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Bison fan turnout 'beyond expectations' to Texas bowl game

North Dakota State University fans pack Dr Pepper Park during the the Bison pep rally Friday in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

FRISCO, Texas - Frisco Mayor Maher Maso wrote on Twitter that, by his estimate, 9,000 North Dakota State football fans showed up at Dr Pepper Ballpark on Friday night.

To pump up the throng of green and gold that showed up for a pep fest on the eve of today's Football Championship Subdivision title game rematch between NDSU and Sam Houston State, Maso grabbed the microphone on the small stage situated on home plate and said:

"All these years they've been telling me everything is bigger in Texas. I'm not so sure anymore."

The crowd that filled the grandstand erupted with a cheer that could surely be heard at the Embassy Suites one block beyond the center-field wall. That's where the Sam Houston State football team was staying.

With an official count of 8,200 fans, the lights went out at 8:30 p.m. when fireworks lit the sky. The party continued beyond 10 o'clock. Sleep tight, Sam Houston.

With their football team shooting for its second straight national championship today, Bison fans proved for the second straight year that this Division I party keeps getting bigger.

Last year, it was estimated that 6,000 Bison fans crammed the banquet room, hallways and outdoor sidewalks at the Marriott Hotel in nearby Plano.

To avoid an elbow-to-elbow party in which there was hardly enough room to hoist a beer, the NDSU Alumni Association found a new venue in Dr Pepper Ballpark - a beautiful facility with enough space to keep the Bison fans happy.

A $10 cover charge couldn't even keep them away - a fee NDSU Alumni director Sherri Schmidt was concerned about.

"But our fans did not blink an eye ... here they are," she said. "It's beyond expectations."

Expectations were certainly high after last year when the party became urban legend: Bison fans drank the town dry.

That was not the case at Dr Pepper Ballpark on Friday night when vendors were canvasing the concourse as if it were a baseball game. "Cold beer ... Miller Lite ... Bud Light here."

Bison fans were lined up for the $5 beers at stands in the concourse from the left-field line to the right-field line. They were ordering their favorite drinks in the JCP Club, a swanky indoor bar situated behind home plate.

This time, Frisco was prepared.

The Frisco RoughRiders baseball club, which rented its facility to the NDSU Alumni Association, had nearly 300 staffers working.

"There is definitely more buzz going on here than a typical baseball game," said RoughRiders president Scott Sonju, whose Double-A minor league baseball team draws 10,600 fans for a sellout. "If you would've told me two weeks ago there would've been 8,000 fans here, I would have been skeptical. This is impressive."

Tickets for this pep fest sold nearly as fast as the tickets for today's game. LuAnn Stromme of Devils Lake, N.D., had one solution for those who were unable to get a game ticket.

Taped to the back of her jacket was a hand-written sign that read: "Need a game day ticket? Section 117, Row 22, Seat 9."

Standing in the concourse along the right-field line, Stromme was willing to give her ticket away. She purchased four $35 tickets two months ago for her daughter and friends before she even knew the Bison would be playing for a national championship. One of her daughter's friends couldn't make it to today's game.

"And I end up buying my ticket for $200 two weeks ago," she said.

Bison fan Todd Knain of Fargo thinks if the national championship game were played in a larger venue than the 20,000-seat FC Dallas Stadium, he thinks there would be 20,000 Bison fans at today's championship game.

Again, this newfound Division I party keeps getting bigger ... Texas big.