UND players feel the urgency as No. 22 Fighting Hawks travel to No. 4 Southern Illinois

UND is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

UND's Chandon Pierre (52) and Hayden Reynolds (49) sack SIU quarterback Kare Lyles and force a fumble in the first half of their game Saturday at the Alerus Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND football players know there's very little wiggle room left in the 2021 season if the Fighting Hawks are going to make the FCS playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.

They also know they'd need to win while traveling to play one of the hottest teams in the country.

No. 22 UND visits No. 4 Southern Illinois on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Carbondale in a matchup of two teams with opposite momentums.

The Fighting Hawks enter off two consecutive losses -- each by one score to a regional rival. Southern Illinois, meanwhile, is coming off a win at then-No. 2 South Dakota State. The Salukis' No. 4 ranking is their highest since September of 2010.

"It's a must-win game," UND linebacker Devon Krzanowski said. "That's how we all feel. It's a playoff game. We have to come in with high focus, high energy and be ready to execute."


The Hawks are 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Missouri Valley. UND also still has to travel to South Dakota State to finish the regular season.

UND beat Southern Illinois 44-21 to open its first season of Missouri Valley Football Conference play last spring in the Alerus Center.

The Hawks, though, know they're facing a new challenge.

"We definitely feel our backs are against the wall," said Krzanowski, who had a fumble return for a touchdown against the Salukis last spring. "It's not easy to go out there and win on Saturdays. We just have to bring our 'A' game, otherwise we're going to have more outcomes like last Saturday.

"I think it creates a higher focus. It's just really looking at the game plan and making sure you understand so Saturday you can go out and execute."

The Salukis' offense picked apart the Jackrabbits in Brookings. SIU ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns.

SIU even did it without standout wide receiver Avante Cox, who's considered questionable for the UND game.

The Salukis have been powered by sophomore quarterback Nic Baker, who UND saw last spring after the Hawks knocked out then-starter Kare Lyles in the first half.


Baker came in and threw for 153 yards and two interceptions.

Last week, the 5-foot-9 Baker rallied the Salukis from a 20-point deficit to pick up a 42-41 win in overtime. He was 28-for-45 for 359 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed 12 times for 43 yards.

Baker has liked to target Landon Lenoir, who had 10 catches last week for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

"I believe our guys will really fight," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We have a really big opportunity in front of us. That's what we need at this point. You have to stay in the moment. We understand that this is a really pivotal game."

UND's offense, meanwhile, enters on consecutive weeks scoring just one offensive touchdown.

"Ultimately, we have to take it week by week," UND wide receiver Jake Richter said. "What happened last week is done. We can't let that come back around this week. We have to move on. We know we have to win, and we know we can win. We have to put in the work and get after it this week."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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