UND FOOTBALL: Sioux hold own against Fresno State

FRESNO, Calif. _ UND is still looking for that breakthrough win as a Division I football program. That win nearly arrived on a beautiful night for football in California. Fresno State, a program that prides itself on playing anyone, anywhere and ...

Jake Miller run
UND's Jake Miller runs against Fresno State on Saturday in Fresno, Calif.

FRESNO, Calif. _ UND is still looking for that breakthrough win as a Division I football program.

That win nearly arrived on a beautiful night for football in California.

Fresno State, a program that prides itself on playing anyone, anywhere and at any time, had all it could handle from UND. But the Division I FBS school, fresh off a strong performance at No. 11 Nebraska, held off the Sioux 27-22 on Saturday night before 27,542 fans at Bulldog Stadium.

Fresno didn't have the game won until Robbie Rouse picked a first down with an 18-yard run in the final minute.

Regardless, it was one of UND's best performances of its Division I era as the Sioux had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter against arguably the school's toughest opponent in history.


"There is no such thing as moral victories in a loss," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "But we made strides as a football team tonight. It's disappointing. We came here and expected to win."

And that nearly happened.

Jake Miller's three touchdown runs helped stake the Sioux to a 22-21 lead late in the third quarter against a program that has played in 11 bowl games during the past 14 seasons.

Miller's third touchdown gave the Sioux a 22-21 lead with 9 seconds to go in the third quarter and set up a tense fourth quarter for a team that was heavily favored to win.

The Bulldogs responded. Rouse dove over the top of the pile from the 1-yard line with 9:14 remaining for a Fresno a 27-22 lead. The Bulldogs failed on the two-point conversion attempt, giving UND a chance to drive for the potential winning touchdown.

But the drive stalled at the Bulldog 37. Joey Bradley's third-down pass intended for Greg Hardin was incomplete. The Sioux punted, hoping to hold the Bulldogs and gain one more chance.

UND's punt came on a fourth-and-15. There wasn't much doubt the Sioux would punt at that point.

"If it had been half that distance, we might have gone for it on fourth down," Mussman said of the fourth-and-15. "But there were


31/2 minutes left. Give them credit; they made the plays."

The game certainly didn't start out well for UND.

Derek Carr's 86-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders on the game's first play stunned the Sioux. And the two hooked up again later in

the first quarter, this one a 52-yard scoring strike that gave Fresno a 14-0 lead.

But UND steadied itself a few minutes later and eventually the Sioux found themselves going toe-to-toe against Fresno.

The crowd was quieted when Miller raced 70 yards for a touchdown with 5:16 remaining in the first quarter. Miller, a sophomore from Bismarck, took a handoff from Bradley and broke through the left side of the line and ran untouched into the end zone.

UND's extra point, however, was blocked.

UND's defense received a big play from Dan Hendrickson on Fresno's ensuing series. Hendrickson snuffed out a Fresno screen pass and his tackle stopped Rouse 4 yards short of a first down.


Mitch Sutton immediately broke another big gainer, this one for 33 yards that helped set up Zeb Miller's 49-yard field goal late in the first quarter, cutting Fresno's lead to 14-9.

But Devon Wylie's 48-yard punt return to the Sioux 11 set up a 2-yard Rouse touchdown run with 5:29 left in the half to give Fresno a 21-9 halftime lead.

UND, which struggled in the second half at Idaho last week in a 44-14 loss, didn't have a hard time to open the third quarter this week.

Miller, who was carrying the bulk of the carries after Sutton was injured in the first quarter, rushed for 28 yards on the first play of UND's drive to open the half. Bradley then hooked up with Hardin for a 25-yard gain, setting up a first-and-goal at the 5 for the Sioux.

Miller then scored from the 5, cutting Fresno's lead to 21-16.

The Sioux then took the lead with 9 seconds left in the third quarter on Miller's third score. It was set up by Jer Garman's 17-yard run to the Fresno 1, a play that brought out the boos from the Bulldog faithful.

UND left Fresno knowing it had a golden chance for a breakthrough win. It didn't happen.

The Sioux outgained Fresno 323 yards to 319. And the Sioux defense held Fresno to 84 rushing yards.


"We came out here and battled our butts off in a hostile environment," said Miller, who finished with 145 yards on 21 carries. "To go down the wire against a team like Fresno is a big accomplishment and a huge step forward for our football team."

Mitch Sutton run
UND running back Mitch Sutton takes a hand off from quarterback Joey Bradley on Saturday against Fresno State.

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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