- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - Three weeks after rallying from a 31-10 deficit to win a share of the Big Sky Conference title, North Dakota blew a 17-point lead and left their first FCS playoffs after a 27-24 loss to Richmond on Saturday.

Richmond’s Griffin Trau kicked an 18-yard game-winning field goal as time ran out to complete the comeback and snap UND’s nine-game winning streak.

A series of late mistakes and a stagnant offense doomed the Hawks (9-3). Their last four possessions ended in punts - one of them blocked.

“We had a bad penalty that turned the whole momentum of the game,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said of Carter Wilson’s roughing the punter penalty. “Had a bad penalty - we have to play smarter than that. We had a breakdown on special teams and they made a big play on the long pass. Very disappointed how this game turned out. We just didn’t finish the game.”

Richmond quarterback Kevin Johnson was 15 for 22 for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson was starting in just his second game after having his redshirt pulled. He drove the Spiders 68 yards - helped by a 54-yard pass to Tyler Wilkens - to set up the winning kick.

UND ran for just 113 yards, led by Brady Oliveira’s 60 yards. Keaton Studsrud was 13 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

The Hawks held the Spiders (10-3) to 89 yards on the ground.

Oliveira capped UND’s second drive with a 4-yard run with 3:25 left in the quarter for a 7-0 lead.

But it took the Spiders just two plays to answer when Johnson hit a wide open Brian Brown for 79 yards and a score. Brown was 10 yards behind the nearest defensive back.

That play accounted for nearly half of the Spiders’ 151 yards in the first half. They had 14 of their 89 rushing yards in the first half.

The Fighting Hawks turned to trickery to retake the lead when Keaton Studsrud completed a 69-yard flea-flicker pass to Demun Mercer with 8:06 left in the half.

North Dakota kicker Reid Taubenheim missed a 42-yard field goal at the end of UND’s first possession but hit a 43-yarder with 38 seconds left in the half to take a 17-7 lead.

Mercer, who had five catches for 122 yards, caught his second TD pass with 10:10 left in the third quarter, a 16-yard crossing pass that he took to the corner of the end zone for what seemed to be a comfortable 24-7 lead.

“It’s unfortunate that we came up a little short. I tip my hat to Richmond. They fought till the end,” Mercer said. “They started making plays . They ended up making the last play.”

Rare mistakes started taking a toll on the Hawks.

Richmond cut into the lead late in the third quarter when Johnson scored on a 9-yard run. The eight-play, 92-yard scoring drive was kept alive by a UND roughing the punter penalty.

UND’s next possession ended when Richmond’s Will McCombs blocked a punt out of bounds at the UND 22. The Spiders turned that into Trau’s 37-yard field goal that made it 24-17 with 10:25 to play.

Richmond held again on defense and Dejon Brissett returned a punt 70 yards for an apparent TD. That was called back for a block in the back, but it didn’t matter as the Spiders still scored to tie it at 24. Garrett Hudson’s 8-yard TD catch with 5:31 to play capped an eight-play 54-yard drive.

The Hawks’ ensuing possession ended with a punt, and Richmond took over with 3:00 left on the Spiders’ 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Trau ended the Hawks’ season while handing UND its first loss in 11 playoff games at Alerus Center.

“We just didn’t finish it off,” Schweigert said. “We didn’t establish anything late. It’s all momentum and you have to make plays.”

Richmond travels to second-seeded Eastern Washington next Saturday for a quarterfinals matchup.

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