Another rough day for UND in 41-17 loss to Montana
MISSOULA, Mont. — In one of the prettiest settings in college football, the University of North Dakota football team played one of the ugliest games of the Bubba Schweigert Era.
Playing without starting quarterback Keaton Studsrud, the Fighting Hawks’ offense sputtered as No. 24 Montana rolled to a 41-17 win over UND on Saturday, Oct. 14, in front of 25,085 fans on homecoming at scenic Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
UND, which dropped to 2-5, gave up 38 or more points for the fourth-straight week — likely putting the finishing touches on any fading hopes of postseason play.
With Studsrud unable to play with a knee injury, UND backup Brad Heidlebaugh was given the first-half reigns of the UND offense for his first extended action of his career.
The Rugby, N.D., native took UND to three-and-outs on the team’s first five offensive possessions, squandering three turnovers forced by the Fighting Hawks’ defense in the first quarter.
“We needed to turn those turnovers into points to get some momentum on the road,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We have a lot of work to do. We’re going to work hard down the stretch of our season.”
By halftime, Heidlebaugh, a redshirt sophomore, was 5-for-15 passing for 56 yards with a costly interception late in the first half.
In total, Montana outgained UND in total offense 604 yards to 343.
UND’s first touchdown — coming in the final minute of the third quarter — was a relatively meaningless James Johannesson 56-yard touchdown run.
Before Johannesson broke the big gainer, UND had 62 team rushing yards on 29 carries.
UND third-string quarterback Andrew Zimmerman, a junior college transfer, was much more effective than Heidlebaugh, although his efforts primarily came with the game decided for some time.
Zimmerman, who threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Stetson Carr in the fourth quarter, was 7-for-14 for 132 yards in his half of action.
The game’s key sequence came late in the second quarter. Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen, who threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns, hit Keenan Curran with a 55-yard touchdown catch for a 17-3 lead with 6 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half.
The Griz went right after backup cornerback Hayden Blubaugh, a true freshman who came into the game for Evan Holm, who likely suffered a season-ending injury on the previous play.
Late in the half, with UND hoping to bring the halftime lead to one score, the Fighting Hawks put together a drive into Griz territory thanks to a 36-yard pass from Heidlebaugh to Demun Mercer.
But on a third-and-20, backed up by a holding penalty, Heidlebaugh’s long pass over the middle was intercepted by Josh Sandry and returned 74 yards down to the 11. Brandon Purdy’s 23-yard field goal would make it 20-3 at halftime.
“We felt like we had to defensively not give up explosive plays and tackle in space,” Schweigert said. “We didn’t do good enough job of that.”
UND all-conference running backs John Santiago (32 yards) and Brady Oliveira (27 yards) were held in check thanks to an unbalanced offense that didn’t find any consistency through the air until Zimmerman came into the game in the second half. With Zimmerman in the game, Johannesson finished with seven carries for 93 yards.
“They’re a run-first team,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said. “When you play North Dakota, you have to stop the run. We felt we had to be good on first down and get them off schedule to force them to throw the ball. They have great running backs and they’re complex with schemes but our guys did a great job lining up.”