UND rides true freshman QB to 27-23 win over No. 24 Sam Houston

UND's Jaxson Turner reacts as the Fighting Hawks defeat Sam Houston State Saturday at the Alerus Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In Tommy We Trust?

With starter Nate Ketteringham and backup Andrew Zimmerman injured, true freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster played the first college football snaps of his career on Saturday.

Schuster engineered two third-quarter scoring drives to lift the Fighting Hawks to a 27-23 win over No. 24 Sam Houston State in front of 8,697 Potato Bowl fans at the Alerus Center.

Schuster, a 5-foot-11 Macomb, Mich., native, who took over for Zimmerman in the first quarter, finished 17-for-33 for 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

"Tommy's a cold-blooded killer; that kid is something else," said UND wide receiver Noah Wanzek, who had nine catches for 109 yards. "I was pretty confident in him and the whole situation. The backup always has to be ready."


UND, which beat the Bearkats for a second straight season, held strong in some white-knuckle final moments.

UND, leading 27-21 with less than four minutes to go, elected to take a safety instead of punting out of its own end zone.

That trimmed UND’s lead to 27-23 and the Fighting Hawks had to kick it back to the Bearkats. After a strong kick return, the Bearkats’ final drive started at their own 47 with 3:29 remaining.

Sam Houston marched down to the UND 18 with 1:39 left.

That’s where the Hawks defense held.

On fourth-and-2 from the 10, Sam Houston used a unique swinging-gate formation. The Hawks weren’t fooled, Bearkats quarterback Eric Schmid was stripped in the backfield by Noah Larson and Jalen Morrison recovered the fumble for the Hawks.

"Obviously very disappointed," Sam Houston State coach KC Keeler said. "The call at the end of the game -- we give a lot of different, funky formations. That's a read play, and I don't think the option off that play we ran was, in the end, was the option we wanted. They had us out-manned there. That was a mistake on our part."

The Fighting Hawks had seen the unique formation from the Bearkats on film and earlier in the game.


"Any time they did that, I was supposed to rush off the edge," Larson said. "They didn't have enough blockers."

UND, which has a bye next weekend, kneeled out the remaining clock to improve to 2-1.

"That was a really gritty performance," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "You lose a quarterback early, play a true freshman and the guys rallied around him. I thought he did a really good job. He had composure. Really proud of Tommy tonight."

The win should give the Hawks a big boost as they prepare for two monstrous FCS games in the next three weeks -- against Top 10 teams Eastern Washington on Sept. 28 and UC Davis on Oct. 5.

UND finished with 281 yards of total offense while Sam Houston State ended with 280, led by Schmid's 114 passing yards and 53 rushing.

UND managed only 91 rushing yards on 30 attempts while Sam Houston finished with 162 on 50 attempts.

Despite starting the game without two starters in the secondary in Evan Holm and Leonard Nelson IV, UND’s pass defense was solid, holding the Bearkats to 118 passing yards. The Hawks came up with three interceptions -- two by Jade Lawrence. Larson picked off the other pass.

"I think Bubba's a genius," Keeler said. "Everyone tries to design a lot of exotic stuff but not everyone is effective because there's not enough discipline. He does a really good job, his kids stay in their gaps and play sound defense. It's a pain playing against them. I think he's one of the best defensive coordinators out there in terms of putting together a gameplan. He's really sharp."


After UND led 14-0 early thanks in part to a 56-yard Brock Boltmann touchdown run, the game was tied 14-14 at the half, but Sam Houston finished with nearly a two-to-one advantage in time of possession.

A key sequence came to start the second half. With questions swirling about what the Hawks might do at quarterback, first-year offensive coordinator Danny Freund let Schuster loose.

On the first play, Schuster went deep to Wanzek for 35 yards. On the next play, Schuster hit Wanzek again for 23 yards. On the third play, UND went up the middle for James Johannesson and a 5-yard touchdown run to take a 21-14 lead.

"We felt that was the best way to move the ball and get points, so we didn't want to be really conservative," Schweigert said. "We started over like we were 0-0. You know, we knew the strength of team would be receivers so we're going to let them make plays."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

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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