After a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of number three Weber State last weekend the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks football team return home for their last two games of the season. The Hawks are now faced with the interesting task of not just winning their last two games, but winning in a fashion convincing enough to catch the eye of the FCS playoff committee.
The 24 team FCS playoff field is comprised of the 10 conference champions and 14 others that the committee deems strong enough to include in the postseason. UND finds itself as an independent and not part of any conference, so it must rely on the committee to choose them as one of the 14 others.
As an unranked team with four losses on the season, the Hawks are facing an uphill climb to impress the committee. The first team on the schedule for these all important final two games were the Northern Colorado Bears who traveled from Greenly, Colo. for this late season showdown.
The 2-8 Bears had nothing to play for other than pride and to play the role of the spoiler for North Dakota. This did stop Northern Colorado from scarring UND late in the game in the game, but the Hawks were able to walk away with the the 45-38 win. The Hawks maintained their perfect 5-0 record inside of the Alerus Center, all of them down to the wire.
Winning was all you could ask for from the Hawks, but this might be a game that will end up hurting them in the long run. UND held a 45-21 point lead with nine minutes and 33 seconds left in the third quarter after another outstanding play on special teams with a punt block return for a touchdown. That is all UND fans had to cheer for as Northern Colorado rattled off the next 17 points scored making it 45-38.
Head Coach Bubba Schweigert addressed the teams semi-crumble late in the game.
“I wasn’t pleased with everyone on our sideline,” Schweigert said. “There was a lot of time left. Game can change in a hurry. We’ve got a number of people going through this for the first time. That’ll be addressed very early next week about how we need to be emotionally for an entire game if we want to get to seven wins.”
The Hawks were able to close out the game defensively late in the game but were given no help from their offense who seemed to disappear late in this contest. UND did not run more than five plays on a drive from the punt block on, leaving a tired defense on the field.
A shootout from the opening kickoff, both teams finishing the game with around 500 total yards, the long play was the difference maker. Northern Colorado was lead by their freshman standout receiver Jaren Mitchell who hauled in 10 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns. This included a one-play drive which started and ended with a 75 yard touchdown catch thrown from his quarterback, Jacob Knipp, who tallied 383 yards and three touchdowns on the day.
The Hawks were able to strike from long distance as well with bright spot running back Cam McKinney returning from injury. His workload was light with only six carries on the day but he made the most of them by turning them into 105 yards including a 55-yard touchdown scamper which resembled the speed and agility of Mike Vick in Madden 2004.
Jamestown, North Dakota’s own Noah Wanzek continued his great senior year by stacking up his fourth 100 yard receiving game of the season including a 26-yard touchdown grab from his quarterback Ketteringham who finished with 297 yards on the day.
In a game that may hurt its playoff chances more than it helped, UND has been given one last opportunity to impress the playoff committee as next week three win Southern Utah will travel to Grand Forks for senior day. The Hawks must show up and prove they belong or it’s going to be an early and cold offseason for the boys in the North.