Hanson, Hardin lead UND to a wild Big Sky win over MontanaGRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota’s electrifying, record-setting 40-34 win Saturday against Montana may or may not be the program’s signature win of the Division I football era. That will be debated later. What’s not for debate is UND’s most productive performance in the Division I era.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota’s electrifying, record-setting 40-34 win Saturday against Montana may or may not be the program’s signature win of the Division I football era.
That will be debated later.
What’s not for debate is UND’s most productive performance in the Division I era.
UND quarterback Braden Hanson threw for 660 yards — UND and Big Sky Conference single-game records. His top receiver, Greg Hardin, caught 12 passes for 333 yards, also UND and Big Sky single-game records.
And when Hardin hauled in a 32-yard scoring strike from Hanson with 12 seconds to play for the winning touchdown, UND broke a three-game losing streak and found renewed life in the Big Sky as the Green and White improved to 2-3 in the league and 4-4 overall before 9,296 fans at the Alerus Center.
Regardless, the win was one of the biggest in program history.
“Knowing the history and tradition of Montana, this is a huge win for us,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “It’s a very special win. Our kids grasp it and I hope the community grasps it as well. You know what? We can be a pretty good football team if we play with focus. And we played with focus today.”
Montana coach Mick Delaney, with years of college coaching experience in his pocket, also saluted UND’s passing game, especially the play of Hanson — the North Carolina transfer.
“Their quarterback played as good a game today as any quarterback in college football,” Delaney said.
Hanson completed 42 of 61 passes, finishing with five touchdown strikes. His last one to Hardin was designed to pick up a few yards to move UND closer to field-goal range. Instead, it set off a wild celebration on the UND sideline. Hardin caught the ball in the middle of the field and slipped the grasp of a Montana defender and raced to the end zone.
“It was a five-yard in route,” Hardin said. “Really, we were looking to gain some yards and get better field position. Braden really put it on me. The guy slid off me; I saw an open field because they were blitzing and headed for the end zone.”
Hardin ran into the Big Sky record books with the catch. And it capped an amazing passing day for Hanson and his receivers — Hardin, Blair Townsend (13 catches, 152 yards), Jameer Jackson (8-124) and Kenny Golladay (7-39).
Hardin, a preseason first-team Big Sky selection, never thought he’d finish with 333 yards.
“That’s a number you can’t even put up in video games,” Hardin said.
In typical Big Sky fashion, the game resembled a roller-coaster ride.
Hanson led UND to a 31-17 halftime lead, throwing touchdown passes of 5, 39, 43, and 5 yards to Townsend, Hardin, and Golladay. By the break, Hanson had thrown for 410 yards while Hardin already had broken UND’s single-game receiving record with 243 yards.
Montana, however, rallied behind backup quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann.
He hit Sam Gratton for a 15-yard TD pass earlier in the third quarter, then led the Grizzlies on another drive that ended with a Chris Lider 44-yard field goal. That cut UND’s lead to 31-27.
With 6:05 left in the third, Smithwick-Hann hit Ellis Henderson on a 27-yard scoring strike that gave the Griz a 34-31 lead. The pass came one play after Hanson was picked off.
But UND, which struggled offensively for the third quarter and part of the fourth, rallied. Zeb Miller nailed a 34-yard field goal with two minutes to go, tying the game at 34. The kick capped a 69-yard drive that began with 4:14 to play.
UND’s defense, much maligned in recent weeks, stopped the Griz on their next possession. An interference penalty against Montana on UND’s punt return gave the Green and White a first down at their 41.
Hanson then went to work, hitting Townsend for 16 yards to open the drive. Four plays later, Hardin streaked into the end zone — capping a day that saw UND’s offense rack up 704 yards — another school single-game record.
“The stats are cool, but the reality is that we had lost three in a row,” Hanson said. “We needed this one.”
Hanson tipped his hat to the UND defense.
“When we were struggling in the second half, our defense picked us up and kept us in the game,” Hanson said.
The UND defense gave up 521 yards, but it came up with stops on five straight Griz possessions after Montana went up 34-31.
“For the whole game, it seemed like when the offense was doing good, the defense struggled; and when the offense struggled the defense picked it up,” said UND defensive lineman Jay Nelson. “It was a team win.”
And a record-setting win, too.
Montana 7 10 17 0 — 34
UND 17 14 0 9 — 40
UND–Blair Townsend 5 pass from Braden Hanson (Zeb Miller kick), 12:29
UND–Greg Hardin 39 pass from Hanson (Miller kick), 8:24.
M–Jordan Canada 21 run (Chris Lider kick), 4:05
UND–Miller 33 FG, 1:36
M–Bryce Carver 58 pass from Shay Smithwick-Hann (Lider kick), 13:03
UND–Hardin 43 pass from Hanson (Miller kick), 11:46
M–Lider 44 FG, 8:59
UND–Kenny Golladay 5 pass from Hanson (Miller kick), 5:16
M–Sam Gratton 15 pass from Smithwick-Hann (Lider kick), 9:44
M–Lider 28 FG, 6:16
M–Ellis Henderson 27 pass from Smithwick-Hann (Lider kick), 6:05
UND–Miller 34 FG, 2:00
UND–Hardin 32 pass from Hanson (run failed), :12
TEAM STATISTICS Mont. UND
First downs 27 29
Rushes-yards 37-163 24-44
Passing yards 358 660
Comp.-Att.-Int. 32-49-0 42-61-3
Total yards 521 704
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-42 8-54
Punts-Avg. 9-43.8 5-42.4
RUSHING: M, Jordan Canada 14-91, Peter Nguyen 13-73, Smithwick-Hann 3-9, McKinney 5-2, Ellis Henderson 1-(minus 2). UND, Jake Miller 12-46, Mitch Sutton 7-3, Hanson 5-(minus 5).
PASSING: M, Smithwick-Hann 26-39-0, 306; Trent McKinney 6-10-0, 52. UND, Hanson 42-61-3, 660.
RECEIVING: M, Henderson 8-112, Bryce Carver 3-85, Sam Gratton 5-82, Greg Hardy 5-34, Mitch Saylor 5-30, Taylor Walcott 2-11, Nguyen 2-8, Cam Warren 1-2, Canada 1-(minus 6). UND, Greg Hardin 12-333, Blair Townsend 13-152, Jameer Jackson 8-124, Kenny Golladay 7-39, Miller 2-12.