GREELEY, Colo. - All season, the Bears have had the mantra of finish strong. Today, both the Northern Colorado offense and defense held to that with big plays in the fourth quarter for a 21-17 victory over former North Central Conference rival South Dakota. With the victory, the Bears move to 3-6 on the year and 2-0 in non-conference games against FCS opponents. South Dakota falls to 3-5 on the year.
For the third time this year, senior receiver Alex Thompson surpassed 100 reception yards, catching seven passes for 109 yards and his sixth touchdown of the year. Freshman wide receiver Jace Davis also caught his first career touchdown, a 24-yard pass from senior quarterback Bryan Waggener in the second quarter. He ended the day with three catches for 58 yards. Waggener completed 21-of-32 passes for 281 yards with no interceptions and no sacks.
Junior running back Andre Harris carried the ball 19 times for 57 yards with one touchdown, the final go ahead score on a one yard run with 5:20 in the fourth quarter. Junior defensive back Max Hewitt and senior linebacker Logan Zabel each tallied an interception in the game and junior linebacker John Eddy had 11 tackles and a sack to help lead the defense.
"I was really pleased with the way our guys came out and played after halftime," said Head Coach Scott Downing. "I thought we made some good adjustments defensively. I thought offensively that 88-yard touchdown drive was huge, not only to take the lead in the game but 88 yards, it took a whole lot of time off the clock. I thought Bryan Waggener stepped up big today and made some huge plays that don't show up in the statistics: a completed pass here, a run for the first down there. I thought he did a good job of selecting his receivers; he hit a lot of different guys. Certainly, Alex Thompson had another really banner day."
"Hats off there at the end to our defense," continued Downing. "Our defense has been playing well up and down the line all year long. We've been the number one defense in the Big Sky and they struggled a little to get off the field today, but to come up with a play - Logan Zabel had that interception that killed their drive after we gave them very good field position and of course Max Hewitt, who's played great all year long came up with a huge interception in the end zone."
South Dakota was led by Chris Ganious with 68 rushing yards on nine carries, while Tom Flanagan caught six passes for 50 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Noah Shepard threw for 212 yards and rushed for another 46, including a touchdown to help lead the Coyotes.
Thompson became just the 11th player in Northern Colorado history to catch 50 or more passes in a single-season as he now has 53 receptions for 680 yards. That total ranks him 10th on the single-season charts for the Bears.
Northern Colorado did not turn the ball over in the game, while they had the two interceptions in the fourth quarter to secure the win. The Bears' offensive line also held strong and thanks to some crafty scrambling by Waggener did not allow a sack for the fourth straight contest.
The Bears struck first on the scoreboard as Waggener hit Thompson for a 53-yard pass and touchdown for the 7-0 lead. With 13:16 in the second quarter, Waggener found Davis for 24 yards and a second touchdown for the 14-0 advantage.
South Dakota responded with 10 straight points before the halftime break, connecting on a 19-yard field goal from Dustin Nowotny and an eight-yard touchdown pass from Noah Shepard to Tom Flanagan to close within four at the break, 14-10.
The Coyotes took the lead at 9:40 in the third quarter on a Shepard one-yard run for the 17-14 lead before the Bears put together a 13-play 89-yard drive over 5:51, capped by a Harris one-yard run for the final score of 21-17.
The Bears return to Big Sky Conference action and close out the home portion of their schedule next Saturday when they host Sacramento State at 12:05 p.m. The Hornets defeated Northern Arizona 27-24 earlier this afternoon.