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UND football looks for bigger turnout for final home game

GRAND FORKS -- Against Cal Poly last week, UND controlled the Mustangs' triple option, the clock and the scoreboard.

The only thing out of UND's control was the fan interest in the game -- billed as one of the biggest in the history of the Alerus Center.

UND's biggest win since its move to Division I football came before the smallest regular-season crowd in Alerus Center history. UND's 31-17 win came before a disappointing turnout of 6,711.

"We can't control if the fans are coming or not," UND quarterback Jake Landry said. "You just have to go out and win football games. But after the last two (Sioux games), it was kind of expected."

The two weeks before the Cal Poly game weren't kind to the Sioux, who lost to NAIA member Sioux Falls on Oct. 17 before falling at Southern Utah on Oct. 24. UND played poorly in both games.

The timing of the Cal Poly game, which also served as the school's Hall of Fame game, didn't help either as it fell on Halloween.

UND closes out its home season Saturday against NAIA Southern Oregon, a struggling team with a 2-6 record.

Whether UND's win against Cal Poly last week will bring back more Sioux fans remains to be seen. As of Thursday afternoon, approximately 5,000 tickets for the game had been sold.

UND coach Chris Mussman said the fact that UND didn't play well against Sioux Falls and Southern Utah likely played a role in the smaller turnout last week.

"I understand we have to play better," Mussman said. "But it was disappointing to not have a good crowd against a nationally ranked FCS opponent.

"That's the reason we made the jump (to Division I). You kept hearing that you didn't want to be affiliated with certain schools at the Division II level. Then, we finally get a ranked FCS opponent in here and we don't get a crowd in numbers."

UND averaged 9,952 fans last season, its first as a Division I FCS program. Through four home games this season, UND is averaging 8,860.

One theory for the drop in attendance focuses on the timing of Sioux games. For the first time since 1952, UND did not have a September home game -- which could be considered an out-of-sight, out-of-mind factor.

UND's first home game came Oct. 3 against South Dakota, which also was homecoming. That game drew 12,431 fans, but that was expected as homecoming usually produces the season's biggest turnout.

The next two home opponents were Stony Brook of New York and Sioux Falls, two first-time opponents for the Sioux that apparently had little name recognition among Sioux fans.

One of the biggest obstacles facing UND in its transition to full FCS status, however, has been scheduling. It's been difficult to attract established FCS opponents to Grand Forks without UND playing a road game first.

UND's game against Southern Oregon also falls on the opening weekend of the region's deer hunting season, a fact that could again keep attendance down.

But the game is recognized as Heroes Day by UND.

The first 750 police officers, firefighters, EMTs and military members and up to three of their dependents can receive free tickets to the game. Once the 750 tickets have been claimed, tickets will be available to the mentioned group for $5 each.

The fans that did show up last week, however, were noticed, Mussman said.

"I couldn't believe it, how loud it was," Mussman said. "That's a credit to our fans that were there. (Cal Poly) jumped offside and had to burn a timeout, all because of the noise factor."