FARGO — It took until the seventh year of Division I football, with the first four being a transition period, before North Dakota State discovered what the FCS playoffs are all about. Seven years after that, the entire NDSU operation seems to have the process perfected.
There are now essentially two seasons of Bison football: the regular season and the postseason. The second season begins on Saturday, NDSU hosts San Diego in a second-round playoff game at the Fargodome.
Season ticket holders know the drill. They have about a week to pick up their regular seats or they get relinquished to the general public.
As of early Thursday afternoon, the NDSU ticket office had about 200 tickets remaining, meaning Saturday’s crowd should surpass 18,000. The 4,000 student tickets are only $5 each.
“It’s like the crowd is more into the games,” said Bison safety Tre Dempsey. “The fans are more ready.”
It appears the weather will cooperate for the large crowd of tailgaters, with highs in the mid-40s and relatively light winds. Saturday will be NDSU’s 20th home playoff game since hosting Robert Morris (Pa.) in the 2010 first round. The Bison are 18-1 with the one loss last season against James Madison in the semifinals, a defeat that ended five straight national championships.
As the No. 2 overall seed, the NDSU could play three playoff games at the dome in December if it keeps winning.
“It’s like a conference game plus a little bit more,” Dempsey said. “It’s win or go home, so you have to pick up the intensity and pay more attention to detail, that kind of stuff.”
It’s win or that’s it for the career for seniors like Dempsey. The Bison have 11 senior starters in left guard Bryce Messner, right guard Austin Kuhnert, tight end Connor Wentz, wide receiver RJ Urzendowski, punter Jackson Koonce, long snapper James Fisher, defensive tackle Nate Tanguay and linebackers Chris Board and Nick DeLuca. Moreover, tight end Jeff Illies, defensive end Derrek Tuszka and linebacker Matt Plank are almost like senior starters, top backups who play a lot.
Kuhnert returns to the lineup after missing the Illinois State game two weeks ago with a knee injury.
“It was nothing too serious, which was nice,” Kuhnert said. “You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got. There is only one more guaranteed game in the dome and we want to go out right and take it to the national championship.”
NDSU’s 19 home postseason opponents include 14 teams, with SDSU being the most common opponent. The Bison are 3-0 against the Jackrabbits. JMU, Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern came to Fargo twice.
San Diego will make it two years in a row on Saturday.
“It will be back to the drawing board, see the things we like and see the things that we can improve on,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.
Dempsey said he started taking in the finality of being a senior halfway through October when the Bison hosted Western Illinois.
“The entrance, being with teammates and enjoying them more,” he said. “Pretty soon it will be over, but hopefully not too soon.”