The (FCS) champions have finally been vanquished.
Arizona became the first FBS school since 2009 to beat North Dakota State, rallying to down the Bison 31-28 on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
Jacob Cowing’s 22-yard catch from Jayden de Laura with 4:53 left was the game winner, a score that capped a 10-play, 78-yard drive which came after the Wildcats (2-1) stuffed the Bison (2-1) on 4th and short inside the UA 25-yard line, one of the few times they were able to slow down NDSU’s run game.
The other came right after the go-ahead score, with Arizona forcing a 3-and-out and a punt then running out the final 2:48 of game clock. Michael Wiley’s 9-yard run on 3rd and 3 sealed the win.
The UA was outgained 407-394, allowing 283 rushing yards and plenty of chunk plays, many by NDSU fullback Hunter Luepke, who ran for 115 yards and two TDs and had three catches for 65 yards and a score. But Arizona was mistake-free on offense, with no turnovers for the first time this season, and de Laura was nearly flawless after throwing three interceptions the week before.
De Laura threw for 229 yards and a TD on 20-of-28 passing, and after holding off on running in the 39-17 loss to Mississippi State he ran for 50 yards and a TD with three of his scrambles producing first downs.
Arizona led 17-14 at the half thanks to a 36-yard Tyler Loop field goal at the buzzer, then its defense forced NDSU’s first punt to open the third. The Wildcats couldn’t take advantage, going 3-and-out, and the Bison followed by bulldozing their way to the lead.
All 76 of NDSU’s yards on the next drive were on the ground, including gains of 10, 34 and 19 before Luepke scored on a 6-yard run to go up 21-17 with 9:40 left in the third.
Jonah Coleman put the Wildcats back up 24-21 on a 2-yard run with 5:41 left in the third, the score coming right after Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke showed off his wheels on a 28-yard option pitch. But that drive, like others, was kept alive by de Laura evading the rush including when he found Dorian Singer for a 23-yard completion on 3rd and 13.
Luepke’s 3rd TD of the game came on a 38-yard run in which he broke through multiple tackles near the line of scrimmage and then took off to put NDSU ahead 28-24 with 2:07 left in the third.
Arizona got inside the NDSU 25 earlier in the fourth quarter before de Laura was sacked—the first real sack of the season—and the Wildcats had to settle for a field goal, which Loop missed to the right from 43 yards out with 12:56 left.
It was the first career miss for Loop, who had started his career 15 of 15.
The Bison had a chance to put the game away, driving inside the Arizona 25, but on 4th and 2 the Bison went for it and the Wildcat defense made the stop with 8:59 to go.
Cowing’s game-winning TD catch came four minutes later, with the UTEP transfer keeping the drive alive via a 5-yard reception on the play right before.
Arizona went 3-and-out on its first possession, which was behind schedule from the outset with a run for no gain and a snap that skidded on the ground past de Laura for a 16-yard loss.
NDSU got into UA territory on its opening drive and went for it on 4th and 41 from the 41 but Christian Roland-Wallace knocked away a pass to give the Wildcats the ball back.
Wiley put Arizona up 7-0 on a 6-yard TD run with 5:18 left in the first. The drive was aided by a 24-yard catch from tight end Tanner McLachlan and a 12-yard scramble from de Laura on the first play of the possession.
The Bison tied it in the final minute of the first on a 31-yard TD catch by Luepke, who was all alone behind the defense on a play fake.
Arizona went for it on 4th and 1 from its own 34, with Jamarye Joiner taking a direct snap out of the Wildcat and getting tripped up just before the marker. The Bison got inside the UA 10, but on 2nd and goal Hunter Echols chased down Cam Miller for a strip sack, with Jerry Roberts recovering at the 12.
De Laura’s legs put Arizona back up 14-7 with 5:45 left in the first half, scoring on a QB draw up the middle from 7 yards out after getting a first down on a scramble earlier in the drive.
Miller’s 2-yard run tied it at 14 with 50 seconds left before halftime, scoring two plays after throwing a 25-yard pass to Luepke, but the Wildcats got into field goal range for Loop’s go-ahead kick thanks to another de Laura scramble, a long completion to Singer and a pass interference call on a ball that Tetairoa McMillan looked to have caught inside the 5 but which was never reviewed.
Arizona begins Pac-12 play next Saturday at Cal, which is 2-1 after a 24-17 loss at Notre Dame. The Wildcats have won six straight over the Golden Bears, including last season’s 10-3 Homecoming victory to snap their 20-game losing streak.