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Kicking straight to a victory: Minot’s Love connects with 6 field goals to lead North Dakota over Montana

Minot’s Ben Love is hoisted up by his teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime to lead Team North Dakota past Team Montana during the 21st annual Badlands Bowl on Saturday at the Biesiot Activities Center. 1 / 2
Bismarck High’s Tommy Sease runs after catching an interception during the first half.2 / 2

Minot’s Ben Love was hoisted on his teammates shoulders as they chanted “MVP! MVP! MVP!”

The Team North Dakota kicker connected on six field goals including the game-winning 36-yarder in overtime.

Love, who was named Team North Dakota’s offensive MVP, lead the team past Team Montana 25-22 during the 21st annual Badlands Bowl on Saturday at the Biesiot Activities Center.

“It was great to help the team win,” said Love, who is signed to play football at South Dakota School of Mines in the fall. “It was great to finally win the game for the team.

“That was special,” he added about being hoisted up on his teammate’s shoulders. “I don’t really know how else to explain it.”

The win marked only the sixth-time in 21 years North Dakota came out victorious.

“Montana has had the upper-hand a lot, but we matched their physicality and there was a lot of heart on this team,” North Dakota head coach Barry Holmen said.

North Dakota’s defense wasn’t anything to scoff at either. It forced Will Weyer — Montana’s 6-foot-5, 225-pound statuesque quarterback bound of the University of Montana — into three first-half interceptions.

The Bozeman quarterback didn’t make those same mistakes in the second half. He completed a 72-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt David with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to give Montana its second lead of the game. At the end of regulation, the teams were tied 22-22.

Montana’s first lead came on the first touchdown of the game when Weyer connected with Eric Dawson with 10:15 left in the first quarter. Weyer finished 18 of 35 for 260 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

“We came back out in the second half,” Montana head coach Troy Purcell said. “Hats off to our kids. They gave a great effort coming from behind. I thought it was a great all-star game. People definitely got their money’s worth all the way down to the end.”

North Dakota responded with a game-tying field goal with three seconds remaining. In overtime, North Dakota received the ball first and Love hit what would turn out to be the game-winning field goal. Montana’s offense couldn’t move the ball in overtime and was forced to kick a field goal, which sailed wide left.

“(Ben) is a special kid,” Holmen said. “We’ve known him for a long time and he’s been our starting kicker since he was a freshman. We knew what he was capable of. You don’t ever predict or expect something like this. I would have actually wished he had less field goals and we would have gotten it in the endzone a little bit more.”

In the first quarter, Eric Bachmeier scored Team North Dakota’s touchdown at the 6:38 mark.

Montana only scored seven first-half points as three drives were halted due to interceptions. North Dakota’s interceptions came from Bismarck High’s Tommy Sease, Jordan Hjelseth of Fargo South and Grafton’s Austin Contreras.

“Our defensive coordinator did a really great job mixing up coverages and bring blitzes from all different angles,” said Sease, who was named North Dakota’s defensive MVP. “It also came down to 11 guys to execute on what he gave us. I’m really proud of all the guys.”

To start the second half, Montana scored the only touchdown of the third quarter when Evan Epperly returned an interception 35 yards.

North Dakota’s quarterback Chad Bartosh, who is from Grand Forks Red River, went 13 of 27 for 205 yards and two interceptions. Bachmeier finished 1 of 1 for nine yards. As a team, North Dakota had 100 rushing yards, while Montana only had five. Leading wide receiver for North Dakota was Dickinson’s Dylan Skabo with six catches for 97 yards.

Sease doesn’t have to wait long to play on the field at the BAC again. The Bismarck product is signed to play for the Dickinson State football team in the fall.

“I felt right at home,” Sease said. “I walked into the field about 3 o’clock, I looked at the place and said, ‘This place is beautiful, I’m going to be here for the next four years and I’m happy to say that.’”