TUCSON, Ariz. — As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Arizona's players sprinted down the field celebrating, knowing that a win over giant-slayer North Dakota State was no small feat.
Six straight Football Bowl Subdivision teams had fallen to the Bison.
A newly-revived Arizona program wasn't going to be the seventh.
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Jayden de Laura threw for 229 yards and a touchdown, ran for another score, and Arizona rallied to beat NDSU 31-28 on Saturday night. In the process, receiver Dorian Singer said he learned something about his Wildcats as Pac-12 play approaches.
“When stuff hits the fan, if we have each other's back, we can beat anybody,” said Singer, who finished with a team-high 88 yards receiving.
The Wildcats snapped North Dakota State's FBS win streak at six games, dating to 2010. The Bison have won nine out of the past 11 national championships at the FCS level and boast several NFL alumni — including quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Trey Lance and Easton Stick.
Arizona was trailing 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter but got a crucial stop on fourth-and-2 at its own 23 to flip momentum. The Wildcats then drove the field and took a 31-28 lead on de Laura's perfectly placed 22-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Cowing in the corner of the end zone.
Arizona’s defense did the rest, holding NDSU’s previously prolific running game in check. De Laura finished 20-of-29 passing.
The Wildcats now have a 2-1 record one season after finishing with a 1-11 mark.
“Our players did a fantastic job tonight,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. “It was a very clean football game. We were 4-for-4 in the red zone, no turnovers, one penalty.”
North Dakota State's Hunter Luepke scored three touchdowns — two on the ground and one through the air. He ran for 115 yards, leading the Bison's 283-yard rushing attack.
“My most frustrating thing about tonight is the number of kids who apologized to me walking off the field,” NDSU coach Matt Entz said. “That's not acceptable. They didn't do anything wrong. We got beat by a team that was better than us tonight.”
NDSU has developed quite the reputation for beating FBS teams over the past several years, knocking off Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado State, Kansas State, Iowa State and No. 11 Iowa.
Luepke looked like he was going to be the hero on Saturday, plowing through the line of scrimmage for a 38-yard touchdown to give the Bison a 28-24 lead late in the third quarter. The 236-pound fullback was so excited during the celebration that he even bowled over teammate Jake Lippe during the celebration before helping him up.
But Arizona had one more rally left in the back-and-forth contest.
The Wildcats led 17-14 on Tyler Loop's 36-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer.
Arizona jumped ahead 7-0 in the first quarter on Michael Wiley’s 6-yard touchdown run. North Dakota State tied it at 7-all later in the first when Cam Miller found Luepke all alone for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
The Bison (2-1) looked like they were about to grab the lead in the second quarter, but Hunter Echols strip-sacked Miller at the Arizona 17 and the Wildcats were able to recover the fumble. It was one of many examples of an opportunistic Arizona defense that gave up 407 yards but came up big at crucial moments.
Arizona took advantage of the turnover, driving the field and grabbing a 14-7 lead on de Laura's 7-yard touchdown run.
It's an under-the-radar great win for the Wildcats, who look like they'll be competitive in the Pac-12 just one season after finishing with a 1-11 record.
Arizona will travel to face California next Saturday.
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