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UND's Mason Bennett shares FCS lead with five sacks

UND's Mason Bennett sacks Sam Houston State quarterback Mike Dare during a game earlier this season. Photo/Russ Hons, UND Athletics

UND defensive end Mason Bennett learned earlier this week that the school record for sacks in a season is 10.

"Someone mentioned I was halfway there, so that's pretty cool," Bennett said.

Bennett, however, hadn't heard that the record was held by UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt, who had 10 during the school's rise to an NCAA Division II national championship in 2001.

The 6-foot-4 pass rusher, who is one of eight players leading the FCS with five sacks, will be chasing Schmidt's record while also executing Schmidt's play calls.

"He's improved his physical strength," Schmidt said. "He's a bigger kid. That, along with his athletic ability, has made him hard to handle."

The only UND game in which Bennett hasn't recorded a sack was during a 45-3 loss to Washington of the Pac-12.

He had two against Mississippi Valley State, two against Sam Houston State and one in last Saturday's game against Idaho State.

Against Idaho State, Bennett played was on the field for more than 50 plays—the most in his career.

Bennett redshirted in 2015, then had 2.5 sacks as a backup during his redshirt freshman season in 2016. He had three sacks as a sophomore in 2017.

Now a junior, Bennett has grabbed a starting spot. He's packed on 15 to 20 pounds each season in Grand Forks. He's up to 260 pounds now.

Bennett has also been stout in run defense. He has a team-high six tackles for loss.

"We knew all along he'd be a good player, it just took some time to develop in the system and work with our strength and conditioning coaches," Schmidt said. "He's performing at a high level."

As a team, UND has 16 sacks, which would be tied with Montana for the best in the Big Sky Conference if the Fighting Hawks weren't classified technically as an independent.

To keep Bennett's total in perspective, UND's opponent this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Greeley, Colo., Northern Colorado, only has four sacks as a team this year.

On the other side, Northern Colorado has given up the second-most sacks in the entire FCS. The Bears have given up 18 sacks and only Virginia Military Institute (21) can claim more.

Schmidt said he's been pleased with his team's pass rush, although there's room for improvement.

"We probably missed three or four the other night where we couldn't bring the guy down," Schmidt said.

Bennett is already tied with Dominique Bennett's 2013 season and Garrett Reineke's 2014 season for second-most sacks in a season during UND's Division I era. The DI record belongs to Ross Brenneman, who had 8.5 in 2011.

Schmidt said there's a misconception that a 3-4 defense doesn't allow defensive ends to rush the passer.

"I think that's a misnomer," he said. "People think in the 3-4, you're going to two-gap and take up blocks. But those guys are edge rushing and twisting and playing games. Mason is athletic enough to scheme some things to get him some 1-on-1's ... he's hard to handle in those situations."

UND at Northern Colorado

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Greeley, Colo.

Radio: 96.1 FM

Records: UND 2-2; Northern Colorado 0-4

Of note: UND leads the all-time series with the Bears 17-12 and has won the past five games.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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