SPRINGFIELD – A two-yard touchdown pass from Jason Shelley to Isaac Smith with 15 seconds left in the game secured a thrilling 32-28 come-from-behind victory for No. 17-ranked Missouri State (5-3, 4-2 MVFC) here Saturday, as the Bears overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit against visiting North Dakota.
The game-winning drive seemed improbable just moments after the Fighting Hawks converted a fourth-and-one at the MSU 32. North Dakota’s All-American running back Otis Weah then shouldered the load to the 26, but on the very next play, Von Young popped the ball loose from Weah, and Eric Johnson recovered for the Bears at their own 24.
Shelley then went to work, completing four of his next five passes to the UND 15, including a 39-yard strike to Naveon Mitchell to get the Bears within field goal range. A defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone gave the Bears the ball at the two. Then on third-and-goal and the Bears out of timeouts, Shelley found Smith open to the right side for the game-winning score.
The game-winning 76-yard scoring drive took Shelley and company just 84 seconds and eight plays to complete, but proved to be all the clock the “cardiac Bears” needed to pull off their sixth fourth-quarter comeback victory under coach Bobby Petrino.
“I’m really proud of our football team and our assistant coaches,” said Petrino. “Just a great win.”
Weah finished with 156 yards on 21 carries and three second-half touchdowns for UND. His 11-yard carry early in the fourth quarter capped an impressive 78-yard scoring drive for North Dakota (3-5, 1-4 MVFC) and gave the visitors a 28-17 lead with 13:16 to play.
Missouri State’s late-game dramatics finally took shape with just over six minutes remaining when another UND fumble in Bears territory started the momentum shift. North Dakota coughed up the ball on a fourth-and-two play at the MSU 29, which the Bears’ Dimitri Moore jumped on at the 37.
Shelley fired a 13-yard pass to Tobias Little, a 17-yarder to Jordan Murray, an eight-yarder to Tyrone Scott and a 13-yarder to Murray to move the ball with lightning-like precision to the UND 12. Two plays later, Shelley called his own number and found pay dirt. After a two-point conversion pass to Xavier Lane, the Bears had cut their deficit to 28-25 with 4:33 to go.
Shelley tied a Missouri State single-game record with 29 completions on the afternoon and finished the night with 349 yards passing while accounting for four scores — three through the air and one on the ground.
Little carried 15 times for a career-high 111 yards to lead the Bears’ ground attack. He became the first MSU player to eclipse 100 ground yards since Jeremiah Wilson had an even 100 yards against Central Arkansas on Oct. 17, 2020.
Scott was the Bears’ top receiver, collecting 10 passes for a career-high 147 yards and a TD, while Murray caught a season-high 6 receptions for 76 yards.
In the first half, the Bears took the opening kickoff 75 yards on 13 plays to take the early 7-0 lead with Shelley connecting with Scott on a six-yard TD pass right out of the gates. That score held until late in the second quarter when Adam Zavalney caught a 21-yard TD pass from Quincy Vaughn to knot the score at 7-7.
However, Missouri State took a 10-7 lead into the intermission when Jose Pizano split the uprights with a 27-yard field goal attempt with just 36 seconds remaining in the half to put the exclamation mark on a 55-yard Bears scoring drive. It marked Pizano’s eighth straight made field goal attempt and his fourth consecutive game with at least one three-pointer.
The lead see-sawed back-and-forth twice in the third quarter with Weah giving the visitors a 14-10 lead early in the third on a three-yard rush before Murray’s 20-yard TD pass from Shelley swung the lead back to the home side, 17-14, midway through the period.
The Fighting Hawks then stole momentum through the early part of the final period as Weah capped drives of 65 and 78 yards, respectively, yielding a 28-17 lead for UND with 13:16 to play.
Tommy Schuster, who threw for 223 yards against the Bears in the April 24 NCAA playoff game in Grand Forks, was held to just 13-of-21 for 164 yards on Saturday with no touchdowns and an interception.
With the victory, the Bears improved to 4-0 at home this season, a milestone not reached since 2010, while Petrino improved to 9-3 in Missouri Valley Football Conference contests.
Missouri State took over sole possession of third place in the MVFC standings, trailing only North Dakota State (5-0) and Southern Illinois (4-1) in the conference race.
The Bears will get their shot at Southern Illinois next week in Carbondale (12 p.m.) before they return to Plaster Stadium on November 13 for a 2 p.m. kickoff against Northern Iowa on senior day.