DICKINSON, N.D. — Ben Love made just six field goals last fall for the Minot High football team. In fact, he didn’t even attend all of the Magicians’ games.
But the part-time soccer player equaled that number of field goals Saturday night to lift North Dakota to a thrilling 25-22 overtime win over Montana in the 21st annual Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl at Dickinson State’s Biesiot Stadium.
Love’s 36-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime gave North Dakota a 25-22 lead, and the home team sealed the win four plays later when a 41-yard attempt by Montana’s Matthew Martinez-Tillman sailed wide left.
“What a kid,” smiled North Dakota coach — and Minot High coach — Barry Holmen as his players hoisted Love up on their shoulders after he was named the game’s offensive MVP. “These kids loved him all week … Ben is a goofball, he’s a prankster, he’s a soccer player.
“We don’t get him for every game during the high school season. He missed at least a couple of games every year because of soccer, but he’s such a talent. I knew he would come through for us tonight if it came down to him.”
Love made field goals of 40, 25 and 47 yards in the first half and missed just wide left from 40 as time expired in the half. He then added a 24-yarder in the third quarter, but he was just getting started.
Moments before his eventual game-winner in overtime, Love forced overtime when he connected from 24 yards out with three seconds remaining in regulation.
“This is pretty crazy. I made six (field goals) all season … this is a lot more work than I’m used to,” grinned Love, who’s heading to the South Dakota School of Mines to play football. “I love kicking on this turf … the way the ball sits up on it and you can plant your foot and drive.
“I felt good all night. I was confident. It feels great to come through for these guys. We came in here this week as total strangers and I feel like every one of these guys is my friend now.”
Love’s field goal at the end of regulation capped a clutch North Dakota drive in the final 2:18 — after Montana quarterback Will Weyer connected with former Bozeman High teammate Wyatt David on a 72-yard bomb that put Montana ahead 22-19.
Along with Love, the game was dominated by the defenses. North Dakota held Montana to net zero yards rushing — including minus-27 yards in sacks — and intercepted Weyer three times.
Weyer completed 18 of 36 passes for 285 yards. North Dakota QB Chad Bartosh, of Grand Forks Red River, completed 15 of 30 for 232 yards and was intercepted twice.
“Both defenses were great,” said Holmen. “I was struggling to call plays in the second half because Montana was shutting down everything we did.
“But our defense played great and our kids hung in there. There are a lot of years in this game that North Dakota just doesn’t have the beef to match up on the offensive and defensive lines, but I really felt this year we did and the kids proved me right. That’s a great (Montana) offense with a lot of kids that are going to be great college players, and we stopped them when we had to.”
Weyer, who’s headed to Montana to play quarterback, credited the North Dakota defense.
“They had a bunch of big, fast guys making plays all night,” he said. “We took it right down the field and scored to start the game, but after that we just couldn’t put a drive together.
“North Dakota was bringing a lot of pressure off the edge and it gave us trouble. I thought our O-line played great … it was just tough to get all those guys blocked on every play.”
North Dakota’s lone touchdown came on a 3-yard Eric Bachmeier run in the first quarter.
Weyer connected with Eric Dawson of Great Falls CMR for a 28-yard TD on the opening possession of the game, but Montana did not score again until Evan Epperly of Kalispell Glacier returned an interception 35 yards for a TD on the opening possession of the second half.
Weyer hit Dawson with a two-point conversion pass after his TD pass to David.
Dawson caught six passes for 103 yards and John D’Agostino of Bozeman caught three for 75 yards. Bozeman’s Hunter Gappmayer led Montana in rushing with 19 yards on 11 carries.
Dickinson High’s Dylan Skabo led North Dakota’s receivers with 100 yards on seven catches.
North Dakota’s win snapped a three-game Montana win streak in the series. Montana leads the all-time series, 15-6.
The game was the first overtime contest in Badlands Bowl history.