Devestating loss

GRAND FORKS -- Pat Behrns has been around North Central Conference football for nearly 25 years. He knows I-29 - the league's major highway - better than anyone.

GRAND FORKS -- Pat Behrns has been around North Central Conference football for nearly 25 years. He knows I-29 - the league's major highway - better than anyone.

And he's had more happy trips heading south on Interstate 29 than anyone, especially after his Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks left the Alerus Center on Saturday with a 28-17 win against the University of North Dakota in the marquee NCAA Division II game of the week.

Omaha is now the official thorn in UND's side.

The Mavericks have beaten UND in seven of the teams' last nine meetings. Their latest win, coming before 11,563 fans, was the third for the Mavericks in the Alerus Center since 2001 - the first year the Sioux played in the facility. UND is 44-6 in the Alerus.

"Isn't it amazing how we can come up here and play like that?" Behrns asked after the Mavericks made a number of big defensive plays to remain unbeaten. "It's something that no one else has been able to do. Why do we? I'm not sure."


But the Mavericks sure made life difficult for UND every time the Sioux threatened.

Three times in the first half, UND had the ball inside the Omaha 30. Three times, the Sioux failed to score, and they trailed 21-14 at the break.

But Omaha's biggest defensive play came in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 21-17, UND faced a fourth-and-1 from the Omaha 20 with under 11 minutes remaining. The Sioux sent Ryan Chappell on a run to the right side, but Omaha's Randy Kush broke through and stopped UND's top rusher for a 1-yard loss.

After the stop, Omaha managed to run more than five minutes off the clock. The Mavericks then capped the win on Brian McNeill's 39-yard touchdown run with 1:34 to play.

McNeill finished with 237 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The former West Fargo High School standout scored on Omaha's second play of the day. His 79-yard score took the crowd out of the game in the early going. McNeill also scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter.

"They made plays when they had to," UND coach Dale Lennon said. "And that's a sign of a good defense. We had opportunities, but we didn't capitalize. The plays were there. But you have to make big plays in big games."

Omaha, ranked No. 6 in the country, improved to 4-0 in the NCC and 6-0 overall. The Sioux, ranked No. 2, dropped to 4-1 and 6-1. And Omaha also will hang on to the top spot in next week's Northwest Region rankings, which determine the six playoff teams from the region.


The Sioux, ranked No. 2 in the region, likely will fall to No. 3.

"It hurts; it definitely hurts," Chappell said of the loss. "You don't play to lose. But it's over. We won't dwell on it. We'll move forward and get ready for Duluth."

The Sioux finished with 492 yards, the first time they have not topped the 500-mark this season. UND also ran 82 plays, 26 more than Omaha.

However, the Sioux did not come up with the game-breaking play.

"You just have to tip your hat to them for the way they came up here and competed against us," UND quarterback Danny Freund said. "We just missed some opportunities."

After McNeill's 79-yard run put the Mavericks up 7-0, UND tied the game at 7 when Freund hit Weston Dressler for a 52-yard scoring strike with 8:46 left in the first quarter. Dressler finished with 11 catches for 192 yards.

McNeill scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, but the Sioux tied it at 14 on Freund's 8-yard pass to Brady Trenbeath with 9:53 left until halftime.

Omaha kept the pressure on by scoring on its next possession. Nate Wurth's 46-yard kickoff return and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the Sioux led to Zach Miller's 30-yard scoring strike to Keith Eloi with 8:30 to go.


On their next possession, the Sioux gambled on fourth-and-2 from the Omaha 6. Freund's pass to Andrew Sorbo fell incomplete in the end zone. And the Mavericks made another big play late in the quarter when Jacob Chandler forced a Freund fumble at the Omaha 33. Jeff Souder recovered and the Mavericks ran out the clock.

A 21-yard Brandon Hellevang field goal cut Omaha's lead to 21-17 midway through the third quarter. It was the only scoring in the second half until McNeill's game-ending 39-yard scoring run.

"Those fourth-quarter stops were just a couple of guys making plays," Behrns said. "The big thing was that we didn't give up too many big plays."

Last season, Omaha beat UND 21-20 in the seventh game of the season. The Sioux were unbeaten then as well.

"This was the game we were expecting," Lennon said of another close game with the Mavericks. "We were in the same situation last year. But we managed to get a piece of the NCC title and reach the playoffs. Everything is still in front of us."

The Grand Forks Herald and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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