Injuries, late conversions hurt UND in 31-27 loss at Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho (UND Athletics) -- A fourth-quarter blocked punt and a late fourth-down conversion helped host Idaho to rally back in the final minutes for a 31-27 win over North Dakota Saturday afternoon at Kibbie Dome. UND (5-4) led by 10 with with nine minutes to go when the Vandals got a 3-yard blocked punt for a touchdown and later converted on 4th-and-6 to set up the winning score with 27 seconds remaining.

North Dakota, already short-handed without a handful of starters on offense, had to navigate multiple injuries during the game, too. Garett Maag had career bests with seven catches and 74 yards for two touchdowns before going down late as well. Brady Oliveira handled the bulk of the workload on the ground, turning 28 carries into a career-best 190 yards and two touchdowns.
The Fighting Hawks' defense put UND in a good spot early as Noah Larson jumped on a fumble on the third play from scrimmage. North Dakota was unable to turn it into points, however, as a 4th-and-1 fell just short at the 17 and Idaho got the ball back.

The Vandals (4-5, 3-4 Big Sky) would grab the lead on the ensuing drive, capped by a 43-yard run by Isaiah Saunders midway through the opening period. After the teams traded punts, Brady Oliveira tied the score on a 68-yard scamper to the end zone with 3:34 left.

Idaho picked off Nate Ketteringham early in the second, but again, the UND defense got it right back as Lenny Nelson's big hit forced a fumble that Mason Bennett recovered to set the Fighting Hawks up at the 36 yardline of the Vandals. 12 plays later, Ketteringham threaded a perfect pass to Garett Maag on the back line of the endzone from four yards out. It would go into halftime tied at 14 with North Dakota gaining just 141 yards of total offense in the opening 30 minutes.

UND finally took the lead in the third quarter when Maag's 42-yard reception set up an Oliveira three-yard touchdown run for a 20-14 advantage with 2:13 left in the period. Maag would later give North Dakota a two-score lead when he snared a 10-yard pass on jump ball in the back of the endzone for a 27-17 edge early in the fourth.

Idaho blocked a punt deep in North Dakota territory and gobbled it up for a short touchdown run, slicing the lead to just three at 27-24 with 8:16 to go, giving the Vandals some late life. UND had the ball with the lead and 4:12 remaining, however, Idaho forced a three-and-out to get the ball back and 2:45 left. UND forced a fumble on first down, but it unluckily squirted out of bounds. On 2nd-and-18, Idaho got a 12-yard pass, then a drop on third down had the Vandals facing fourth down and six with the game in the balance. Mason Petrino escaped pressure and found David Ungerer for a 10-yard hookup and a first down at the 32. That duo later converted for 15 yards on third down, getting the Vandals in the red zone with under a minute to play. Two plays later, Petrino's pass in the left corner of the end zone hit Jeff Cotton with the eventual game-winning points.

Oliveira's 190-yard day was his team-leading fourth 100-yard effort of the season, giving North Dakota nine as a team (James Johannesson 3, John Santiago 2).

Larson, Evan Holm, Jordan Canady and Donnell Rodgers all tallied five total stops for the Fighting Hawks' defense.

Idaho improved to 4-0 at home this season with the win.

North Dakota will host its final regular season home game next week when it welcomes Portland State to the Alerus Center for a 2:00 p.m. kickoff.