In 1993, one memorable football play helped turn the tide in the UND-North Dakota State rivalry
Mike Mooney's fumble recovery and touchdown led UND to a thrilling 22-21 win as both teams prepare for another rivalry game on Saturday at the Alerus Center
On Oct. 30, 1993, North Dakota State was a few minutes from again bloodying the nose of its bitter rival. It looked as if NDSU would win for the 13th straight time over UND in what at the time was one of the best football rivalries in the country.
But linebacker Mike Mooney surprisingly delivered a counter punch, one that was felt throughout the state and one that changed the course of the rivalry for the next decade.
It was sunny and 31 degrees at Memorial Stadium. Snow lined the back end zones. Early in the fourth quarter, the powerful Bison option game was trying to seal the deal for the 13th straight year, leading 21-16.
That’s when Mooney, who will be inducted into the UND Athletic Department Hall of Fame on Saturday, changed the course of the rivalry. He stripped the ball from Bison running back Jason Miller in front of the Bison bench and rumbled 32 yards into the north end zone for the winning touchdown. UND managed to hang on for the 22-21 win and seconds after the win the south end zone goalposts came down and were paraded along University Avenue.
Then-UND coach Roger Thomas made a plea the next day for the goalposts to be returned. They were and UND then proceeded to win the North Central Conference title and earn a Division II playoff berth.
Mooney still vividly recalls the fumble and touchdown. But it’s not the play that won the game in his mind.
“Everyone says that was the play that won the game,” said Mooney. “But it put us in the lead. It didn’t win the game. Everyone had good games. (Running back) Shannon Burnell had a rocking game.
“But it’s still fun to talk about that game. It was 29 years ago. Just think how long ago that was. It was a tremendous experience to be a part of that team.”
The play happened so fast that the outcome stunned the majority of the 13,000-plus fans at Memorial Stadium that day.
“The running back was being stood up; I knocked the ball out of his hands,” said Mooney. “The ball hit the ground. I was fortunate to pick it up and run it in.”
Mooney didn’t remember much about the celebration that followed.
“You’re just so emotionally driven to score at that point,” he said. “I was just hoping to make it into the end zone.”
Mooney doesn’t remember the first player to congratulate him after the score. But he did remember what happened a few seconds later. “I was looking for my parents in the stands and I just ran into the bench,” he said.
On Saturday, UND will host NDSU for the first time since 2003. In one sense, a similar scenario exists between Saturday’s game and the 1993 contest.
NDSU comes into the Alerus Center with three straight Division I wins over UND -- all in convincing fashion. NDSU won those three games by an average score of 35-10.
Tenth-ranked UND, which has had a slow climb to the top 10 of the FCS, remains a step away from becoming a powerbroker in the division. How big that step needs to be remains unclear. But a win over No. 5 NDSU would be a major step in that direction.
And it may take a play like Mooney made 29 years ago to make that happen.
Mooney, Mark Callahan and the late Travis O’Neel -- all three former UND football standouts -- will be inducted into the athletic department’s hall of fame this weekend. And all three made huge plays against the Bison during their careers.
Mooney, who played high school at Blaine, Minn., remains thankful for his UND career.
“I was a tiny, little 185-pound linebacker,” he said. “UND took a stab at me and gave me a little bit of a scholarship. The coaching staff did a great job of recruiting kids who could play. The one thing that stood out about that ‘93 team is that we didn’t have any prima donnas. We just went out and played for our coaches.”