The UND football team's long layoff had no effect on putting a stop to the program's long playoff victory drought.
The No. 7 Fighting Hawks, who hadn't played a game in 35 days, scored on offense, defense and special teams in routing No. 12 Missouri State 44-10 on Saturday in the first round of the FCS playoffs at the Alerus Center.
UND, which was 0-2 in FCS playoff games previously, hadn't won a postseason game since the 2007 NCAA Division II playoffs.
"That was a big motivation for us," UND wide receiver Garett Maag said. "We kept mentioning it this whole week that we hadn't won a Division I playoff game."
UND's defense registered a Division I school record with eight sacks, while Fighting Hawks freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
The Fighting Hawks, 5-1, advance to the national quarterfinals and will travel to play at James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va. The game will be played Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
UND has now won 11-straight home games, last losing in Grand Forks on Oct. 27, 2018, against Weber State. The Hawks played the latest victory in front of 3,074 fans, a capacity of 25 percent of the Alerus venue, which was mandated by the NCAA during the pandemic.
The Fighting Hawks showed no rust in jumping on Missouri State, the co-champs of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Bears were playing in their first FCS playoff game since 1990.
Maag scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass on a double move on UND's first drive, while rookie Bo Belquist scored on a 48-yard flea-flicker on the Hawks' second drive.
After the first quarter, Schuster was 6-for-6 passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
"Been saying it all year -- not much rattles Tommy," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "He's really consistent in practice and so even-keel. I just think he was ready to go. That start really helped our football team."
Defensively, UND sacked Missouri State starting quarterback Matt Struck seven times in the first half en route to a 24-3 halftime advantage, led by two sacks each from Jaxson Turner and Josh Navratil.
Struck, who was the quarterback at Idaho State in 2019 when the Bengals passed for nearly 400 yards in a rout of UND, finished 8-for-15 passing for 71 yards and an interception.
"We challenged our guys that we have to get pressure on the quarterback because we felt they were really skilled," Schweigert said. "It was a really good job by our guys to execute our pressures and a good job by our defensive staff for designing the pressures. It was a big difference in the game. It's tough when you don't have much time. It makes it difficult on the offense on what to call."
Any thoughts of a Missouri State comeback were slammed shut in the third quarter thanks to a special teams touchdown and a defensive score.
Because a UND fumble started a Missouri State drive at its own 1, the Bears were forced to punt out of their end zone. The punt was blocked by Ty Shannon. The deflection went to Hayden Reynolds in the air at the 15 and Reynolds brought it into the end zone for a 31-3 lead with 9:21 left in the third quarter.
UND pushed the lead to 37-3 a few minutes later. After Missouri State found some offensive rhythm with backup quarterback Jaden Johnson, Johnson was forced to sit out a play after losing his helmet on a run.
Struck came back in the game for one play and lofted a pass over the middle that was picked off by UND safety Hayden Galvin, who returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.
"Not a good game for us at all," Missouri State first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. "Too many negative plays. Our offensive front got beat up by their defensive front."
UND running back Otis Weah, a Walter Payton Award finalist, finished with 13 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The Hawks' defense never allowed Missouri State to threaten. Noah Larson led the way with 10 tackles, including a fourth-down stuff in the first half, and a sack.
"I think we did everything well," Galvin said. "We stopped the run, shut down the pass. We were just clicking today."