Nov. 20—GRAND FORKS — The UND football program wasn't exactly considered a bubble team as the FCS bracket was unveiled Sunday, but the Fighting Hawks have seen their share of surprises over the years, enough to keep an edge in Grand Forks during the ESPN broadcast.
"It's a little tense," UND wide receiver Jack Wright said. "A lot of mock brackets had us with Idaho in the bottom left quadrant and when UND didn't pop up there you get a little nervous," Wright said. "I was confident, and I knew we had a good team and a good resumé. When that popped up, it was very exciting. It gave us a chance to play 60 more minutes and earn 60 more every game."
The Fighting Hawks will face Sacramento State of the Big Sky Conference at noon Saturday at the Alerus Center.
"As soon as we found out, we took practice off and lifted as a team and the coaches immediately hit the film," Wright said. "(Monday) is a main day to meet as units and watch that film. They're really talented, so it'll be a whole week-long process. The more prepared you are, the better chance you have to win the game."
The Hornets of the Big Sky Conference are 7-4 and have been up and down, something one could probably say about the Fighting Hawks.
The noon kickoff time will be early for the Hornets, as it will be 10 a.m. on Pacific Time. Sacramento State had a number of early afternoon kickoffs this season but nothing before noon Pacific.
Sacramento State started the year hot at 3-0 with a win over FCS tournament participant Nicholls in Thibodaux, La., 38-24. After a home win over Texas A&M-Commerce, the Hornets beat Stanford 30-23.
Sac State then lost at then-No. 7 Idaho 36-27 before nipping Northern Arizona 31-30. UND beat NAU 37-22 in Grand Forks. The Lumberjacks fired head coach Chris Ball on Monday.
Sac State beat eventually winless Northern Colorado 21-13, then came home to lose to then-No. 2 Montana State 42-30.
After a 51-16 victory over Idaho State, the Hornets closed the year losing at No. 4 Montana (34-7), beating Cal Poly at home 41-30 and losing at UC Davis 31-21. The Hornets trailed UC Davis 17-0 at halftime and the Aggies held a comfortable lead most of the game.
UND is 4-2 all-time against Sacramento State. In the last two meetings, the road teams won. UND crushed Sac State 41-15 behind a huge running day from James Johannesson in 2018 and lost 34-27 in the Alerus in 2017.
The Hornets have played two quarterbacks late in the year, splitting time between Kaiden Bennett (1,951 yards) and Carson Conklin (744 yards). Running back Marcus Fulcher averages 60.75 yards per game to lead the run attack, while the quarterback Bennett, who played the second half against UC Davis, has 115 carries for 452 yards this season including a 100-yard rushing performance against Stanford.
"We talk to our guys about staying on their feet because he's a mobile guy," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said of Bennett. "If you leave your feet to try to make a tackle, they have a lot of space. You have to be patient on your rush to keep him in the pocket. Not only does he hurt you in the pass game with his feet, he hurts you in the QB run game. They have a good QB run game. You have to be relentless after him and limit those yards."