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UND's special teams spark 28-19 win over South Dakota

The No. 19 Fighting Hawks picked up a critical seventh win of the season.

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UND's Tyler Hoosman is upended in the red zone in the first half against South Dakota Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — The UND football team's punt return team was confident this week leading up to the final home game of the regular season.

"Earlier in the week, we thought we were going to get (a block), and we talked about it all week," UND's Malachi McNeal said. "It didn't matter how many seconds were left in the half, it was an attack mindset. As a punt block, we said now we've got a chance, let's go get one."

McNeal's punt block set up a short touchdown just before halftime to flip momentum and spark a 28-19 UND win over South Dakota on Saturday in front of 9,516 at the Alerus Center.

No. 19 UND improved to 7-3 with a visit to North Dakota State next Saturday to wrap the regular season. South Dakota dropped to 3-7, 0-6 on the road this year and the Coyotes haven't won in Grand Forks since 1985.

Special teams were the difference, as UND's C.J. Siegel blocked a fourth-quarter extra-point to keep the Fighting Hawks' lead at two scores. USD kicker Eddie Ogamba also missed a first-quarter extra-point.

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"Special teams were huge in this game," McNeal said. "They call it the little things, but they're not so little when you see how big of an impact they have on a game."

South Dakota looked to grab all of the momentum late in the second quarter. Trailing 13-7, UND marched 88 yards but couldn't punch in a score when Tommy Schuster's fourth-and-goal pass from the 2 was intercepted on a broken play in the end zone.

UND's defense then forced a three-and-out, despite struggling most of the half on third down, where the Coyotes finished 8-for-12 on conversions in the game.

USD went to punt on fourth-and-8 from the USD 22 with 20 seconds to halftime.

The punt block was originally credited to Jayson Coley, who was firing off the edge. After the game, players said McNeal picked up the block. McNeal charged in from the middle, rammed into the protective shield in front of the punter and stuck a hand up for the block.

After the block, UND's Nate Demontagnac recovered the ball at the 2 with 14 seconds left.

UND, without a timeout remaining, scored on first-and-goal when Schuster hit Bo Belquist in the front of the end zone to give UND a 14-13 lead at the break.

"They had some big stops on defense, and we need a little spark and some energy on our side," UND running back Tyler Hoosman said. "The defense and special teams stepped up. The blocked kick sparked a little juice for us going into the half. That was a big turning point."

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UND then got the ball to start the second half and went on a 10-play scoring drive. On third-and-goal from the 3, Schuster found Belquist again for a touchdown and a 21-13 advantage.

Belquist finished with a team-high seven catches for a team-high 92 yards.

UND's next series ended with a perfect play call on third-and-goal from the 11. Isaiah Smith scored on a screen pass in which blockers Easton Kilty, Danny Carroll and Brayden Bryant had no one to block in front of Smith with the playcall fooling the USD defense. Smith's score gave UND a 28-13 lead with 1:50 left in the third quarter.

USD responded. The tough running of Travis Theis (14 carries, 95 yards) led to a Carter Bell 5-yard touchdown catch on third down to make it 28-19 with 12:37 left in the fourth quarter.

That's when Siegel blocked the extra point, preventing USD from making it a one-score game.

The block changed USD's strategy and gave the Hawks' defense a chance to expect the pass.

UND put the game on ice with a couple of minutes remaining thanks to back-to-back sacks by Aaron Cooper and Ben McNaboe.

USD quarterback Aidan Bouman finished 15-for-27 for 151 yards and three touchdowns.

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"We were bringing four (pass rushers) early in the game, and (Bouman) would find an opening and hit these curl routes ... it's hard when he buys extra time," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We decided to pressure differently. Then especially down the stretch, you know they have to throw the football. That gives you an advantage, especially at home with the noise. You can get off the ball quicker and the tackles might be a little bit slower."

The Yotes finished with 248 yards of total offense to UND's 351. That disparity was sparked in part by UND's time of possession edge 36:30 to 23:30.

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UND's Isaiah Smith celebrates his touchdown with teammates in the second half Saturday.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: UND FOOTBALLUND SPORTS
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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