UND football makes a case for playoff entry with big 45-21 win over Cal Poly

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- If the FCS playoff selection committee takes any style points into consideration when it picks the 24-team postseason tournament Sunday, the University of North Dakota football team did its part to win with flare on Sat...

North Dakota’s John Santiago, right, gets congratulated by teammate Luke Stanley after scoring the first touchdown of the game Saturday against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. UND won 45-21 in its season finale. (Submitted Photo by Laura Dickinson / The News Tribune)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- If the FCS playoff selection committee takes any style points into consideration when it picks the 24-team postseason tournament Sunday, the University of North Dakota  football team did its part to win with flare on Saturday night.

The newly labeled Fighting Hawks built a 35-point lead early in the second half and coasted to a 45-21 Big Sky Conference win over Cal Poly (4-7 overall, 3-5 Big Sky) in front of 5,746 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in the regular-season finale for both teams.

UND (7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky) won its third-straight game, winning in convincing fashion for the second-consecutive game (90-35 combined score the past two weeks).

ESPNU will air the FCS Selection Show at 10 a.m. Sunday, when UND could be announced as a playoff team for the first time in its Division I era.

UND, which won two more regular-season games than 2014 and four more regular-season games than 2013, wrapped up the regular season with big performances from its stars.


Fighting Hawks true freshman running back John Santiago, who broke the school’s single-season all-purpose yardage record, was held without big gainers (a long of 15), but he still scored three touchdowns and ran for 117 yards on 27 carries.

Keaton Studsrud, a true sophomore, had one of his best passing games of the year, hitting 17-for-20 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns.

Safety Cole Reyes (10 tackles) and linebacker Will Ratelle (seven tackles) kept the Poly option in check. Poly rushed for a season-low 153 yards on 48 attempts.

UND set the tone early by taking advantage of a Poly fumble on the Mustangs’ first offensive series. On third down, Poly senior quarterback Chris Brown fumbled an option pitch and UND defensive end Brandon Dranka recovered.

Santiago made the Mustangs pay four plays later when he marched into the end zone from 14 yards out for a 7-0 lead.

Poly followed with a 12-play drive that was stuffed at the goal line. The Mustangs had second-and-goal from the 2, but Brown was denied on two attempts from the 1.

UND jumped on the momentum swing provided by the defensive stop. The Fighting Hawks marched a game-defining 99 yards on 14 plays to take a 14-0 lead.

Santiago rushed in from 15 yards out for his second score and a 14-0 UND lead on the second play of the second quarter.


From there, Poly continued to self-destruct. After UND’s demoralizing 99-yard drive, the Mustangs fumbled two plays into their next offensive series.

UND defensive tackle Tank Harris recovered the fumble and two plays later Studsrud found Clive Georges on a 64-yard touchdown pass on a deep post route. Georges’ score made it 21-0 with more than 13 minutes still left in the first half.

UND wide receiver Luke Stanley caught an 8-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left in the first half, while Santiago’s third touchdown gave the Fighting Hawks a 35-0 lead on UND’s first series of the second half.

Brown picked up Poly’s first score on a 3-yard run midway through the third quarter, while Brown then hit Roland Jackson on a 61-yard touchdown pass as the Mustangs cut the UND lead to 35-14.

That was as close as Poly would come, however, as Reid Taubenheim connected on a 24-yard field goal and Kyle Norberg carried 11 yards for a touchdown with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter for UND’s final score.

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