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Portland State scores late to beat UND

PORTLAND, Ore. — The University of North Dakota was on the cusp of a win, one that could have possibly pumped some life into a program that now appears to be headed for one of its worst seasons since the 1980s.

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Two botched UND punt attempts, however, sent UND to another loss — this one perhaps more demoralizing than the earlier blowout losses North Dakota suffered against the powerhouses of the Big Sky Conference.

Portland State scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns — both resulting from UND’s inability to punt the ball — as the Vikings rallied for a 14-10 win over UND on Saturday before 5,120 fans at JELD-WEN Field.

UND dropped to 1-4 in the league and 2-6 overall, while Portland improved to 1-3 and 4-4. And it doesn’t get any easier as UND closes with two of its final three games on the road — including next Saturday’s game at Northern Arizona, a team still with a lot to play for in the Big Sky.

“It’s so unfortunate,” said UND coach Chris Mussman outside a quiet North Dakota locker room. “We had an opportunity to be in there celebrating. It’s just one of those things ... I can’t explain it. It’s so frustrating and disappointing for our guys not to be in there celebrating.”

UND’s defense turned in its best performance of the season, holding the third-best offense in the FCS 145 yards under its season average and out of the end zone for three quarters.

Offensively, however, was another story. UND’s offense was efficient in the first half and staked North Dakota to a 10-0 lead on Joe Mollberg’s 80-yard scoring strike to Greg Hardin and Zeb Miller’s 22-yard field goal. But that was it as UND managed only 37 yards in the final two quarters and 238 yards for the day.

“Offensively, we’re just not clicking,” said Hardin.

It all fell apart for UND on back-to-back possessions in the final 10 minutes.

Portland’s Michael Plummer stormed in from the edge to block Mitch Meindel’s punt, a play that gave the Vikings a first down at the UND 15. D.J. Adams, who finished with 111 rushing yards despite not playing in the first quarter, scored from 4 yards out four plays after the block.

UND was forced to punt on its next possession, again with a bad result. Meindel, a true freshman, fumbled the chest-high snap. He picked up the ball and tried to run for the first down but was tackled by David Jones, again giving the Vikings the ball at the 15.

Adams then sprinted into the end zone on the ensuing play, giving Portland a 14-10 lead with 9:15 left.

“On the blocked punt, where he (Plummer) came from, technically he shouldn’t have been able to get there,” Mussman said. “On the drop, (Meindel) should have punted it. You have to punt it in that situation. He’s a true freshman and it was a stressful situation for him.”

Still, UND had more than nine minutes remaining to make something happen. However, on UND’s final two possessions, North Dakota managed only two first downs, one coming on a Portland personal foul penalty.

The Vikings sealed the win on quarterback Collin Ramirez’ 14-yard gainer in the final minute. Ramirez was the third QB used by Portland in an attempt to stimulate an offense that couldn’t finish drives against UND’s defense.

“Defensively, we played our best football of the season,” said UND cornerback Daryl Brown, whose interception at the North Dakota 1 ended Portland’s best drive of the first half. “We came out strong; offense, defense, special teams. But we have to finish games like that. You can’t play one half and expect to win a football game.”

UND received perhaps a big sign of what’s to come defensively in the next three years as true freshman safety Cam Kuksa finished with a game-high 13 tackles — including one that likely will be labeled the hit of the year.

But, as has been the case the past few weeks, UND’s offense couldn’t produce at crunch time.

“We were sitting in a pretty good spot in the fourth quarter with a two-score lead,” Mussman said. “You have to get first downs, and we couldn’t do that.”

UND 7 3 0 0 — 10

PSU 0 0 0 14 — 14

First quarter

UND–Joe Mollberg 80 pass to Greg Hardin (Zeb Miller kick), 5:50

Second quarter

UND–Miller 22 FG, 5:14

Third quarter

No scoring

Fourth quarter

PSU–DJ Adams 4 run (Nick Fernandez kick), 10:45

PSU–DJ Adams 15 run (Nick Fernandez kick), 9:15

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268