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Senior Keaton Studsrud threw for a career-high 282 yards and four touchdowns in last year's victory over Southern Utah.
Game Notes: UND looks for back-to-back road wins
Release: 11/01/2017
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Fresh off their best road performance of the season, the Fighting Hawks get a chance to turn in another one Saturday at No. 17/23 Southern Utah. Kickoff against the Thunderbirds is set for 7 p.m. CT from Cedar City.

The task will be arguably tougher this week, however, as the Fighting Hawks prepare to take on one of the hottest team in the Big Sky Conference. SUU has won four straight overall and has beaten three ranked opponents to get off to a 6-2 start.

The Fighting Hawks snapped a brief a two-game skid with a convinving 48-21 victory over winless Portland State last Saturday after falling behind 14-0. It was the team’s first road win of the season in five tries.
• UND’s visit to the Beehive State will be its second of the season and seventh overall. No. 25 Utah pulled away late to post a 37-16 victory over the Fighting Hawks in the season opener for both teams on Aug. 31.
• UND is 2-4 all-time in the state of Utah with both of those wins coming in Cedar City.
• The T-Birds will be the fourth-ranked opponent that UND has faced this season and the Fighting Hawks are 0-3 in those contests. Head coach Bubba Schweigert is 4-9 against ranked foes in his three-plus seasons at UND.
• The all-time series between UND and SUU is tied at 4-4, but the Fighting Hawks have won three of the last four and two of three since both joined the Big Sky prior to the 2012 season.
• UND won last year’s meeting in Grand Forks 45-23 thanks to a stellar performance by quarterback Keaton Studsrud. He went 20-for-27 and threw for a career-high 282 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. The Fighting Hawks’ ground game also held a 255-51 advantage.
• Studsrud will duel once again with senior Patrick Tyler this season, who threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting with UND. Tyler will have to find a new favorite target in this meeting after he connected with Mike Sharp 13 times for 148 yards and a touchdown.

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UND wraps up the 2017 season with a home tilt against Eastern Washington, a team the Fighting Hawks shared the 2016 Big Sky title with. The Eagles have not visited Grand Forks since 2013. There will be a special pre-game ceremony honoring the 20-member senior class that will play its final game at the Alerus Center.

UND stormed back to register a 48-21 victory over Portland State at Providence Park. The Fighting Hawks got touchdowns from all three phases in the third quarter, which helped turn a 14-13 haltime deficit into a 34-14 lead. UND would another two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to post its first road win of the season and equal a season-high in points with 48.

Junior running back John Santiago became just the fourth player in UND history to eclipse the 3,000-yard career rushing mark in the 48-21 victory at Portland State (Oct. 28). Santiago achieved the feat on his final carry of the game when we he picked up six yards on a fourth-quarter attempt to put him at 3,002 for his career. He added a 13-yard rushing score earlier in the game, but the play most people will remember was an electrifying, 64-yard punt return for a touchdown that ended up being the No. 2 play in the FCS that week. Santiago made multilple defenders miss, starting and stopping along the way to UND’s first punt return for a touchdown since the 2014 season. Former cornerback Alex Tillman had that one also against Portland State when he broke a school-record with a 95-yard effort in a home win over the Vikings. His two touchdowns also pushed his career total in that category to 30. Santiago is just the ninth player in program history to accumulate that many scores. Phillip Moore holds the overall record with 53.

Anytime a team can score on all three phases of a game, a positive result is likely to follow and that was the case in UND’s 48-21 victory at Portland State (Oct. 28). What makes the feat even more impressive is the Fighting Hawks completed the trifecta in the third quarter after going into the half trailing 14-13. Junior John Santiago provided the offensive (13-yard rush) and special teams (64-yard punt return) touchdowns, while defensive end Austin Cieslak capped the trifecta with a 5-yard interception return for a score.

Redshirt freshman Jaxson Turner made his first career start a memorable one after finishing with a career-high eight tackles, including four tackles for loss and a sack at Portland State (Oct. 28). His individual efforts also led to both of UND’s defensive scores in the contest. He batted away a third-quarter pass attempt that fell right into the arms of teammate Austin Cieslak, who trotted into the end zone from five yards out. Then, his fourth-quarter strip sack was scooped up by Carter Wilson, who raced in from 50 yards out to cap the scoring in the 27-point victory. Turner was named an honorable mention honoree for STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week for his efforts.

Going into game 10 of the season, there are only three players on each side of the ball that have started all nine games this season. Running back John Santiago, center Patrick Rooney and guard Ryan Tobin (4 left, 5 right) make up the offensive trio, while defensive end Drew Greely, outside linebacker Tanner Palmborg and cornerback Torrey Hunt comprise the defensive trio.

Last year’s defensive unit that led the Big Sky in rushing defense and scoring defense had eight players start all 12 games.

After having just one touchdown through the first nine games, the UND defense doubled that total with a pair of scores in the 48-21 victory at Portland State (Oct. 28). Defensive ends Austin Cieslak (5-yard interception return) and Carter Wilson (50-yard fumble return) provided the scoring plays for the unit. The last time UND’s defense scored twice in a game during the third game of the 2016 when Cole Reyes and Deion Harris both returned interceptions during a wild 44-41 double-overtime victory against South Dakota (Sept. 17).

All three UND running backs found the end zone on ground scores in the 48-21 victory at Portland State (Oct. 28). The trio of James Johannesson (1-yarder), John Santiago (13-yarder) and Brady Oliveira (3-yarder) scored and combined to rush 31 times for 119 yards. For the season, all three backs are averaging 5.5 ypc or better and have 1,352 ground yards and 11 touchdowns. Johannesson and Santiago share the team lead with four rushing touchdowns a piece, while Oliveira has three on the season.

After having just one 100-yard receiving game through the first seven games, a pair of Fighting Hawks surpassed the century mark in the loss to Sacramento State (Oct. 24). Senior De’mun Mercer had season-highs in catches (5) and receiving yards (115) and scored on a 39-yard reception, while sophomore Noah Wanzek added a career-high eight receptions for 100 yards and an 18-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.

For Mercer, it was the third 100-yard game of his UND career, while Wanzek had the only previous 100-yard game of the season for the Fighting Hawks after catching seven passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the shutout of Missouri State. 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.

Back in fall camp, if you had polled the coaching staff and media surrounding the team who do you think would be the team’s leading tackler through nine games, not many would have picked the player currently on top of that list: redshirt freshman Jake Rastas. The walk-on from New Berlin, Wis., was expected to contribute on special teams and bide his time on the sidelines waiting for an opportunity in UND’s 3-4 defense. After sitting out the opener at Utah (Aug. 30), Rastas was handed a more definitive role much sooner than expected.

After starter Donnell Rodgers went down with an injury in the second game of the season, Rastas filled in and has not looked back. Not only does he lead the team with 63 tackles, but that total is second among all freshmen in the FCS. He made 11 tackles in his first career start at South Dakota (Sept. 16) and added a season-high 13 at UC Davis (Sept. 30). He also leads UND with a trio of double-digit tackle performances.

The senior trio of Brandon Dranka (defensive end), Reid Taubenheim (placekicker) and Jacob Holmen (long snapper) have appeared in all 44 games over the past three-plus seasons. Dranka has 31 career starts under his belt, while Taubenheim has attempted every place kick for UND during that span (121-for-123 on PATs and 60-for-82 on FGs). Meanwhile, Holmen split the snapping duties in his collegiate debut at San Jose State in 2014, but has been the primary snapper on both punts and placekicks in the subsequent 42 games.

Senior placekicker Reid Taubenheim is now 15-for-19 on the season in field goals attempts and has upped his career makes total to 60, which ranks third on UND’s all-time charts. His 60 makes are also the most among active FCS kicker and tied for seventh among all active kickers at any NCAA level. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson leads that list with 84 career makes. Abilene Christian’s Nik Grau is the next closest at the FCS level with 45 career makes.

-- UND --

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