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Fighting Hawks cruise in opener with 518 yards of offense

Fighting Hawks wide receiver Travis Toivonen sprints past a downed Mississippi Valley State defenseman and into the endzone for UND's first touchdown in Thursday's home opener at the Alerus Center. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service1 / 2
UND quarterback Nate Ketteringham (#8) congratulates wide receiver Travis Toivonen on his first quarter touchdown against Mississippi Valley State Thursday night at the Alerus Center. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota football team lacked style points Thursday night, Aug. 30, in the season opener against Mississippi Valley State, although the Fighting Hawks eventually cruised to the easy win.

Quarterback Nate Ketteringham, making his UND debut, passed for 225 yards and accounted for four touchdowns as UND beat the Delta Devils 35-7 in front of 8,884 at the Alerus Center.

“It was far from perfect,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “But you get a win and that should give you confidence. We had a lot of good plays out there, but we have to be more consistent and eliminate penalties.”

The Hawks, who finished with 518 yards of total offense, jumped out to a 21-0 lead by early in the second quarter.

On his first drive, Ketteringham, a junior transfer from Sacramento State, hit Travis Toivonen on a slant pattern over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown pass.

Ketteringham, who was 19-for-30 with no interceptions, added two more first-half touchdowns. He punched in a 2-yard quarterback sneak for a 14-0 lead in the first, then, hit true freshman Garett Maag for a 9-yard score in the second quarter.

Ketteringham’s performance was noteworthy on a number of levels. UND didn’t pass for three touchdowns in a single game in 2017 and only passed for more yards in four games.

“There was a little bit (of nerves) but it was more of an antsy feeling,” said Ketteringham, who gave way to backup Andrew Zimmerman on UND’s second drive of the fourth quarter. “It was a good time. We had some fun.”

The Hawks’ lead wasn’t seriously challenged in the second half but UND struggled to put away the Delta Devils, who entered the game as a more than 40-point underdog.

UND led just 21-7 at halftime and escaped further trouble with the help of the Delta Devils’ self-inflicted damage. MVSU kicker Ruben Piraquive’s 29-yard field goal drilled the uprights and running back Isaiah Robinson fumbled on the 2-yard line in the first quarter.

MVSU stayed in the game and chewed up clock with an effective passing attack in the first half. The Delta Devils were led by quarterback Chris Fowler, who passed for 185 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Fowler, a left-hander, finished 22-for-39 for 263 yards. His favorite target Steven McIntosh had seven catches for 103 yards.

UND's defense tightened in the second half, not allowing a first down by MVSU in the third quarter.

“I thought we played harder,” Schweigert said of the second half defense. “We rushed the passer better. We tightened our coverage, so they had to hang on to the ball a little bit longer and we were able to get some sacks.”

Mason Bennett, a 6-foot-4 junior defensive end from Winnipeg, led the UND defense with two of the team’s seven sacks.

UND’s running game was led by Brady Oliveira, who had 108 yards, while John Santiago had 91. James Johannesson, who had a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, added 32 yards on six carries.

“We have a lot to work on, and we have a tough task next week so we have to turn the page,” UND defensive end Austin Cieslak said.

UND plays at Washington next Saturday at 4 p.m. in Seattle.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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