UND FOOTBALL: No NCC mystery
UND entered its biggest game of the year against South Dakota with an emphasis on offense - lots of offense. "We came out with a plan to be a little more wide open," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "We knew we had to match their explosive offense. So...
UND entered its biggest game of the year against South Dakota with an emphasis on offense - lots of offense.
"We came out with a plan to be a little more wide open," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "We knew we had to match their explosive offense. So we planned on being more wide open than usual. Offensively, we had to match everything they did."
The track meet was on in the first half as the Sioux scored on four of their five possessions. In the second half, the defense was on - the same way it's been since the Sioux rose to the top of NCAA Division II football a decade ago.
The result: UND beat the Coyotes 33-26 on Saturday before 9,078 Alerus Center fans in one of the facility's more entertaining and well-played games in recent seasons.
The win earned the Sioux a share of the North Central Conference title with a 7-1 record and strengthened their argument for a No. 2 seed from the Northwest Region in the Division II playoffs.
"It's a great win," UND linebacker Robbie Meek said. "It give us another banner in the Alerus Center. And it guarantees us a spot in the playoff."
In all probability, the Sioux, 9-1 overall, had a playoff spot secured before the game.
South Dakota, snubbed by the playoff committee the last two seasons despite 9-2 records, dropped to 8-3 overall and must wait for today's playoff announcement to see if it will earn a postseason berth for the first time since 1986.
If UND holds the No. 2 seed, as expected, it will receive a first-round bye.
"They won and that's why they're champs and we're not," South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said.
A win would have earned South Dakota a share of the NCC title and a certain playoff berth. Now, the Coyotes must sit and wait to learn if their season continues.
There was little down time in the first half. South Dakota entered with the league's top offense. And the Coyotes had the league's best defense, too.
But the Sioux scored on their first possession. Blair Grover's 20-yard pass from Reed Manke with 12 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first quarter staked the Sioux to a 7-0 lead. Four plays later, however, South Dakota freshman quarterback Noah Shepard threw a 34-yard scoring strike to Brooks Little to make it 7-7.
Indications of a wide-open game - the one that was advertised all week - looked to be true.
"We knew they were going to put points on the board," UND receiver Weston Dressler said. "We knew we had to respond to that."
UND led 24-16 at halftime as it scored on Brandon Hellevang's 44-yard field goal and touchdown passes of 21 and 23 yards from Manke to Dressler. But the Coyotes stayed with the Sioux.
Shepard's 22-yard touchdown run gave the Coyotes a 13-10 lead. And Frank Leibfarth's 29-yard field goal left the Coyotes trailing 17-16.
Dressler's 23-yard touchdown pass from Manke with 52 seconds to play in the first half resulted in a 24-16 lead and gave the Sioux the separation they needed.
"We were feeling pretty good at halftime," Manke said. "We were executing our offense. We tried to spread them out. They were physical up front, and we didn't want to run against them all the time."
UND's defense stepped forward in the second half. On South Dakota's first possession of the third quarter, the Coyotes drove to the Sioux 5. But the Coyotes couldn't punch in a touchdown after they had a first-and-goal at the UND 9.
Leibfarth's 34-yard field goal cut UND's lead to 24-19. That was the second time in three possessions that Coyotes were in the red zone but couldn't produce a touchdown.
Late in the second quarter, South Dakota moved to the Sioux 6, but Shepard was sacked for a 6-yard loss by Zachariah Babington-Johnson on second down. Shepard then threw an incomplete pass on third down, which resulted in Leibfarth's first field goal, coming from 29 yards..
"The key to the game was holding them to the two field goals when they were in the red zone," Lennon said. "If we give up touchdowns there, it's a different game."
UND's defense was solid throughout the second half, holding Stefan Logan in check. Logan, one of the country's top running backs, was held to 73 yards on 14 carries. Overall, UND's defense limited South Dakota to 138 second-half yards.
Two UND defensive plays stood out in the second half. Meek sacked Shepard for a 13-yard loss on fourth down to stop one Coyote drive. And Donovan Alexander's interception halted another.
UND's nine second-half points came on a 9-yard Ryan Chappell run and a career-long 51-yard Hellevang field goal. That gave the Sioux a 33-19 lead.
Desmond Allison's 18-yard touchdown pass from Shepard with 31 seconds to play made for a few anxious moments as it pulled South Dakota to within 33-26.
But UND's Tom DeSautel, one of 19 seniors, recovered South Dakota's ensuing onside kick and the Sioux ran out the clock.
Now, the Sioux hope to rest for a week and play at home again in two weeks.
"Our first goal was the conference championship," Manke said. "There are a lot of seniors on this team who worked hard over the last five years to get to this far."