Just Enough

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – That old saying bears true again for SDSU: A win is a win. 

Yes, SDSU ran for 298 rushing yards, most of those attributed to running back Zach Zenner’s career day and they held North Dakota to just 21 yards in the same category. The Jackrabbits didn’t turn the ball over and they forced UND to give up the ball three times. 

But the game was not without its hitches. The Jacks allowed 437 passing yards, the most in more than a decade. The Jackrabbits led 35-14 with 13:33 left in the game before letting UND pry their way back into the game with two touchdowns and nearly getting a third, before cornerback Jimmie Forsythe stepped in to intercept a tipped pass and seal the SDSU win. 

Nevertheless, the No. 6 Jackrabbits finished the job at the Alerus Center in North Dakota, 35-28, in front of 10,038 fans. 

“I’m proud that we pulled it out,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “There was an awkward feeling in the locker room based on how it turned out but a win is a win. We just need to play confidently at the end of that deal and I think we’ll be a lot better team.”

There were no complaints with the work of the rushing game, led by a stellar game from junior running back Zach Zenner, who scored a career-high four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) and finished with a career-high 37 carries. He tied his own single game record from last season’s playoff game against Eastern Illinois with 295 rushing yards. 

The Jackrabbits did not start well, allowing a touchdown on UND’s first drive of the game when quarterback Ryan Bartels hit standout receiver Greg Hardin for a 39-yard scoring play, putting the school without a nickname on the board first, 7-0. But SDSU steadied the ship, with Austin Sumner finding Jason Schnieder down the seam for a 37-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 7-7, with 2:48 left in the first quarter. 

From there, the Walter Payton Award candidate took over. Zenner scored on a four-yard touchdown run, capitalizing on an R.C. Kilgore interception. With 49 seconds remaining until halftime, Sumner found Zenner on a swing pass and the running back weaved his way to paydirt, a pivotal score late in the half. Zenner also scored the first points of the second half on a 1-yard run, turning another UND turnover into six points. 

Up 28-14 with under 14 minutes ago, SDSU decided to go for it on fourth-and-one at the UND 45. The decision paid big dividends, as Zenner made one man miss in the hole and broke it for a huge touchdown. 

“That play was wide open,” said Zenner. “I just hit it.”

The score looked like it would be the backbreaker but UND rallied, scoring a pair of touchdowns to cut the lead to seven and getting the ball at their own 45 with 2:19 left, only to turn it over one last time.

Stiegelmeier said his team didn’t let off the gas pedal in the fourth quarter. 

“I think we played tentative,” Stiegelmeier said. “We had our guys playing back [in the pass game] … You got to play with confidence.”

Forsythe said SDSU certainly could have played better at the end. 

“I guess we didn’t play as well as we did before. We fought back and we showed some resiliency.”

The Jackrabbits were the highest-ranked FCS program ever to play in Grand Forks and UND will have to get accustomed to the tough foes, with No. 11 Montana playing there this week, followed by No. 3 Montana State Sept. 28. 

“We made too many mistakes against a really good football team,” UND head coach Chris Mussman said. “We made critical errors and they didn’t. In my mind, that was the difference.”

SDSU will be 2-0 prior to Saturday’s Beef Bowl affair with Southeastern Louisiana. But the Lions appear to be on the upswing after playing well at Texas Christian for a half, 38-17, last week. The Jackrabbits won in Hammond, La., last year, 31-14.