Google Maps coordinates:
The Memorial Union of North Dakota State, Fargo: 96°48’ W.
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas: 96°50’ W.
If my eighth grade geography knowledge still holds true, Fargo and Frisco will always share the same degree and are mere minutes apart — on an atlas at least.
Bison fans in town could theoretically travel straight down for 950 miles (as the crow flies) and their coolers would end up in “South Fargo,” blocks away from Toyota Stadium.
The road to Frisco is a straight one. The drive for five, however, was not. This 2015 campaign and its bruising bumps and unexpected turns led to the most impressive season the latest Bison dynasty has had.
Memory remembers drama, and this year had enough for a Telemundo telenova.
The first four seasons had tension, too, but they resembled the tamer American soap operas.
The first championship season in 2011, which included the victory at the University of Minnesota, will be as cherished as a first-born child. The 2012 campaign featured the Georgia Southern semifinal showdown that busted eardrums. In 2013, Brock Jensen and the gang were perfect, beating Kansas State in Manhattan, hosting “College GameDay” and weathering the fallout of Craig Bohl’s looming exit before the championship game.
The drama was there, though sporadic. Was there ever any doubt?
Last year there was. Chris Klieman and Carson Wentz took over the budding dynasty in 2014, beating Iowa State and hosting “GameDay” again. That season’s playoffs proved more challenging, too. While everyone will remember the aneurism-causing championship victory over Illinois State University, my brain also remembers RJ Urzendowski catching a late touchdown to beat South Dakota State in a second-round game.
Anxiety was there, but this season had palpable tension from start to finish.
On my 21st birthday, I stared, jaw slacked, as No. 13 University of Montana Grizzlies stunned No. 1 Bison with a last-second touchdown. Herd historians have to go back to 2009 to find an NDSU team that had lost a season-opener and owned a losing record.
People whispered if this deflating defeat would foreshadow the season.
“It’s the first time they’ve had some adversity in five years right out of the gate,” head coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “I know the guys will respond.”
And they did, sedating BisoNation back into its blowout-induced complacency.
The heart rate went up a tic when the University of North Dakota came down to Fargo for the first time since 2002. Remember, the Bison and the not-Fighting Sioux were tied at 3 after the first quarter. Somebody may have been worried. Then the Bison scored 21 points in the second quarter, the crowd had a good laugh and the student section dispersed before the start of the fourth. That’s the devastatingly calm Bison Way we know and love.
And then Homecoming happened. University of Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Bailey took an almost-game winning keeper up the middle to take the lead in the fourth. His scamper was eerily reminiscent of ISU’s Tre Roberson running in the almost-game-winner in 2015.
Almosts are bad for those with heart ailments but good for drama.
King Carson Wentz found Darrius Shepherd in the end zone with :35 left to ensure the Herd would win its fifth straight Homecoming game. It again seemed NDSU’s dynasty was fate.
Until it wasn’t. The world stopped. The Fargodome caved in. NDSU dropped out of the Top 108 research university list. Our quarterback’s throwing hand was completely severed or something. Abandon ship. Go Bison? No Bison.
The University of South Dakota, a team that hadn’t beaten NDSU at home since 1978, snapped this Herd’s 26-game home winning streak and Wentz’s wrist. Our NFL-bound, 4.0-GPA-earning superstar was broken for the foreseeable future. The team lost two games in a season for the first time since 2010. And a redshirt freshman was tasked to right the ship.
Finally, some suspense worthy of popping your Orville Redenbacher’s. I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed my popcorn as Easton Stick calmed the stormy seas and overcame the season and ominous playoff seeding.
And then the dilemma of whom to start once Wentz became better?
Adversity makes the story. The bigger the struggle, the better the outcome. We remember David, Rocky and the 1980 Miracle on Ice because they endured hardship and persevered.
NDSU lost games and a star this season before winning the championship it earned. The road to Frisco was hellish, but team stayed on course. And I’ll forever remember this season for that.