Nico Gualdoni kicked a career-long 46-yard, game-winning field goal with 5:21 remaining and Southern Illinois fended off North Dakota 31-28 in a Missouri Valley Football Conference showdown on Saturday.
The Salukis (6-1, 4-0), ranked No. 4 in the FCS coaches poll, are off to their best start since the 2009 season but had to fight out of two ties late in the game. North Dakota had knotted the contest at 21-21 before Nic Baker found Izaiah Hartrup wide open over the middle for a 58-yard touchdown with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
Baker was 13-for-16 passing for 177 yards with three touchdowns. Hartrup gained 91 yards on four catches.
The Fighting Hawks (2-4, 0-3) tied again at 28-28 midway through the final period on Isaiah Smith’s run from the 3-yard line. Smith carried 17 times for 111 yards.
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Donnavan Spencer broke loose for a 48-yard run to set up Gualdoni’s winning kick two minutes later.
North Dakota’s Brady Stevens missed field goal tries of 36 and 47 yards on the Fighting Hawks’ final two possessions.
North Dakota, No. 24 in the coaches poll, was playing without running back Otis Weah, who did not make the trip because of illness.