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Christmas comes early for Bison fans with semifinal win

FARGO - Santa loves the Bison.

Despite his busy toy-making schedule, the jolly old elf found time to don the green and gold and cheer on NDSU during Saturday's NCAA Division 1 semifinal game against Georgia Southern.

In fact, there were at least five different Bison Clauses - and one guy wearing a Grinch mask and a Concordia ring - who spread their sporty cheer among the Fargodome crowd Saturday.

"You be a good girl now," said a suspiciously tall and jolly St. Nick clone, as he doled out candy to a group of giggling women.

The Kris Kringle brigade was just one of many attractions at Bison Tailgating Central. Elaborate campsites, outfitted with everything from grills and fireplaces to flat-screen TVs, teemed with Bison boosters.

At the site ruled by the On the Plains Tailgating Crew, alum Travis Maddock helped orchestrate a king-worthy meal of potato pancakes, biscuits and gravy, eggs and chicken-fried steak.

Maddock said he had planned and worked on the meal all week.

He stood in a crowded white tent with music from '80s band The Outfield blaring in the background. A special Bison-themed Christmas trees - decorated with red plastic cups bearing the winning scores of this season's games - stood on a table next to an almost-empty bottle of Captain Morgan.

The general tailgating atmosphere was so friendly that when Georgia Southern fan Nathan Focht marched through brandishing a giant, blue-and-white flag, he was greeted with hospitality, not hostility.

"I will tell you I've had a good time," Focht said. "Everyone here has been very friendly and has lubricated my vocal cords very well."

But while some of the boosters relaxed in decked-out, green-and-gold RVs, others chose more primitive ways to showcase their school spirit.

A group of nine students were so determined to get the coveted first-row seats in the student section that they camped overnight in tents outside the dome.

Ringleader Cody Strom, a sophomore in civil engineering, said Fargodome staff agreed to turn on exterior outlets so the bunking Bison could run heaters inside their tents.

Strom and company still looked chipper after their winter slumber-land. People brought them pizza and hot chocolate, and even their parents supported their die-hard devotion.

"They said, 'You're crazy, but we understand,' " said Strom, a Fargo native who has attended every home game since the Bison joined Division I.

Although 18,108 fans squeezed into the dome, some flocked to nearby watering holes to watch the game.

Chub's Pub in Fargo filled up with fans, students and alumni around noon on Saturday.

Across from NDSU's campus, The Turf was even more packed with people.

Paul Koshmann of Oxbow, Minn., relaxed at a table with four friends before leaving for the game.

"The fan base is incredible," he said. "(The Fargodome) is an intimidating atmosphere for the opposing team. They're at an all-time high right now. It's exciting, it's fun, and it's good for recruitment for the future."

Back at the dome, the spectators formed a sea of green and gold.

Aaron Skyberg, a Bison starter from 1995 to 1999, occupied an aisle seat with his daughter, Aspen, perched on his lap.

Skyberg admitted that he missed playing football so much that he couldn't attend games for several years after he graduated.

But the one-time defensive back soon found himself caught up in the enthusiasm of Bison-mania. "You become a fan," he said.

Just before halftime, Skyberg had no doubt that this team was advancing to the championship in January.

"I already booked my airline ticket," he said. "I've always been a confident guy."

Skyberg chose wisely, as the Bison drubbed the Eagles 35-7.

Afterward, Bison fans were all smiles. "I was ready for a very tight game, because when you get to this level, everyone's good," said alum Jackie Lindsay. "But it was great. I didn't expect it to be this lopsided."

Not surprisingly, the North Pole's best-known citizen was also im­pressed.

"I actually have three words," one Bison Claus said. "Ho-ho-ho."

Forum reporter Jessica Ballou contributed to this story.