Schuster, Lawrence help engineer Potato Bowl win over 24th-ranked Bearkats
Next man up. It's a cliche and something coaches say, but it held true Saturday in an exhilarating, 27-23, North Dakota win over 24th-ranked Sam Houston State at the Alerus Center. Third-string quarterback and true freshman Tommy Schuster came on after an injury to Andrew Zimmerman and helped engineer UND's ninth win over a nationally-ranked team since joining the FCS ranks in 2008.
Schuster, who has dressed for each game but wearing a different uniform number in each, settled into a rhythm and found an familiar weapon in senior Noah Wanzek (9 catches, 108 yards) to pull out yet another Potato Bowl win for UND (42-12 all-time).
"I'm really proud of our team," said UND head coach Bubba Schweigert. "That was a really gritty performance. To lose a quarterback early and bring in a true freshman, I thought our guys really rallied around him [Schuster] and he [Schuster] did a great job."
Schuster was buried on the depth chart behind Nate Ketteringham (injured in week one), Andrew Zimmerman (injured Saturday) and third-stringer Noah Grover had mop up duty reps in each of the first two games. But, the Macomb, Mich., native trotted out to the Alerus Center turf wearing Evan Holm's number 6 (injured) and his own number 2 helmet, a number he shares with Jade Lawrence (more on him later).
North Dakota only had the ball for 9:58 in the opening half and tallied just five first downs but benefited from a pair of big plays to take the early lead. Andrew Zimmerman found Garett Maag on a fade route in the back of the endzone for a 7-0 lead after UND's opening drive.
With UND leading, 7-0 in the first quarter, former quarterback-turned-receiver Brock Boltmann took a direct snap and raced it 56 yards to the house for a 14-0 Fighting Hawks lead.
SHSU (1-2) would score two touchdowns before halftime to make it a tie score at the break. In the second half, Schuster made sure to involve Wanzek early and often. After just three catches for 20 yards in the entire first half, Wanzek hauled in back-to-back receptions on the opening drive of 35 and 23 yards, respectively, and let James Johannesson finish it off with a five-yard rumble to paydirt to reclaim the lead, 21-14.
Two drives later, Schuster completed four consecutive passes, ending in an 8-yard slant to Travis Toivonen for a 27-14 advantage. Jade Lawrence set up that drive after picking off his second ball of the afternoon, both immediately leading to UND touchdowns.
SHSU would not relent, though, intercepting Schuster and then completing a 10-play, 41-yard drive with a 3-yard run by Donovan Williams to make it 27-21. The Bearkats were stopped on their next possession but were able to pin the Hawks at the 2-yardline. North Dakota could not escape the shadow of its own endzone on the ensuing drive and elected to run out of the back of the endzone for a safety rather than attempt a punt deep in its own end. It would be put on UND's defense to secure the win.
The Bearkats marched down the field down to the UND 10 where it was fourth down and two. Noah Larson forced a fumble that Jalen Morrison scooped up and the victory formation sealed another home win for North Dakota.
Schuster finished 17-for-33 for 165 yards and a touchdown to lead the UND offense. Donnell Rodgers had another huge day for the defense, racking up double-digit tackle numbers for the second straight week (10 total stops) while Jaxson Turner had nine tackles and two sacks.
North Dakota gets a much-deserved open week followed by a trip to Eastern Washington on Sep. 28.
Notes: North Dakota is 42-12 all-time in the Potato Bowl USA game ... UND is 9-25 all-time against ranked teams in its Division I era ... The three interceptions in a game by the Fighting Hawks were the most since Oct. 27, 2017 at Portland State ... UND moves to 2-0 all-time vs. Sam Houston State and 6-2 vs. the Southland Conference ... Noah Wanzek finished just shy of a new career high in catches (9) and yards (109) ... Schuster's 17 completions are the most in a debut since Joey Bradley's 18 vs. Drake (Sept. 1, 2011) and his 165 yards in a debut are the most since Ryan Bartels' 212 yards vs. Valparaiso (Aug. 29, 2013) ... Hayden Galvin made his first career start at safety for the injured Leonard Nelson IV ... James Johannesson moves into 7th in UND's Division I history with 11 career rushing TDs ... Garett Maag becomes the fastest receiver since Greg Hardin (2010-13) to seven touchdown catches in his career ... With two sacks, Jaxson Turner moves fourth in UND's DI era with 11.0 career sacks ... Donnell Rodgers led the Hawks in tackles for the second straight game with 10 ... UND has held its opponent under 200 yards passing through three straight games for the first time since 2014 (vs. Robert Morris, at Missouri State, vs. Stony Brook).