NDSU run of national football titles got its start in Bozeman, Montana

FARGO -- The week began with one of the more memorable practices in North Dakota State's brief history of Division I FCS football. The Bison defense was on one end of Dacotah Field going through its drills late on a Monday afternoon. (56).jpg
North Dakota State University squares off against Montana State on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010, at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO -- The week began with one of the more memorable practices in North Dakota State’s brief history of Division I FCS football. The Bison defense was on one end of Dacotah Field going through its drills late on a Monday afternoon.

The offense was on the other end. At least that was what the defense was told.

“We could not see the offensive guys,” said Bison assistant coach Nick Goeser.

That was because Fargo was enduring a 2010 winter storm and when it comes to the FCS playoffs, the show must go on. It wasn’t so much the depth of the snow that day, but winds between 30 to 40 miles per hour turning it into horizontal precipitation making visibility in practice tough.

The wind chill factor was also off the charts.


“That was definitely something,” said former Bison running back D.J. McNorton, from Houston. “I remember a few pictures where you could barely see anything. Man, it was super cold, especially for a couple of us guys from down south.”

The Bison were preparing for a second round playoff game at Montana State, coming off the first FCS playoff win in program history. The 43-17 win over Robert Morris University (Pa.) came in the indoor confines of the Fargodome.

The Montana State game was played at its outdoor Bobcat Stadium.

There are varying opinions to when the NDSU run of six national titles in seven years began, but many people point to that cold, clear, crisp afternoon in Bozeman, Mont., as the genesis. The Bison showed they could be a force on the national landscape in the 42-17 victory.

“Absolutely, that was the real jump start,” Goeser said. “We played really well in Bozeman and that gave our kids some really great experience. We knew how close we were and that made us hungry for the upcoming years or 10 years.”

The Bison fell short of their ultimate goal that season losing 38-31 in overtime to Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals. But they came back in 2011 to win their first of six national championships in seven years.

“I think our guys realized how close we were and how good we could be,” Goeser said.

The Bison-Bobcats game was tight through three quarters with NDSU taking a 14-10 lead into the fourth. Montana State retook the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run by Orenzo Davis.


The Bison then went to town.

“I think that game gave us the blueprint that if you play really good defense and you’re successful at running the ball, you can beat any team out there,” said former Bison defensive end Cole Jirik. “I remember thinking going in that Montana State had been a power in the FCS for a long time and can we compete at this level? To come out and run the ball down the throat of a team that was supposed to be the standard at that time for a physical team, I think we set the standard to be the physical team.”

Especially in the fourth quarter.

Three straight touchdown runs by McNorton of 19, 38 and 52 yards blew it open. The last two were one-play drives. The first one came after backup quarterback Jose Mohler, in relief of starter Brock Jensen, converted a third-and-3 with a 41-yard run. It was perhaps the biggest one-play contribution by Mohler in his brief NDSU career.

Running back Mike Sigers capped a 28-point fourth quarter with a 6-yard touchdown run. NDSU won that game despite completing just 5 of 9 passes.

“The offensive line, I can’t credit those guys enough, they were beating them up and we were pounding them,” McNorton said.

Montana State came in as the Big Sky Conference champion and the No. 4 overall seed for the playoffs.

“The whole team felt like they were the team to beat,” McNorton said. “I know we barely got in but once we got in we were ready to go. And once we got into the game, I felt like physically we had the edge offensively and defensively and at the end of the day we took it to them.”


There were a few breakthrough Division I moments for NDSU before the Montana State game: the first FBS win over Ball State in 2006, the first major conference FBS victory over Minnesota in 2007, the first conference title (Great West Football Conference) in 2006 and the first playoff win over Robert Morris.

The Bobcat victory was the first playoff win over an established FCS playoff team.

Perhaps practicing in a blizzard was a good thing that week.

“We showed up at Montana State, it was like 6 degrees and it was like, man, this feels warm,” Jirik said. “It feels like the tropics. It was almost like they weren’t ready to play in it and they were the dome team.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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