The teams were tied 10-10 at halftime, but the Hornets (4-3, 3-1 BSC) were able to outscore UND (2-6, 1-4 BSC) 24-7 in a decisive third quarter that saw Sacramento State turn a pair of fumbles into 10 of those points. The visitors would end up with a 3-0 advantage in turnovers and also limit UND to only two third-down conversions on 14 attempts.
“It’s hard to win football games when you lose the turnover battle, give up explosive plays and have trouble on third down,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “I thought our guys fought hard and had a chance there at the end, but just did not make enough plays to get the positive result we were looking for.”
Marcus Bruce returned the first of those fumbles 25 yards for a touchdown after Keaton Studsrud was sacked by teammate Dariyn Choates to put Sacramento State up 24-10.
Sophomore Andrew Zimmerman relieved Studsrud, who left the game with an undisclosed injury after the sack, and took just three plays to get the touchdown back. He connected with senior De’mun Mercer from 39 yards out to trim the deficit to 24-17.
The teams traded punts after that quick strike before B.J. Perkinson pushed the lead back to 14 with a 2-yard plunge for the Hornets. Zimmerman would fumble on a 3rd-and-4 on UND’s next possession and Devon Medeiros would push SAC’s lead to its peak at 34-17 with a 19-yard field goal.
Senior Reid Taubenheim made it a 34-20 contest with a 26-yard field on UND’s opening drive of the final quarter. He finished the game 2-for-3 on field goals and had a 31-yarder blocked late in the first half that could have given UND its first lead of the contest.
After forcing a punt by the Hornets, Zimmerman would get the home team within a touchdown after Noah Wanzek hauled in an 18-yard over-the-shoulder reception in the back of the end zone with just over eight minutes to play.
The JUCO-transfer would get two more cracks at a potential game-tying touchdown drive, but a much-improved Hornets’ defense would not allow the reserve quarterback to complete the comeback down the stretch.
Sacramento State redshirt freshman Roman Ale made his first career start at quarterback for the injured Kevin Thomson, who had the Sacramento State offense racking up more than 500 yards per game in Big Sky play.
Ale performed admirably in his first collegiate appearance, completing 13-of-19 passes for 263 yards and two long scoring passes to wideout Andre Lindsey. The Hornets would outgain UND by just 19 yards in the contest at 438-419.
Lindsey had touchdown grabs of 69 and 56 yards in the contest and finished with four catches for a game-high 154 yards. Mercer (5-for-115) and Wanzek (8-for-100) also reached the 100-yard receiving plateau in the contest.
The first half did not feature as many theatrics as the second, but there were several key plays. After UND tied it up 3-3 with a 41-yard field by Taubenehim, Ale would give the Hornets the lead back when he found Lindsey on the first scoring strike of his career.
On UND’s first play on the ensuing drive, junior running back John Santiago raced 64 yards down to the SAC 15-yard line and teammate Brady Oliveira cleaned up the rest of the yardage on the next carry to tie things at 10-10.
Both teams would miss field goals down the back stretch of the second quarter to keep the score tied going into the break. After Taubenheim’s only miss was blocked, Medeiros missed wide from 48 yards with less than a minute to play.
SAC would force UND into a 3-and-out on the opening possession of the second half and Ale and Lindsey would connect on a deep pass that would eventually give the Hornets the lead back for good.
Studsrud, who missed last week’s game at Montana, went 5-for-12 for 80 yards in his return to action. He had a late pick in the first half on a desperation attempt with the clock closing in on zeros.
Zimmerman appeared in relief for the second-straight game and finished 11-for-20 for 179 yards and those two second-half touchdown passes.
UND will be on the road for its next two contests, starting with a Big Sky matchup at Portland State next Saturday. Kickoff against the Vikings is set for 6 p.m. CT.
GAME NOTES: Permanent captains for the season are Jake Disterhaupt, John Santiago, Keaton Studsrud and Cole Reyes … Movie star and Minot, N.D. native Josh Duhamel was on hand to conduct the coin toss … UND lost the turnover battle 3-0 … The last time UND was tied at halftime was in game No. 8 a season ago at Idaho State nearly a year to the day (14-14; Oct. 22, 2016) … Senior De’mun Mercer had season-highs in catches (5) and receiving yards (115) and scored on a 39-yard reception … For Mercer, it was the third 100-yard game of his career … Sophomore Noah Wanzek added a career-high eight receptions for 100 yards and an 18-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter … The last time UND had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game was 2013 at Northern Arizona (Nov. 2) when Kenny Golladay (16-for-183) and Greg Hardin (8-for-118) reached that plateau … Senior Chuck Flowers registered a career-high 11 tackles to lead UND and redshirt freshman Jake Rastas added 10 tackles, including nine solo stops … It was the third double-digit tackling effort of the season for Rastas … Senior Brandon Dranka registered his team-leading third sack of the season and now has one in each of the last three games … With 75 rushing yards, junior John Santiago moved up two spots to fourth place on UND’s all-time rushing list with 2,966 yards … Santiago also surpassed the 5,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yardage with 178 in the contest and now ranks fourth in that category as well with 5,054 ... Disterhaupt returned to the field after missing the last two games, while tight end Luke Fiedler also returned following a three-game absence.
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