UND Downs Illinois State in Final Home Game

Claire Weltz, Editor

A little snow never stopped anyone, and it certainly didn’t stop the Fighting Hawks from defeating the Redbirds 14-7. The University of North Dakota football team closed out its home season today against Illinois State, and fans still chilled in the parking lot for tailgating. (Pun intended.) Today’s gameday was dubbed Senior Day, and seniors were recognized from all areas of campus. Senior football players were escorted out by their parents; cheer and dance team members also had family and coaches celebrating them. At half time, the Pride of the North performed, and its senior members also received recognition for their time at UND.  

 Coming into today’s matchup, the two teams had mirrored records – both 4-5 overall and 2-4 in conference play. Another identical storyline is exciting late victories last week. The Fighting Hawks overcame an 11-point deficit in the 4th quarter against Youngstown State while the Redbirds downed Northern Iowa in overtime. The other reflection? Otis Weah had some serious competition against Illinois State’s explosive running back, Cole Mueller. 

 With their last opportunity to play at home in the green and white, seniors came out to shine. Linebacker Jaxson Turner made his presence known. After the coin toss, which UND won and deferred, the Redbirds went 3 and out, courtesy of a Turner sack.  

 UND found its rhythm during a first quarter drive, but after coming up short, the team found themselves on the ISU 40 yardline with 4th and 1. The Fighting Hawks pitched it outside to Otis Weah, but the Redbirds were all over it – forcing Weah to cut back inside. Weah’s strength and athleticism appeared to be enough for a first down, but the play went to review. The referees called Weah down short, and Illinois State took over on downs.  

 After a scoreless first quarter, ISU had a chance to get on the scoreboard with a 32-yard field goal attempt, but in a great special teams showing, the Fighting Hawks blocked the kick to keep the game 0-0.  

 It wasn’t quite enough momentum for UND, and they went 3 and out on their offensive drive. 

 When Illinois State got the ball back, North Dakota’s defense struck. Senior linebacker Noah Larson stripped ISU QB Bryce Jefferson of the ball and recovered it. The turnover put the Fighting Hawks in great field position, starting on ISU’s 34 yard line.  

 Quarterback Tommy Schuster rushed to put UND in the red zone. On the next play, with a blitzing Redbird in his face, Schuster stood in the pocket and found 5th year Jake Richter in the endzone to put UND on the scoreboard. The PAT by Brady Stevens was good for a 7-0 lead with the points coming off of the ISU turnover. 

 Illinois State got the ball back, and before they had any time to respond to the Fighting Hawks’ scoring drive, UND cornerback C.J. Siegel came up on the blitz and smothered QB Britton Morris for a sack and 15 yard loss. 

 With the ball back in the hands of Tommy Schuster, North Dakota marched back to the field with the intent to extend their lead. Otis Weah hauled in a 20-yard catch, and everything seemed to be going according to plan. Schuster lobbed a 17 yard pass to Garett Maag, but as Maag went to the ground, a Redbird defender knocked the ball out for a turnover. 

 Pinned on their own 3 yard line, ISU couldn’t dig themselves out and punted to the UND 35 yard line. Schuster was sacked to make it 3rd/11, and with less than a minute remaining, it looked like UND wouldn’t be able to nab any late-quarter points. With help from an Otis Weah rush, ISU offsides penalty, and a massive catch by Bo Belquist, UND managed to find a spark of hope. As the clock dwindled down, North Dakota attempted a 45 yard field goal, only to be met with a less-than-satisfactory “doink” off the right goal post. The teams went into the locker rooms with the score still at 7-0.  

 Fast forward to the 4th quarter, the scoreline remained 7-0. ISU put together a 1:31 drive with four solid plays for 43 yards and a TD to level the scoreline on a pass from Jackson Waring to Bret Spaulding.  

 At 7-7, North Dakota needed some magic to regain the lead. That spark of brilliance came from none other than Jaxson Turner as he recorded his 21st career sack. His sack forced Illinois State to punt, and UND took over with 6:56 left in the game on the ISU 43 yard line.  

 Otis Weah rushed for a loss of 2 yards, and Schuster threw an incomplete pass to bring up 3rd/12. Brock Boltmann got the first down and more with a 37 yard gain to put UND on the 5 yard line. Gavin Ziebarth snagged his first career TD in the green and white on a pass from Quincy Vaughn to give UND the lead 14-7. 

 The Fighting Hawks closed out the same with a split sack from Ty Shannon and Kason Kelley. With the ball back in UND hands, Otis Weah bolted for a 40 yard pickup which allowed Schuster to take a knee to run out the clock.  

 The victory moves UND to an overall record of 5-5. They will face South Dakota State in their final game of the season on November 20 with a 2pm kickoff.  


Claire Weltz is a Dakota Student Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].