Missouri State had a big game in their home opener (photo/MSU athletics)

Missouri State had a big game in their home opener (photo/MSU athletics)

Missouri State used a shutdown defensive performance and a second-half scoring barrage to post a 38-0 victory over North Dakota before a record-setting crowd of 18,386 at Robert W. Plaster Stadium Saturday evening.

Playing its first home game in newly-refurbished Plaster Stadium, MSU built a 14-0 halftime lead thanks in large part to its defense, then pulled away with three touchdowns in a five-minute span in the second half to improve to 2-1 for the first time since 2009. Overall, the Bears’ defense limited UND 166 yards of total offense and just seven first downs, as the largest home audience in school history witnessed MSU’s first shutout victory since a 3-0 win over North Dakota State on Nov. 20, 2010.

Calan Crowder recorded his first career 100-yard rushing performance to help Missouri State tally a season-high 235 ground yards, and Kierra Harris tossed three second-half touchdown passes to put the game out of reach. The Bears forced a trio of UND turnovers on the night and piled up 247 total yards in the second half.

The Bears capitalized on a key special teams play on the initial play of the second period to register the first points of the evening. Chris Sullens boomed a 47-yard punt to pin the visitors on their own 2-yard line, one of four punts inside the opposition’s 20 in the opening half for the Bears’ junior punter. Three plays later, a pair of Missouri State freshmen teamed up to put the Bears on the board, as Sean Bernard charged through the UND line to sack quarterback Joe Mollberg and force a fumble in the end zone, where Cecil Bratton fell on the loose ball for his first career touchdown and a 7-0 MSU lead.

After the Bears’ defense held the North Dakota offense with a three-and-out on its ensuing drive, the UND defense came up with a big play of its own to create a scoring chance of its own. On the Bears’ first play of the drive, Harris connected with Julian Burton on a shovel pass, but Garrett Reineke snuffed the play in the MSU backfield and jarred the ball loose and Alec Carrothers picked it up for just the second Bears’ turnover of the season.

Mollberg hooked up with Tyrhe Ivery for a 24-yard pass completion to convert a third-and-seven and move the ball to the Bears’ 17. But MSU held its ground, forcing an incompletion on third down, before Reid Taubenheim missed on a 29-yard field goal try.

Missouri State stood tall once again late in the half, forcing a UND punt with just over three minutes left on the clock. Harris set the tone for the drive by ripping off a 28-yard run on the first play, and Crowder rushed for 33 more two plays later to set the Bears up with a first down at the UND 16. Crowder—who totaled 119 yards on 13 rushes—carried two more times for a total of nine yards before Harris covered the final seven yards of the of the 79-yard drive with a pair of runs to extend the MSU lead to 14-0 with just 22 seconds to play in the half.

The Bears kept the defensive pressure on at the onset of the third period, limiting UND to just 25 yards and just one first down in the quarter. Harris provided the spark for the offense, meanwhile, connecting with Willis Chambers for a 37-yard scoring strike and LeMarcus Stewart on a 40-yard touchdown throw to increase the margin to 28-0 by the end of the period.

Harris added a third touchdown pass following an Alexz Jones 30-yard interception return to the UND 5 two plays into the fourth quarter. Gannon Sinclair was the recipient this time, hauling in Harris’s short toss on the first play of the drive to run the lead to 35-0 with 14:03 to play.

Harris finished the night 11-of-16 for 149 yards and ran his season total to eight touchdown passes with three scoring completions.

Dylan Cole led the MSU defense with 9.0 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, including half a sack. Caleb Schaffitzel also came up big for the Bears, adding 9.0 stops and breaking up three UND passes, while Andrew Beisel made 8.0 tackles and picked off a pass to help hold North Dakota (1-2) to 82 passing yards—the lowest total for a Bears’ opponent since Oct. 27, 2012, when MSU limited Western Illinois to 70 yards.

Missouri State hits the road once again next week when it travels to Conway, Ark., for a 6 p.m. non-conference game against the University of Central Arkansas at Estes Stadium.

Story courtesy MissouriStateBears.com