UND leans on defense to hold off Stony Brook

By Tom Miller Forum News Service GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota football team didn't need much of an offense with a defense like that. UND registered five sacks, 16 tackles for loss and Alex Tillman returned an interception 92 yard...

By Tom Miller
Forum News Service
GRAND FORKS - The University of North Dakota football team didn’t need much of an offense with a defense like that.
UND registered five sacks, 16 tackles for loss and Alex Tillman returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown.
With the offense still stumbling along, UND’s defense did enough to beat Stony Brook 13-3 on Saturday in front of 7,030 fans at the Alerus Center.
UND, which bounced back after a 38-0 loss at Missouri State last weekend, improved to 2-2 as it heads into Big Sky Conference play next weekend at Montana State.
Stony Brook, of the Colonial Athletic Association, dropped to 1-3. The Seawolves entered the game as double-digit favorites, according to online gambling sites.
“I told everyone last week that 38 points (against Missouri State) was too much, no matter what,” sophomore linebacker Taj Rich said. “The defense came to play today. We knew they were a running team, so we knew it would be a physical game. All of us were ready to play.”
Tillman’s defensive score with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter gave UND a big cushion at 13-3, considering the low-scoring style of the teams.
The senior cornerback, an FBS transfer from Houston, made up for a fumbled punt earlier in the game, which led to Stony Brook’s only points - a 36-yard field goal by Graham Ball midway through the second quarter to give the Seawolves a 3-0 lead.
But Tillman’s pick for a score stuffed a promising Stony Brook drive, which had dug into UND territory. Tillman’s play came on second-and-goal from the 7 with Stony Brook knocking on the door of taking the lead late in the third quarter.
Tillman’s score was big for a team still finding its way offensively. UND finished with 145 yards of total offense and five first downs. UND finished with less than 100 yards rushing and passing for the second straight week.
Of the 145 yards of total offense, 68 of those came on one play when quarterback Joe Mollberg hit freshman Dev Ferguson for a touchdown catch with 5:30 to play in the second quarter.
Mollberg, who was under the microscope this week with a poor performance against Missouri State, wasn’t asked to do too much against the Seawolves. He finished 2-for-7 passing for 79 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
But Ferguson’s catch and Tillman’s defensive score were enough for a defense that limited Stony Brook to 221 yards of total offense, including just 49 rushing yards.
Stony Brook quarterback John Kinder was 12-for-18 passing for 172 yards. He spent a good deal of time under pressure as five different UND players recorded sacks.
The defensive effort was paced by Rich, of Minneapolis, who led the team with a career-high 19 tackles, including two for a loss.
Inside linebacker Will Ratelle added 13 tackles and a sack. Outside linebacker Dayo Idowu had eight tackles, a sack, two and a half tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Rich, who’s in his first season as a starter, also made a key stop on fourth-and-2 on the first play of the fourth quarter when he stuffed a running attempt up the middle with the help of teammate Garrett Reineke. That play thwarted a Stony Brook drive at the UND 30.
“He had 19 tackles? That’s busy,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “From where he was in the spring to where is now, he’s really improved his knowledge of the defense. He’s running better. He’s able to get around and make plays. He’s getting better every week.”
For Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore it was a tough outcome to swallow as he pointed out UND’s limited yardage and first downs on offense.
“You can’t lose a game when you only let up that much,” Priore said. “We moved the ball on offense, but we didn’t finish any drives.”
Priore pointed to penalties, especially some at inopportune times in the red zone.
The Seawolves finished with 10 penalties for 125 yards. UND, meanwhile, took six penalties for 65 yards.
“It came down to three things: one pass play, one interception return and penalties,” Priore said.
SB 0 3 0 0 - 3
UND 0 6 7 0 - 13
First quarter
No scoring
Second quarter
SB–G. Ball 36 FG, 6:22
UND–Dev Ferguson 68 pass from Joe Mollberg (Reid Taubenheim kick failed), 5:30
Third quarter
UND–Alex Tillman 92 interception return (Taubenheim kick), 4:42
Fourth quarter
No scoring
First downs 14 5
Rushes-yards 46-49 38-66
Passing yards 172 79
Comp.-Att.-Int. 12-19-1 2-7-1
Total yards 221 145
Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 10-125 6-65
Punts-Avg. 7-41 8-45.2
RUSHING: SB, Marcus Coker 19-59, James Kenner 9-13, Tyler Fredericks 2-4, Adrian Coxson 1-0, John Kinder 13-(minus 9), Conor Bednarski 2-(minus 18). UND, Kyle Norberg 27-53, Joe Mollberg 5-5, Jer Garman 1-5, Brandon Walker 1-4, Tyrhe Ivery 1-0, Miguel Cerriteno 1-0, Romon Bridges 1-0, TEAM 1-(minus 1).
PASSING: SB, Kinder 12-18-1 172; Bednarksi 0-1-0 0. UND, Mollberg 2-7-1 79; Cerriteno 0-0-0 0; Bridges 0-0-0 0.
RECEIVING: SB, Will Tye 5-103, Coxson 3-20, Jahrie Level 2-26, Donavin Washington 1-12, Julius Wingate 1-11. UND, Dev Ferguson 1-68, R.J. McGill 1-11.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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