The first standing ovation came when the announcer of the public address recited the score of the great victory of southern Illinois over No. 1 in the state of North Dakota.
Moments later, the second standing ovation was to celebrate one of UND’s greatest victories in the NCAA Division I era.
For various reasons, there was an atmosphere of joy at the Alerus Center.
Otis Weah’s first career performance with two touchdowns, a great day for special teams and a tough second-half defense saw No. 14 UND win 28-17 over No. 3 South Dakota State.
“The message for the team is to focus on us and our preparation,” said UND coach Bubba Schweigert. “We have to handle it. Everyone loves to win and we will get a lot of compliments. You never feel comfortable. You have to focus on improving. Other teams in the country will continue to improve.”
The Hawks, who beat their top-ranked opponent in the Division I era, improved to 2-0 for the first time since the 2015 season when UND began with victories against Wyoming and Drake.
When the FCS national poll comes out on Monday, UND could see its highest ranking of the Division I era. The Fighting Hawks ranked No. 8 in the nation in 2016 before losing in the FCS playoffs to Richmond.
“It’s two big wins for us in the last two weeks,” said UND first-year quarterback Tommy Schuster. “In terms of qualifications, I don’t think we’re too worried about that, to be honest. We have a short week to play South Dakota on Thursday. We’ll focus on doing the same on Thursday.”
UND won at home for the ninth time in a row. The last time the Fighting Hawks lost at the Alerus Center was on October 27, 2018, a 35-30 loss to No. 4 Weber State.
But for the second week in a row, it didn’t look good at first.
The state of South Dakota scored on its opening drive – a five-play, 75-yard drive in just over two minutes. Jaxon Janke caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Mark Gronowski for a 7-0 lead.
Janke, who finished with 161 receiving yards, caught a 76-yard pass later in the first quarter as the Jackrabbits built a 14-7 lead.
But the Hawks held their ground in the first half thanks to special teams. UND blocked an SDSU field goal, while the offense was started with a false punt. Punter Cade Peterson hit Garett Maag for a 23-yard gain to set up Weah’s first touchdown run of the game.
UND trailed 14-7 at halftime as the Jackrabbits felt they missed an opportunity to widen the spread.
“Things were a little easy in the first half with the big plays,” said South Dakota state coach John Stiegelmeier. “Let your guard down and relax … you don’t take anything away from UND, but it’s hard to spend 60 minutes with full concentration and effort. They did more of that than us.
The Hawks outscored SDSU 21-3 in the second half.
UND opened the second half with a touchdown drive. Luke Skokna finished off a 43-yard dash to put the Fighting Hawks in scoring position. After a 9-yard gain from Tommy Schuster to Derek Paulson and a 3-yard run from Otis Weah, Skokna came up and went over the pile on a 1-yard dive to tie the score at 14.
After a 39-yard Cole Frahm field goal gave the Jacks a 17-14 lead, UND special teams came back through. This time, a punt blocked by Ty Shannon gave the Hawks the ball in the red zone. Two plays later, Schuster hit Maag on an exit route for a 16-yard touchdown in the closing seconds of the third quarter for a 21-17 UND lead.
The Hawks then built separation in the fourth quarter. After UND picked up an important third and short on an exit route from Marcus Preston, Weah rumbled 40 yards down the sideline after straying from an inning at the point of attack. Weah fumbled near the 10-yard line, but the loose ball jumped directly into his arms after bouncing off the grass for a touchdown.
Weah finished the game with 17 carries for 88 yards.
“Run hard,” Schweigert said. “It gives us a pretty good element in the backfield. We have to find ways to get it out into the fairway. In the touchdown run, we want it to end differently, but it was a really good run. It’s so hard to race against them, but we had to keep running it. “
Schuster, in his second career start, finished 20 of 32 passes for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His main target was Maag, who had five grabs for 87 yards and a touchdown.
The UND defense limited South Dakota state running back Pierre Strong Jr. to 95 rushing yards on 17 carries. The Jacks finished with 96 rushing yards as a team.
Gronowski completed 16 of 32 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times, while Schuster was not sacked for the second straight game.