Stories of the Year, No. 6: Building memories
It isn't even a year old yet, but the Badlands Activities Center has already created some lasting memories.
In its inaugural season, the $16 million facility built with public and private funds on Dickinson State University's campus in place of old Whitney Stadium made an extremely successful debut in 2010 and, from a sports aspect, played host to several outstanding football games.
"Every week it started feeling more like home," Dickinson Trinity football coach Randy Gordon said.
The new home to the DSU, Trinity and Dickinson High football teams made its dress rehearsal with a handful of track meets before fully opening its doors on June 19 during the Badlands Bowl high school all-star game that pits North Dakota against Montana.
No one left disappointed.
North Dakota intercepted six passes and both teams broke game records before the home team walked away with a thrilling 41-38 victory.
It was only the start of the show, however.
DSU's outstanding 2010 season was highlighted by record attendance, great games and a brand-new tailgating policy that made for a wonderful game-day atmosphere.
Among the highlights:
-- On a beautiful late-summer evening, a raucous crowd watched DSU open its season with a wild 25-21 win over Rocky Mountain College in a rare Thursday night game on Aug. 26.
-- DSU's next game on Sept. 4 was a thrilling 29-24 victory over Concordia College marked by Derion Williams' highlight-reel 58-yard TD catch and run on a tipped pass with 29 seconds left.
-- An estimated record 3,700 homecoming fans watched the Blue Hawks win their fourth straight game by defeating Jamestown College 26-16, the program's 400th victory that gave DSU its first 4-0 start since 2003.
-- Though it resulted in a 19-13 Blue Hawk loss, their final home game of the season against Black Hills State was a battle to the end, and put a big chip on DSU's shoulder that they used to beat the Yellow Jackets 21-0 in the regular-season finale at the Fargodome.
"Every game was very competitive," DSU head coach Hank Biesiot said. "Our guys loved playing on it, and from a coaching standpoint, I appreciated practicing on it a great deal.
"It makes it easier, convenient. It's like having a classroom with modern heat instead of a wood stove."
Even many of the high school games played at the new stadium were outstanding.
-- Class AA, West Region rivals Dickinson Trinity and Beulah opened the first doubleheader played at the BAC with an overtime thriller.
Trinity prevailed 26-20 after the Miners scored 14 unanswered points in the final 4 and a half minutes in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Trinity junior Christian Olson caught the go-ahead TD pass from Ben Gordon in overtime and then batted down Beulah quarterback Tyler Zacher's fourth-down pass into the end zone to seal the win.
-- When two inches of wet snow blanketed Fisher Field's Sprinturf surface on Sept. 17, Dickinson Trinity took it and the freezing temperatures in stride, beating long-time nemesis Minot Ryan 30-12.
-- A week later against No. 2-ranked and eventual Class AA state runner-up Devils Lake on Sept. 24, the Titans scored two touchdowns on fourth downs and then had Brandon Sickler seal the 21-14 win with his second interception that halted the Firebirds' final drive late in the fourth quarter.
Gordon said after the win over Beulah, the BAC began to feel like home for the Titans.
"Even the first game, you didn't really know if you were away or at home," he said. "Somehow we kind of had to get the feeling that we were at home."
Dickinson High had just one win at the stadium, but it was a doozy:
-- The Midgets' homecoming game on Sept. 10 became one to remember when receiver Nate Moody caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nick Lupo with 7.5 seconds left to cap a 12-play, 83-yard drive and lift the Midgets to a 13-8 upset win over then No. 2-ranked Bismarck Century in their West Region opener.
"There wasn't a lot of people who even thought we could hang in that game to start with," Dickinson head coach Dennis Morris said. "That's what football is all about. It sure was exciting."
-- Though the Midgets took a loss to Fargo South at home on Oct. 15, they gave the eventual Class AAA state champion Bruins all they could handle.
Lupo threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns but South battled back from a 21-14 halftime deficit, keeping Dickinson off the board in the second half to seal a 28-21 victory that was the second in its six-game win streak to end its season.
"It's a big time facility," Morris said. "Our kids are really proud of the facility and proud to call it home."