N. Dakota St. 34, Neb.-Omaha 7

Updated: October 11, 2003, 6:29 PM ET

FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota State punter John Bonicelli and the Nebraska-Omaha offense had one thing in common. Both were roughed up most of the afternoon.

The No. 12-ranked Bison forced four turnovers and took advantage of two roughing-the-punter penalties to whip the No. 8 Mavericks 34-7 on Saturday in a matchup of North Central Conference leaders.

"Are we 34-to-7 worse than them? I don't think so," Omaha head coach Pat Behrns said. "But they were a lot better today in key situations."

NDSU's defense, a sore spot a year ago, continues to shine. Jamel Thomas, Jared Essler and Ryan Olson intercepted passes, and Jayd Kittelson recovered a fumble, stifling the second-ranked offense in the NCC.

A fourth-quarter score by the Mavericks (5-2, 2-1 NCC) was the first offensive touchdown surrendered by the Bison (5-1, 3-0) in more than 13 quarters.

"I think it's important that we go out and set the tone," said Thomas, a defensive end who thwarted an Omaha drive with an interception at the NDSU 16 in the second quarter. "Anytime you can get some turnovers and make some big plays, the offense feeds on that."

Two of NDSU's touchdown drives, covering 70 yards in the first quarter and 76 yards in the third quarter, were kept alive by roughing-the-punter penalties on Omaha.

"That's just unacceptable," Behrns said.

"Anytime you rough the punter it's a dart to the heart of the defensive unit," NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. "There's a high correlation of scoring after those penalties."

The Bison offense chose to pound the ball on the ground, led by 140 yards and one touchdown from Kyle Steffes and 112 yards and two touchdowns by Rod Malone.

"With the defense playing so well and creating turnovers, we felt we just needed to keep plugging away on offense," NDSU quarterback Tony Stauss said. "The big key is to be able to rush the football."

Cory Vartanian added a pair of field goals, from 37 and 47 yards, for the Bison.

Omaha's Justin Kammrad, the leading rusher in the conference, ran for 146 yards on 23 carries. But the Mavericks couldn't score until midway through the fourth quarter, going 85 yards in 20 plays.

Brian Masek hit Chris Denney on a 4-yard pass for the Omaha touchdown.

"We gave up some yards today, but I thought our red zone defense was good," Essler said. "Watching them on film was pretty scary, but by scoring early we made them go to the passing game a little more than I think they like to."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index