No. 19 Eastern Washington holds off UND to finish 2017 season
With the UND football team making a comeback in the fourth quarter, quarterback Keaton Studsrud hit wide receiver Stetson Carr on a slant pattern near the 10-yard line.
As Carr reached the 5, he leaped toward the end zone with the ball outstretched.
Just before he crossed the goal line, though, Eastern Washington punched the ball loose and the Eagles recovered.
A promising situation, disastrous results.
That was the 2017 UND football season in a nutshell.
UND, the preseason pick to win the Big Sky Conference, closed the books on a disappointing, injury-ravaged season Saturday afternoon when No. 19 Eastern Washington did enough in the first half to outlast the Fighting Hawks 21-14 before 8,247 fans at the Alerus Center.
UND ended the year with a 3-8 record—the worst finish in the four-year tenure of head coach Bubba Schweigert.
"Another disappointing result for our team," Schweigert said. "When it comes down to it, we just didn't make enough plays to win the game."
EWU, which improved to 6-4, survived without All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud, who sat out the game after an arrest last weekend.
Backup quarterback Eric Barriere made his first career start. He was 13-for-23 passing for 130 yards and a touchdown. He also proved slippery in the run game, rushing 15 times for 66 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down as the final second of the first half ticked off the clock.
The 1-yard keeper gave the Eagles a 21-7 halftime lead.
UND mounted a comeback, behind the passing of Studsrud, who finished 22-for-40 passing for 261 yards.
Studsrud made his first career touchdown reception to cut the lead in half. Wide receiver Noah Wanzek took a reverse and threw back to Studsrud, who was wide open in the end zone to cut the EWU lead to 21-14 with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter.
From there, UND's defense forced a three-and-out, but EWU punter Jordan Dascalo boomed a 67-yard punt over the head of returner John Santiago to pin the Fighting Hawks at the 3.
UND, with no timeouts, picked up one first down before a sack and three incompletions squashed the rally.
"We faced a hard-fought contest against a North Dakota team which gave everything they had in their final game," EWU coach Aaron Best said. "It was a struggle for us offensively in the second half without question. Our defense came up with some huge plays and gave us an advantage in turnover margin."
With UND having a bye week during the last week of the regular season, the Fighting Hawks now turn to 2018.
"This offseason is really big for our program," Schweigert said. "We're going to take a look at a lot of things. That doesn't mean we have to retool everything. We're doing a lot of good things in the program. You can't over-react because you didn't get the results you wanted, but you have to look at things you can do better."
UND played without two starters and another defensive regular against EWU. Schweigert sat wide receiver Demun Mercer, cornerback Torrey Hunt and defensive lineman Carter Wilson for violating team rules.
"Distracting and frustrating," Schweigert said. "We have high standards and want guys to do the right thing. We have to do better at that."