North Dakota

Kolpack: 50 years ago, one quarter vs. UND rescued Don Siverson’s career – InForum


North Dakota state football players in the Division I era in recent years are most likely unaware of their bus driver’s story. When Don Siverson drives you to Grand Forks, Brookings, Vermillion or Minneapolis, it’s all about FCS football then and now.

But 50 years ago, a game between NDSU and the University of North Dakota will go down in history as one of the most memorable of the series in more ways than one, not just a Bison win from behind. Siverson was the NDSU quarterback who endured an inconsistent season by Bison QB standards.

The AND game went in the same direction. The first three quarters were duly noted in a Sunday story in The Forum, where the first paragraph of a story about Siverson began:

“For most of North Dakota State University’s football fight with North Dakota here on Saturday, Bison quarterback Don Siverson trailed behind two AND cheerleaders and a tuba player in the MVP vote.”

“That’s right,” Silverson said, laughing. “There was so much excitement, the heart of the story is about the rivalry. It was a different week.”

History noted that Siverson kept missing open receivers, and a concealed pass to Bruce Reimers on a third and sixth with just over seven minutes remaining seemed to follow the theme. At this point, NDSU was only 4 out of 17 in third down conversions.

But Reimers came back for the ball, grabbed it and rushed for 52 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion pass from Siverson intended for a receiver in the end zone was tipped but it fell into the hands of NDSU center Mike Evenson, who fell over the line and drew the Bison to 17-15.

The game winner came with 27 seconds to go when Siverson, rolling left for the first time in the game, scored from five yards.

It was five yards that might have made up for four years of hardship for a highly recruited quarterback from Casselton, ND, who had caught the eye of Murray Warmath at the University of Minnesota and Bob Devaney in Nebraska. Siverson’s stats were such that he caught the attention of the high school All-American and everyone recruited him.

He chose NDSU but struggled with high expectations. Siverson, who was behind standout quarterbacks like Mike Bentson and before that Terry Hanson, never won the starting job. It eventually led to him dropping out of school for the 1971 season.

Siverson did not see himself on the NDSU depth map.

With the Vietnam War a hot topic and Siverson losing his reprieve for dropping out of school, he was eligible for military service. His number: 119. His catchment area ended at 111 this year.

“I got away from this thing, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he said. β€œIt was a turbulent time in history, towards the end of the Vietnam War there were constant campus protests. It was a pretty confusing time.”

One day, during construction, a couple of Bison teammates came to a construction site and asked Siverson to come back.

He agreed. Siverson went to head coach Ron Erhardt and said he would pay for the spring semester himself, but if he won the starting quarterback job he would get his scholarship back. Erhard agreed.

He won the job. This was a quarterback from his senior year with undefeated Central Cass through 1972, all the while taking a handful of snaps in one game.

Siverson watched the 1971 NDSU-AND game where the Sioux rolled the Bison 23-7. That was the expectation for the 1972 game, with AND led by outstanding running back Mike Deutsch.

NDSU was a decided underdog at UND’s old Memorial Stadium.

“The sportswriters here and in Grand Forks and the TV crew didn’t give us a chance,” Siverson said. “We will be beaten.”

NDSU got a break when Deutsch, who scored both of UND’s touchdowns, injured his back in the first half and failed to return. After three quarters, the bison was 17:7 behind.

But the next 15 minutes turned Don Siverson’s NDSU career from mediocre to legendary. Siverson struggled with the drop-back passing game, and AND knew it. He couldn’t do the things that previous quarterbacks like Bentson could.

Statistics show that Siverson has completed 42% of his passes this year. They will show that he averaged 0.9 yards per carry.

What they won’t show is that he blazed his way through to help his team finish 8-2. Northern Iowa was 0-0 at halftime. NDSU won 42-0. At Montana State, he played with a severed shoulder he injured against Northern Colorado the week before and iced it when the Bison defense was on the field.

He wondered if he could play at that level physically. But for 15 minutes on a Saturday afternoon in Grand Forks, his role in bison history is forever unquestioned.

He was the quarterback in one of the biggest NDSU rallies of the series with AND.

“At AND, our guys had a different look, a different feel,” said Siverson, who still routinely meets with a group of old teammates. “Denny Isrow, our head coach, said if you win this game I’m going to shave my head and write the result on my forehead. He did it and it made newspapers across the country.”

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