For much of the day, the Alerus Center refused to announce the score of the North Dakota State-Southern Illinois game in Carbondale. Don’t know the reason, but no mention of Southern Illinois’ butt-kicking of the national champion Bison --until the final minute of the game -- irritated a few UND fans waiting to revel in the announcement of that score.
But this may be the reason: UND is beginning to forge its own identity in its new home -- the powerful Missouri Valley Football Conference. And after UND’s surprising, impressive 28-17 win over No. 3 South Dakota State on Saturday, the Hawks are in first place.
No need to hear how the other half of the MVFC teams are doing, I guess.
OK, OK, OK. Just kidding. Nothing has been settled; No. 14-ranked UND may win a few more games this season or it may not; and it’s simply way, way too early to even look past next week or look at the big picture.
However, the takeaway from what perhaps is one of UND’s biggest wins in the Alerus Center is this: Bubba Schweigert’s football team -- at least for a day -- wasn’t in the shadow of its powerful rival 75 miles to the south. Hold on, just was told NDSU no longer is UND’s rival.
Anyway, the 3,638 fans at the Alerus Center witnessed some big-boy football Saturday. SDSU is good, really good.
UND’s win, however, will elevate the Fighting Hawks in the national FCS poll. How high is up for debate but a top-five ranking wouldn’t be a surprise and that would be the team’s highest ranking in the Division I era.
But that’s all secondary to what UND has accomplished in its first two weeks. This team isn’t flashy; it won’t produce a wow factor; and it may not blow out teams. But the early indication is that the Hawks are a fundamentally sound, physical team that has been built for the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
These Bubba comments summarize UND’s play in the opening two weeks: “They hit us early but our guys hung in there,” said Bubba. “That game went a long time and we had to grind and stick with it. Even though we didn’t get big chunks on the ground, we got tough yards. And defensively, our guys did a good job of figuring out ways to get pressure.
“I thought our guys had a really good week of preparation. Maybe we were a little too juiced up at the beginning of the game. Our focus may not have been where it needed to be.”
UND took a punch early from the Jacks, falling behind 7-0 after five plays, then regrouped and methodically put together a strong performance in all three phases -- offense (384 total yards), defense (allowed 141 second-half yards) and special teams (blocked punt, blocked field goal attempt and perfectly executed a fake punt attempt that led to a crucial first down).
The blocked punt, which set up Tommy Schuster’s touchdown pass to Garret Maag for a 21-17 third-quarter lead, was the play of the game.
“That play gave UND a ton of momentum and we didn’t get it back,” said South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier.
From there, UND methodically put away the Jacks.
Right now, things are rolling UND’s way. But the final takeaway from what can be viewed as one of the program’s biggest wins in quite a while centers on the boring, but effective, one-day-at-a-time attitude of Bubba -- an old-school coach who both knows not much has been decided two weeks into the season.
Also, Bubba really didn’t want to talk much about NDSU’s loss to Southern Illinois, a team UND dismantled a week earlier at the Alerus Center.
“I haven’t seen any other scores,” said Bubba during his press conference. “The message to our team is to focus on us and our preparation. We’ll have to handle anything that comes our way. Everyone loves winning. But if you ever get comfortable, that’s a mistake.”