THIBODAUX, La. — When the University of North Dakota football team was at its worst this season, the Fighting Hawks struggled to stop the run and adapt to challenging road environments.
When the Hawks were at their best, UND was riding a new-look, first-year offense to thrilling efforts at the Alerus Center.
On Saturday, Nov. 30, the former was at the forefront in the bayou.
No. 19 Nicholls State racked up a 316-44 edge in rushing yards in decisively beating No. 24 UND 24-6 at John L. Guidry Stadium in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
"We take a lot of pride in stopping the run, but we weren't able to really hold down the rushing yards today," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We have to defend the run better. We've taken a lot of pride in stopping the run for a long time at North Dakota.
"It doesn't change how I feel about our football team. I think our guys work hard and do a lot of good things, but we just wanted a different result."
UND, which dropped to 7-5 and 1-5 on the road this season, failed to win its first FCS playoff game in its second try. Nicholls State (9-4), winners of five straight, will now play at No. 1 North Dakota State in next weekend's second round.
Nicholls State's Julien Gums ran for 172 yards on 16 carries, while Colonels wide receiver Dai'Jean Dixon had eight catches for 122 yards.
"I thought we were lining up okay, after the snap, we weren't fitting like we're used to," UND defensive end Mason Bennett said. "We were fighting our butts off, but unfortunately, it just didn't work out."
It was the first time this season UND failed to score a touchdown. Senior quarterback Nate Ketteringham finished with 269 passing yards, with 121 of those going to Travis Toivonen.
Ketteringham, who had an interception and a fumble, finished as UND's leading rusher, carrying seven times for 20 yards.
UND's only points came on two Brady Leach field goals (34 and 42 yards).
The key play for Nicholls came after UND cut the Colonels lead to 10-6 midway through the third quarter.
On Nicholls' next drive, quarterback Chase Fourcade hit on his longest play of the day. Fourcade used play-action, then found Dixon for a 45-yard touchdown pass on a deep ball for a 17-6 lead with 4:22 remaining.
As Nicholls was attempting to ice the game midway through the fourth quarter, UND cornerback Evan Holm forced and recovered a fumble to give UND new life.
The Hawks, however, went three-and-out and Schweigert elected to punt from the UND 38 on third-and-6 rather than going for it on fourth down with 6:24 left in the game.
"It was a little too long of yardage and it was time to get a stop," Schweigert said. "As I look back, we should've gone for it. It's always easier to look back at the end."
UND ran the ball just 14 times and threw it 48. James Johannesson, UND's leading rusher entering the game, played but didn't have a carry. True freshman running back Luke Skokna added four carries for 19 yards.
Nicholls ran the ball 50 times, as Fourcade was an efficient 14-for-16 passing for 165 yards.
"You want to move on to as far as you can," Bennett said. "The goal is to get in the tournament, then make a statement. Unfortunately, today wasn't our day."
The last time UND didn't score at least seven points was a 45-3 loss early in the 2018 season at Washington. The last time UND didn't score at least seven points against an FCS opponent was a 54-3 setback to Eastern Washington Nov. 1, 2014. That was the first game of true freshman quarterback Keaton Studsrud's career.
UND's previous low rushing total this year was 60 yards against Montana State. UND hasn't ran for fewer than 44 yards since running for only four yards against North Dakota State in 2015.