North Dakota 19, Grand Valley State 15
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Two players listed as second stringers on the University of North Dakota football team combined to make a first-string play on a day dominated by defense.
Linebacker Dan Ullsperger forced a fumble and nose guard Adam Wolff recovered it to set up the game-winning touchdown in a 19-15 victory over Grand Valley State in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals on Saturday.
The Sioux (11-2) rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat the two-time defending champion Lakers (10-3), who led 15-6 with about 12 minutes left.
"Obviously they made one more big play than us," said Lakers coach Chuck Martin. "We would like to have that play back."
North Dakota advances to the semifinals against Pittsburg State, which beat Northwest Missouri State 50-36 on Saturday.
The Lakers were clinging to a 15-12 lead late in the game when Ullsperger blitzed on a third-and-15 play to sack quarterback Cullen Finnerty. A surprised Wolff picked up the ball and was tackled at the Grand Valley 29.
"Usually when you're playing the nose position you don't get to see a lot of those opportunities come your way," Wolff said. "My eyes got real big."
Wolff, who rotates with Shane Duchscher at nose guard, thought he could score on the play.
"I was kind of counting my chickens before they hatched," he said. "I was looking for a nice little celebration to do but I got wrapped up."
Quarterback Chris Belmore, who replaced starter John Bowenkamp in the second half, scored four plays later on a 2-yard run with 4:59 left to make it 19-15. The Lakers were forced to punt on their next possession and the Sioux ran out the clock.
The win was the 18th straight at home for the Sioux, who have not lost a playoff game at the Alerus Center. Ullsperger credited a noisy crowd of 8,222 for forcing several of Grand Valley's 13 penalties.
"That's a big credit to the fans, especially to come out on Thanksgiving weekend," said Ullsperger, who rotates with Jake Nordick at outside linebacker.
The loss snapped a playoff winning streak at 10 games for the Lakers.
"We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight," Martin said. "Obviously we had them on the ropes, but you knew they weren't going to lie down."
The Lakers went ahead 15-6 after Brandon Langston took a swing pass and rambled 74 yards for a touchdown with 12:17 left. But the Sioux took the ensuing kickoff and drove 68 yards in four plays, capped by Brandon Strouth's 24-yard touchdown run, making it 15-12.
"It was a do-or-die situation for us," Sioux coach Dale Lennon said of the drive. "If we don't have that drive, I think the game may be over on that end of it."
Finnerty tossed a pair of scoring passes for Grand Valley State. His 31-yard scoring pass to Demonte Collins with 1:13 left in the first half gave the Lakers a 7-3 lead.
Both offenses struggled to finish off drives in the first three quarters. Grand Valley failed to convert on a pair of 4th-and-1 plays in the first half. The Sioux twice settled for field goals by Jeff Glas.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," said Lakers senior Aaron Hein, who blocked a field goal. "But I couldn't ask for a better career."