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Ranked FCS teams UND, Weber State set for physical showdown this week

UND quarterback Nate Ketteringham makes a quick handoff to running back James Johannesson (#33) during Thursday's home opener against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — For the University of North Dakota and Weber State, off the field distractions—not the opponent—may be one of the biggest challenges this week as the teams prepare for a showdown Saturday, Oct. 27, at The Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

UND—following its 41-15 win at Sacramento State—climbed back into the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday, coming in at No. 22. Weber State, meanwhile, is ranked No. 4 this week—the highest national ranking in school history.

Saturday's game carries a lot of significance for both teams.

UND, at 5-2, has won three straight and finds itself with considerable momentum and in the national playoff picture as well.

Weber State, meanwhile, faces the challenge of making postseason play by playing three of its final four regular-season games away from Ogden, Utah. The Wildcats also are 5-2, and their resume includes a 14-6 win over Big Sky power Eastern Washington.

The playoffs are the ultimate goal for both programs. But that's a distraction neither team wants to deal with in preparing for Saturday's game.

"This will be a hard-nosed, tough football game," said UND coach Bubba Schweigert on Monday. "This week, I really believe our team needs to do a better job than we have all season. The focus needs to be on us.

"Every week, as you get closer to the end of the season, there is more outside noise. Eliminating that noise will be a challenge."

UND's ground game made a lot of noise at Sacramento State late Saturday. The Hawks rushed for 480 yards, 213 from running back James Johannesson. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound junior from Fargo averaged 19.4 yards per carry on 11 attempts. Brady Oliveira added 171 yards as the two big backs—and the offensive line—dominated the final 20 minutes.

"The O-line kept opening holes," said Johannesson. "I think they kind of got sick of tackling me and Brady."

UND has won three straight, all of the wins coming by 20 or more points.

The Fighting Hawks' ground game has played a role in the wins.

"We want to run the football; that's what we're built to do," said Schweigert. "When our running backs get to the second level, they're hard to bring down. That sure made a difference Saturday night."

Weber, however, will challenge the UND run game.

"They haven't given much up on the ground," said Schweigert. "They're tough and physical. Everything will be earned; that's for sure."

Weber State at UND

When: 2 p.m., Saturday

Where: Alerus Center, Grand Forks

Records: UND 5-2; Weber 5-2

Of note: UND beat Weber 27-19 in the teams' last meeting in 2016.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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