North Dakota Uses Late-Game Push to Defeat Illinois State, 22-21

Published: Nov. 19, 2023 at 4:44 PM CST
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. – No. 13/17 North Dakota used late-game heroics to defeat Illinois State, 22-21, inside the Alerus Center on Saturday afternoon. The Fighting Hawks trailed 21-16 with under five minutes remaining but traveled 76 yards over the next 4:28 to secure the victory.

NoDak (7-4, 5-3 MVFC) trailed 21-16 with 4:53 remaining and went to work right away from its own 24. On the second play of the drive, Bo Belquist had a highlight-reel worthy play, toe-touching the sideline to secure a catch at the UND 41. Later in the drive with 1:11 remaining, Tommy Schuster found Belquist again for a 17-yard reception and then Jack Wright for a 15-yard grab that put the ball all the way down to the ISU 12 with under a minute to go.

On the next play, Schuster scrambled and made it 11 yards all the way down to the ISU 1 to give the Fighting Hawks four chances to score with under 30 seconds remaining. Gaven Ziebarth powered ahead on the next play to put UND up 22-21 with 25 seconds left. The Hawks then attempted a two-point conversion that was unsuccessful. Illinois State (6-5, 4-4 MVFC) had a chance to reclaim the lead late and made it down to the ISU 40 but C.J. Siegel secured the victory for UND with a fumble recovery at the end when the Redbirds were trying to lateral the ball.

In the win, North Dakota put up 338 yards of offense with 169 yards both rushing and passing. Illinois State had 466 yards of offense with 241 yards through the air and 225 yards on the ground. The Redbirds ate up over 31 minutes of clock in the game.

Schuster went 14-for-22 for 169 yards passing and a score. He also had three rushes for 22 yards, highlighted by his 11-yard rush on the final drive. Belquist was his top receiving target with eight catches for 72 yards.

Ziebarth paced NoDak on the ground with 16 carries for 74 yards and two scores, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Isaiah Smith also saw time in the backfield and had 45 yards on 12 carries.

Malachi McNeal led the defense with nine tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Nineteen other Fighting Hawks recorded at least one tackle in the win, while Dylan Boecker also had a TFL. North Dakota held a 10-9 edge on the scoreboard at the halfway point. Mason Blakemore put the Redbirds up 6-0 with under two minutes left in the first quarter and the Fighting Hawks did not score until 10:50 before intermission with a 33-yard C.J. Elrichs field goal. With under five minutes left before the break, Ziebarth pushed the UND lead to 10-6 with a nine-yard rush. ISU ended the half with a 33-yard field goal of its own to narrow the gap on the scoreboard.

In the opening 30 minutes, Illinois State piled up 220 yards and had a balanced attack with 109 yards passing and 111 yards rushing. North Dakota had 163 yards and 92 of those yards were rushing. Despite eating up over 10 minutes of clock in the first quarter, the Redbirds only had 16:29 minutes of possession in the half.

Coming out of intermission, Max Gunderson helped extend the UND lead to 16-9 with a nine-yard reception with 4:20 left in the third quarter. The Redbirds scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that brought the tally to 16-15, but Josh Navratil blocked the extra point to allow NoDak to continue leading by a one-point margin. With 4:53 left in the game, Illinois State scored on a 13-yard rush to go up 21-16, which set up UND’s late-game heroics.

North Dakota will find out its FCS Playoff fate Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. (CT) on ESPNU.