GRAND FORKS, N.D.—North Dakota running back Otis Weah carried 16 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns to lead the fourth-ranked Fighting Hawks to a 21-10 win against No. 20 South Dakota Thursday inside the Alerus Center.
It was the 98th meeting between the two programs, but first as Missouri Valley Football Conference foes. The Fighting Hawks (3-0, 3-0 MVFC) racked up 489 yards while holding the Coyotes (1-1, 1-1) to 328. It was the first time in four-plus seasons under coach Bob Nielson that South Dakota lost when holding its opponent to fewer than 27 points.
South Dakota running back Kai Henry ran 15 times for 84 yards and scored on a 7-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter for what turned out to be the final score of the game. Henry became the 14th player in program history to surpass 2,000 career yards. He stands with 2,038 and 23 touchdowns.
“We struggled early getting going with the running game, but it was better in the second half,” said Nielson. “Kai’s been a very consistent performer, and he played well today, even beyond his actual rushing numbers with protection and things that we ask our backs to do.”
South Dakota got two more turnovers from its defense in the first half to keep things close. Safety Elijah Reed forced Weah to fumble at the goal line and linebacker Jacob Matthew recovered in the end zone to end a 57-yard UND drive and maintain the Coyotes’ 3-0 lead. Late in the second quarter, Brock Mogensen intercepted Tommy Schuster to stop another drive in USD territory. North Dakota led 7-3 at the break despite totaling 270 yards.
But Weah took the first play of the second half 45 yards around the right end and rumbled into the end zone from 18 yards away three plays later to make it 14-3. A 3-and-out, the Coyotes’ fourth of the game, gave the ball right back to the Hawks and they marched 65 yards on seven plays capped by a 5-yard score from Weah and quickly it was 21-3.
South Dakota’s offense reached the UND 3 with the help of a 41-yard pitch-and-catch from Carson Camp to Carter Bell on the Coyotes’ second possession of the ball game. But three consecutive incompletions from there forced USD to settle for a Mason Lorber field goal. The Coyotes’ offense never truly got it going until late in the game, but by then it was too late.
“It’s been a really tough week on our kids, playing two really good teams on the road and traveling 2,000 miles in five days,” said Nielson. “I felt our kids’ effort was there and at the same time North Dakota is a good team. They did some things better than we did today and deserved to win the game.”
Henry’s score with 10:58 to go capped a 15-play, 95-yard drive. The Coyotes converted two third downs on the drive, but were 4 of 13 on the night. North Dakota was 11 of 16 and held the ball for 35 minutes.
“I talked about that that was going to be one of the key stats,” said Nielson. “They’ve been a good conversion team and were able to convert at a high rate. Some of that was because they were able to do a much better job of staying on schedule than we did. We found ourselves behind the sticks a lot, particularly in the early game, and failed to convert and keep drives alive the way they were able to.”
North Dakota took nearly seven minutes off the clock following the Henry score before USD forced a punt and got it back with 3:59 to go. But Camp was intercepted on a 4th-and-5 try down the sidelines to Caleb Vander Esch to end the threat.
Camp was 19-of-31 for 193 yards in his second start. He was sacked four times. Schuster was 23-of-35 for 219 yards and was rarely pressured.
The Coyotes return to Vermillion to host Missouri State for their home opener March 13 inside the DakotaDome.