No. 4-ranked Bison, Luepke overpower No. 2-ranked Fighting Hawks
North Dakota State fullback Hunter Luepke scored three touchdowns against the University of North Dakota in his first game of the spring season.
FARGO — No. 4-ranked North Dakota State leaned on power football Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, a familiar formula that proved fruitful against an old rival.
Bison fullback Hunter Luepke rushed for three touchdowns to fuel a 34-13 victory against the No. 2-ranked University of North Dakota in Missouri Valley Football Conference play before 9,121 fans.
The Bison (5-1, 4-1 MVFC) extended their home winning streak to 32 games, handing UND (4-1, 4-1) its first loss this season. NDSU has a 3-0 record against the Fighting Hawks during their NCAA Division I FCS matchups. The teams were playing as conference opponents for the first time since 2003 when both programs were in Division II.
“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re moving," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “I like where we’re at today, but there is room for improvement.”
The Bison rushed for 316 yards on 54 attempts against the top run defense in the MVFC. UND was allowing 85.2 rushing yards per game entering Saturday. Luepke rushed for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 28 attempts, playing in his first game this spring. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Luepke had missed the previous four games due to a shoulder injury.
“All the blocking was perfect today," said Luepke, who played in NDSU's lone fall game last October.
Entz said the Bison offensive line, along with the tight ends and fullbacks, did a good job creating running lanes and moving the line of scrimmage throughout the game. NDSU had some inconsistency in the running game during the first four spring games.
“It wasn’t just magic overnight," Entz said. “Consistency, staying true to who we are, making sure that we still appreciate our identity and that’s being the most physical team in the country.”
Bison senior quarterback Zeb Noland got the start in a decision that wasn't known until moments after the kickoff when the NDSU offense took the field. Earlier in the week, Entz didn't name a definitive starting QB. True freshman Cam Miller also played against the Fighting Hawks. Noland completed 5 of 13 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
The Most Hunter Luepke Touchdown Yet.
He's still not down. pic.twitter.com/bQaULYvbfH
The Most Hunter Luepke Touchdown Yet.
Noland doesn't mind splitting time with Miller.
"I enjoy it," Noland said. “I love seeing him get playing time and I love seeing him have success. There’s never been any tension in our room about it and I love that part.”
Luepke pushed the Bison lead back to two touchdowns late in the third quarter after UND tried to mount a comeback early in the second half. He steamrolled into the end zone on a 5-yard TD run that gave NDSU a 28-13 lead with 4 minutes, 38 seconds to play in the third. He had eight carries on that 14-play, 75-yard drive that he completed with his third running score of the game.
“I think he’s one of the best athletes on the team," Noland said.
NDSU kicker Griffin Crosa added a 41-yard field goal that gave the Bison a 31-13 lead with 14:05 to play in the fourth quarter. He later added a 35-yard field goal for a 34-13 lead with 7:57 remaining.
“I still don’t think we’ve hit our limit," said Bison safety Michael Tutsie. "We still have room to grow and get better and we’re going to keep doing that. ... We came in and holstered a lot of energy at the beginning and that stayed the entire time.”
UND started the second half with energy, starting at its own 45-yard line after a Luke Skokna 41-yard kickoff return. The Fighting Hawks used six plays to cover the 55 yards and took advantage of an NDSU offsides penalty on a fourth-and-1 play. Freshman wide receiver Bo Belquist capped the drive with a 21-yard TD catch from quarterback Tommy Schuster to cut the Bison lead to 21-13 with 12:01 to play in the third quarter.
The Fighting Hawks, however, couldn't build off that momentum as the Bison countered with 13 unanswered points.
“We really never had momentum and they kind of had that momentum," said UND head coach Bubba Schweigert.
Luepke gave the Bison offense an early jolt, scoring on a 55-yard touchdown run on his first rushing attempt of the spring season. That gave NDSU a 7-0 lead with 14:10 to play in the first quarter. That scoring burst capped a 4-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
“I don’t think I was touched until the 5-yard line so that’s pretty easy," Luepke said of the long run.
Hunter Luepke. Majestic beast. 🦬 pic.twitter.com/uxNBCR8LCv
Hunter Luepke. Majestic beast. 🦬 pic.twitter.com/uxNBCR8LCv— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) March 20, 2021
Fighting Hawks running back Otis Weah, from Moorhead, answered later in the opening quarter with a 74-yard touchdown run that cut the Bison lead to 7-6 with 4:47 to play in the first. UND kicker Adam Stage missed the extra point. Weah's long TD run came a play after a Hayden Galvin interception.
Luepke was the workhorse on NDSU's second scoring drive. He capped that march with an 8-yard TD run that gave the Bison a 14-6 with 11:11 to play in the second quarter. That completed a 16-play, 82-yard drive. Luepke carried the ball seven times on that drive and finished the half with 100 rushing yards and two scores on 11 carries.
The Bison capped their strong offensive half with a long pass play. Noland connected with wide receiver Christian Watson for a 63-yard touchdown that gave NDSU a 21-6 lead with 1:06 to play until halftime. The Bison had 293 yards on 38 plays through the first two quarters.
Too big. Too strong. Too fast. Too good. pic.twitter.com/wWg659czQj
“The big play right before half, that was disappointing that we didn’t go into the locker room down one score," Schweigert said. “That was a big swing in the game.”
NDSU finished with 456 yards on 73 plays, while possessing the ball for more than 36 of the game's 60 minutes.
“It’s been there, but today we executed and we finished the snap and that’s what was so critical," Entz said. “I couldn't say more about the football team. ... All three phases played at a high level.”