Grand Forks, N.D. -- The North Dakota football team went through roughly 40 live plays and several situational drills as the defending Big Sky Champions wrapped up their 15th and final spring practice on Good Friday.
Both sides of the ball took turns providing entertaining plays for the more than 1,100 Fighting Hawk fans that packed the High Performance Center.
"It was a good day and a nice way to give our fans a chance to see what we've been doing this spring," UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. "There's always some positives to take away, but we saw today that we have a lot of work to do between now and fall camp to get ourselves ready for game one."
Schweigert was most pleased with the defensive front that he said was really active and creating havoc for the offense. In the 43 live plays, the defense racked up what would have been nine sacks in live action and added four more in a 12-play, pin-the-hip session in the red zone.
Sophomore Mason Bennett accounted for three of those sacks, also had a tackle for a loss and came up with the only turnover of the scrimmage whene he pounced on a loose ball that brought the session to a close. He finished with a team-high five tackles. Classmate and fellow Canadian Carter Wilson also had multiple sacks during the scrimmage, which did not see live hits on the quarterback.
The only touchdowns the defense surrendered came during short-yardage situations when sophomore James Johannesson found his way into the end zone on back-to-back carries from the 2-yard line, then the 1-yard line. On his latter run, the Fargo native broke three tackles to find pay dirt.
He was stopped on his first attempt when Ray Haas and Tanner Palmborg combined for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Haas also had a sack on the day, while Palmborg delivered one of the loudest hits of the day when he stopped wide receiver Josh Seibel for a 2-yard gain on pass out in the flat.
In the opening red zone session, the offense got a pair of touchdown passes from Brad Heidlebaugh as the offense worked on a 3rd-and-goal situations. The Rugby native found De'mun Mercer from eight yards out for his first scoring toss after the Texas State transfer made a juggling catch in the back of the end zone. He also connected with Travis Toivonen for a 3-yard scoring play.
Johannesson and classmate Austin Gordon both finished with 54 yards rushing and all three running backs that played had at least one 20-plus yard carry to their credit during the live action. Johannesson accummulated his yardage on 11 carries, while Gordon averaged nine yards a pop and had a trio of first-down runs, including two long draw plays with his team facing third-and-long.
Schweigert mixed in some drills pitting the offense vs. the defense to energize the crowd. In one-on-one pass rushing drills, Bennett broke a 3-3 tie to give his side the victory by getting past redshirt freshman Bennett Helgren.
Johannesson and Gordon powered their way to touchdowns to the lead the offense to a 2-1 victory in the tunnel drill, which features 4-on-4 play inside a five-yard box. Both players scored on their third and final attempt.
Freshman Cam McKinney also showed off his speed for the offense, carrying three times for 34 yards, including runs of 28 and 11 yards. He did mishandle his last attempt, which resulted in Bennett's recovery and a five-yard loss.
When the pass rush didn't get home for the sack, the UND quarterbacks were still only able to complete seven total passes in the live session. Redshirt freshman Ben Bolinske went 4-for-5 for 31 yards, while sophomore Andrew Zimmerman went 3-for-4 for 20 yards.
Zimmerman had the day's longest completion when he connected with redshirt freshman Hunter Pinke for a 16-yard gain. Seibel was the only Fighting Hawk with multiple catches, bringin in two passes for five yards.
Senior Charles Flowers had to play both safety and cornerback with a majority of the team's defensive backs sitting out the scrimmage with various injuries. He finished with four tackles and a a sack. Cornerback Evan Holm equaled Bennett with five total tackles, while Vashon Tucker added four and a pass break-up to help pace the defense.
More than 140 high school football players and their families were in attendance at the HPC as UND held its annual "Junior Day" event over the past two days. Those patrons helped surpass last year's attendance total when the Fighting Hawks played their first Spring Game in the HPC.
UND will open the 2017 season with a Thursday night affair against FBS-foe Utah on Aug. 31.
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