Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published October 12 2013
UND drops fourth straight home gameGRAND FORKS – It’s been a rough month for the University of North Dakota football, a stretch that included four straight visits to the Alerus Center by teams ranked in the top 25.
That stretch, mercifully, ended Saturday when No. 6 Eastern Washington – capitalizing on four UND turnovers – rolled to a 35-14 win against North Dakota before 7,951 homecoming fans.
It was UND’s fourth straight home loss, one that leveled UND at 1-1 in the Big Sky Conference and 2-4 overall. Eastern Washington, which did not commit any turnovers, improved to 2-0 and 4-2 and still has major Big Sky title aspirations.
UND’s performance – its best among the four games against ranked opponents – perhaps didn’t console a restless fan base that watched UND drop its fourth-straight homecoming game.
But there was improvement, especially on defense.
“I saw this as a winnable game,” said UND coach Chris Mussman. “As the game progressed, we continued snatch momentum away from ourselves with turnovers, penalties, personal fouls.
“There is a lot of frustration on everyone’s part, coaches, players and fans. I don’t have an answer for it right now.”
However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel, for what it’s worth. UND has only one top 25 team remaining on its schedule and that stretch begins at home next Saturday with a visit from Sacramento State, a team UND beat last season.
Unlike the whippings UND received from Montana and Montana State last month at home, UND managed to hang with Eastern Washington for nearly three quarters.
But the game turned on a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown by Eastern linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, a score that put the Eagles up 28-14 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. The interception came two plays after quarterback Joe Mollberg drove UND to the Eagles’ 21.
A chop block penalty on UND, however, backed up the Green and White to the EWU 36. Then Mollberg’s over-middle pass was snagged by Hamlin, who picked up a key block in front of the EWU bench en route to the end zone.
“We let one get away from us,” said UND running back Adam Shaugabay. “The scoreboard doesn’t speak how the game went. We shot ourselves in the foot. We have to be more disciplined. We can’t start drives first-and-15, first-and-20.”
UND’s defense, which received considerable heat from its earlier performances, was solid throughout. Early on, UND’s offense did move the ball but turnovers became a problem as the game went on.
A Zeb Miller 25-yard field goal gave UND a 3-0 lead before EWU quarterback Vernon Adams led the Eagles on a 51-yard scoring drive, capped by his 5-yard TD pass to Shaquille Hill.
UND responded with a 44-yard field goal from Miller but the Eagles went up 14-6 when Quincy Forte scored on a 1-yard run on the final play of the first half. The Eagles stretched that led to 21-6, scoring on their first possession of the second half.
Shaugabay’s 1-yard TD run with 5:38 left in the third quarter – and a two-point conversion run by Blair Townsend – cut the deficit to 21-14.
UND’s defense stopped EWU on its ensuing possession but the Eagles put it away on Hamlin’s interception. And UND later committed two more fumbles, ending any chance of a comeback.
“North Dakota came in and played exceptional football,” said Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin. “It was a closer game than what the score indicated, and turnovers played the biggest part in that. They did a great job and had a great game plan, and their players were fired up. Coach Mussman did a great job with that.”
Still, that didn’t create any silver linings in the UND locker room.
“We definitely can win out; there isn’t a team left on our schedule that is better than anyone we’ve played,” said UND linebacker Dominique Bennett.
E. Washington 0 14 14 7 – 35
North Dakota 3 3 8 0 – 14
NDAK – FG Z.Miller 25, 1:26.
EWas – Hill 5 pass from Adams (K.Miller kick), 7:50.
NDAK – FG Z.Miller 44, 4:18.
EWas – Forte 1 run (K.Miller kick), :00.
EWas – Kupp 1 pass from Adams (K.Miller kick), 10:42.
NDAK – Shaugabay 1 run (Townsend run), 5:38.
EWas – Hamlin 77 interception return (K.Miller kick), :47.
EWas – M.Brown 3 run (K.Miller kick), 7:49.
A – 7,951.
First downs 18 22
Rushes-yards 35-101 30-51
Passing 307 355
Comp-Att-Int 22-30-0 33-45-1
Return Yards 77 26
Punts-Avg. 3-38.0 2-34.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 3-3
Penalties-Yards 4-51 6-60
Time of Possession 30:32 29:28
RUSHING: E. Washington, M.Brown 11-49, Forte 9-40, Bronson 7-7,
Adams 8-5. North Dakota, J.Miller 9-33, Garman 7-16, Hardin 1-8,
Jackson 2-7, Shaugabay 2-1, Mollberg 9-(minus 14).
PASSING: E. Washington, Adams 22-30-0-307. North Dakota,
RECEIVING: E. Washington, As.Clark 7-116, Mitchell 5-79, Hill 2-14,
Kupp 2-9, Gehring 1-37, Forte 1-17, D.Johnson 1-13, Seto 1-9,
Bronson 1-8, Bomber 1-5. North Dakota, Jackson 10-110, Golladay 9-125,
Hardin 6-50, Townsend 4-43, J.Miller 3-20, Garman 1-7.
Nelson writes for the Grand Forks Herald