GRAND FORKS, N.D. (UND Athletics) -- In a game defined by offense, it was the North Dakota defense that put the finishing touches on the sixth victory of the season, as Jaxson Turner intercepted a Jacob Knipp pass with less than a minute to play to give the Fighting Hawks a 45-38 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday afternoon at the Alerus Center.
UND (6-4) needed all 45 points it scored on Saturday, amassing nearly 500 yards of total offense, but surrendered 80 plays and 503 total yards in a Big Sky shootout.
For the first time since Sept. 28 at Eastern Washington, the Fighting Hawks saw a player rush for over 100 yards as Cam McKinney returned from injury in style. The sophomore, who had missed the last three games, rushed six times for 105 yards and a touchdown to pace the UND rushing attack. James Johannesson added 51 yards and a score to help the hosts register a season-high 186 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Nate Ketteringham continued his hot play as of late, tossing for 297 yards and two touchdowns on 26 completions to help UND move to 5-0 this season at the Alerus Center. The senior was intercepted for the first time since Oct. 12 at Idaho State, a streak of three straight games, but totaled a trio of touchdowns on the afternoon.
Noah Waznek continued to be Ketteringham’s favorite target, hauling in nine catches for 125 yards and a touchdown for his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Garett Maag corralled four grabs for 64 yards and a score while Brock Boltmann finished second on the team with six catches.
For the seventh time this season, Donnell Rodgers reached double digits in tackles with 13 to lead all players. The senior was all over the field for the hosts, registering 10 solo stops and a forced fumble. Jordan Canady was the other Hawk to tally double digits in tackles with 10, including seven solo, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup.
Mason Bennett and Turner returned from injury on the defensive side of the ball and each made an impact in limited time. Bennett, who was believed to have been lost for the season, registered all three of his tackles behind the line of scrimmage, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. The senior’s biggest play of the game came on the final drive, when he busted through the line of scrimmage and strip-sacked Knipp to force a 2nd and long. Turner saw even fewer snaps, but made them count with the game-sealing interception.
After the UND defense held on the opening possession of the game, Ketteringham and the offense came out firing. The senior completed five of his seven attempts to march the Hawks down to the two, before Johannesson punched it in to give the hosts an early 7-0 lead.
UND looked to be in prime position to double its advantage, but Ketteringham was intercepted at UND’s own 28 and Northern Colorado answered just three plays later with a touchdown strike of its own to knot the contest at seven midway through the first quarter.
Ketteringham and Wanzek hooked up on the ensuing drive, hitting back-to-back big plays for the score. The duo first connected for a 30-yard strike down the UNC sideline before the seniors struck again for a 26-yard touchdown to put the Hawks back in front, 14-7, at the end of the first quarter.
Northern Colorado knotted the game at 14 early in the second quarter, but UND regained the lead at the midway point of the stanza with an 11-play, 88-yard drive. Ketteringham got all of his receivers into the action, as the San Diego native connected with four-different targets on the drive. The big play went to Alex Wilde, who shrugged off his defender and scampered for 21 yards to move the Hawks into the red zone. UND didn’t face a third down until the final play of the drive, as Ketteringham snuck in from a yard away to push the lead back to seven, 21-14.
Rodgers made his presence known on the next drive, stripping Chase Lanckreit from behind and allowing Hayden Blubaugh to recover the loose ball to give the ball right back to the red-hot UND offense. It took only two plays for the Hawks to strike, as Ketteringham found Maag for a 33-yard strike to double the lead, 28-14, with just under three minutes remaining until the half.
The Bears clawed back into the game with a 33-yard touchdown pass of their own to trim the lead down to just seven with a minute to play, but UND was able to move the ball into field goal range for Brady Leach to allow the sophomore to connect on a 43-yard try to send the Hawks to the locker room leading by 10, 31-21.
UND wasted no time adding on to start the second half, scoring twice in the first five minutes of the period. First, McKinney showed off his speed with a 55-yard touchdown run before Alex Cloyd came through on special teams once again. The senior collected his second blocked punt of the season and Kadon Kauppinen returned it seven yards for a touchdown to quickly put the hosts ahead, 45-21, with just 4:27 gone in the third quarter.
Northern Colorado answered with a pair of quick scores themselves, striking for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage before a fumble by Boltmann gave the Bears good field position again. The UND defense held the visitors to a field goal, but the lead was down to 14 heading into the final quarter of play.
After a missed field goal gave the ball back to UNC, the visitors hit another big play to move into the red zone, but the Fighting Hawks came up with another big play. Knipp’s pass to the corner of the end zone was intercepted by a leaping Blubaugh to thwart the UNC drive and keep the lead at 14.
UND turned it right back over following a Johannesson fumble, but the defense flexed its muscles again in the red zone. The Hawks stuffed UNC on four straight plays inside the 10, capped off by a Jalen Morrison stop from the two, to force a turnover on downs and hold the Bears out of the end zone again.
With less than five minutes remaining, UNC finally pulled within a score, but the UND defense held the lead over the final few minutes to preserve the victory.
North Dakota closes the regular season vs. Southern Utah next Saturday at 1 p.m. from the Alerus Center.
NOTES: UND moves to 5-0 at home for the first time since 2016 … Cam McKinney’s 105 rushing yards are the most since Johannesson’s 107 at Eastern Washington … Noah Wanzek has now tallied four 100-yard receiving games this season … Nate Ketteringham becomes the second player in UND’s DI history to throw for 30 touchdowns in his career … Wanzek is now just 26 catches behind Greg Hardin to become UND’s all-time catch leader in DI history and just seven catches behind Hardin for the most catches in a single season in DI history … Mason Bennett has now tied Ross Brenneman’s DI record for career sacks with 18.5 … UND wore white jerseys at home for the first time in its history.