Football

1985: The Oral History of the Most Resilient Bison Football National Championship Team

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This season will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the wildest seasons in North Dakota State University football history.

You remember the 1984 championship game against Troy. Head coach Chan Gailey led the Trojans to an 18-17 victory over the Bison when kicker Ted Clem boomed a 50-yard field goal that safety Todd DeBates remembers watching sail over his head as the clock struck double-zero and the Bison were denied a second consecutive Divison II championship.

 

1985 was supposed to be the Bison’s year. The backfield trio of Jeff Bentrim, Chad Stark and James Molstre were returning for their junior seasons and Don Morton was the hottest football coach in America. Then, the tide shifted with a potentially crippling off the field distraction.

With the help of seven characters that lived, played, bled, wrote and battled through the 1985 season, we revisit the wild year that concluded with NDSU raising its fifth national championship. 

Here are the men that’d like to tell you their version of the story:

NDSU football team, coaches, and reporters from 1985 national championship team

The following is a compilation of seven individual interviews conducted over the phone and in person. The quotes have been edited for clarity.

March 25, 1985 – Don Morton Abruptly Takes Job At Tulsa

Jeff Bentrim – I do remember that there were rumors after the season that he was getting interests from other schools and that he was interested in another job. I really think I heard it on the radio. I can’t remember what station, and then I remember someone calling me from the radio station and they asked me what I thought. It was a weird feeling.

Chad Stark – Honestly, I can’t remember truthfully where I heard it. That’s a part of the game. At first it was personal, thinking that it was like a divorce, if you will, but after you realize what he’s doing and the nature of the game, then the focus was on making sure that the Bison Tradition and Bison football stayed on its course.

Paul Murray – I think everybody has different emotions when you’re recruited by someone, and you make an investment as a young person. The one thing that it does expose is that there’s a business side to this game called football, even at that level. I think after that, two years of that team being together I think people need to understand that coaches certainly make a difference. It’s the players that play the game and we had an underlining feeling and thought of emotion that this is a pretty good group of guys.

Matt Tracy – We all got called to the Bison Sports Arena. … Don announced to the team that he and the staff were leaving and it was sad. I can’t remember if Don shed a tear or two, I think he might have. I know that Phil Engle, who was a linebacker coach, recruited Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin and I remember Phil grabbing myself and Daryl Illikainen. … He did have tears in his eyes and he said, ‘I just want you to know, that it’s guys like you that have helped me get this invite from Coach Morton to go to this next level, because you have helped me prove that I can recruit.” Which we’re trying to comprehend this, not only losing Morton, and we didn’t work with Engle, but he was our recruiting coach. When he told us, I think he told us that Earle (Solomonson) was staying behind to put his name in the hat for the head coaching position.

Stark – Earle, or whoever was staying out of that coaching staff, was going to be the heir apparent; there was no question. With the success that we had, there was no way you’re going to bring in somebody from the outside. You don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.

Earle Solomonson – I was offered the coordinator’s job in Tulsa. I told Don that we’re going to stay here and that we’re going to go after the North Dakota State job, and there were certainly some tense moments after that because they left. He went on to hire his staff and I was technically out of a job for a couple weeks, because they made a national search for the job and I was the one guy sitting down the long hallway, in the Fieldhouse, with the light on still trying to do some recruiting and keep things moving.

Dave Kolpack – When Earle got the job, (Dave) Triplett (South Dakota head coach) had applied and a guy named Ross Fortier who coached at Moorhead State, and they were NAIA for the most part. But he had turned that team into an NAIA powerhouse. There were several Bison boosters, especially friends of his who were pushing him for that job as well. I think that administration had some pressure to look at him a little bit and Triplett was really successful. I think there might have been a few people that liked the fact that he had built such a good program in Vermillion, where it’s a tough place to do that.

Todd DeBates – A good core of the coaches that came in, we knew. It wasn’t like, “Gosh, who are all these guys?” To be honest with you, Rocky (Hager) was one of the guys we didn’t know and he came in from Augustana, but I think he had GA’d at NDSU before we were there. I do remember thinking, “Hey, we’re just going to keep this thing running.” We wished Coach Morton the best and we kept the Bison thing going. … I don’t know if the personnel was a big change because, in 1984, we were quite young and in ’85, we had pretty much most everybody coming back.

Bentrim – I remember thinking, “Oh geez, what’s going to happen now.” We lost a few players, but we still had a lot of players coming back from the 1984 team. There were some questions like, “Okay what do we do? How’s it going to be different for sure?” I don’t think there was any trepidation, but certainly natural curiosity like, what’s Earle going to be like running the offense?

Scott Dahl leads the tenacious NDSU Bison defense in 1985

September 7, 1985 – @Northern Michigan, 26-10 Won, 1-0

September 14, 1985 – @Cal-Poly, 29-35 Loss, 1-1

Solomonson – We had lots of pressure that Cal Poly game. We scored the winning touchdown in the last second of that game and the film verified that our player caught the ball in the end zone. The official ruled that he was out of the end zone and therefore, the game was over. We lost 35-29, but it probably should’ve been 36-35, but we lost that game.

Murray – Rocky came over to take over the defense. … From a scheme perspective, not a lot changed. It was literally learning how to respond to coaching direction. They all had different styles on how to motivate and hold players accountable to execution. Coming off that ‘84 season, which was obviously a heartbreak for the team, and you have a whole new staff in whole new positions, and even though you have spring practices and spring ball, it just took players a little bit of time to respond to styles of coaching.

Stark – That was the feeling out process with the new coaching staff. Defensively, my roommate for all my years here, Paul Nielsen, was the all-American nose guard for us. I was close friends with all of them and they struggled with Rocky and some of the coverages they had during that game. There’s a lot more talk back there than there ever was and it was really a feeling out process for the defense and them getting comfortable with it. Those types of things are an opportunity to get better when crap hit the fan and we were down that much because I don’t think we were ever down by that much at any time. We stormed back and everything seemed to gel a little bit.

DeBates – As players, we knew in that game some of the things in the game needed to be adjusted, to be quite honest with you. We needed to change up schemes. We needed to change up formations. We were playing such a basic defense; it wasn’t too hard for Cal Poly to do really anything they wanted to do with us. Again, I think that’s where my recollection is; Coach Solomonson was very patient and he just said, “Hey Rocky, we’re going to get this thing squared away, but we’re going to have to change things up a little bit defensively. We can’t just run four, five, six different things. We’re going to have to run a few more coverages, we’re going to have to run a few more schemes, maybe blitz some more.” They did change things up. It was a very basic defense we were running against Cal Poly and they took complete advantage of us that game.

September 21, 1985 – Minnesota State-Mankato, 35-16 Won, 2-1 (1-0)

September 28, 1985 – @South Dakota, 14-38 Loss, 2-2 (1-1)

Kolpack – From a media perspective, I don’t think anybody still believed that USD was better than the Bison. I really thought, and most people thought, the Bison were going to go down there and win that game. But again, I think it was USD’s Super Bowl. They had spent the whole offseason trying to figure out a way to stop the veer. I think they were pretty effective at it. I think all the expectations were that the Bison were going to go down there and knock them off their perch.

Stark – We knew they were good. (Chul) Schwenkie was their running back and (Scott) Jones was the quarterback and I’d played against Jones in high school. They had a good team, absolutely. On defense, I played against a lot of those guys in high school so I knew that they were tough. One of the things we had to our detriment was Lew Curry, who was now our offensive line coach for us. He had visited with them at one of the camps and really showed them how to stop the veer. Not all of our secrets, but he wasn’t with us at the time. He was somewhere at the time and he showed them how our veer works and how our reads work, not to do anything bad, but just as a teaching lesson. Well, they obviously ate it up and were able to find ways to stop our veer, to make it tough on us. When we came into that game, we didn’t know what they were going to throw at us. They threw everything at us that makes it tough for the veer. Inside techniques and those type of things that screwed up Benny’s reads and then defensive ends coming hard in so we had a tough time as backs getting the outside shoulder, so Bentrim could get the edge. They did a lot of stuff that threw us off and we weren’t consistent. One play might work, and the next play they’d stop us and, really, the veer is three yards and a cloud of dust. We have to consistently get positive yards play after play and when they’re able to have a play where we get negative or zero yardage, it really puts us in a bad situation. Typically, if they’re eliminating that then Benny should be able to get outside, but they were making sure the edge was contained too.

Bentrim – That was the lowest point of our career. With the guys that I played with that was for sure a devastating loss at South Dakota. It was kind of out of the blue and they really manhandled us offensively and we didn’t do a thing. Their offense did a pretty good job on our defense, too; we had some injuries on the defensive line. Again, the transition to the new coaching staff on the defensive side as well, learning strengths and weaknesses for not only the players but also the coaches. I do recall Earle’s famous speech. He just said, “I love you, men. It doesn’t matter the score, we’re going to push you, we’re going to keep going and we’re going to right the ship.” I think that was the perfect thing to say to our group of guys. He still believed in us as a coach and had confidence in us, but we’re going to keep working and keep pushing.

Solomonson – We were at 2-2, which put us in a tough spot. One of the losses was to South Dakota, which was ranked number one. We thought that the season, in terms of the playoffs, were over. We really did.

Murray – Being a Bison, you’re never over confident and you don’t talk about what should have been or what could’ve been. Everybody felt that we had a really good football team and I think that there were a lot of internal questions that people didn’t ask, we just got back to work. If that would’ve happened under Morton, Morton would’ve probably chewed us out and been very emotional and very on point about execution and fundamentals. We’re in the locker room after that loss to USD; Earle gathered us around and told us he loved us. I think that those are the two different styles that you respond to differently. That was a quiet ride home and there was a lot of self-reflection in the same tone that when Earle said he loved us, he’s going to work the crap out of us.

Scott Schutt provides pressure against NDSU's opponent

October 5, 1985 – Northern Colorado, 40-13 Won, 3-2 (2-1)

October 12, 1985 – South Dakota State, 41-7 Won, 4-2 (3-1)

October 19, 1985 – @St. Cloud State, 35-19 Won, 5-2 (4-1)

Bentrim – I separated my shoulder in the first quarter but kept playing, iced it at halftime and kept playing. In the third quarter, I took another hit and it separated even more. It was from an injury I got in ‘84. I slightly separated in the preseason in a practice against Moorhead State. It was lingering, aggravated it in the first quarter against St. Cloud, it was very painful. I remember trying to throw passes and I was throwing side arm. Then I took a big hit in the third quarter and it was a bad play on my part. I should have pitched it to James Molstre. I think Brian (Owen) came in for me against St. Cloud. He got hurt and then (Gary) Barta finished it off.

Kolpack – I think there was optimism that they could step in. Barta didn’t have the athletic talent that Bentrim had, but he was a smart guy, good leader, knew the offense well. They were playing him at some wide receiver I think. Owen was pretty highly touted and Owen was the real deal. It was just a tough position for those guys to be in, Benny going down was definitely a blow. I think most people thought that the backups were capable and you still had Stark and Molstre.

October 26, 1985 – Morningside, 18-18 Tie, 5-2-1 (4-1-1)

Solomonson – We’re down by a touchdown later in the ball game and we called a play for Chad Stark who was going to run an option cut play and Barta was going to hand it off to him. Morningside had the best possible defense setup against it. … I can still remember 30 years later our coordinator saying, “Oh God, Earle, they got us. They got the best defense against this play.” And yet Chad scored. I laughed at the end when we tied it at the end someone said, “What a great call, Earle, on that play that got the score tied.” I chuckled and said, “Well, great players make great calls (laughs).”

DeBates – The year Morningside tied us, they actually weren’t bad that year. I think we were on our third string quarterback. I think Owen started and Barta finished. That game was almost a microcosm of that year, too. It was sort of fight through that thing. A tie was no fun and that’s not what we were looking for, but it happened.

Bentrim – Brian played and then got hurt and Barta came in and certainly we weren’t a fine-tuned machine, I guess. Again, trying to get comfortable with different styles of players, coaching, etcetera. That was pretty close to that South Dakota loss. It was a low point for us because at the time, it just didn’t do anything for us. It was more of a loss than a win for sure, especially at home.

Kolpack – The NCC (North Central Conference), it was a pretty good year for the NCC. Omaha had a good team, USD had a good team, St. Cloud, Morningside was trying to develop a good team. I think they put a little more emphasis into recruiting right about that time. They were the doormats forever. It wasn’t a bad team that tied the Bison at 18 that year. The quarterbacks were a big factor, no doubt about it. But still, again, it was a brief surge for Morningside and tying the Bison was a big moral victory and Earle basically viewed it as a loss. It had to be a combo. Looking at the scores before and after that it’s 63-0. I just think it was a rare year all around. It (the playoffs) was definitely dwindling at that point. The NCC was good and the Bison in the rankings were slipping and I don’t think people had given up at that point. It was at the end of the year that people were thinking that they might be in trouble if things didn’t start happening here.

NDSU Bison Jim Dick brings down ball carrier

November 2, 1985 – @Nebraska-Omaha, 13-12 Won, 6-2-1 (5-1-1)

Stark – We had a night game, so we knew going into that game that if we win, we’re in first place (in the NCC) and we had a smash mouth game. The defense intercepted I think four passes that day. And offensively we just struggled. I think (Len) Kretchman had a touchdown from either Barta or Owen. They had a field goal at the end to win it, with no time left. He pulled it left. It was one of those things where we had to be destined to get in (the playoffs).

Bentrim – I dressed actually, but I didn’t play. I was hobbled by not only my shoulder, but a lingering ankle and Achilles injury. I was available for an emergency situation. We talked about overcoming all these hurdles of adversity, and we got lucky that game because their guy missed a field goal to win it at the end of the game. If he makes the field goal, we’re not talking about the 30th anniversary of the ‘85 championship team for sure. There’s no way we would have made the playoffs with that extra loss.

November 9, 1985 – @Augustana, 25-0 Won, 7-2-1 (6-1-1)

November 16, 1985 – North Dakota, 49-0 Won, 8-2-1 (7-1-1)

Kolpack – I think everybody was done. UND was the last game of the year. A lot of media saw that as a great game for the most part for the Bison, great effort, they persevered when their star player got hurt, but it’s probably not going to be enough (to make the playoffs). You have to figure when you’re ranked 18, you’re going nowhere at all.

Tracy – I remember it was probably Monday or Tuesday of the week after the last game, Earle called us together for a meeting. This time we met inside the Bison Sports Arena, right outside where the old weight room used to be and just sat in the stands there and he told us that, listen, we don’t know how things are going to change the ranking. They could, but at this point in time we’re not expecting to make a move in the ranking and get in the Top 8 so why don’t you get your gear organized and get it set up in the locker room so we can start to shelf it for next year. … So we all took off to head home for our Thanksgiving Break.

Solomonson – There was no talk about making the playoffs or anything. We said, “Well, we did a good job, we finished the season strong. We defeated our archrival. You guys hung in there hard.” And they went home. There was still one more week in the division II schedule, so the following week, we were way out of the playoffs, but the next Sunday morning when I was reading the paper, I looked at it and saw five or six teams that were ahead of us lost in the ranking. I still remember the day, Ade Sponberg (athletic director) called and said, “Earle do you want to go to the playoffs?” I said, “No, I’m going out recruiting. I’m not going to waste any time. We have to get our club ready for next year and get going.” He said, “Well, how about the fact that you’re in the playoffs?”

Bentrim – I was in my apartment at F court in the University Village and I was watching Jim Adelson, the old sportscaster, and he just said, “We have unbelievably great news. The Bison have made the playoffs, they’ve jumped to number seven.” And I went, “Holy crap.” My dad was probably an hour away from Fargo to pick me up to take me home for Thanksgiving and stuff.

Kolpack – I got the press release. I was actually working on the sports desk. We were stunned.

Murray – I was personally at a buddy’s house on the University of Minnesota campus and I got a phone call from my brother who said, “One of your coaches had called, I can’t remember which one, and said that you needed to get back up.” I thought my brother was pulling my leg because he was a player at Bemidji State and I thought he was just rubbing his little brother, and then, we laughed about it so I hung up the phone. Then a few minutes later, I think it was Rocky who called me at my buddies place (laughed), and he said, “You better get your ass up here.”

Tracy – I came home that week before the Saturday deer-hunting opener. … It might have been Sunday now that I think about it. But I’m in the woods hunting and my mother had driven down from Superior, Wis. to the cabin. It was an old cabin, hunting shack and we didn’t have a phone in the hunting shack and she had driven down there and told my dad, “They made the playoffs. They’re getting called back.” I was in the woods and I remember my dad driving out down the roads and blasting the horn on a consistent basis just honking the horn, honking the horn, and of course anybody in the woods was thinking, “What the hell is going on?” I exit the woods and he sees me starting to exit the woods and he put the truck into park and steps out and says, “You made a move in the rankings; you guys are going to the playoffs. We’ve got to get you home and get you back to Fargo.” I just remember myself, standing there thinking, “Are you kidding me? Is this real?”

DeBates – I do remember getting the call. Everybody drove back. I was down in Stewartville, (Minn.) about a six and a half hour drive and my buddy Servy (Chris Servais) picked me up from La Crosse, (Wis.) and back we went to NDSU.

Stark – I was at church with my dad and my brother. My mom had stayed home for some reason. I remember driving back from church, and we get out and my mom comes screaming out the door, “You gotta go back! You gotta go back!” And I’m like, “What?” “You’re in the playoffs,” she said. And I’m thinking this is some kind of joke. We went in and got a call from the coach and he said, “Get back, we have a game.” It was incredible from the lows. You’re over it by that time. It was like, “Crap, we had a chance, but it is what it is.” Then, we got new life.

Jeff Bentrim scores touchdown against UND

1985 Division II Playoffs – Quarterfinals: November 30, 1985 – @UC-Davis, 31-12 Won, 9-2-1 (7-1-1)

Solomonson – I still remember on Mondays we’d have a press conference, a telephone press conference with the opponent’s coach. The guy from Cal-Davis was on the line with us and he said, “Just so you understand, you guys do not deserve to be in the playoffs.” I can’t even remember his name, but that was something that was shared with our players and of course, we go to Cal Davis to play them, and we went out and played our best game of the season.

Bentrim – I think they were (the number one seed). We certainly felt rejuvenated and we also knew we had a chance at redemption. We knew that the season was not indicative to how good we were. We felt the last few games of the season were closer to what we really were compared to the first four. I think at that point we had confidence because the previous two years, we had success. So we knew how to prepare and focus on the task at hand for each playoff game. I don’t know if I would say they didn’t stand a chance against us, but I felt confident that we were going to play well.

Kolpack – The Bison were finally on all cylinders, had Bentrim healthy and I think especially with their past history with these guys and the year before they made the finals, I don’t think the media thought that Cal Davis was that much of a favorite, frankly.

1985 Division II Playoffs – Semifinals: December 7, 1985 – @South Dakota, 16-7 Won, 10-2-1 (7-1-1)

Murray – There certainly were references made during the motivational conversations about what had happened (earlier in the year), but the priority was never “let’s beat them” because they beat us earlier. The priority was: Let’s win this game and then win the national championship. I think probably every player had a different thought process on reflecting on how they got handled early in the year. That just fielded the motivation to play better in that game for the ultimate opportunity to win the title. Certainly, on the defensive side, giving up 38 points wasn’t a proud moment in the year. The priority was to win the game, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of redemption thought on our side of the ball.

Bentrim – It’s hard to remember a lot of the details of the game, but I think we changed a couple blocking schemes and we might have added a few new wrinkles, but I think a lot of it was we had a young center in Mike Favor. Mike got better and better at learning the calls and playing against higher competition. By the time we got back to the playoffs, Mike was a much better player and certainly could hold his own against that all-conference nose tackle that they had.

Tracy – I’m giving you my perspective, which is the offensive line perspective. I don’t recall any of us having a revenge thought process. I do recall all of us having a respect thought process for the University of South Dakota. I know we all thought their defensive line play was pretty strong, no doubt about it. We were excited to get another chance, another opportunity.

Kolpack – “The Pitch,” I think everybody remembers that. I was at the game and I was fooled myself, frankly.

DeBates – I remember it perfectly. I remember like it was yesterday.

Solomonson – I remember it was probably the greatest play that I’ve ever seen. … That was Bentrim at his very best.

Murray – I watch it all the time. I’m the one jumping up and down with one arm in the air just going nuts. I watch that Ed Schultz documentary that shows that play and about three-quarters of the way through the run I was down the far sidelines and just ecstatic and emotion and proud of our team and fans and all the above. It was an unbelievable football play.

Stark – It’s really “The Block That Led to the Pitch” in Bison history. I know how the media like to shorten the names of these things. I’m the guy on the edge that got Bentrim to the outside. Then Benny gets tripped up by inside pressure and pitches the ball to Molstre. The true NDSU Bison Nation knows the name of it is “The Block That Led to the Pitch.” I know how you guys like to keep things short.

Bentrim – Did he say it’s “The Block He Missed” so I had to go around the guy (laughs)? I seem to recall him stutter- stepping around that block. If I were fast, that play wouldn’t have happened. I was so slow they could converge on me. Thank God James knew me and knew I wasn’t going to give it up until I was down and so he was in the pitch relationship.

Stark – I was just thinking, it’s frickin’ Benny making a play again. It’s just great the referees didn’t blow a whistle. It’s amazing to me. It looked like he was going to be down, he’s parallel to the ground and has the ball, he flipped it out somehow.

Bentrim – The big mantra for our veer offense was, and especially for the quarterbacks, coming from the head coaches and offensive coaches, to never pitch out of desperation. Well, I don’t know if I ever believed that, I always tried to do something. I mean if it didn’t work, then they would’ve said, “See, you pitch out of desperation look what happened.” I always thought well okay, if it works they couldn’t really say anything. (Laughs). Truthfully, sure there was a little bit of desperation. We’re trying get out of our own way, we’re trying to get going, we’re stuck in the mud with anything offensively. And here we go again, just like in the regular season, South Dakota had our number for some reason. And so, I knew there was something and I kept thinking that we had to do something. Well, that opportunity presented itself. You don’t really have time to think and all I remember is seeing, out of the corner of my eye, the South Dakota defensive back, number 21 maybe, peel back to me. In a split second I decided, well, nobody is covering James. There had to be a lot of factors and it was just a perfect storm I guess. I had a glimpse, he pulled off, I was falling down, still had a moment to get rid of the ball. Again, if it doesn’t work, well, it goes out of bounds, hopefully. I was piled on, I remember my back crank and I’m thinking I could barely move because there were a couple guys on me, but I heard a cheer. And I didn’t think it was South Dakota cheers. I saw James catch it, but I didn’t see anything after that.

Kolpack – I hate to admit it, but I thought he was down. I didn’t even see him pitch the ball when I was watching it live. You watch it live and you’re almost amazed that the ref didn’t blow it dead. And it was the right call not to blow it dead. But watching it at that building you look down from where we were, you look at the replay and obviously he’s not. Hats off to the side judge for not blowing the whistle there. I thought he was down and the next thing I see is Molstre’s back sprinting to the end zone. I don’t think there’s a bigger play in NDSU’s history.

DeBates – To be honest with you, defensively, we just shut them down. I think we had a little chip on our shoulder and we knew we were way better than what we showed earlier in the year down there. I believe the only touchdown they scored, I think Chris Servais, I think it was a long pass route and he just got his feet tangled up with the receiver and that was it. Otherwise, I do remember they drove down the field and they were on the two or three-yard line. … When you get down in that area, you’re basically going to start firing on all cylinders. The nice thing was we knew what they were running and I think it was just a reverse option, and Murr (Murray) just got in there and their quarterback was carrying it around like a loaf of bread. Murray just made a great play and knocked the ball out of his hands.

Solomonson – We laugh because as we viewed that film later, the offensive running back that should’ve gone in, but he had the ball in the wrong arm and he was not protecting it. It was going to be a touchdown, but boy, that was a great effort to knock the ball loose and prevent the touchdown.

Murray – I was blessed enough to knock the ball loose and Todd DeBates recovered it, which I think, if they would’ve scored there, we would’ve been down 14-0.

Kolpack – “The Pitch” gets all the notoriety just because it’s such a crazy play and it’s something that’s stood the test of time and they’re right. That strip that was a big heartbreaker for South Dakota.

Bentrim – It was THE play of the game, no question.

Murray – Once we beat USD, I don’t think there was a team in the nation that could’ve beat us in the championship game. The two emotional kinds of pressures of getting in the playoffs, beating USD as almost redemption, we just kept the momentum going through to the final game in the Palm Bowl.

NDSU Bison football fans poured into the championship game in 1985

Division II National Championship Game: December 14, 1985 – North Alabama, 35-7 Won, 11-2-1 (7-1-1)

Solomonson – We talked to the team about the very fact that the South Dakota game was a very big win and we’re excited about it, but the only way we can cap this year off with all the things that have happened is we have to win the championship to make this a great season.

Kolpack – They were supposedly a lot quicker and that’s what the Bison were worried about. But again, that proved to be no contest. Just stopping the veer is easier said than done. I think that’s what ultimately (not seeing the veer often) the coaches were just dumbfounded by and you know what, if you don’t see it you can’t really prepare for it.

Stark – That game was the difference between the Midwest and some of the schools on the Coast. They probably got better athletes position by position, for the most part, but the team concept seemed like it gelled more in the Midwest than it does on the Coast. They had incredible athletes, but they just tried to do too many individual things and the veer, there isn’t any better team concept than the veer because you have to work together. Everybody had to pull their weight and have an assignment and when it’s clicking, especially against teams that one guy tries to make a play and gets out of position, we’ll gap that and touchdown. That was the difference with those schools I think, especially North Alabama because they were awfully confident coming into the game just with the talk.

Bentrim – 1985 is special because of what we had overcome. We stumbled out of the gate, we had all these mistakes, we had this adversity and it took us awhile to wake up. But ‘86 is special because we learned our lesson in ‘85; most of us were coming back. We weren’t going to take anything for granted and we weren’t going to stumble out of the gate, and my goal that year was to be undefeated. … They’re (championships) all special in their own right. I don’t know if I can elevate one over the other.

DeBates – I think the highlight for myself and probably for most of my teammates was definitely a transition year. Going from Coach Morton to Coach Solomonson and again, we were resilient. I mean, to start 2-2 and we knew we were way better than 2-2. It was just a matter of getting our feet under the ground and getting on track. Once we got rolling, and again so many things played into this, too. One of those first two bad losses was to South Dakota, I think we all knew we wanted to meet them again and we’d play them down there again any day of the week. So when that came to be, I think it was a matter of being exactly what I said, resilient.

Stark – That’s North Dakota State. Let’s do our jobs and we’ll look at the scoreboard after the game.

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1985: The Oral History of the Most Resilient Bison Football National Championship Team
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