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Despite success, obstacles still remain

Three things are now clear after UND pressured its way past Weber State 27-19 on Saturday at the Alerus Center. No. 1, John Santiago runs the 100-yard dash in 12 seconds. He proved that returning the game-opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown...

Three things are now clear after UND pressured its way past Weber State 27-19 on Saturday at the Alerus Center.

No. 1, John Santiago runs the 100-yard dash in 12 seconds. He proved that returning the game-opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown-a play that really turned out to be a big one considering UND's up-and-down offensive performance the rest of the game.

No. 2, Cole Reyes is a really, really good player, evidenced by two game-turning interceptions. When No. 8 is on the field, good things happen.

No. 3, UND's 7-2 impressive overall record-at least on paper-really means nothing regarding next month's FCS playoff picture. Seven wins usually means a team will reach the 24-team FCS playoff field, but the NCAA shattered that perception last season at UND's expense.

So, UND isn't in the clear regarding the postseason or league title, even though it is riding a seven-game win streak and sits atop the Big Sky Conference with a 6-0 record. Predictably, we'll now begin to hear NCAA selection committee talk about how important it is to finish the season strong.

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The Fighting Hawks now head for Northern Colorado next week with a banged-up quarterback and an offense that has sputtered at times the past two weeks. And there is an issue or two on special teams.

The postseason, in all probability, rests on the shoulders of UND's defense. And the Hawks' defense-with Reyes leading the way-was the difference against a Weber State team that came into the Alerus undefeated in league play.

"UND is definitely the front-runner," said Weber State coach Jay Hill, who praised the coaching of Bubba Schweigert after the game. "There is no such thing as numbers, in my opinion, on great coaches. But (Schweigert) is going to find a way; he's got this team playing well right now. He's done a great job of turning this program around."

At halftime, UND was listing-trailing 13-7. But in the second half, UND's offense turned things around a bit. Besides Santiago's perfectly executed 100-yard kickoff return and the two picks by Reyes, one play may have been overlooked.

On UND's second play of the third quarter, Bubba's offense surprised everyone with a receiver reverse. Travis Toivonen sprinted 34 yards on the reverse to the Weber 28. Five plays later, Brady Oliveira ran 17 yards for a score and 14-13 lead.

From there, UND's defense, which finished with seven sacks, dictated the game's pace.

UND's offense, meanwhile, which lost quarterback Keaton Studsrud to an apparent arm injury, managed to do just enough. The offense was backed by a relentless UND defense that turned it up a notch in the final two quarters. The Hawks held Weber offense to 82 second-half yards.

Indeed, UND is in good shape regarding a Big Sky title and postseason berth. But the road to those rewards isn't that easy, now that UND's quarterback play may be in question.

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Reyes, however, has a simple explanation.

"If you want to be No. 1, you just have to keep winning."

Some how, some way, UND has managed to do just that the past seven weeks.

Related Topics: UND FOOTBALL
Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.


He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.



He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.



Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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