Bison Athletics

Swany Says: It’s the little big things

It’s likely you didn’t even notice it. In a game of big plays where North Dakota State thumped Montana State 38 – 10 to capture the program’s ninth national championship in 11 years, it was a quick but defining moment on NDSU’s sideline.

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It’s likely you didn’t even notice it. In a game of big plays where North Dakota State thumped Montana State 38 – 10 to capture the program’s ninth national championship in 11 years, it was a quick but defining moment on NDSU’s sideline. After the Bobcats missed a field goal on their opening drive, the Bison drove to MSU’s 42-yard line early in the first quarter.  Facing a third-and-5, Quincy Patterson lined up in shotgun and took the snap 34 yards down the NDSU sideline to the MSU 8. The following play, Hunter Luepke bowled over a Bobcats defender for the first of his three touchdowns, and the route was on.


After his electric run, Patterson jogged back up the Bison sideline where he was promptly met by Cam Miller, who excitedly leapt up onto Patterson, slapping his helmet. Patterson, the highly touted transfer from Virginia Tech, had big expectations heaped on him to start the season.  In the third quarter of the season’s seventh game, though, Miller took the reigns as the starting quarterback and never let go. Patterson never moped, didn’t pout, and figured prominently in NDSU’s playoff run as teams struggled to account for him and Miller lining up on the field at the same time.  He was a difference maker in both his play and leadership.  Same goes for Miller. And there the two quarterbacks were with Miller going airborne to congratulate Patterson on his big run in the national title game.

When folks in the national media outside of Fargo wonder in astonishment “how do the Bison do this – how do they win all these titles seemingly every year,”  the answer can be found in little moments like this where the focus in entirely on the team and celebrating each other’s successes.  You could see it two plays later where the NFL prospect Luepke lined up on the extra point team to block after rushing for a highlight reel touchdown.  How often does the MVP of the national title game line up to block on an extra point?  It was on display when Christian Watson, a potential second or third round NFL Draft pick this April who was voted the top receiver at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, was blocking fifty yards downfield on Kobe Johnson’s 76-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 21-0 lead.

“Like Jackson [Hankey] said, it’s really motivating when you care for the guys on the field and off the field with you,” explained Luepke moments after the confetti flew and NDSU stormed the field in Frisco, again.  “We spend a lot of time together, so you get to know everybody on this team.  Our relationships grow day in day out.  When you’re spending five days, six days a week with a position group or a teammate, you’re going to get really close and I want to play hard for them when it comes to Saturday.”  Did you notice that, Luepke said he wanted to play hard for his teammates.  It wasn’t anything about himself.  

The truth is most teams, and most players, don’t want to make the team commitment that’s been central to NDSU’s historic run and winning championships.  Case in point.  When Montana State made the decision to switch quarterbacks right before the playoffs started in December, Matthew McKay, their starter who was benched for Tommy Mellott, immediately entered the transfer portal.  McKay had already exhausted a season of eligibility but didn’t even stick around for the playoffs.  Ironically, had McKay stuck around, he would’ve found himself playing nearly the entirety of the title game against the Bison after Mellott was injured on the first drive.  You can talk about team, but in today’s day and age, most guys make like McKay and opt for their own selfish interests.  The old Bo Schembechler mantra, “the team, the team, the team,” has sadly been replaced in today’s sports world with, “me, myself, and I.”   

Except in Fargo where when they talk about team, it’s Gospel.  It’s the sort of things like Miller’s embrace of Patterson, Luepke blocking on PATs, and Watson sprinting downfield to spring Johnson’s touchdown.  “It’s been a joy, it’s been a pleasure to be part of this football team,” said Hankey.  Where huge NIL deals, the transfer portal, and bolting the minute adversity strikes are eroding at the very fabric of college football, comments like Hankey’s are refreshing.  When asked about this team, Bison head coach Matt Entz used a powerful word you don’t hear very often in athletics or anywhere else, frankly.  Love.  “The common word that came up before we walked out for the game from our captains and from our seniors was the word ‘love.’  I think these kids appreciate one another.  They appreciate the energy.  They appreciate the hard work,” said Entz.  

It’s throwback football from a bygone era, at least for those of us who came of age watching the game in the 1980s or earlier.  “It’s all about their teammates.  This isn’t a spotlight program.  You’re not coming here to be the guy and to have gaudy stats.  You’re coming here to win and hopefully win a championship and get a degree,” Entz explained in describing the Bison culture.  Case in point.  Watson.  You never heard once in his time at NDSU any complaints or demands for more passes.  In addition to his game-changing ability, it’s that steady leadership and presence, said Entz, that defined his impact.  “But just having Christian, he brings leadership.  He’s played a lot of football for us.  He brings energy. He’s been – it’s been wonderful having him and his family associated with this program.” Like Hankey’s comments, how many coaches do you hear say things like that outside of Alabama’s Nick Saban?  Not too many, and that’s a big reason why few programs or organizations at any level have achieved NDSU’s success. 

In a sporting culture of “me” where toxic selfishness too often pervades and takes down any locker room, the Bison thrive with a culture of “we.”  There’s never finger pointing.  There’s no blame game.  You don’t hear whispers of discontent when stars don’t put up the eye popping and gaudy numbers that win individual awards.  It’s all about winning.  It’s that simple and all that matters. It’s guys doing the little big things, like celebrating with a teammate, blocking on PATs, or sprinting 50-yards downfield to block so another guy can score. I’ll leave you with the perfect description of this team, of this program, courtesy Entz when asked after the national championship game for his final comments on a ninth title in 11 years.  “We’ve got some kickass kids on this football team. Excuse my language, but they know what I think of them, and what an amazing finish to what was an unbelievable year.”  Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!

Swany Says: It’s the little big things
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Published eight times a year, Bison Illustrated provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Bison community in order to help promote the university’s players, coaches, alumni, supporters, staff and fans.


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