HARRISONBURG, Va. -- UND players began trickling back onto the field late Sunday night in full uniform.
Bridgeforth Stadium was empty by that point -- the game had been over for 20 minutes -- but the final score remained on the board: James Madison 34, UND 21.
The Fighting Hawks players gathered in groups of five or smaller, snapped a few photos, then walked off the field to change and catch their charter flight back to Grand Forks after their NCAA FCS quarterfinal loss.
The players may want to keep those photos handy as a reminder of both of what the Fighting Hawks accomplished this season and where they need to go.
For starters, UND has done quite a bit at the FCS level.
They've won a conference championship in every league they've been a member -- first the Great West, then the Big Sky and now in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
They've reached the playoffs three times in five years. They've been seeded. And thanks to last week's 44-10 win over Missouri State, they have a playoff victory and FCS quarterfinal appearance under their belts.
They have a win over an FBS program, beating Wyoming on the road in 2015. They've beaten most of FCS football's traditional powers, too: South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Montana, Montana State and Weber State to name a few.
"We can compete with anyone," UND linebacker Devon Krzanowski said.
But those postgame photos Sunday night can serve as a reminder that there's still one big hurdle for UND's football program to clear.
North Dakota State and James Madison have been the two most dominant teams in FCS football the last five years, and given the opportunity to knock them off, the Fighting Hawks have not been able to do it or really come close.
UND wiped out every other opponent this season by double digits. That included FCS semifinalist South Dakota State, FCS quarterfinalist Southern Illinois, FCS playoff team Missouri State and then-nationally ranked South Dakota. But against the Bison and Dukes, the Fighting Hawks were swimming into a strong current.
The Fighting Hawks lost to NDSU in the Fargodome by 21 in March -- their third 20-plus point loss to the Bison in the FCS era -- and lost to James Madison in Bridgeforth Stadium by 13. Yes, all of those games were on the road and away from the Alerus Center, where UND has gone undefeated the last two seasons. But they were still measuring-stick games.
"We talk to our guys all the time about how everything is a learning situation," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We've got to learn from this season and learn from this last game, because this is what we want to do. We want to get to the quarterfinals and get to into the playoffs and play really good opponents like JMU."
The glaring difference was UND's inability to control the line of scrimmage in those games.
The Fighting Hawks held their other five opponents this season under 130 yards rushing. They gave up 316 to the Bison and 251 to the Dukes.
"Some of those things, we've got to address through player development, through recruiting," Schweigert said. "Those will all be things that will be a challenge for us. But we're going to learn from this spring and really want to get our team better, because we want to be able to come on the road and win games like this. To do that, we've got to become a really physical football team that can run the ball and control tempo and stop the run."
UND was still in the game in the second half. It had the ball midway through the third quarter with a chance to drive and take a lead, but couldn't do it. James Madison eventually pulled away.
"We just have to come back, work harder, get the little things right and become a more disciplined football team," Krzanowski said.
If they do that, perhaps the Fighting Hawks can clear that last hurdle.
They'll get their next chance Oct. 2 when NDSU comes to the Alerus Center for the first time since 2003.
Until then, they can look back at their photos from Sunday night as a reminder of how far they've come and where they need to go.
"This team has to be hungry," UND running back Otis Weah said, "because we just got a taste."