Turnovers loom large in 35-20 loss at No. 21 Eastern Washington
The No. 25-ranked Fighting Hawks couldn’t rally from a 21-point halftime deficit and fell to No. 21 Eastern Washington, 35-20, on Saturday afternoon at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Turnovers haunted the Fighting Hawks (2-2) on a cold, snowy day in Washington, as the visitors gave the ball away six times that led to 21 Eastern Washington (2-3, 1-0 Big Sky) points and proved to be the difference.
In his first start since returning from injury in the season opener versus Drake, Nate Ketteringham completed 19 passes on a UND-high 43 attempts for 211 yards and a touchdown; however, the senior threw a trio of interceptions and lost two fumbles.
UND was able to burst out in the running game, scampering for a season-high 162 yards and two scores on 38 carries. James Johannesson led the way for the visitors with 107 yards and a touchdown. Dalton Gee also provided a nice burst in relief with seven carries for 45 yards.
With the Eastern Washington secondary covering Noah Wanzek tightly, Ketteringham turned to Garett Maag and Travis Toivonen threw the air for the majority of the afternoon as the duo each tallied 70-plus yard games. Toivonen hauled in four catches for 75 yards and touchdown while Maag grabbed five passes for 72 yards.
It was a tale of two halves on the defensive side of the ball for the Hawks. After surrendering 220 yards on the ground in the first half, UND held the Eagles to just 64 yards on the ground in the second half. The top-rated passing defense in the country also held Eric Barriere, the nation’s leading passer entering Saturday, to just six completions and 93 yards.
After the UND defense held the Eagles on their first possession, a botched exchange between Ketteringham and Gee gave the hosts the ball and the momentum. EWU turned the drive into points, marching 59 yards in seven plays to take an early 7-0 lead.
Turnovers continued to plague the Hawks during the first quarter, as Ketteringham’s pass was intercepted and gave EWU the ball at the UND 18. The Eagles turned the turnover into points for the second time on the afternoon to take a 14-0 lead with 4:50 to play in the first quarter.
Johannesson finally broke through for his longest long of the young season, bursting through a hole on the right side for a 56-yard scamper to set the Hawks up at the one. Following a penalty to push UND back to the 15, Ketteringham threw a perfect fade to Toivonen to put the visitors on the board, 14-7, with just under four minutes remaining in the opening frame.
Eastern Washington continued to take advantage on the ground, scampering in for its third and fourth rushing scores of the first half to take a 28-7 lead with 4:17 to play in the second quarter.
UND moved the ball to midfield on its final drive of the half, but could not muster any points and went into the locker room trailing by 21.
The Hawks only needed six plays to move 85 yards on their second drive of the half thanks to a tetrad of big plays. First, Cam McKinney took a fly sweep for 16 yards before Gee broke off a 30-yard scamper down the sideline to place the ball inside EWU territory. Ketteringham then found Maag for 43 yards deep into the red zone and Johannesson pounded in the touchdown from 2-yards out to cut the deficit to 14, 28-14, early in the third quarter.
It was the defense who made the biggest play of the third quarter, however, as a third turnover by the UND offense placed Eastern Washington in the red zone. The visitors made four straight stops to give the ball back to the offense still trailing by two scores.
UND moved the ball down the field again, but faced a huge 4th and 4 from the EWU 37 to begin the final quarter of play. With the offense still on the field, Ketteringham found Toivonen for a 33-yard gain to setup first and goal. Two plays later, Brock Boltmann cashed in with a rushing touchdown to pull the Hawks within a score, 28-20, with just under 14 minutes to play.
With momentum in UND’s favor, the fifth turnover of the afternoon by the Fighting Hawks turned the tide once again and allowed the Eagles to cash in with its fifth rushing score to take a 35-20 lead with 7:39 remaining.
Eastern Washington was able to hold UND off the board for the remainder of the game and hold on for the win.
North Dakota returns to the Alerus Center next weekend for a Homecoming showdown vs. UC Davis at 1 p.m. on MidcoSN.
NOTES: Senior Patric Rooney made his first start of the season at center after missing the first three games with an injury ... Ketteringham returned to action after missing the previous two games with an injury … Johannesson’s 56-yard run in the first quarter put the senior over 1,000 yards for his career, becoming the seventh running back to do so in the Division I era … UND’s six turnovers are the most in a game since at least the 2005 season … With his rushing touchdown, Johannesson moves into a tie for sixth in UND’s DI history with 12 scores on the ground … Donnell Rodgers led UND for the third straight game with 11 tackles … Saturday marks the first time in the DI era that UND has surrendered 200 passing yards or fewer in four straight weeks.