For the first time ever, the Fighting Hawks will play in a FCS playoff game against the Richmond Spiders. It will also be the first time the Alerus Center has hosted a playoff game since 2007.
“It means a lot for us, to be playing in the second round of the FCS playoffs for the first time ever,” head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “It’ll mean much more if we get a positive result.”
The Hawks have found success while playing at home for the playoffs. They are 10-0 all time at the Alerus center in playoff matchups. Since taking over as head coach, Schweigert owns a 13-3 record at the Alerus center.
While the setting of the playoffs makes momentum swings even bigger, and the game is on a bigger stage, Schweigert says they will play it like any other game.
“I really believe you have to play it the same,” Schweigert said. “You got to play hard, you got to play focused and with great energy because there are really good opponents in the tournament.”
The Spiders took on the North Carolina A&T Aggies and easily defeated them 39-10.
Richmond possesses a high-powered offense that features a pass heavy attack that ranks 15th in the country. Their starting quarterback, Kyle Lauletta, was injured and lost for the remainder of the season on the Spiders’ final game of the regular season.
Lauletta was ninth in passing yards with 3,022 yards passing when he went down and has a quarterback rating of 153.9. This is his second year in a row passing for 3,000 plus yards.
Filling in for Lauletta is sophomore Kevin Johnson. Johnson is not your average young back up quarterback. He is fully capable for running their offense. Johnson threw for 315 yards and a touchdown against the Aggies.
“He’s a very good athlete, and a very good player,” Schweigert said. “There’s a reason they wanted to red-shirt him this year, to save a year because he’s a good player. You only do that with guys you really think are going to help your program.”
While the Spiders will be missing their starting quarterback, they still have their star receiver, Brian Brown. Brown has amassed an impressive 1,255 yards receiving to go along with his 10 touchdowns. The 6’2 receiver has passed the 1,000 yard mark the last three years now.
The UND secondary that has intercepted a FCS leading 20 passes will have their hands full against the receivers of the Spiders. They have eight receivers on their roster that are 6’2” or taller.
Look for big days from the Hawks’ running backs on Saturday. The Spiders rank 45th in rush defense and average going up 149 yards rushing per game. On the other side, the Hawks rank seventh in the FCS in rushing offense.
The only common opponent for the two teams is Stony Brook. UND fell to Stony Brook in their first game of the season after a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Richmond was routed by Stony Brook 42-14 two weeks later.
As in every game, winning the turnover battle will be a key for UND. The Spiders, like the Hawks, have had a penchant for intercepting passes. They have intercepted 16 passes this season.
The Hawks have done a great job at winning the turnover battle this season. They have taken the ball away from the opposing offense 29 times to only 12 turnovers by the Hawks’ offense. This is good for the third best margin in the FCS.
Richmond has forced 27 turnovers and only given the ball up on offense 15 times.
The two teams are evenly matched up. The Spiders have the better passing offense and the Hawks have the better rushing attack. On defense, the Hawks are much better against the run. Both teams feature solid secondary that will intercept poorly placed passes.
UND is coming off of their regular season bye, as well as their first round bye for the playoffs. All the time off has been very important for the Hawks to get healthy, and prepare for their game.
“The past few open weeks, I felt like we took advantage of it,” running back Brady Oliveira said. “Guys got healthy, we were still on the field and made a lot of strides, we went back to technique stuff and I feel like we got a lot of work in.”
Noise makes for a huge home field advantage. It can make life for the opposing offense harder as it makes communicating very difficult.
“I want the Alerus to be packed,” Oliveira said. “The fans make a big difference. I hope they’re there to fill the Alerus and have it roaring.”
Kickoff is at 5 p.m., Saturday Dec. 3 at the Alerus Center. Come show your support for the football team.
Adam Gunderman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]