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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 23 2013

Dakota Marker trophy on the line as Bison open conference play against SDSU

FARGO – It was in the spring of 2004 when North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl hopped in a car and drove to a small farm on the North Dakota and South Dakota border. The ceremony to christen the beginning of the Dakota Marker trophy consisted of athletic and administrative representatives from NDSU and South Dakota State.

Bohl wasn’t so sure about it.

“I got back in the truck with a couple of the other players and thought, ‘Really? Is that going to work?’” he said at his weekly news conference on Monday. “I guess we’re maybe trying to make something of nothing.”

To the people directly involved – the players and coaches from both teams – it has really been something. They’ll play for the Marker for the 10th time on Saturday when NDSU travels to Coughlin-Alumni Stadium for a 2:05 p.m. kickoff.

It’s the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams and it’s the earliest date the teams have played since a Sept. 27 date in 2003 – the last year both were in Division II. They’ve normally played later in the year as Division I members.

NDSU (3-0) remained the No. 1-ranked team in both the FCS coaches and media polls. Emphasis on the league opener shifted almost immediately after last Saturday’s 51-0 win over Delaware State.

“The first thing we talked about in the locker room after last week’s game was now the real schedule comes into play,” Bohl said. “Our No. 1 goal is to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference and it’s a tough task to do.”

It will be the 25th time in league history two top-10 teams will face each other. It will be the 101st time in FCS history two top-10 teams will play each other with the home team having a 60-40 edge in the previous 100 games.

NDSU leads the Dakota Marker series 5-4 and has won the last four meetings. That includes a second-round FCS playoff win last December in Fargo.

It was the only game where the Marker was not on the line.

“I can tell you, to our players and our coaches, it’s a big, big deal,” Bohl said. “It has taken off, two really good programs and the competition has been very keen and the battles have been close and the team that wins is excited to go out and grab it.

“When you lose it, it sucks, so it’s a neat deal.”

Bohl said defensive end Cole Jirik and linebacker Esley Thorton, both of whom left the Delaware State game with injuries, will play Saturday. He said injured cornerbacks Jordan Champion and Brendin Pierre are also expected back this week.

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia