Oct. 4, 2008
By Jeff Honza
FARGO, N.D. - No. 6 North Dakota State (3-2, 1-1) scored on four of seven possessions in the second half to overcome a 20-point deficit and beat No. 11 Southern Illinois University (2-2, 1-1), 35-27, in front of a sold out crowd of 18,942 earlier today at the Fargodome.
SIU scored the first 20 points of the game, but gave up 28 points in the second half, including 21 in the fourth quarter, as the Bison earned their 15th-consecutive win at home.
NDSU trailed, 20-7, at halftime and was shutout for the first 29:24 of the game before scoring its first touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Nick Mertens to Jerimiah Wurzbacher with 36 seconds in the second quarter.
That play ignited a stretch of 35-straight points for the Bison.
A 32-yard punt return by Alex Belquist gave NDSU excellent field position at SIU's 27-yardline with 11:25 left to play in the third quarter. Six plays later, Mertens scored on a 1-yard run to slice the Salukis' lead to 20-14.
SIU, which was flagged six times for 42 yards in the third quarter alone, had two of its penalties just before Mertens scored. The Salukis also went scoreless in the third quarter for the fifth game in a row, as opponents are now outscoring SIU, 48-0, in that stanza this year.
"Our backs were up against the wall in the second half and we were playing defense most of the third quarter," said Saluki head coach Dale Lennon. "Today was a gut-check loss. We're a good football team and we know that. We just need to grow as a football team if we're going to have a chance at making a run in this conference."
After SIU was forced to punt on its next possession, NDSU took over on downs at its own 20. The Bison proceeded to march 80 yards in 15 plays and pulled ahead, 21-20, on Mertens' 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Schultenover. Tyler Roehl also helped key the drive with a 25-yard run.
Roehl broke free for 36 yards and scored his only rushing TD from four yards out after Mertens completed a 21-yard pass to Lee Vandal. Vandal caught the ball after it deflected off the hands of Belquist.
Lucien Walker then fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff and NDSU recovered at the SIU 28. Two plays later, Pat Paschall hit paydirt on a 25-yard run to give the Bison a 35-20 lead with 3:49 left to play.
The Salukis attempted an on-side kick on the next play, but NDSU recovered and later ran out the clock.
"We gave ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter with the on-side kick, but the disappointing thing about it is, is that it shouldn't have gotten to that," said Lennon.
Lennon's return to his home state for the first time as SIU's head coach started with a bang.
Dieker had the best half of his career to date, completing 9-of-14 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
The Salukis got on the board first with a 21-yard field goal by Kyle Dougherty less than a minute into the game.
SIU tacked on 17 more points in the second quarter.
Shortly after Dougherty's 40-yard field goal pushed SIU's lead to 6-0, NDSU moved to the Salukis' 32-yardline. On the next play, Brandin Jordan sacked Mertens. Mertens fumbled the ball and Ryan Patton recovered at the SIU 43.
Dieker lofted a 18-yard pass to Kernes in the right corner of the end zone for the Dawgs' first TD of the day. Walker ran 13 yards to pick up a first down on a 3rd-and-long to set up the score that capped a 6-play, 57-yard march.
Following a botched field goal by Shawn Bibeau, one of three misses on the day, SIU took over at its 25-yardline. Seven plays in, the Salukis faced a 3rd-and-8 when a late hit by the Bison gave SIU a first down at the NDSU 31.
The penalty later proved costly as Dieker threw a 12-yard strike to Bryce Morris to up SIU's lead to 20-0 with 2:09 left in the first half.
Offensively, Roel carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards and one TD and Mertens completed 16-of-24 passes for 195 yards and two TDs to lead NDSU. The Bison had the ball for 18:10 in the second half, seven more minutes than the Salukis' 11:50 mark.
NDSU also held a 379-331 advantage in total offense.
Dieker completed 15-of-29 passes for 186 yards and three TDs. It was the second time this season that Dieker threw three touchdowns in a game.
Kernes had a career-high two TD receptions, while Damian Sherman established career-highs in catches (5) and receiving yards (81).
Defensively, Jordan paved the way with 11 tackles, a sack and one forced fumble. Jordan is the first Saluki to get double-digit tackles in a game this season.
SIU dropped to 0-12 in dome games since 1983. NDSU's 21 points were the most a conference opponent scored in the fourth quarter against the Salukis in five years.
"We said going into today's game that we needed to be focused to handle the Fargodome crowd and play a good football team," said Lennon. "We could not be our own worst enemy. The first half we accomplished that, the second half we didn't."
The Salukis return to action when they host Indiana State on homecoming Oct. 11. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m., CT, at McAndrew Stadium.