Special to the Journal
The North Dakota football team saw its spirited fourth-quarter rally fall just short as No. 6/7 South Dakota State held on for a 35-28 victory in the 48th annual Potato Bowl Saturday at the Alerus Center. The loss snapped a 10-game Potato Bowl winning streak for UND (1-1), while SDSU (2-0) picked up its first win in four tries in the annual contest.
This game belonged to both team’s All-Americans – South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner and UND wide receiver Greg Hardin. But, it was Zenner who held the spotlight at the end, equaling the school’s single-game record for rushing yards with 295.
Zenner added four touchdowns and it was his last one – a 46-yard scamper on a fourth-and-short early in the final quarter that proved to be the game-winner in the first matchup between the schools in Grand Forks since the 2001 season.
Hardin and his resilient teammates did not go down without a fight. The senior finished with seven catches for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he surpassed 200 receiving yards in a game for the second time in his career.
Hardin’s second touchdown reception sparked a fourth-quarter rally that saw the home team cut the deficit down to seven points. His acrobatic 16-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone made it 35-21.
Wide receiver Jameer Jackson then scored on a two-yard run from a direct snap to close to within 35-28. The UND defense came up big in the final stanza to give the offense a chance to get back in it as the unit forced a pair of three-and-outs, then overcame a late-hit penalty to give the offense one last chance for the tying touchdown.
Redshirt freshman Joe Mollberg, who relieved classmate Ryan Bartels after the opening series of the second half, had UND inside SDSU territory with just over two minutes to play, but cornerback Jimmy Forsythe picked off a third-down pass to seal the win.
It was the third turnover of the game for UND, who was also penalized 10 times for 107 yards.
SDSU did not commit a turnover and only had four penalties for 24 yards.
Despite the late interception, Mollberg’s second-half line was an impressive one as he finished 15-for-23 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Kenny Golladay, who caught Mollberg’s first collegiate touchdown pass in the third quarter, led UND with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. For Golladay it was the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
UND actually held the early lead at 7-0 as Bartels and Hardin brought the crowd of 10,038 to their feet early for the second straight week – this time connecting on a 39-yard touchdown pass on the opening possession. Unfortunately, that would be all the scoring UND would muster in the first half.
Page 2 of 2 - SDSU would go onto to score 21 unanswered points and build a 14-point lead at the half. Two of those touchdowns came from Zenner, who ran in from four yards out to give the Jacks’ their first lead of the game. He then put his squad up 21-7, scoring on a 23-yard screen pass with under a minute to play.
Zenner finished the opening half with 143 rushing yards on 18 carries and also had two receptions for 31 yards. Hardin caught three passes for 72 yards in the opening half, but the SDSU defense forced three punts and picked off Bartels once to keep UND off the scoreboard after its opening possession.
UND outgained SDSU by three total yards 458-455, as the home team’s redshirt freshman passing duo combined for 437 through the air. Bartels finished 13-for-22 for 178 yards and a touchdown, while SDSU junior Austin Sumner threw for just 157 yards, while the Jacks’ ground attack churned out 298 yards.
Zenner did his damage on a career-high 37 carries, while the rest of the Jacks rushed 11 times for just three yards. SDSU wide receiver Jason Schneider had four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in the victory.
UND will get another ranked opponent at home next Saturday as No. 13 Montana visits the Alerus Center for a 6 p.m. kickoff. The Grizzlies are 1-0 and coming off a bye week.