But linebacker Mike Mooney surprisingly delivered a kickback, which was felt statewide and changed the course of the rivalry for the next decade.
It was fine and 31 degrees at Memorial Stadium. Snow lined the rear areas. At the start of the fourth quarter, powerful options game Bison were looking to close the deal for the 13th consecutive year, leading 21-16.
That’s when Mooney, who will be inducted into the UND Track and Field Hall of Fame on Saturday, turned the tide of the rivalry. He struck the ball out to Bison running back Jason Miller in front of Bison’s bench and scolded 32 yards into the north end zone for the winning touchdown. UND managed to hang on for the 22-21 win and seconds after the win the south end zone goal posts fell and marched down University Avenue.
Then UND coach Roger Thomas pleaded for the return of the goalposts the next day. They were, and UND went on to win the North Central Conference title and a Division II playoff berth.
Mooney still remembers the fumble and the touchdown very well. But it wasn’t the game that won the game in his mind.
“Everyone says the game won the game,” Mooney said. “But it got us into our heads. He didn’t win the game. Everyone had a good game. (Running) Shannon Burnell had a rocking game.
“But it’s always fun to talk about this game. That was 29 years ago. Just think about how long that was. It was a great experience to be part of this team. “
The game went so fast that the result stunned the majority of Memorial Stadium’s more than 13,000 fans that day.
“The ball carrier was standing; I dropped the ball from his hands, ”said Mooney. “The ball hit the ground. I was lucky enough to pick it up and run it.
Mooney didn’t remember much of the celebration that followed.
“You are so emotionally motivated to score at this point,” he said. “I was just hoping to get in the end zone.”
Mooney can’t remember the first player to congratulate him after the score. But he remembered what had happened a few seconds later. “I was looking for my parents in the stands and I just ran on the bench,” he said.
On Saturday, UND will host NDSU for the first time since 2003. In a sense, a similar scenario exists between Saturday’s game and the 1993 contest.
NDSU comes to the Alerus Center with three straight Division I wins over UND – all convincingly. NDSU won all three games by an average score of 35-10.
UND, tenth in the table, who has slowly climbed into the FCS top 10, remains one step away from becoming a powerbroker in the division. The size of this step remains uncertain. But a victory over the No.5 NDSU would be an important step in that direction.
And it might take a play like Mooney 29 years ago to make that happen.
Mooney, Mark Callahan and the late Travis O’Neel – all three former UND footballers – will be inducted into the Sports Department’s Hall of Fame this weekend. And all three have made huge plays against the Bison during their careers.
Mooney, who played high school in Blaine, Minn., Remains grateful for his UND career.
“I was a tiny 185-pound linebacker,” he said. “The UND stabbed me and gave me a small purse. The coaching staff have done a great job recruiting kids who can play. The only thing that came out of this 1993 team was that we didn’t have a prima donnas. We just went out and played for our coaches.