North Dakota held off a feisty Idaho State team, spoiling the Bengals' homecoming with a gritty 28-25 victory at Holt Arena on Saturday. UND (2-3, 1-1 BSC) never trailed in the contest, but were threatened plenty by the Bengals (2-3, 0-2 BSC) in a game that saw the visitors get touchdowns from its offense, defense and special teams.
"We're excited for the win. I happy for the guys," UND head coach Chris Mussman said. "Defensively, we created some turnovers and that was nice to see. That side was on the field a lot in the second half and stepped up and made big plays.
"Offensively, we played well in the first half, but struggled stringing drives together in the second half. We also had 14 penalties and usually you don't win games when you do that, but it was nice to be on the other side of it today."
The final of UND's four touchdowns proved to be the game-winner as Dayo Idowu deflected a pitch by Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias and linebacker Ben Peters, who led the team with eight tackles, fell on the loose ball in the end zone to put the visitors ahead 28-17. The turnover was the fourth of the day caused by UND, who came into the game having forced just two for the season.
The home team was not finished, however, as Arias marched the Bengals down for a touchdown and two-point conversion on their next possession, but ISU head coach Mike Kramer opted to kick the ball deep and leave it up to his defense to force a three-and-out.
Freshman Joe Mollberg made sure that didn't happen, connecting with Kenny Golladay for a 28-yard completion on third-and-long to ice the game and snap a three-game losing streak for UND.
Mollberg finished 18-for-27 for 234 yards, finding senior Greg Hardin for eight of those catches. The Bellevue, Neb. native finished with 126 receiving yards to become UND's all-time leading receiver in regular-season action, surpassing Weston Dressler. Hardin is now 28 yards shy of 3,000 for his career.
The 12th 100-yard receiving game of Hardin's career was impressive, but his most electrifying play came after Idaho State cut UND's lead to 14-10 on a 51-yard field goal by Brendon Garcia on the Bengals' first possession of the second half. Hardin took the kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown, cutting back side and tip-toeing the sideline for his third career kickoff return for a score.
Hardin finished with 225 all-purpose yards, while Jameer Jackson added four catches for 44 yards and Golladay finished with three catches for 39 yards.
UND took a 14-7 lead into halftime and owned a nine-minute advantage in time of possession in the opening half, but that changed after the break.
Mollberg completed 13-of-16 passes for 173 yards, but it was senior Jake Miller and junior Adam Shaugabay, who finished off the UND scoring drives of nine plays and 11 plays, respectively, on the ground.
After a scoreless first quarter, that included a 28-yard missed field goal by UND's Zeb Miller, UND used a nine-play drive to get on the scoreboard. Miller capped it with a 5-yard run, which was his 23rd rushing touchdown of his career.
After ISU squared the game at 7-7 on a 20-yard pass from Justin Arias to Cam Richmond, the Bengals picked off Mollberg at midfield for their first interception of the season. Senior Chavon Mackey, who was one of the captains for today's game, did not let the home team keep the momentum.
On the first play of ISU's ensuing drive, he corralled UND's first interception of the season. This time Mollberg marched his team down on what turned out to be a milestone drive for two UND seniors.
Hardin had two catches on the drive for 46 yards to break Dressler's regular-season career receiving mark. He finished the half with six catches for 107 yards just a week after being held without catch for the first time in 30 career games. Miller surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for career rushing on the drive as well. He finished with 17 carries for 67 yards and has 2,012 for his career now.
A whacky third quarter saw ISU hold the ball for 13:22, but only net three points. Arias, who finished 40-for-66 with 365 passing yards, found Chad Hensen from 20 yards out to pull the home team to with 21-17.
With the offense sputtering, the UND defense came up with three second-half turnovers, including Mackey's second interception of the game and fourth of his career. The biggest play was Idowu's forced fumble and came after UND's second three-and-out of the final quarter.
Idowu also had the first interception of his career in the third quarter and added two tackles for a loss in what was by far his best game as a collegian. Senior Dominique Bennett also had a big game for the defense, netting two sacks and finishing with seven tackles.