Walker goes for conference-record 315 yards in close loss
GREELEY – Despite a record day by senior wide receiver Patrick Walker, the Northern Colorado football team was unable to come away with its first victory of the year, falling 27-25 to future Big Sky Conference rival North Dakota on Saturday.
North Dakota field goal kicker Zeb Miller missed a 41-yarder and had a 27-yarder blocked earlier in the fourth quarter, but he was nails when it mattered, making a career-best 54-yard field goal with 1:52 remaining to lift the visiting Fighting Sioux over the Bears.
"All I can say about this is that it's tough," said Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr. "It's tough to see your kids fight—you all got to excuse me if I get emotional—but it's tough to see your kids fight they way they fought today, and for it to escape them like that. I've experienced some great seasons in my career, and, so I'm not in this for 'self;' I'm in this for these kids and for them to have success. When your kids fight through the adversity we fought through today and it still comes up short, it's tough. It's tough to tell them at the end, because [there's] really no answer. Yeah, we got to protect the quarterback and we got to hang onto the football and things like that, but it's just tough. It's kind of like when you have your own kids, your biological kids, and things are happening to them, and you don't have the answer for them as a parent.
Walker caught 10 passes for 315 yards, breaking both the Northern Colorado and Big Sky single game records for yards in a game and he scored two touchdowns. Both junior wide receivers Chris Morris and Dominic Gunn also caught touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Seth Lobato as he threw for a career-best 430 yards.
Of Walker's 10 receptions, four were for 36 yards or longer, including two for 80 or more yards. His 88-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter is tied for the second-longest reception in school history and his 80-yard touchdown catch also ties for sixth on the list.
"It's not just one kid," said Collins. "I guarantee you with Pat, he's got 10 catches for 315 yards, and I guarantee you the thing that matters to him the most are the two or three [catches] that he dropped. That's what kind of player he is. So what could have been a career day for him, you know, it goes down because I know that's eating him up."
Lobato had his hands full with the North Dakota defense as they sacked him five times and forced four turnovers, but he continued to get up and throw down the field, completing 23-of-36 passes on the afternoon and five for longer than 25 yards. He also had a stretch starting with the final pass of the first half and his first five completions of the second half, where the six completions went for 180 yards.
In addition to his two catches for 53 yards, Gunn added three kickoff returns for 73 yards and two punt returns for 17 yards for for a total of 143 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. With his 73 yards in kickoff returns, Gunn moved into a tie for fourth on the school's single-season list with 599 yards. He knots Johnny Watkines (1983) and Jeff Knabenshue (1987) and moves within 65 of breaking the record of 663 by Watkines in 1984.
North Dakota was led by Jer Garman with 65 rushing yards, while Greg Hardin had eight receptions for 91 yards. Senior quarterback Brent Goska completed 18-of-30 passes for 206 yards with one touchdown and he was intercepted once by senior safety Chuks Nweke.
Kenny Watkins, Dan Hendrickson and Myles Jablonski all led the Fighting Sioux with four tackles each while Jay Nelson had three tackles, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hurries.
The Bears had possession of the football for just 6:10 in the second half, but managed to out-score UND 12-6. One of the most costly factors for Northern Colorado in the game was missed extra points as sophomore kicker Dave Eden missed his first of the season at the end of the first half and both two-point point-after attempts failed in the second stanza. North Dakota ended the game with 42:35 time of possession.
Northern Colorado returns to Big Sky Conference play next Saturday as they travel to Flagstaff for a match-up with Northern Arizona at 4:05 pm.
"The thing I love about our kids is they're resilient; they are going to keep fighting, and they are going to keep trying to make plays, week in and week out," said Collins. "We've got two more games left, and I want more than anything for these kids to get a win this year, because our seniors are doing a good job for us, and I just want to see them get out of here with a victory before they leave here."