GRAND FORKS, N.D. - For the first time in program history, UND held a lead on a FBS opponent at halftime, but Idaho quarterback Brian Reader made sure the Fighting Sioux lead would not last through the fourth quarter as the Vandals rallied for a 44-14 victory.
The senior signal caller overcame a shaky start to lead the Vandals (1-1) to 34 unanswered points in the come-from-behind win on Saturday at the Kibbie Dome. Reader threw three of his four touchdown passes after the break to propel the home team to its first win of the season.
The Fighting Sioux (1-1) scored touchdowns on a pair of explosive plays in the first half as safety Erik Mersereau (Port Washington, Wis.) took a punt back 79 yards and wideout Greg Hardin (Bellevue, Neb.) hauled in a 54-yard pass from Joey Bradley (Issaquah, Wash.). Those two scores staked the Fighting Sioux to an eventual 14-10 lead at halftime.
"We made a big play offensively and one on special teams in the first half and in the second half, we didn't make any plays," UND head coach Chris Mussman said. "We gave up big plays on defense and could not generate anything offensively after halftime."
Unfortunately for UND, the Vandals pitched a shutout after halftime. Reader's regrouping actually started before the break, as he completed all 11 of his passes on the Vandals' final drive of the opening half, which resulted in their first touchdown - an eight-yard strike to Armauni Johnson.
Reader and Idaho would score touchdowns on their opening three possessions of the second half to regain the lead from the upset-minded Sioux and take the momentum back from its FCS foe. Reader finished with a 299-yard passing day after a 3-for-10 start. He completed 15 straight at one point, finishing 27-for-39 through the air.
The Vandals' defense held the Sioux to just 29 rushing yards and 197 yards of total offense for the game. UND only gained 82 yards after halftime and mustered just five first downs after netting six in the first half.
Junior tight end Seth Nichols (McVille, N.D.) led the Sioux with four catches. The converted quarterback was making his first appearance of his career at that position after missing last week's game. Senior Mitch Goertz (Rothschild, Wis.) led the Sioux with 10 tackles, including half a sack. Senior linebacker Johnnie Daniels (Miami, Fla.) had seven tackles and a sack in his first career start.
For the second straight game, the Sioux special teams came up with a field goal block in the first quarter. Junior Devin Benjamin (Minneapolis, Minn.) got enough of a push up the middle to get one of his paws on a 47-yard attempt by Trey Farquhar.
The Vandals' placekicker would convert the first points of the season on the UND defense on Idaho's next possession early in the second quarter, drilling a 50-yarder to put the home team ahead 3-0.
With the Sioux offense sputtering through the first quarter, Mersereau scored the first touchdown of the game to put the Sioux ahead 7-3 and give the visitors a nice jolt. His 79-yard return was the third longest punt return in school history.
After the UND defense forced Idaho into its fourth three-and-out of the opening half, the Sioux offense came through on the next possession. Bradley went to play action, faking a toss sweep, then throwing a perfect strike to a wide open Hardin for the sophomore's 11th career score. It was the first touchdown pass of Bradley's career and put the Sioux ahead 14-3.
"We have to learn to replicate what we do in the first half and bring that back onto the field in the second half," Mussman added. "It just gets to a point where our kids have to be mature enough to handle coming in on those momentum swings, and I don't know if we handled those as well as we should have, or could have."
Idaho did not convert a third down until its first touchdown drive late in the first half as Reader did not throw an incompletion on the 15-play, 80-yard drive. The Vandals had been 0-for-6 until converting four on the scoring drive, including Reader's touchdown toss to Armauni Johnson from eight yards out.
Idaho finished 7-for-17 on third down conversions, while the Sioux were just 3-for-13. The Vandals also converted a pair of fourth-and-shorts in the second half to keep eventual touchdown drives alive.
Game captains were seniors Dan Hendrickson (Minot, N.D.), Johnnie Daniels (Miami, Fla.), Brent Goska (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.), Kenny Watkins (Plano, Texas) and Catlin Solum (Fargo, N.D.) ... Tight end Seth Nichols (McVille, N.D.) caught the first four passes of his career, accounting for 22 yards in his first action at his new position ... Daniels finished with a career high seven tackles and a sack in his first career start ... Sophomore Damon Andrews' 2.5 career sacks have all come at the Kibbie Dome - he had half a sack in the contest ... Spencer Cummings (Hugo, Minn.) had a pair of tackles for loss, finishing with three overall ... Junior Erik Mersereau (Port Washington, Wis.) scored his first career touchdown on his 79-yard punt return in the second quarter ... Mersereau's touchdown put UND ahead of a FBS opponent for the first time in four previous meetings ... His 79-yard punt return was also the third longest in UND history ... Sophomore Cordero Finley (Kenosha, Wis.) blocked an extra point late in the contest, giving the Sioux three blocked kicks on the young season.
- Go Sioux -