Mistakes doom Gophers in loss to North Dakota State

MINNEAPOLIS -- When North Dakota State comes to Minnesota, the Bison make themselves at home.

The Gophers just keep playing the role of the far-too-gracious host.

Marcus Williams had two defensive touchdowns for North Dakota State, including a wild play at the end of the first half on Saturday, to help an FCS team pull off yet another win at Minnesota, 37-24.

"Coach outcoached me, their team outplayed us and they deserved to win the game," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said, adding: "I feel bad for our students. I feel bad for the state of Minnesota. I feel bad for our fans, and I feel bad for our kids."

Williams, a sophomore cornerback who played at Hopkins High School in the Twin Cities -- one of the dozens of Minnesotans who make up half of NDSU's roster -- returned an interception of Max Shortell's late heave 40 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.

On the final play of the first half, teammate Colten Heagle picked off MarQueis Gray's risky pass at the 18 and tossed the ball back to Williams as he was taken down near midfield. Williams raced 52 more yards to put the Bison (3-0) ahead 28-14 at the break.

"It was pretty emotional, really, being from here and going up against the home state," Williams said. "People thinking I wasn't good enough to play here, probably wasn't going to play D-I ball at all."

Donnell Kirkwood rushed 10 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns for the Gophers (1-3), but once again, it was difficult to determine which team was from the BCS conference -- and who was playing at home.

"Our players had a great deal of confidence coming in," said Bison coach Craig Bohl, whose team is 5-3 against FBS foes since moving up from Division II. "If we played well, we'd win."

NDSU scored touchdowns on drives of 65, 83 and 71 yards in the first half before the tag-team touchdown by Heagle and Williams as time expired. Minnesota's spirit disappeared, too.

"It was depleted. It was devastated. It's a different ballgame if that doesn't happen," safety Kim Royston said.

Even when the Bison finally faced their first fourth down, with 6:25 left in the third quarter, Ryan Jastram kicked a 49-yard field goal with room to spare to stretch the lead to 31-14.

D.J. McNorton rushed 13 times for 92 yards for NDSU, and Brock Jensen completed 16 of 21 passes for 197 yards -- plus 37 yards rushing and a score on six scrambles.

"NDSU's a great team. Their quarterback's a good player. But it comes down to what we do. Whatever they got, we gave to 'em, as far as I'm concerned," said Royston.

The Gophers, who gave the Bison three first downs via penalties on their first two possessions, rushed for 168 yards -- including a 10-play, 95-yard march, all on the ground, to tie the game at 14.

"The holes were there. It's not like I had to fight for anything. The first five yards were coming easy," Kirkwood said.

But the Bison played with more polish and seemed to have their game plan a step ahead of Minnesota's the entire game.

The Gophers rotated Gray and Shortell at quarterback, and they didn't have any rhythm when they needed it at the end. Shortell found tight end Eric Lair for a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 to bring the Gophers within 31-24 with 9:05 left, but they couldn't get any momentum after that.

Gray was 5 for 12 for 53 yards passing and netted just 23 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Shortell went 4 for 8 for 71 yards. Kill said he wasn't sure yet how he'd manage that position moving forward.

"I ain't blaming nobody else, baby. That's me," Kill said. "I'm putting way too much on these kids. You'd like to be able to just hand the ball off and let 'em learn to play quarterback, but we're not in that situation right now."

For the Gophers, struggling against an FCS foe in front of their own fans is nothing new, though it's not any less humbling and frustrating for a school with an athletics department budget about five times as big as NDSU's.

Minnesota lost to South Dakota last year. The Gophers barely beat South Dakota State in a three-point game the season before that. Two weeks ago, they lost at home to New Mexico State, an FBS team but frequently one of the weakest in the NCAA's top tier.

This was the third time Minnesota had played North Dakota State in the last five years, and this game was every bit as difficult for the Gophers as the meetings in 2006 and 2007. Minnesota needed a blocked field goal as time ran out to preserve a 10-9 victory the first year and lost 27-21 to NDSU the following season.

Bison fans accounted for perhaps one-fourth of the 48,000-plus crowd, and NDSU even brought its full band.


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2015 Missouri Valley Football Conference Standings

Illinois State7-19-2
North Dakota State7-19-2
South Dakota State5-38-3
Northern Iowa5-37-4
Western Illinois5-36-5
Indiana State3-55-6
South Dakota3-55-6
Youngstown State3-55-6
Southern Illinois2-63-8
Missouri State0-81-10