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Junior Greg Hardin celebrates on of his 15 touchdowns during the 2012 season. Hardin finished the campaign with 65 catches for 1,145 yards and was named an All-American by the Sports Network.
Season Rewind: Year one in the Big Sky
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Updated: Wednesday 01/17/2013 21:57:49 (ET)
by UNDsports.com
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As classes pick back up, players return to winter conditioning and weight training and coaches wrap up their recruiting efforts for the class of 2013, UNDSports.com invites you to rewind and reflect week-by-week on what was the first year of Big Sky Football for the UND program.

It was a season that saw Greg Hardin become the program’s first Division I All-American and work his way up towards the top of several of UND’s career receiving categories. He was also honored with the College Football Performance FCS Elite Wide Receiver Award.

Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award – an honor given annually to the FCS Freshman of the Year – after putting together a stellar first season on the field.

Senior quarterbacks Braden Hanson and Marcus Hendrickson etched their names in the UND record books and for the first time ever, the UND offense attempted more passes (396) than rushes (349) in a season.

Defensively, senior Ross Brenneman battled through an injury-plagued season to end up tied for second on UND's career sack list with 18.5 for his career. And, the special teams blocked nine more kicks after leading the FCS with 11 blocks in 2011.

Week 1
North Dakota 66, South Dakota Mines 0
A shutout turned sour, Hanson breaks his leg
North Carolina transfer Braden Hanson looked as advertised in his first UND appearance, completing 13-for-14 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns before a fluke play derailed his senior season. Hanson got stuck in no man’s land after a handoff to Jake Miller and was rolled up on by a South Dakota Mines defender. He suffered a broken leg on the play and would miss the next five games. 

Fellow fifth-year senior Marcus Hendrickson stepped right in for Hanson, however, and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hardin on his first attempt of the season. UND would go on to rout the Hardrockers, 66-0 and rack up a then school-record 653 yards of total offense. The 66 points were the most scored by a UND team since the 1972 season and margin of victory was the highest in a season opener in school history.

Week 2
North Dakota 45, Portland State 37
Opportunity knocks, Hendrickson opens the door
With Braden Hanson sidelined with a leg injury, all classmate Marcus Hendrickson did in his absence was tie a school record with six touchdown passes in leading his team to a victory over fellow Big Sky member Portland State. The game was a non-conference game scheduled before UND made the move to its new league, but it served as a warm-up for what would turn into a grueling first season in the BSC.

Hendrickson threw five of those six scoring strikes in the first half as UND jumped out to a 35-24 lead at the break. Three of Hendrickson’s touchdown passes when to junior Greg Hardin, who finished with six catches for 190 yards. It would be the first of a trio of three-touchdown games on the season for the speedy wideout.

Hendrickson and Hardin would haul in several national honors for their exploits in the win over the Vikings. Hendrickson was named the CFPA National Performer of the Week, Co-Big Sky Player of the Week and Co-Sports Network Offensive Player of the Week, while Hardin was named the NCAA.com Offensive Player of the Week and CFPA Wide Receiver of the Week.

The UND special teams also factored into the victory, blocking three PSU kicks, while linebacker Garrison Goodman added a career-high 12 tackles for the defense. 

Week 3
San Diego State 49, North Dakota 41
Hendrickson, Hardin continue aerial assault
UND senior quarterback Marcus Hendrickson turned in his second straight outstanding performance, passing for 434 yards and four touchdowns in a shootout with San Diego State. The Aztecs would prevent UND from picking up its first win over a FBS team by stopping Mitch Sutton just inches short of a drive-extending first down in the final minute of play. Sutton needed 17 yards, but picked up 16.5 as SDSU would hold on for the 49-41 victory.

The reigning Co-Big Sky Player of the Week connected with junior Greg Hardin for three of those scores as the duo thrived again, connecting eight times for 142 yards. It was the second straight three-touchdown game for Hardin.

With 41 points, the UND offense scored 40-plus points for the third straight week, marking the first time the team has put up those types of points in consecutive weeks during the Division I era.

Week 4
North Dakota 35, Sacramento State 13
Sutton carries UND to inaugural Big Sky Win
In a year that saw the main mode of offensive production switch from the run game to the pass game for the UND offense, it was senior running back Mitch Sutton’s work on the ground that willed his team to a 35-13 victory over Sacramento State in its Big Sky debut. 

Sutton scored three rushing touchdown and finished with season-highs of 23 carries for 163 yards, while  redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson added a pair of receiving scores in the victory. Senior Marcus Hendrickson started for the third straight game and only needed to throw for 147 yards as the ground game churned out 294 in the victory. Junior Jake Miller added seven carries for 73 yards.

Senior Brett Cameron also had his best game of the season and earned CFPA National Punter of the Week honors after averaging 47.4 yards per punt and downing three inside the 20-yard line.

Week 5
No. 23 Cal Poly 35, North Dakota 17
Miscues haunt in UND in Big Sky home opener
No. 23 Cal Poly scored 21 fourth-quarter points and defeated UND 35-17 in the Alerus Center for the second consecutive season in a matchup of Big Sky newcomers. The Mustangs, who would go to advance to the FCS Playoffs, forced UND into a season-high four turnovers, blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter and also snuffed out a fake punt to help seal the victory.

Despite the miscues, senior Marcus Hendrickson put his team ahead 17-14 early in the fourth quarter on a two-yard touchdown run, but CP signal caller Andre Broadous led his team to 21-unanswered points in the final 12 minutes of play to capture the win. Broadous rushed for two scores in that fourth quarter as he only completed three passes in the contest.

Senior Mitch Sutton scored a rushing touchdown to bring his season total to a career-high total of seven.

Week 6
No. 7 Eastern Washington 55, North Dakota 17
Hanson returns but Eagles prove why they are one of top teams in the country
No. 7 Eastern Washington came into the contest known more for a prolific passing attack, but the home team churned out a season-high 290 of its 458 yards of total offense on the ground to remain unbeaten in league play by posting a 55-17 victory over UND. 

The Eagles went on to earn the No. 2 seed in the FCS Playoffs and reached the semifinals before falling at home to Sam Houston State 45-42.

UND scored first on a 2-yard touchdown run by Mitch Sutton, but that would be the only lead of the game for the visitors on the red turf at Roos Field as EWU built a 34-17 halftime lead. Senior Braden Hanson returned in a back-up role for this one, completing 16-of-22 passes for 141 yards and adding a 1-yard scoring run. It was his first action since breaking his leg against South Dakota Mines in the season opener.

Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson continued to impress in his rookie season on the field, catching a season-high nine passes for 74 yards.

Week 7
No. 16 Northern Arizona 45, North Dakota 38
Third-straight ranked foe finds a way to knock off Green and White
No. 16 Northern Arizona got four touchdown passes from Cary Grossart and stretch of 21-straight point late in the contest pushed the Lumberjacks to a 45-38 victory over UND on Homecoming. 

Senior Braden Hanson started for the first time since the season opener and completed 19-of-29 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns, but a 99-yard touchdown drive after NAU had tied the score at 31-31 late in the third quarter deflated the home team. 

The Lumberjacks would score two more touchdowns to build their lead to 45-31 before Marcus Hendrickson cut the deficit in half on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hardin. 

Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson hauled in the other two scoring strikes, finishing with six catches and 105 yards – his fist 100-yard receiving game of his career.

Jackson would be named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List later in the week – an award given annually by the Sports Network to the FCS Freshman of the Year.

Week 8
North Dakota 40, Montana 34
Big Sky, UND records fall in victory over the Griz
UND got back in the win column in dramatic, record-breaking fashion as the Green and White defeated Montana 40-34 on a touchdown pass from Braden Hanson to Greg Hardin with 12 seconds left on the clock.

It was the third time the duo had hooked up on scoring plays in the contest as Hanson flourished completing a school-record 42 passes for a UND and Big Sky record 660 yards of passing. Hardin accounted for just over half of that yardage as he caught a career-high 12 passes for a UND and Big Sky record 333 receiving yards.

Hanson’s yardage total is the second-highest ever in a FCS contest and the most ever at any NCAA level by a left-handed quarterback. Hardin was one of three UND receivers to turn in career days as Jameer Jackson added eight grabs for a career-high 124 yards and junior Blair Townsend nearly doubled his career output with 13 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown.

UND was in control early taking a 31-17 lead into halftime thanks to Kenny Golladay’s first career touchdown – a five-yard grab with 5:16 left on the clock.  The Griz would respond with 17-unanswered points in the third quarter to take their first lead of the game at 34-31 entering the fourth quarter.

Junior Zeb Miller would tie the game for UND with just two minutes remaining on a 34-yard field goal and after the UND defense held the Griz to a three-and-out, Hanson led UND on a five-play, 59-yard drive that was capped by a 32-yard catch and run by Hardin.

Much like week two, the national honors poured in for a UND quarterback and his favorite wide receiver. Hanson was named the NCAA.com Offensive Player of the Week, while Hardin was named the CFPA National Performer and Wide Receiver of the Week, the Co-Offensive Player of the Week by the Sports Network and also picked Big Sky Player of the Week accolades.

Week 9
No. 4 Montana State 55, UND 10
Bobcats temper momentum from win over Griz
No. 4 Montana State let UND hang around for the first quarter, but outscored the visitors 41-3 in the final three quarters to preserve a 55-10 victory.

Senior Braden Hanson connected with Greg Hardin on a 17-yard scoring strike in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7, but that would be the final touchdown scored against a team that would go on to reach the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. 

The top defensive unit in the Big Sky showed why, as the 10 points were a season-low for UND and the Bobcats only allowed 180 total yards (165 passing, 15 rushing).

Week 10
UND 33, Southern Utah 29
Bennett’s late sack on Senior Day seals win over T-Birds
UND evened its record at 5-5 heading into the bye week, but just like the last home, the 33-29 victory over Southern Utah came down the final minute of play. Junior Dominique Bennett strip-sacked SUU quarter Brad Sorensen with his team driving for a potential go-ahead score and classmate Cordero Finley recovered the loose ball.

Sorensen would get one more chance following a three-and-out forced by his defense, but senior Erik Mersereau batted down his Hail Mary attempt.

Trailing 22-13 entering halftime, UND responded with 13-unanswered points in the third quarter, including an 8-yard reception by senior Ethan Magstadt, who found the end zone for the first time of his career. Classmate Mitch Sutton put UND ahead for the first time with his second rushing touchdown of the game late in the third quarter.

The lead would not last, however, as Sorensen responded by putting his team back ahead on a 15-yard pass to Henna Brown. 

That left it up to junior Jake Miller, who scored his biggest touchdown of the season on a 36-yard run on the ensuing possession to put the final points of the game on the board. 

The biggest play of the game may have come early in the second quarter after Southern Utah moved ahead 15-0. Junior Greg Hardin returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown – the first of his career and Sutton would follow with a 1-yard run to close the gap to 15-13.

Hardin earned the CFPA National Kick Returner of the Week accolade to go with his two WR of the Week and National Performer of the Week accolades from the organization.

Week 11
Bye Week
The team finally got to take a break after 10-straight weeks of games.  Unfortunately for senior Mitch Sutton, his two rushing touchdowns against Southern Utah would be the final of his career as he suffered a shoulder injury on the final play against the T-Birds that would sideline him for the finale at Northern Colorado. Sutton would finish his season with 467 rushing yards and a career-high 11 touchdowns.

Week 12
Northern Colorado 28, North Dakota 27
Bears stop UND on late fourth-down play to preserve win  
A win in the last game of the season is always important, but UND fell a point shy in a 28-27 loss to Northern Colorado. The setback’s sting was intensified after an oversight by Big Sky officials was discovered. 

The Bears held UND on a fourth-and-1 as the visitors were driving for a potential go-ahead score in the final minute of play. An illegal participation foul should have been called on the Bears, who had 12 men on the field, but it was not. The league would an issue an apology later that week, but the loss would make UND’s record in its first campaign in the Big Sky 5-6 overall and 3-5 in league play. 

The contest turned into a second-half defensive battle after the teams combined for 45 first-half points as UND held a 24-21 lead. Junior Zeb Miller would make the score 27-21 with a 27-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, but that would his team’s final points in the game.

NC moved ahead on its ensuing possession on a touchdown pass of 23 yards from Seth Lobato to Sawyere Moore. A turnover-filled fourth quarter would lead to neither team scoring and Northern Colorado would pick up its fifth win of the season – a year after going winless at 0-11. 

Junior Greg Hardin would score his 15th touchdown of the season in the first quarter on a 24-yard pass from Braden Hanson. Senior Seth Wisthoff made his final catch of his career count for six points as he caught his second touchdown pass of the season.

Hanson would finish 34-for-48 for 382 yards and three touchdowns, but a season-high three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter would prove costly in this one.

Hardin added eight grabs for 109 yards and the touchdown to bring his season totals to 65 catches for 1,145 yards and 14 touchdowns. His receiving yardage and touchdown totals are both the second-highest in a single season by a UND receiver.

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