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UND receiver Greg Hardin catches a pass to set up a touchdown for UND in the first half as Portland State's Dennis Fite defends in Saturday's Potato Bowl. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND defeats Portland state 45-37

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If UND's 45-37 win against Portland State on Saturday night was a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Big Sky Conference season, the Green and White are ready for prime time.

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Behind Marcus Hendrickson's dazzling performance at quarterback, UND downed Big Sky member Portland State in a wide-open game before 9,210 Potato Bowl fans at the Alerus Center -- a win that perhaps was the most impressive of the program's Division I era.

Hendrickson threw six touchdown passes, tying the single-game school record. In his first career start, the senior was accurate throughout the night as he threw for 294 yards. He used his athleticism to keep Portland State's defense off balance and made it through the game uninjured, a major benefit to a program down to one healthy quarterback.

But the big picture was UND's ability to beat a Big Sky team.

Officially, it was a nonconference game. But the win served notice that UND has the ability to compete in its new home. Portland State was picked to finish fourth in both the coaches' and media Big Sky poll at the start of the year.

"To get a victory against a Big Sky opponent, in our first try as an official member of the league, is special," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "I told the team before the game it was about first impressions. What kind of impression were we going to make in the league?"

The win was special but it's also became clear that there will be no easy game or win in the Big Sky.

UND was on cruise in the second half, leading 45-24 in the fourth quarter before the Vikings made a late charge. It was a dicey final 2:38 as UND has to protect a 45-37 lead after Portland scored 13 straight points.

But it was Hendrickson who sealed the deal. On third-and-4 from UND's 31, Hendrickson sprinted to the right and picked up a first down with 1:20 to go.

"It was on me," Hendrickson said. "We knew that was a crucial play. I saw the Sam backer come up and I knew it was on my legs to get a first down."

But it was his arm that made the biggest impression.

Portland State stung UND on its first play, as true freshman Kieran McDonagh executed the flea-flicker to perfection and hit Justin Monahan for a 65-yard scoring play.

"It seems that every team we play has it out for us to throw some crazy stuff at us," UND senior defensive end Ross Brenneman said. "We came back to the sideline and said, 'It's a long game. Let's get it done.' ''

And that's when Hendrickson took over. On UND's first play after the Portland score, Hendrickson hit Greg Hardin for a 66-yard score.

By halftime, Hendrickson had tossed five TD passes as UND led 35-24. He completed 16-of-25 passes, six going to Hardin for 190 yards.

"Marcus is a different person from two years ago," Hardin said.

Last season, UND threw only 12 touchdown passes for the season. Through two games this season, UND has thrown 10, eight of them by Hendrickson.

His play didn't surprise Mussman.

"His teammates needed him," Mussman said. "I don't care who you are. If you throw six touchdowns, you're having a pretty good day."

UND needed success through the air as Portland shut down UND's running game. UND managed only 107 rushing yards, 50 by Hendrickson.

Portland State racked up 515 yards but didn't help itself by throwing two interceptions.

The only downside was Portland's comeback, led by former Maryland running back D.J. Adams, who rushed for 144 yards. And Monahan caught six passes for 156 yards and two scores.

"We should have closed them out better," said UND linebacker Garrison Goodman, who led the way with 12 tackles. "But it was fun. It was a good win. To win in the Big Sky is fun."

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