- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - It’s not surprising that North Dakota got off to a fast start in Saturday’s Big Sky Conference showdown with Weber State. After starting the season 0-2 the Fighting Hawk are sprinting toward their first FCS playoff berth.

John Santiago’s 100-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff and a big defensive effort in the second half Saturday helped the Hawks beat the Wildcats 27-19 for their first seven-game winning streak since 2005.

 With two games left, UND (7-2, 6-0) shares the lead in the Big Sky with Eastern Washington. Weber State (5-3, 4-1), which had won the first two games of the series, suffered its first conference loss.

 UND sacked Weber State quarterback Jadrian Clark six times, recovered a Clark fumble and intercepted three passes. The Hawks held Weber State to just 81 yards in the second half and to just 12 yards rushing in the game.

 ”It’s great to beat those guys and overcome this obstacle as a team,” said linebacker Cole Reyes, who had eight tackles and two interceptions in his return from an injury.

 Santiago got things started, taking the opening kickoff at the goal line and went up the left side untouched for a score. Reid Taubenheim’s PAT made it 7-0.

 Unfortunately for the Hawks, Santiago’s kickoff return totaled nearly as many yards the UND offense in the first half (105).

 ”We forced some turnovers and really held in there on defense,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We got some pressure on the quarterback and did enough offensively.

 With 5:49 left in the half, Darryl Denby caught a 19-yard TD pass from Clark and Taylor Hintze’s PAT tied the game 7-7.

 After forcing a UND punt, Clark completed two quick passes for 76 yards to the UND 3. Two plays later, Cory Thompson scored on a 1-yard run. With 2:18 left, Stefan Cantwell was stopped on a two-point conversion, but the Wildcats took a 13-7 lead into halftime.

 Clark completed 11 of 17 passes for 188 yards in the first half and accounted for most of the Wildcats’ 204 yards.

 North Dakota’s offense finally got on the board when Brady Oliveira ran 17 yards for a score to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive. Taubenheim’s PAT gave UND a 14-13 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter.

 On Weber State’s next possession, Cole Reyes intercepted a Clark pass and returned it to the Wildcats’ 17. Reyes had a second interception in the fourth quarter.

 A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the Weber State 2, but the drive stalled and Studsrud left with an arm injury after a bootleg run. Redshirt freshman Brad Heidlebaugh came in and, on fourth down, threw his first career pass, a 2-yard TD to Noah Wanzek and UND went up 21-13.

 Taubenheim added a 28-yard field goal that made it 24-13 with 5:33 to play.

 It took the Wildcats just 47 seconds to answer. Set up by a 62-yard kickoff return, they needed just two plays to score on a 22-yard pass from Clark to Tui Satuala.

 But Taubenheim kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:57 to play and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs at the end.

 UND’s trio of quarterbacks were 7-for-15 for 41 yards.

 Santiago ran 13 times for 61 yards and Oliveira 13 times for 48 yards. UND ran for 171 yards.

 ”We couldn’t run the football and when you can’t run the football it makes it difficult on us,” Schweigert said. “But it was a good win for us.”  

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