UND WR Hardin a Big Sky-level performerGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota is in its first year of Big Sky Conference competition.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota is in its first year of Big Sky Conference competition.
Yet, UND’s Greg Hardin was a Big Sky preseason all-conference selection. If the league had any doubt about whether Hardin belonged on the team, there are no questions now as the North Dakota junior receiver has become one of the top players in the Big Sky.
Hardin turned in another big performance Saturday in leading UND to a 33-29 win against Southern Utah.
Hardin turned the game with his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — the spark UND needed after SUU broke out to a 15-0 lead.
With two weeks remaining in Big Sky play, Hardin:
n Leads the Big Sky in all-purpose yardage (1,509). He averages 150.9 yards per game.
n Tops the league in average kickoff return yardage (31.0).
n Has 14 touchdowns, the most in the Big Sky.
n Heads the league in receiving yards with 1,036. Only one other receiver — Eastern Washington’s Brandon Kaufman — has at least 1,000 yards.
n Set UND and Big Sky single-game records with 333 receiving yards with his performance last month against Montana.
But one play he made against SUU largely went unnoticed.
On Jake Miller’s 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the game-winner, Hardin threw a crucial downfield block that helped Miller reach the end zone.
SUU coach Ed Lamb has seen Hardin three straight seasons. Hardin’s play Saturday impressed the Thunderbirds’ coach the most.
The kickoff return, he said, turned the tide.
“It came at a point where it appeared we were going to take a stranglehold on the game,” Lamb said. “It gave them some life and some momentum.
“It took us out of our game. On our kickoffs, we were afraid to kick it deep to him. So we began to squib the kicks. We put one out of bounds and put another one not very deep. We gave them field position.
“Credit Hardin with a great return. He broke a couple of tackles, reversed his field and went the distance.”
In addition to his monster game against Montana, Hardin also has turned in big performances against Portland State, San Diego State and Northern Arizona.
Against San Diego State, an FBS program, Hardin caught eight passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday night, San Diego State (7-3) won on the road against No. 19 Boise State. The Aztecs of the Mountain West Conference are bowl bound.
Hardin’s latest performance, though, helped give UND a chance to finish the season — its first as a full-fledged FCS member — with a winning record.
UND will take a 3-4 Big Sky record and a 5-5 overall mark to Northern Colorado on Nov. 17. It’s the season finale for UND.
“We have a week off now,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “We can heal up a little bit. Our coaches can get out on the road recruiting. And our players can refresh their batteries.”