Bison most likely will face UND without star FB Hunter Luepke
Senior fullback suffered an apparent shoulder injury last Saturday at Southern Illinois
FARGO — One of the best players in Division I FCS football will probably not play in one of the biggest games of the season. North Dakota State senior fullback Hunter Luepke is “unlikely” to go against the University of North Dakota, a word used by Bison head coach Matt Entz on Monday.
Luepke suffered an apparent shoulder injury in the first half last Saturday at Southern Illinois. He spent the second half standing on the sideline in a sling. Entz said Luepke is scheduled to get a second medical opinion this week.
“Trying to figure things out right now,” Entz said. “We want to make sure we have all the information that is needed before we make the appropriate decision.”
Luepke may have other things to consider like his invitation to the Senior Bowl all-star game Feb. 4 in Mobile, Ala., and potential NFL Draft status. If he doesn’t play, the Bison will lose a player who has been effective the last two games against UND.
The Bison went almost exclusively to Luepke in the fourth quarter last year, a 16-10 NDSU win at the Alerus Center. He ran for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the last game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in the spring of 2021, a 34-13 Bison win.
Entz said starting right tackle Mason Miller, who also was injured at SIU, is done for the season, and is scheduled for surgery on Tuesday on a broken fibula. Entz said he’s expected to be ready for spring practice.
That means the Bison will have to go further into their depth chart in a game that will have big FCS playoff implications. At 8-2 overall, NDSU would make a strong case for a first-round bye with a victory. At 7-3, a win would virtually clinch a playoff bid for UND.
“Last game of the year, being senior week, everytime we play the last home game of the year, there are a lot of emotions, especially for our veterans,” Entz said. “I know our kids will be ready to go. Anytime you get to finish the year when other implications are involved .. you want games at the end of November to matter. At NDSU, we've been fortunate to play a lot of games that matter.”
Junior Grey Zabel will start for Miller. Ironically, Zabel got his first career start in the spring season of 2021 against UND when he was a true freshman.
Each team will go into the matchup with a reigning Missouri Valley player of the week. Bison linebacker James Kaczor took the defensive honor for the second time in his career. The senior had a career-high 14 tackles and recovered a game-clinching onside kick in the final minute in the 21-18 win at Southern Illinois.
UND quarterback Tommy Schuster got the offensive award after completing 24 of 28 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns in the 28-19 win over South Dakota. Schuster is going into the NDSU game with the hot hand having completed 46 of his last 54 passes in the last nine-plus quarters, a completion success rate of 85%.
Moreover, UND got the Valley Newcomer of the Week winner in freshman Malachi McNeal, who blocked a punt right before halftime that led to a 14-3 Fighting Hawks lead at intermission.
Entz compares Schuster to SIU quarterback Nic Baker in the ability to extend plays.
“They do a nice job of forcing you to defend the field,” Entz said. “He doesn’t make very many bad decisions. We’re going to have to do a really good job of trying to disguise some things and hopefully changing the picture on him so he doesn’t just feel comfortable back in the pocket.”