By the time their total offense was a positive number, the Bears were losing by two touchdowns.
Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino, who coached Louisville to an Orange Bowl and Arkansas to a Sugar Bowl, was grasping at straws so early Saturday that he went for it on fourth down at his own 35-yard line with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.
It only got worse.
When the fourth quarter of Saturday’s NCAA FCS playoff game began, UND’s offense, defense and special teams all had scored more touchdowns than the Bears.
The game was so lopsided that most of the pandemic-limited crowd of 3,074 at Alerus Center didn’t bother to wait around until the end to see UND achieve program history by winning its first playoff game at the Division-I level. They didn’t need to, though. They know how these types of games end.
On Saturday, it was UND 44, Missouri State 10.
The final score was by UND freshman running back Creighton Mitchell, who is not on the two-deep depth chart.
The Fighting Hawks have now won 11 consecutive games at home, a streak dating back to October 2018.
This season, UND is 4-0 at home, winning every game by double digits. And it’s not like the Fighting Hawks have been beating up on weaker competition at home.
Three of those four home games have come against FCS playoff teams from the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Two of them were against teams in the quarterfinals. One came over the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, South Dakota State.
The Fighting Hawks beat FCS quarterfinalist Southern Illinois by 24. They beat the Jackrabbits, also an FCS quarterfinalist, by 11. And they beat Missouri State by 34.
UND has been convincing at home, but will now have to go on the road. Its quarterfinal game will be at James Madison, the tournament’s No. 3 seed. UND is unseeded, likely because of COVID-19 positive cases and a game cancelation earlier this month.
The NCAA Committee seemed to place extra value on teams that earned their conference’s automatic qualifier.
In the Missouri Valley, there was a three-way tie for the league title between South Dakota State, UND and Missouri State. The Jackrabbits won the tiebreaker and the league’s automatic qualifier.
So, even though South Dakota State and UND both had one loss during the regular season — and the Fighting Hawks won the head-to-head matchup by double digits — South Dakota State was given the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and UND was not one of the four seeded teams.
In the CAA, a league-wide meeting ended with Delaware being granted its automatic qualifier. So, although James Madison sat at No. 1 in the polls for the second half of the season, the Committee dropped the Dukes to the No. 3 seed.
That brings us back to earlier this month.
UND was scheduled to play Missouri State in the Alerus Center on April 4. Because of COVID-19 positive tests and contact tracing within UND’s program, the game was canceled. The Fighting Hawks may have been able to make that up the final weekend of the regular season had it known longer in advance that Youngstown State was going to pull the plug on the season. But the game against the Bears went unplayed.
Had UND been able to play that game — and achieved a similar result to Saturday — UND would have been the automatic qualifier in the Missouri Valley. Considering the priority the Committee gave to the automatic qualifiers, UND may have had the advantage of playing in the Alerus Center all the way to Frisco and the FCS title game.
Instead, UND’s path to Frisco will require a road win in Harrisonburg, Va., against James Madison, and if that happens, likely a road win at the Fargodome. The home site of an NDSU-UND game would come down to financial bids submitted by athletic departments. Given the Fargodome’s larger capacity, NDSU likely has the ability to submit larger guarantees.
Back-to-back road wins in Harrisonburg, where James Madison is 35-1 in its last 36 home games, and Fargo, where NDSU is 33-1 in its last 34) are a bit different than spending the entire playoff run in the Alerus Center.
Missouri State, like the 10 before them — South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Southern Utah, Northern Colorado, Montana State, UC Davis, Sam Houston State, Drake and Portland State — found that out on Saturday.