SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (UND Athletics) -- Everything seemed to be trending away from North Dakota. Down a pair of defensive starters, trailing by two late in the fourth quarter, and facing a fourth down, Nate Ketteringham found Alex Cloyd alone along the sideline for a 39-yard touchdown pass before the defense held off Cal Poly on the ensuing possession to capture a 30-26 victory on Saturday night at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“We knew it was an important week and we just needed to get a win,” said Head Coach Bubba Schweigert.
UND (4-3) exploded for 23 points in the second half to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and a nine-point deficit in the third quarter.
Cloyd made both of his catches count, finding pay dirt on a pair of grabs for 41 yards in the second half to help spur the first road victory of the season for the Fighting Hawks.
“We actually called that play in our last home game [UC Davis] for a touchdown too,” said Cloyd. “We knew that it was the perfect play call on fourth down because they were expecting run.”
Ketteringham had a strong game through the air in a return to his home state for potentially the final time of his career, throwing for 234 yards and two touchdowns on a 20-for-30 day. The senior also didn’t turn the ball over, as UND did not commit a turnover for the first time since the season opener vs. Drake.
UND held the advantage in total yardage, 368-363, despite running fewer plays and losing the time of possession battle by nine minutes. Brock Boltmann became UND’s fourth-different receiver to lead the team in yards with 60 on five catches. Ketteringham found eight total pass catchers on the evening, and even hauled in a pass himself off a deflection.
James Johannesson paced a ground game that was quietly effective in moving the ball, rushing 13 times for 82 yards and a score. The Fargo, N.D., native found the end zone for the sixth time this season to lead the team.
Donnell Rodgers led the team once again with 15 total tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss while Noah Larson finished right behind his fellow linebacker with 14 tackles. Jaelen Johnson was the lone-starter up front to complete the game for the Fighting Hawks, posting eight tackles, a sack, and three stops for loss.
Cal Poly was able to move into the red zone quickly on its opening possession, striking for a deep pass and a long run to move into scoring position, but Jade Lawrence made a tackle for loss to force a field goal attempt and limit the deficit to just three. The trio of points by the hosts was the only score mustered in the opening minutes, as Cal Poly’s triple option attack held the ball for over 10 minutes of the frame.
After a 13-yard sack looked to halt the Fighting Hawks to open the second quarter, Ketteringham completed back-to-back passes to Maag and Wanzek to move the visitors into the red zone for the first time on the evening. The senior then used his legs to scramble for eight yards on third down before Johannesson walked in for his sixth rushing score of the season and a 7-3 UND lead with just over nine minutes to play in the first half.
The Mustangs were able to answer right back, however, converting a fourth down on their own side of the field before marching the rest of the way for a 12-play, 66-yard drive to take a 10-7 advantage with 3:50 remaining in the second quarter. Cal Poly stretched its lead to 17-7 with just 35 seconds remaining in the first half on 5-yard touchdown pass to take the 10-point advantage into the locker room.
Special teams helped the Fighting Hawks get moving in the second half, as a 20-yard punt return after a 3-and-out by the UND defense put the visitors on the Cal Poly side of the field to start the drive. Ketteringham marched his team down the field and capped off the possession with a 1-yard touchdown run to trim the deficit down to three, 17-14, early in the third quarter.
The theme of strong returns continued in the frame, as Cal Poly broke a 52-yard kick return to start the drive before an 18-yard pass by Hamler on fourth down led to a Mustangs’ touchdown, but a bad snap on the extra point kept the deficit at nine, 23-14, at the midway point of the third stanza.
Ketteringham went to the air on the ensuing possession, completing six passes to five-different receivers to help UND get right back into the game. The senior threw a perfect ball to Wanzek on a wheel route before connecting with Alex Cloyd off play action for the 2-yard score to cut the lead down to just a pair, 23-21, in the final minutes of the third quarter.
After not recording a sack for over 12 quarters, the UND defense came through at an opportune time. Jaelen Johnson burst through the line for the sack on a third down attempt to force a punt and give the Fighting Hawks strong field position. The visitors used it to their advantage, as Brady Leach drilled a 23-yard field goal attempt to give UND a 24-23 lead with 10:28 to play.
Cal Poly sucked nearly seven minutes off the clock on its next possession, but Jaxson Turner’s stop on third down forced a 42-yard field goal conversion to give the Mustangs a 26-24 lead with 3:33 to play in the game.
It took only four plays for the Fighting Hawks to move to Cal Poly’s side of the field before back-to-back incompletions and an 8-yard screen to Boltmann forced a 4th and 2 from the 39. There, Ketteringham found Cloyd streaking free along the sideline for a touchdown to send the UND faithful into a frenzy and put the Hawks in front, 30-26, with just over a minute to play.
On the ensuing possession, a 6-yard sack by Rodgers put the Mustangs behind the line of scrimmage and they could never recover, as UND turned them over on downs and held on for the win.
North Dakota returns home next Saturday for a showdown with Montana State at noon. Fans can catch all the action on MidcoSN2 and the Home of Economy Radio Network.
NOTES: Freshman Luke Skokna made his UND debut on Saturday … Both Mason Bennett and Jaelen Morrison left the game with injuries and did not return … Alex Cloyd had his first two-touchdown game in his career … UND moves to 2-0 all-time at Cal Poly … Cal Poly’s 95 yards through the air marks the third time this season UND has held its opponent under 200 passing yards and fifth time under 200.