Senior Greg Hardin capped a fourth-quarter comeback with a game-winning touchdown catch with just over two minutes to play, leading North Dakota to a 24-21 victory over Northern Colorado in Big Sky play on Saturday.
Hardin, who set two more school records in front of the 5,984 in attendance at the Alerus Center, got help from his classmates down the stretch as most of the big fourth-quarter plays came from the 2013 graduating class.
The records will be something to reflect on, but the Bellevue, Neb., native was more happy to help his team snap a four-game skid and send his classmates off their home field with one last victory.
"The records are nice and it's an honor to have those achievements, but I'm just happy to get this win," Hardin said. "This season has not gone like we expected, but this is a nice way to go out at home."
Hardin caught Ryan Bartel's 11-yard strike in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score and UND added a two-point conversion to extend its lead to 24-21 with 2:02 remaining on the clock. He finished with seven catches for 95 yards and his 31st career receiving touchdown.
Hardin broke UND's all-time regular season record for receptions, finishing the day with 205, and also broke the school's all-time record for overall receiving yards, finishing the day with 3,404 in that category. Weston Dressler (2004-07) was the previous record holder in both cases (199 receptions; 3,382 yards).
The defense needed to come up with one more stop and that is exactly what happened after Northern Colorado moved the ball to midfield. Senior Will Lewis came up with the game-clinching interception to seal the win for UND, who improved to 3-7 (2-5 BSC), while the Bears (1-9, 0-6 BSC) dropped their ninth straight game.
It was two more seniors that helped set up the game-winning touchdown with UNC poised to potentially run out the clock. Linebacker Dominique Bennett stripped UNC running back Tromaine Dennis on a first-and-10 from the Bears' 35-yard line with just under five minutes remaining.
Dennis had 100 yards rushing before the four-yard loss and classmate Seth Stanchik fell on the loose ball to set up the UND offense in good field position.
Bartels marched his team down the field on the five-play, 31-yard drive and finished 31-for-47 for 344 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second straight 300-yard passing game for the redshirt freshman.
"It was big for everybody, but for those 17 seniors that was pretty special for them to end with a pick by one of their own and Greg getting that last touchdown," head coach Chris Mussman said. "Defensively, gave us an opportunity let in the game and our offense had just enough spark to get it done."
Sophomore Jameer Jackson returned the lineup after being limited at Portland State (Oct. 26) and missing last Saturday's Northern Arizona contest to lead the team with 11 catches for 89 yards. Those 11 grabs were a new career-high.
Classmate Kenny Golladay also had another big receiving day, catching six passes for 95 yards. Golladay had his fifth receiving touchdown in the past two games when he hauled in a 31-yard scoring toss from Bartels in the third quarter to make the score 21-16. He also added the 2-point conversion catch following Hardin's touchdown to make it a 3-point advantage.
Senior middle linebacker Garrison Goodman led UND with 10 tackles, giving him three double-digit tackle efforts on the season.
Both teams blocked field goals in the second half. UNC blocked a 51-yard attempt by Zeb Miller in the third quarter and after a 41-yard return, scored a touchdown on the next play when Seth Lobato found Will Jefferson on a 23-yard scoring strike.
Jefferson finished with eight catches, 171 yards and two third-quarter scoring grabs. Lobato finished 18-for-33 for 289 yards and three total touchdowns (two pass, one rush).
UND's field goal block came early in the fourth quarter and proved pivotal down the stretch. Nose tackle Ben Henson swatted away his second kick of the season after UND's defense held UNC out of the end zone after the Bears were set up with a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
Henson got his hand on the 20-yard attempt by Jamie Falloon, who also missed a 30-yard attempt in the second quarter.
UND will wrap up its season on the road next Saturday at UC Davis.
GAME NOTES: Captains for today's game were seniors Garrison Goodman, Blair Townsend and Brian Otto ... Senior Greg Hardin became UND's all-time regular season receptions leader and career receiving yardage leader after finishing the game with seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown … Hardin broke the records previously held by Weston Dressler (199 and 3,382, respectively), finishing the game with 205 career receptions and 3,404 career receiving yards … His 11-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was the 31st receiving score of his career and 35th total touchdown … Safety Will Lewis' fourth-quarter interception was his first of the season and third of his career … Linebacker Dominique Bennett's forced fumble was his second of the season and fifth of his career … Junior Ben Henson blocked his second field goal of the season and UND now has four in the blocks on the season … Sophomore Jameer Jackson caught a career-high 11 passes for 89 yards after sitting out last game with a hip injury … Sophomore Kenny Golladay finished with six catches for 95 yards and had his team-leading seventh touchdown grab of the season in the third quarter … Golladay also had a 2-point conversion catch and has five touchdowns in his last two games … Redshirt freshman Ryan Bartels engineered the first game-winning touchdown drive of his career and finished with his second straight 300-yard passing day … Bartels went 31-for-47 for 344 yards and two touchdowns … In his last two games, the redshirt freshman is 70-for-106 for 711 yards and six touchdowns.
-- UND --