Bison relive ’83 playoff win against Tigers
FARGO — Members of the 1983 Towson State football team may watch the Division I FCS national title game on Saturday and see a familiar name. A lot has changed since then, including the last name of the school — now Towson University.
But there’s still a Van Voorhis in the Bison secondary. Senior A.J. Van Voorhis is a backup safety and starts on special teams for NDSU, which is gunning for its 11th national championship.
The fourth came in ’83 and one of the playoff victims that season was Towson, the suburban Baltimore school which came to Fargo on a cold November day and left on the wrong end of a 24-17 score.
“They were pretty highly-touted coming in,” said Tom Van Voorhis, A.J.’s father. “It was one of the classier groups we ever played. It was a good, hard physical game, one of those games where you knocked somebody down and then they would help you up.”
A crowd of 5,600 showed up at Dacotah Field and watched NDSU running back Chad Stark run for 164 yards. Defensively, the Bison defense shut down Towson quarterback Bret Rogers, who later had an NFL tryout.
One of his passes ended up in the arms of Tom Van Voorhis, one of two Bison interceptions.
“Things have changed, but it’s fun playing the name game,” said Doug Hushka, a cornerback on the 1983 team who had two sons play for NDSU. “They were a good team with a good quarterback. I remember it was cold.”
Ever heard of the crowd being playoff loud at the Fargodome? It was playoff cold at Dacotah, which meant the Bison players used it to their advantage. It wasn’t uncommon for assistant coach Pat Simmers to wear shorts when there was snow on the ground.
Offensive lineman and former Fargo city commissioner Dave Piepkorn said his unit rolled up its sleeves and wore their uniform like it was 70 degrees.
“And they thought we were crazy,” Piepkorn said, referring to the Towson players. “My arms were blue at the coin flip. We said we were thankful it was a nice day and we thanked them for coming.”
Like this year’s Bison team that has 24 seniors, the 1983 team had a veteran look with 18 seniors.
“I think we were a focused team in ‘83 as well,” Hushka said.
NDSU went on to win at UC Davis in the semifinals and defeated Central State (Ohio) in the Palm Bowl in McAllen, Texas.
A lot has changed since then. For both schools.
Towson made the move to Division I in 1987. It joined the non-scholarship Patriot League in the 1990s before getting back into the competitive scholarship arena in 2004 when it joined the Atlantic 10 Conference.
That also happened to be NDSU’s first year in Division I football, a level that has improved over the years because of NCAA scholarship limits.
Former Bison head coach Don Morton, who led the 1983 team to the title, remembers at one time when Division I-A, or FBS as it’s referred to now, had unlimited scholarships. That moved to a maximum of 120, was lowered to 95 and then to the current 85 allowable.
“At the highest level, it’s had a tremendous impact,” Morton said. “It’s caused the talent level to be spread out more. It’s allowed the FCS to have its share of good players.”
That domino effect will be on display Saturday. Towson has All-American running back Terrance West. NDSU has several players who were either offered scholarships or preferred walk-on status by FBS schools.
That may not have been the case if FBS had unlimited scholarships like the old days.
“NDSU to its credit has invested in its program and invested in its facilities,” Morton said.
So instead of playing in front of 5,600 people outdoors at Dacotah Field, the Bison will be playing in front of mostly-NDSU partisan 21,000 fans at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, and a national TV audience on ESPN2.
“These guys are incredible, so fun to watch,” Piepkorn said. “Going down there is awesome. It’s a player reunion on top of being able to watch a great team.”
In the case of Tom Van Voorhis, it’s a player reunion and a father watching his son play against a school he faced in the playoffs.
“That has to be amazing as a parent of a player,” Hushka said. “Particularly Towson State. Yeah, we played them in ‘83 but they’ve gone up and we’ve gone up.”