After their bye week, the Wildcats (5-2, 2-0) now head to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take on No. 23 University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (4-3, 3-2) on Saturday.
The last two matchups for ACU were decided by three points with a 41-38 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Oct. 8 but a 21-18 Homecoming win over Southern Utah on Oct. 15. This week is the final non-conference matchup before ACU heads into their final three Western Athletic Conference matchups. Head coach Keith Patterson said he spent his off week more away from football than normal.
“If I had a television on the end of that weed eater or the edger or my lawnmower or the power washer off my front porch, I had plenty to do other than watch football,” Patterson said. “I tried to squeeze in a few games and I did and I still didn’t finish. We need another open week in the schedule at some point… I watch football every day, all day long and not that I don’t enjoy watching good college football but it was really good just to feel like a normal person for a day.”
UND have played four top-25 FCS opponents this year and lost to the No. 1 team, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 49-35 last Saturday for their second home loss in their last 19 games. At halftime, the Fighting Hawks led the Jackrabbits 21-14, but were outscored 35-14 in the second half.
Standing out for North Dakota in the Missouri Valley Football Conference are – running back Tyler Hoosman, graduate from Plainfield, quarterback Tommy Schuster, junior from Macomb, Michigan, wide receiver Bo Belquist, junior from New Rockford, North Dakota and defensive lineman Ben McNaboe, junior from Rogers, Minnesota. In the MVFC, Hoosman is 12th out of 25 in rushing yards per game with 73.9. Schuster is third out of 10 in passing yards per game with 245.1. Belquist is fifth out of 25 in receiving yards per game with 68.3, McNaboe is second out of 25 in tackles for loss per game with 1.29 and third in sacks per game with .64.
“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” Patterson said. “I know that sounds like a coaching cliche, but for us we really are focused on the opportunity that’s right in front of us and that’s the opportunity to play a nationally ranked opponent. It’s a great gauge to see where we are heading into those last three conference games…. Then we’ll try to carry over some momentum into those last three games as we strive to win the Western Athletic Conference Championship.”
The Fighting Hawks and Wildcats agreed to the matchup back on Dec. 16, 2021; originally UND was scheduled to face Utah Tech this week. UND has never faced the Wildcats but are 10-6 against opponents from the WAC. North Dakota head coach Bubba Schweigert is in his ninth year at the helm with an overall record of 47-40 and two FCS playoff appearances. Schweigert said there is not much familiarity between the two schools and has done significant research from the summer to now to gauge what his team are up against.
“It’s different playing a team at this point in the year that you don’t know a whole lot about,” Schweigert said. “It’s also exciting, it’s fun playing new people that you have to learn and really dive into. We’re going to work hard to prepare for them. I know our players will do the same and we’re encouraging them to do the same. We have a lot of work to do to get ready for Saturday.”
The Alerus Center is an indoor arena and will be the fourth indoor matchup in 101-years of ACU football. A 38-37 loss to the Georgia State Panthers in the Georgia Dome in 2014 was the last indoor matchup for ACU. Patterson said his team is looking to play in a dome without West Texas heat.
“Obviously we haven’t had many flurries here since the summer and early fall in Abilene so our kids are excited [to play indoors],” Patterson said. “We’re getting to go play a nationally ranked opponent. You know, you’re looking at a program that’s everything that we want to become – character, discipline, toughness.”
The running game has been dominant for ACU over the past two weeks led by Jermiah Dobbins, sophomore from Lubbock, with back-to-back three touchdown games. Dobbins has 639 yards and seven touchdowns on the year, earning him a spot on the 2022 Walter Payton Award, the National Offensive Player of the Year, watch list. In the WAC, Dobbins is first in the WAC in rushing yards per game with 89.14.
ACU is currently second in the WAC and a win on Saturday would give the Wildcats their first six-win season since 2018. Patterson’s team is 1-2 in away matchups this year and 3-1 in their non-conference schedule. In the ASUN-WAC alliance, ACU is second with SFA in first and would earn the automatic qualifier to the FCS playoffs if the season ended today. Patterson said he can’t say enough good things about his young men and their effort.
“There’s very few people at this point of the season that are still excited to go out and try to become better as a team and become better individually,” Patterson said. “We’ve talked about it since day one, all the way back into the first game of the season: focus on yourself, let’s focus on continuing to improve and let’s focus on doing the things that it takes to win. We’re heading into gameweek eight for us and we’re in control of our own destiny.”
The Wildcats and Fighting Hawks begin at 3 p.m. in the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota on Saturday and will be broadcast live on ESPN+.