Rivalry trophies are a unique aspect to college football, one of the many features that gives the sport its “charm.” Paul Bunyan’s axe (Minnesota vs. Wisconsin), The Apple Cup Trophy (Washington vs. Washington State), The Victory Bell (North Carolina vs. Duke), and the Cy-Hawk Trophy (Iowa vs. Iowa State) are some of the better known trophies while the Tiger Rag (Tulane vs. LSU) and the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy (Syracuse vs. West Virginia) are some of the lesser known trophies (and rivalries for that matter). In 2004, South Dakota State University and North Dakota State University established a rivalry trophy for their annual game. The trophy was a model replica of the quartz monuments that marked the border between North and South Dakota. Coined the “Dakota Marker,” it is now the namesake for the trophy and the game. Since the trophy was established, NDSU holds a 10-7 record over SDSU. However, the two schools have been playing pretty much annually for much longer.
Paul Bunyan’s Axe
Digging through digitalized newspapers and archived yearbooks, it appears that the first ever meeting between the two schools was in 1903. The headline in the October 20th, 1903 edition of the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican read “THE FLICKERTAILS WON – The North Dakota Farmers Skinned those from South Dakota - Hamline Saturday.”
In the early 1900s, NDSU was known as North Dakota Agriculture College (NDAC) and SDSU was known as South Dakota Agricultural College (SDAC). Newspapers commonly nicknamed both teams “the Aggies” and oftentimes used a variety of names to describe each college (NDSU was referred to as A.C., NDAC, North Dakota State, Fargo, North Dakota). While the 1903 matchup is likely the first time SDAC and NDAC met on the gridiron, there is a very real chance that the teams had met previously, as SDSU had been playing football since the late 1800s. For the purposes of accessible records, 1903 is likely the known start of the Dakota Marker rivalry.
And did it ever get off to a bang for SDAC. The Forum reported that the game was “decisively settled by the overwhelming score of 85 to 0 in favor of the North Dakotans.” The score is shocking, to say the least. Other results in the early years of football for SDAC are along the lines of “11-3”, 20-0, 17-5”, low-scoring, gritty, more-street-fight-than-football type games. The Forum reported that early penalties cost NDAC from scoring even more, leading to a 22-0 first half. In the second half, it was reported that a “better understanding was reached between players and officials as to the Fargo style of play and the boys tore through South Dakota for sixty-three points.” Remember, this was at a time when the forward pass was barely legal and the games were more wrestling match than anything. They didn’t have this term in 1903 but SDAC was boat raced, badly. In fact, this is the biggest margin of defeat in any Dakota Marker game since. The Forum did credit the South Dakotans as “no quitters” playing to the bitter end.
At one point in the game, it was reported that SDAC didn’t know some of the rules, which lead to a NDAC touchdown.
The officers admitted that North Dakota should have had one more touchdown as a result of the clever trick by Spellisey, but the South Dakota boys didn’t understand it at the time and the locals, like true sportsmen did not insist. There was much work that it was hard on the officials and no blame is attached to them. The spectators are frequently prejudiced against officials in not being able to see the plays as the officials see them. - The Forum
Following the game, one player, “Right End Dillon of SDAC” said that “Fargo defeated us from superior knowledge of the game.”
SDAC Football circa early 1900s
Despite the lopsided defeat, SDSU dominated the series for most of the first half of the 20th century. SDSU held a 24-10-3 record from 1903 to 1950. Apparently “the boys from the south” studied up on the rule book a bit.
The Wikipedia entry for the Dakota Marker game says that SDSU and NDSU faced off at some point in 1907, but running through SDSU’s 1908 yearbook, it shows that the 1907 football team did not play NDSU (NDAC) rather they played the University of North Dakota, losing 24 to 6.
In 1908, SDAC and NDAC resumed their rivalry, playing in Fargo. This time, SDAC turned the tables on the Aggies, winning 11 to 5. The October 29th edition of the Brookings Register stated that “Brookings made its two touchdowns in a clean manner” while “Fargo” scored on a “fluke” in the last three minutes of play. The fluke play, described by the Register, leaves a lot of question marks about the rules of football back then.
North Dakota tried a long forward pass, which struck on the shoulder of a Brookings player, who was watching the opposing end, and rolled over the goal line, where a Fargo man fell on it.
SDAC’s defense was apparently suburb and it was reported from “a Fargo dispatch” that SDAC was a well-drilled, veteran team whose play was the best shown in Fargo for years. SDAC had a chance to win the South Dakota state championship that year but lost to Yankton 21-0 later on.
The 1909 matchup between the two agricultural schools was held in Brookings, at the county fairgrounds. The game was reportedly played in a rainstorm on a muddy field. NDAC won 11 to 5. The Register reported that “North Dakota was lucky and that was the reason for their victory.” SDAC reportedly outplayed the Aggies from the North but because of the weight of the North Dakota players (who the Register reported as being 15 pounds heavier per man than SDAC) they were able to muscle their way to victory.
The latter half of the 20th century saw NDSU dominate the series with SDSU. At one point, from 1964 to 2001, SDSU won a grand total of four games, all four of them at old Coughlin Alumni Stadium. It was only in the last decade or so that the series has really swung between the two schools. Before that, it was long stretches of dominance by one school over another. The Wikipedia page for the series states that NDSU leads the series 63-43-5, which is probably pretty close, but not entirely accurate, as we know a few of those early year games either didn’t happen or the score is incorrect.
On Saturday, SDSU and NDSU will renew their rivalry, playing for the second time in seven months. Score predication? 85-0 Jacks.
(or maybe something like 20-17 Jacks)