A quartet of North Dakota turnovers plagued the home team in an otherwise gritty performance, but those miscues proved costly in the end as No. 6/8 Eastern Washington posted a 35-14 victory in a Homecoming tilt Saturday at the Alerus Center. The Eagles high-powered offense only out-gained UND's by a two yards (408-406) in the contest, but Walter Payton Award candidate Vernon Adams and company never turned the ball over en route to the Big Sky road win.
The Eagles (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky) had briefly lost their momentum after building a 21-6 lead midway through the third quarter when a 1-yard touchdown run by Adam Shaugabay cut the home team's deficit to 21-14 and the UND defense forced a three-and-out. Unfortunately for the Green and White, senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin gave it right back to the visiting sideline by coming up with the biggest swing-play of the game.
Hamlin intercepted a Joe Mollberg pass with UND facing a 3rd-and-22 and broke two tackles en route to a 77-yard touchdown return that gave his pushed his team's advantage to 28-14.
Mollberg and company moved the ball down the field on its next possession with a chance to get that touchdown right back, but this time J.C. Agen made a big defensive play for the visitors, knocking the ball loose from sophomore Kenny Golladay, who had appeared to be held up by a handful of Eagle defenders after a 27-yard reception. However, the whistle never blew as Golladay continued to push forward and Dylan Zylstra came away with the recovery.
Adams then marched his team down the field on an eight-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, that included a 54-yard completion on a 3rd-and-10. The 3-yard run by Mario Brown capped the scoring for EWU and sealed the team's second straight win over UND (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky).
Mollberg finished the game 33-for-45 for a season-high 355 yards, while Adams threw for 307 yards and two scores on 22-of-30 passing. Golladay led all receivers with a 125 yards on nine catches, while sophomore classmate Jameer Jackson corralled a career-high 10 catches for 110 yards in the setback. For Golladay, it was the third 100-yard receiving game of his season,while Jackson had his first.
Senior Greg Hardin finished with six catches for 51 yards and became the second player in UND history to surpass the 3,000-yard receiving mark for his career with a 14-yard reception in the first quarter. Weston Dressler is the only other receiver to achieve that feat and finished his career with 3,382 yard-total, which includes postseason play.
Ashton Clark led the Eagles in receiving with seven catches for 116 yards, including the 54-yarder late in the contest. Neither team got much going on the ground as EWU held a 101-51 edge in that department.
Both teams had two scoring drives in the opening half, but it was the Eagles who found the end zone twice to build a 14-6 advantage on UND.
UND opened the scoring late in the first quarter thanks to a 25-yard field goal from Zeb Miller, but that would the team's only trip inside the red zone in the opening 30 minutes.
The Eagles had a chance to score first following a Mollberg fumble, but Kevin Miller's field goal try from 44 yards went wide right.
EWU would take a 7-3 lead when Adams found Shaquille Hill on a five-yard strike with his team facing a third-and-goal. Zeb Miller was at it again, this time connecting on a 44-yard try to shave the deficit to just a point at 7-6 with 4:18 to go in the half.
EWU also held a slight edge in total offense in the opening half (187-162) and got 82 of those on their final drive of that stanza. Running back Quincy Forte capped the eight-play drive, scoring from 1-yard out on a fourth-and-goal on the last play of the half.
North Dakota hosts Sacramento State next Saturday at the Alerus Center with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m.