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Schnepf: Bison accomplish remarkable feat of 3 straight national titles

FNS Photo by Carrie Snyder North Dakota State University seniors celebrate their win over Towson during the 2014 NCAA Division I Championship game on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Frisco, Texas — What does it take to three-peat — something, until Saturday, that had been only accomplished 30 times in the history of major sports in the United States?

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Take a look at Cole Jirik’s shoulders, which will undergo surgery this month, or his left ankle, which ballooned like a cantaloupe during Saturday’s FCS national championship game. It was Jirik, along with 23 other seniors whose bodies have gotten beat up these last four years, who helped North Dakota State claim its third straight national title.

“I don’t feel any pain right now,” Jirik said after Saturday’s 35-7 win over Towson (Md.). “It feels damn good right now. All that pain I went through all those seasons makes it very worth it right now. It feels amazing to repeat baby.”

Let’s clarify that statement: Repeat a second time, and win three titles in a row. That doesn’t happen very often.

The only other football team to do it at this level was Appalachian State from 2005 to 2007.

In the more than 100 years of college football, a three-peat has now been achieved only eight times. Carroll College did it at the lowest level of college football (NAIA) in 2005. Three teams did it at the NCAA Division III level — Augustana of Illinois in 1986, Mount Union of Ohio in 1998 and Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2011. North Alabama did it at the Division II level in 1995.

And believe it or not, the only major-college team that has three-peated is the Minnesota Gophers. They completed it in 1936.

“There are no words that can even explain it right now,” said Jirik. “It’s just unbelievable.”

It’s somewhat unbelievable what Jirik has sacrificed to help his Bison not only win a third straight title, but become only the third FCS champion with a perfect record. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound defensive end from Northfield, Minn., has had the muscles in both shoulders slide out of joint 25 times this season. Each time is usually very painful. And each time, Jirik waits for the muscles to slide back into place before he returns to the field.

Saturday, for a change, the shoulder muscles stayed in place. But twice in the second half, Jirik rolled his left ankle. And after getting it re-taped each time, he was back on the field.

“It was pretty painful,” said Jirik, who plans to have surgery on his shoulders this month, harboring some hopes of playing professional football.

“I’m ready for my body to get a little bit of a break.”

So is senior nose guard Ryan Drevlow, who describes his body as going through the meat grinder with injuries to his shoulder, elbow and back.

That comes from playing 59 games in the last four years. That is a lot football. That is a lot of sacrifice — when about the only lengthy break these players have gotten during their three-peat run have come on the week of the Fourth of July.

“All of us have put our bodies through hell,” said Drevlow, the Gwinner boy who is looking forward to his non-contact job as an electrical engineer this month for Basin Electric in Bismarck. “I’m high on Cloud 9 right now. I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow hardly being able to get out of bed. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. If you would ask, I would do it 100 times over.”

Ironically, when Bison players like Jirik and Drevlow are asked what the hardest part about three-peating is, it’s not the physical toll their bodies take. That seems to be a given with the sport of football. Rather, it’s the mental aspect of it.

There is the challenge of not overlooking any opponents — even though this year’s Bison only had two close games. And there is the challenge of avoiding distractions. This year’s seniors have always thrived when it comes to distractions — even when Bison head coach Craig Bohl announced during the playoffs that he was leaving to coach at the University of Wyoming.

There was even a report that there was an apparent rift between Bohl and defensive coordinator Chris Klieman, who turned down an offer to go to Wyoming to become NDSU’s next head coach.

“I didn’t see a rift between the coaches, and that shows today with the score that we were all the way bought in,” said Jirik, who along with junior Christian Dudzik dumped a water cooler over Klieman, not long after Bohl was doused. “Coach Klieman has been there for all of us defensive guys. We love him to death. We figured we would give him an ice bath to send him into his head coaching job.”

In spite of the stunning announcement that Bohl would be leaving, it was business as usual for these seniors.

“Coaching change or not, what matters is the coaches are working their butts off for us upstairs, and we’re executing their schemes,” Drevlow said. “That’s all that matters.”

What will matter for this group of seniors, when they have a chance to reflect on all of this, is what they accomplished in addition to the three-peat.

Their 24-game winning streak is currently the longest active one in all of college football. NDSU’s last loss was 448 days ago.

Saturday’s win marked their 18th straight road win — although with more than 17,000 Bison fans roaring their approval Saturday, it felt more like a home game. It was Fargodome loud. Nonetheless, the last road loss for NDSU was 1,120 days ago, when it lost a 2010 playoff game in overtime at Eastern Washington.

Who knows? Had the Bison scored in the final seconds to win that quarterfinal game, they could very well have been celebrating a four-peat on Saturday. But a three-peat sits just fine with Jirik and Drevlow, even though their bodies may be saying otherwise when they wake up today.

“A lot of people don’t realize the physicality and what the players go through,” Drevlow said. “It’s just part of the game. If you want to accomplish special things, it’s something you’ve got to do.”

Special indeed when you figure there have been only 30 three-peats in the professional sports of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and NASCAR plus the college sports of football and Division I basketball. Saturday, NDSU became No. 31.

Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.

Kevin Schnepf
Kevin Schnepf is the sports editor for The Forum. He has been working at The Forum since 1986.
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