half when the Bison offense scored on three straight possessions and the defense held Kansas State scoreless for nearly the final 25 minutes.

Now there has been talk before during Bohl’s previous 10 years at NDSU that he may leave to coach a bigger program. Just talk, mostly. But Friday night’s win was so impressive and so eye-opening across the nation, a major program may finally try to lure Bohl from his comfort zone in Fargo. Whether Bohl would be interested remains to be seen. But it’s hard to ignore increasing your earnings from six figures to seven figures.

For the time being, Bohl will start focusing on preparing his team for two nonconference games against Ferris State and Delaware State. Barring any major letdowns, Bohl will surpass Rocky Hager as NDSU’s all-time winningest coach on Sept. 21.

Then Bohl and his team will prepare for another rugged Missouri Valley Conference schedule. All this with their eyes on a third straight national championship.

But for a brief moment after midnight, Bohl was savoring the win over Kansas State.

So was it his biggest win as a college football coach?

“It’s always so dangerous when you try to answer that,” Bohl said. “But right now, you would have to say it’s the best win, the top win … just because of the type of program we just went up against.”

Bohl then walked back up the ramp, leaving Bill Snyder Family Stadium behind him and the memories of what is arguably the biggest win in Bison history.

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