DICKINSON — The North Dakota all-stars had reason to love their placekicker Saturday night.
Minot High School product Ben Love booted six field goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to propel the North Dakotans to a 25-22 victory over Montana in the 21st annual Badlands Bowl, played at the Henry Biesiot Activities Center.
Love kicked a tie-breaking 35-yard field goal four plays into North Dakota’s overtime possession. Later, Montana’s Mathew Martinez-Tillman (Laurel, Mont.) attempted a 41-yarder to tie, but the kick missed the mark, giving North Dakota its first Badlands Bowl victory since 2010.
Montana took a 22-19 lead with 2:20 remaining in regulation on a 72-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Will Weyer to his Bozeman teammate Wyatt David, and a Weyer-to-Eric Dawson (Great Falls) 2-point pass.
However, North Dakota took the ensuing kickoff and marched 71 yards in 12 plays to set up Love’s game-tying 27-yard field goal with three seconds to play.
Montana hit paydirt on the opening possession of the game. Weyer and Dawson connected for a 13-yard touchdown play, capping an 11-play, 83-yard drive. Martinez-Tillman’s extra point made it 7-0.
However, the North Dakota defense stiffened the rest of the half, holding the Montanans scoreless while allowing 21 total yards. Meanwhile, the North Dakotans reeled off 16 straight points, thanks in large part to the their defense.
Bismarck’s Thomas Sease, a linebacker, set up North Dakota’s first score with a 27-yard interception return to the Montana 3. Four plays later, Kindred’s Eric Bachmeier powered his way into the end zone from 3 yards out. Love added the extra point to even the score at 7.
After the ensuing kickoff, Jordan Hjelseth of Fargo Davies picked off a Weyer pass and returned it to the Montana 36. That resulted in a 41-yard field goal by Love with 2:28 remaining in the first quarter.
After the North Dakota defense forced a three-and-out, Dickinson’s Dylan Skabo grabbed a slant pass from Grand Forks Red River’s Chad Bartosh and took it 67 yards to the Montana 4. Two penalties moved the offense back 15 yards, and the North Dakotans had to settle for a 25-yard Love field goal with 13:33 left in the first half.
Later, North Dakota drove 75 yards in 14 plays to set up Love’s third field goal of the night — a 42-yarder with 21 seconds to play in the half.
North Dakota got the ball back shortly thereafter, courtesy of an interception by Grafton’s Austin Contreras, who took the ball to the Montana 34. However, Love’s 41-yard field goal attempt went wide to the left as time expired.
Three plays into the third quarter, Montana’s Evan Epperly (Glacier) gathered in a tipped Bartosh pass and took it 31 yards to the end zone. Martinez-Tillman’s PAT pulled Montana within two, 16-14.
Later in the third, Love kicked a 25-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining to give North Dakota a 19-14 lead.
Montana threatened early in the fourth quarter, but was held on downs on the North Dakota 10. Another promising drive stalled on the North Dakota 30 with 4:11 to play in regulation. Weyer and David connected for the go-ahead score 1:41 later.
Bartosh finished 13-for-27 passing for 205 yards. Weyer went 18-for-34 for 260 yards. North Dakota outgained Montana 314-265.
In addition to his interception, Sease had two quarterback sacks and a pass breakup.
Montana 7 0 7 8 0 — 22
ND 10 6 3 3 3 — 25
M: Eric Dawson 13 pass from Will Weyer (Mathew Martinez-Tillman kick)
ND: Eric Bachmeier 3 run (Ben Love kick)
ND: Love 41 field goal.
ND: Love 25 field goal.
ND: Love 42 field goal
M: Evan Epperly 31 interception (Martinez-Tillman kick)
ND: Love 25 field goal
M: Wyatt David 72 pass from Weyer (Dawson pass from Weyer)
ND: Love 27 field goal
ND: Love 35 field goal
Interceptions: M — Evan Epperly, Chandler D’Agostino. ND — Thomas Sease, Jordan Hjelstad, Austin Contreras.
North Dakota offensive player of the game: Ben Love, Minot.
North Dakota defensive player of the game: Thomas Sease, Bismarck.
Montana offensive player of the game: Eric Dawson, Great Falls.
Montana defensive player of the game: Evan Epperly, Glacier.