GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Troy Andersen wasn’t much for words following Montana State’s 16-12 loss to North Dakota on Saturday at the Alerus Center, the team’s second consecutive Big Sky Conference defeat.
When asked if the No. 9-ranked Bobcats (5-3, 2-2 Big Sky) now carry a greater sense of urgency after dropping to .500 in the league standings on the heels of a setback vs. Sacramento State on Oct. 12, Andersen simply sighed and say, “Yeah.”
The frustration was palpable in the aftermath.
“We didn’t play good enough,” Andersen lamented, “and now we’re going home with a loss.”
It was a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter that did the Bobcats in.
Pinned inside their 5-yard line on fourth down and clinging to a 12-10 lead with 4:21 remaining, UND’s Alex Cloyd punctured the middle of the MSU line and blocked Jared Padmos’ punt attempt. The ball was ultimately recovered by Jayson Coley in the end zone to give the Fighting Hawks the advantage.
It was the decisive play on a day that featured so few.
The Bobcats got the ball back (after North Dakota’s two-point attempt failed) but a sack of quarterback Tucker Rovig and a delay of game penalty eventually led to MSU having to give the ball back on downs, where UND was able to kneel down and seal the victory.
Cloyd’s block was costly to the Bobcats, but it sent 8,594 North Dakota fans into a frenzy.
“We were in return mode most of the day, and we decided at halftime that we had to pressure them more. We just weren’t getting enough pressure on them,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “ We maybe confused them a little bit because they hadn’t seen it a whole lot.
“It was really good execution by our guys. I’m just really thankful we jumped on the ball. I don’t know how many times it popped out there. We eventually got on it for the touchdown.”
Schweigert rightly credited Cade Peterson’s season-long 57-yard punt that initially pinned the Bobcats inside their own 1-yard line on UND's prior possession, which set up the block four plays later.
Montana State’s defense held up pretty well — allowing only one touchdown on a trick play in the first quarter — but the offense couldn’t get untracked in what became a defensive struggle.
With Isaiah Ifanse still hobbled and fellow running back Logan Jones back home in Bozeman nursing his own leg injury, the Bobcats turned to Andersen and true freshman DeMareus Hosey to carry the rushing load.
Hosey had 76 yards on the ground while Andersen, making his biggest impact in the second half, rushed for 64 yards. Andersen galloped for a 49-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, which set up his 1-yard touchdown plunge that gave the Bobcats the lead for the first time.
Andersen, in his dual role, also had 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks on defense.
Rovig line was as follows: 13-of-26 passing for 77 yards. He found some soft spots over the middle at times but a key moment occurred when he failed to connect with wideout Travis Jonsen on a deep ball down the sideline in the first quarter.
The ball hit Jonsen in the hands but fell incomplete. Choate called it an “impactful” play in the first half, and said Jonsen likely would have scored had he snared it. Rovig placed the blame on himself.
“I thought it was actually a bad ball,” Rovig said. “I thought I could’ve put it a yard more inside and it would’ve been caught.”
“Offensively, we struggled the entire day,” Choate said. “We really did not find our traction regardless of what we tried to do.”
After Andersen’s touchdown, the Bobcats decided to go for two. The ball was snapped to backup quarterback Casey Bauman, who ostensibly was to run forward toward the goal line in what was a spread-out formation.
Bauman was stopped well short.
“That’s the right thing to do. It’s a two-point game, and so you make it a (touchdown) game if you convert the two-point play," Choate said. "We didn’t feel great about some of our two-point plays against the style that they play in that situation.
"Quite honestly, I think it was there. Our long snapper just didn’t identify the guy right over the top of him.”
Both teams produced 316 yards of offense. UND quarterback Nate Ketteringham completed 23 of 30 passes for 183 yards.
Montana State’s defense produced the day’s only turnover when Fighting Hawks running back Dalton Gee was stripped by safety Jahque Alleyne in the first half. The ball was recovered by linebacker Josh Hill.
Brady Leach hit a 28-yard field goal with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter to give UND a 10-6 lead. It was a 15-play scoring drive.
MSU's Tristan Bailey made two field goals in the first half, which accounted for MSU’s scoring output to that point. His 21-yarder gave MSU the early lead in the first quarter, though the Bobcats had first-and-goal after a 48-yard run by running back DeMareus Hosey.
Bailey also made a 39-yarder on the final play of the second quarter to pull the Bobcats within 7-6 at intermission. But he later was short on a 51-yard attempt in the fourth quarter after a delay of game call pushed the Bobcats back.
North Dakota scored its first-half points on a trick play in the opening quarter, as Ketteringham swung a lateral to Brock Boltmann, who then threw deep over MSU’s unsuspecting defense for a 36-yard touchdown to Travis Toivonen.
The Bobcats will try to get back on track next week at home against Southern Utah.
“It’s really disappointing,” offensive lineman Lewis Kidd said. “With all the time and preparation we put into it, it stings a lot. It’s going to weigh on us a little bit, but as coach Choate says, it’s a 24-hour rule. Let it bother you or affect you for 24 hours, but after that, wash it out and move on to the next one.
“You kind of have to have a short-term memory with this conference and this level of football. Anyone can beat anyone. Just focusing on that and trying to come out next week and try to bounce back is going to be the biggest part for us.”
NOTES: MSU freshman WR Mark Estes made his first career catch to move the sticks on third down in the second quarter. … It’s the first time UND has beaten three ranked teams in the same season, and MSU is the highest-ranked team the Fighting Hawks have beaten at home since joining Division I in 2008.