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Farm tough: A rivalry born in the country hits high mark in the big city

North Dakota State, South Dakota State trading in Dakota Marker for FCS national title trophy

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George Knudsen stands next to one of the original Dakota markers in a field Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, near Rosholt, S.D.
Jeff Kolpack / The Forum
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FRISCO, Texas — They formed the Division I rivalry in a farm field on the border of North Dakota and South Dakota on a cloudy and cold day in 2004. The weather in Frisco on Thursday afternoon was almost the opposite.

Both North Dakota State and South Dakota State were set to arrive to sunny skies and temperatures approaching 60 degrees in the thriving northern suburb of Dallas ahead of Sunday’s FCS national championship game.

The scene was familiar. Leaves on the trees outside of Toyota Stadium had not left the branches all that long ago. Two portable bleachers were brought in behind the north end zone to house both team's marching bands. Behind them, vines climbing a wall to the stadium concourse were in their dormancy stage. "NCAA Division I Football Championship" banners ringed the field.

The end zones had yet to be painted, but guide ropes signaled that was about to begin. A large FCS tournament bracket hung on the northwest corner of the concourse. Once space will be filled in late Sunday afternoon.

There will be no Dakota Marker, the trophy both schools play for during the regular season, to play for in that game. In 2004, representatives from NDSU and SDSU met on the land owned by George Knudsen, who had an original marker monument on his property, and christened a rivalry that has grown over time — to the unforeseen point of meeting for a national championship.

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Cody Mauch was just a little tyke on that day at the Knudsen farm. Ironically, it’s only about 25 miles almost directly south of his family farm near Mantador, N.D.

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George Knudsen stands next to one of the original Dakota markers in a field in 2016 near Rosholt, S.D.
Jeff Kolpack / The Forum

The Bison All-American will finish his college career against a team that lives a short drive away. In fact, a case could be made that two of the greatest players each program has produced — Mauch and SDSU tight end Dallas Goedert from Britton, S.D. — grew up almost equidistant from the Knudsen farm.

“Couldn’t write it up any better,” Mauch said. “The two teams who should be in Frisco are down there. Obviously it’s going to be a good game but it’s going to mean more being that we’re such long-time rivals as well.”

NDSU’s leaders at the time were President Joe Chapman, athletic director Gene Taylor and head coach Craig Bohl. On the other side were SDSU President Peggy Miller, athletic director Fred Oien and head coach John Stiegelmeier.

Chapman retired to Colorado, Taylor is the athletic director at Kansas State and Bohl is the head coach at Wyoming. Miller and Oien retired. That leaves Stiegelmeier as a surviving founding member of sorts.
“It’s a really neat storyline,” he said. “I was there. It’s kind of unique, we literally needed each other at the time and to envision what has happened, I don’t think anybody could have envisioned it but it’s a cool scenario right now, this championship.”

Stiegelmeier said he and Miller remain in touch through text messages and emails.

“She thanks me for being her coach,” he said. “That’s a great honor for her to say that because I’ve been blessed to be part of this movement. Really proud of what she did because I don’t know what the state of North Dakota was like but she stuck her neck out, the university’s neck out and put her reputation on the line to make this move and if there’s one person who should be the most proud it should be President Peggy Miller.”

Bohl eventually built NDSU into what turned into the greatest dynasty in NCAA football history. The Bison will be gunning for their 10th title in 12 seasons. The Jacks were usually a step behind, until this year.

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Now they’ll duke it out in Frisco, a modern city almost opposite in culture of George Knudsen’s farm. There are no marker monuments in this part of the country. But on Sunday, there will be a rivalry taken to a championship level.

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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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