Fourth-ranked Montana State was the highest-ranked opponent the North Dakota football team has faced since its move to the Football Championship Subdivision level and the Bobcats showed why they own that distinction after posting a 55-10 victory in Big Sky play on Saturday.
Junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee led a Bobcats (7-1, 4-1 BSC) offense that churned out a school-record 695 yards of total offense in the contest. The junior signal caller finished with 259 yards passing and three touchdowns threw the air, while the ground attack racked up the rest of the 436 yards for the home team.
UND (4-5, 2-4 BSC), who was coming off a school-record offensive performance of its own against Montana a week ago, was held in check by the Big Sky's top defense in this one. Senior Braden Hanson and his unit was held to a season-low 180 yards, while the Bobcats defense sacked the left-handed quarterback eight times.
"I think the big thing for us, we knew we had to come out here and play perfect," UND head coach Chris Mussman said. "We knew we had to be productive offensively … They are a very, very good football team. I honestly think that is the best team we have played all year. We needed to get some breaks from them and we didn't."
The Bobcats scored first on a 41-yard catch and run by sophomore Shawn Johnson midway through the first quarter. UND had an answer though as Hanson connected with Kenny Golladay on a 60-yard reception, then found junior Greg Hardin from 17 yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
Unfortunately, that would be the only touchdown UND would have an answer for in the game. The Bobcats scored 21 straight points to build a 28-7 lead at the break. McGhee went 16-for-19 for 185 yards in that first half, while junior Cody Kirk scored two rushing touchdowns and had 69 rushing yards in the opening 30 minutes.
McGhee and company tacked on four more touchdowns in the second half, while UND could only add a 40-yard field goal from Zeb Miller.
Kirk finished with three rushing scores a game-high 160 yards, while senior Orenzo Davis added 147 yards and two ground scores.
Golladay led UND with four catches for a career-high 83 yards, while Hardin added three catches for 45 yards. For Hardin, his 45 yards receiving and first-quarter touchdown put him into second place on UND's career charts for receiving yardage (2,273) and receiving touchdowns (25).
The UND ground game was held to 15 yards as Hanson lost 40 yards on those eight sacks. The MSU defense also forced senior Brett Cameron to punt a season-high 10 times.
UND will return to the Alerus Center on Saturday for Senior Day in a contest vs. Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds are coming off a 30-27 upset victory over No. 1 Eastern Washington. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m. CT.