UND football: Northern Illinois edges Sioux

DeKALB, Ill. -- On the game's first play, UND appeared to be headed for another blowout loss. On the game's last play, the Sioux had a chance for their first win against a Division I FBS opponent. In between, UND took some big steps forward as a ...

DeKALB, Ill. -- On the game's first play, UND appeared to be headed for another blowout loss.

On the game's last play, the Sioux had a chance for their first win against a Division I FBS opponent.

In between, UND took some big steps forward as a Division I FCS transition program.

Northern Illinois beat UND 23-17 on Saturday night before 18,046 fans in Huskie Stadium, a win that was a lot closer than many expected after the Sioux were blown out a week earlier at Idaho.

The Sioux had the ball at the NIU 27 with six seconds to play, but Jake Landry's pass intended for Greg Hardin was intercepted by Tommy Davis at the Huskies' 6, preserving the win for a team picked to win the West Division of the Mid-American Conference.


UND's play was night-and-day difference from its season-opening loss at Idaho.

"I saw the football team I thought we had," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "I feel a whole lot better after this one than I did after Idaho. We got better as a football team and a football program, and we took a huge step forward from Week 1 to Week 2. That's all I really wanted to see.

"We have an opportunity to do some good things with this football team."

Northern Illinois' Chad Spann scored on a 79-yard run to open the game. The Sioux appeared to have him stopped, but Spann made a spin move and was off to the end zone. Flashbacks of a week ago were everywhere. But things slowly improved to the point where UND was in position for the win on the game's final play.

UND dropped to 0-2, but both losses came against FBS programs. The back-to-back games against teams from the top level of college football weren't how the Sioux hoped to open the year. But they made the most of their second straight FBS game, making life difficult for the Huskies in the second half.

"If we don't win that game, that's not a good thing," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "When that scoreboard hit zero, it was a good feeling.

"North Dakota really improved from Week 1 to Week 2, I'll say that. They've always done a good job. I have a lot of respect for that program and I'm just glad we won."

UND trailed 16-0 after Spann's TD, a 4-yard scoring pass to Martel Moore from quarterback Chandler Harnish and a 23-yard Mathew Sims field goal.


Another lopsided loss was avoided, however, when Dominique Hawkins came up with a 63-yard interception return with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

UND's offense, which finished with 334 yards, then came alive in the third quarter. Landry connected with Hardin for 85 yards with 1:45 remaining.

"We were right there with them," said Hardin, who finished with six catches for 171 yards.

But Harnish came up with the game's big play, scoring on 40-yard keeper on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"He was a load," Sioux linebacker Dan Hendrickson said. "He was tough to bring down."

Harnish finished with a career-high 178 rushing yards and also threw for 146 yards after not starting in last week's loss at Iowa State.

The Sioux kept plugging away after Harnish's score put NIU up 23-14.

Chris Anderson blocked a punt, leading to Zeb Miller's 40-yard field goal with 2:47 remaining. The Sioux forced NIU to punt on its next possession, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.


Landry guided the Sioux from their 38 to the NIU 27 before Davis, a thorn in UND's side all night, picked him off.

"We told Jake not to go down with the ball in his hands," Mussman said. "There is no bad throw there. They have a good defense. It had to be a miracle throw, but we had a chance."

NIU finished with 510 yards on 74 plays. The Huskies had 360 of those yards by halftime.

"There were times early in the game when I thought, 'Oh no, here we go again,' " Mussman said. "But our players and coaches made some good adjustments at halftime."

The Sioux boarded the bus about an hour after the game, satisfied with a better effort.

"Last week wasn't us," Sioux linebacker Ryan Kasowski aid. "This is the team that we are. It was nice to see us go out and make plays on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Obviously, we're disappointed with the outcome, but we made great strides."

UND's improved showing also took the sting out of a 12-hour trip back home.

"We competed and there is not much more than you can ask for," said Hendrickson, who led the Sioux with nine tackles. "At least it makes the bus ride home a little easier."

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
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