Fresno State steals close one in home opener
Junior Robbie Rouse was the Bulldogs’ workhorse on Saturday
getting Fresno State the tough yardage during the most important
parts of the game.
Dalton Runberg / The Collegian
Fresno State finally had its chance to get its first win in front of the Bulldog faithful, but Football Championship Subdivision North Dakota had another idea.
The ‘Dogs started off fast with sophomore quarterback Derek Carr hitting wide receiver Jalen Saunders in stride for an 86-yard touchdown pass just 15 seconds into the game. It gave the ‘Dogs the early 7-0 lead.
The Carr-to-Saunders combination worked again on the Bulldogs’ third possession, this time from 52-yards out to give Fresno State a two-touchdown lead. Carr finished the game going 11-of-17 through the air for 235 yards and the two touchdown strikes to Saunders. The Bakersfield Christian High School graduate talked about the first two touchdowns to Saunders.
“I’ve never thrown a touchdown on the first play of the game before,” Carr said after his first home game in the stadium where his brother David Carr played 11 years ago. “Like on a deep ball. We’ve tried many a times in high school, but it was cool to do it in a Division 1 game.”
North Dakota answered back with sophomore Jake Miller’s 70-yard run. Miller finished the game with 150 yards on 21 carries. On the extra point attempt, the ‘Dogs came up with the block to hold the Fighting Sioux to six points.
With only seconds left in the first half, North Dakota kicker Zeb Miller hit a field goal to cut the Fresno State lead to 14-9. Senior wide receiver Devon Wylie sliced his way through the North Dakota punt coverage team with a 48-yard punt return to put the ‘Dogs in scoring position. Junior Robbie Rouse plowed it in from two yards out on the third play of the drive to extend Fresno State’s lead to 21-9. Rouse finished with 114 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.
North Dakota’s running back Miller scored his second touchdown of the night with a three-yard run to bring the Fighting Sioux within a touchdown at 21-16. The Fighting Sioux had the upset on their mind with their second touchdown of the third quarter with running back Jer Garman’s touchdown and the Fighting Souix’s first lead of the game at 22-21. North Dakota went for the two-point conversion, but the ‘Dogs stopped the attempt.
On the next drive, Rouse did some heavy lifting, accounting for most of Fresno State’s yardage and scored the Bulldogs’ go-ahead touchdown. The ‘Dogs went for the two-point conversion, but came up short, Fresno State had the 27-22 lead well into the fourth quarter.
The ‘Dogs had to muster the biggest stop of the game with the home opener in the balance without starting strong safety Derron Smith who left the game with a broken arm and is likely out for the season. Fresno State’s defense delivered as it came up with the stop to keep the Bulldogs’ victory hopes intact. The ‘Dogs did force a punt with six minutes remaining to give the offense a chance to put the game away.
With the ball in the offense’s hands, Fresno State handed the rock to Rouse to put the game away and the junior didn’t disappoint. On the final third down of the game with the ‘Dogs needing 12 yards to seal a first down and the win, Rouse scampered for 18 yards to give Fresno State its first win of the season, 27-22. Rouse talked about the final play of the game.
“It was a big down,” Rouse said. “It was third-and-12 and I knew we were going to run the ball. I have faith in our defense, but I just wanted to get into that victory formation. [Leslie Cooper] and Austin [Wentworth] made good blocks for me. I cut off the edge and just was able to get the first down.”
Now Fresno State has the upcoming week to prepare for its first Western Athletic Conference competition at Idaho. Head coach Pat Hill gave some thoughts after the first three games of the season.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Hill said after Saturday’s postgame press conference. “We’re still molding a secondary and offensive line every week. I don’t know when we’re going to get our other two linemen back. Until then we’re going to have to keep working and we got a big game in Idaho next week. It’s a must win for the Bulldogs.”
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