The Big Sky Conference got off to a wild, unpredictable start with the opening of league games on Saturday.
No. 11 Eastern Washington scored 35 points in the final 17 minutes and 42 points in the second half to rally for a 48-41 win over Montana in Missoula
Previously winless Montana State made a statement by rushing for 334 yards and out-gaining North Dakota 515 to 255 in total yards in a dominant 49-21 win over the defending league champions in Grand Forks.
Northern Colorado drilled a last-second field goal to topple and Idaho State team coming off its biggest win in a generation. Weber State drilled an upstart UC Davis squad that came into Ogden on a hot streak. Sacramento State piled up points at will in doubling up Southern Utah. And Northern Arizona notched its first win by ensuring 2016 playoff qualifier Cal Poly remained winless in San Luis Obispo.
Portland State was the league’s lone idle team. The Vikings will host Montana at Hillsboro Stadium next week.
No. 18 Weber State 41, UC Davis 3 (click on line for full box score — UC Davis game to Stewart Stadium fresh off convincing wins over defending Pioneer Football League champion San Diego, a team that beat Cal Poly in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, and Portland State, a team that had given two stout fights to FBS opponents in its two previous outings. The host Wildcats left no doubt who was the superior team in their Big Sky opener.
Weber State used a 67-yard touchdown pass from Stefan Cantwell to Rashid Shaheed and a 98-yard touchdown run by Treshawn Garrett in the first quarter, an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown by Xequille Harry early in the second quarter and a 17-yard touchdown by All-American tight end Andrew Vollert to take a 31-3 lead into halftime. Vollert’s second touchdown pushed the advantage to five touchdowns after intermission as WSU cruised to its third win in four outings this season, Weber’s best start since 2008.
“I was really proud of the guys in all three phases,” Weber State fourth-year head coach Jay Hill said. “I thought they fought, clawed and dug. It wasn’t pretty at times. I thought the defense bent but never broke. And that is a very talented football team. Keelan Doss is one of the premier wide receiver sin our league if not the country. To shut those guys down and hold them to three points is a huge showing.
“Those guys had just won two huge games against USD and Portland State in decisive fashion so to go out and play the way we did, I’m very proud of our guys.”
Weber State totaled 430 yards of offense on just 49 total offensive plays, compared to 373 yards by UC Davis on 80 plays. The Wildcats had two interceptions and one fumble recovery. The ‘Cats were 0-of-9 on third down conversions but finished a perfect 4-of-4 in red zone chances.
Cantwell was 7-of-11 passing for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Shaheed had three catches for 163 yards and one touchdown, an average of 54.3 yards per reception. Vollert had three catches for 40 yards with two touchdowns.
Garrett totaled 10 carries for 122 yards. His 98-yard burst tied the longest run in the history of the Big Sky.
Defensively, the Wildcats held UC Davis to just 13 yards rushing and recorded five sacks with 13 tackles for loss. Parker Preator led the way with nine tackles, three pass breakups and one tackle for loss. LeGrand Toia had a sack and a fumble recovery. Jonah Williams, Taron Johnson, Alema Key and Cardon Malan each recorded sacks.
UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier threw for 327 yards but was picked off twice. He found Keelan Doss 11 times for 116 yards, Doss’s third 100-yard outing this season already. Keilan Benjamin and Trey Hoskins intercepted Maier for Weber.
The Wildcats take on Montana State at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday in Bozeman. UC Davis plays North Dakota at Aggie Stadium on Saturday night.
Northern Colorado 43, Idaho State 42 — In a game that combined for 1,228 total yards of offense and 85 points, Northern Colorado kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to beat Idaho State 43-42 in front of a crowd of 5,273 at Nottingham Field on Saturday afternoon.
Idaho State fell behind 40-24 late in the third quarter but then scored three straight touchdowns to take a 42-40 lead with seven minutes left in the game.
The UNC defense forced ISU to punt with 2:17 left and then proceeded to drive 67 yards on eight plays to tally the winning kick.
Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp took shot after shot against ISU’s defense, completing 19-of-25 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Knipp completed five straight passes in the final two minutes to get UNC inside the ISU 40. Northern Colorado running back Trae Riek, who racked up 202 yards from scrimmage, ripped off runs of 12 and six yards to set up Colin Root’s 37-yard game-winning field goal.
With three seconds on the clock and his team down two points, Root said he wasn’t worried about the game-winning try. Instead, he wondered where he and teammate Rand Fraizer-Turnbull were headed for a postgame meal. As Idaho State took a pair of timeouts to ice him, Root was making his case that Texas Roadhouse’s rolls were better than Red Lobster’s.
“I wasn’t really trying to think about anything,” Root said, “But Rand Turnbull kept coming up to me and talking about where I was going to eat after the game. Looking back at it now, it was probably helpful that he did that, keeping my mind off the kick.”
For Root, that side conversation, and not having to think about the game-winning kick paid off, as he nailed the 37-yard attempt to secure the 43-42 Northern Colorado victory over Idaho State. The win improved UNC’s record to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky play while dropping Idaho State to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
“It was a great team win,” Northern Colorado head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. “It was great to see our players never give up. It was great to see the team have each other’s back. When the defense was on the field needing that last stop it was great to have the offense behind me cheering them on and letting them know they have their back. Then you flip it around and the offense goes out there and the defense is supporting the offense. You have Coach Boyer up there calling the plays and Knipp running them and it was just a special feeling watching them go to work. Then you have everybody at the end together supporting our special teams on the last play.”
UNC finished the game with 619 offensive yards, while Idaho State had 609. Idaho State quarterback Tanner Gueller was 15-of-24 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. ISU had 355 rushing yards despite missing starting running back Ty Flanigan, led by James Madison’s 253 on 34 carries and two touchdowns. Nehamiah McFarlin had nine carries for 78 yards and one touchdown. Mitch Gueller caught five passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns and Hagen Graves caught five passes for 82 yards for the Bengals.
Idaho State welcomes Cal Poly to Pocatello for its homecoming game on Saturday. Northern Colorado plays at NAU on Saturday night.
Northern Arizona 28, Cal Poly 10 — Despite All-American wide receiver Emmanuel Butler out for the season with a shoulder injury, NAU quarterback Case Cookus threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns as Northern Arizona posted its first win. Meanwhile Cal Poly, one of the Big Sky’s preseason favorites, is now 0-4 after another lackluster showing.
“We really wanted to come out fast and set the tempo for the game,” head coach Jerome Souers said. “Cal Poly is a good team, they’re really disruptive and they make things difficult with their option attack and their defense schematics but I thought our guys battled through some things. Our defense was disruptive, created some turnovers and some short field scenarios, and our offense capitalized. At the end of the day, we did what we needed to do to get a really tough win against a quality opponent in Cal Poly.”
Senior wide out Elijah Marks set career highs in receptions (14) and receiving yards (206) in Butler’s absence. The school announced Butler, arguably the top NFL prospect in the conference, will miss the rest of the season. The speedy Marks responded resoundingly.
“For any team, having a big player out is unfortunate,” Marks said. “He’s a big loss for us but our coaches always teach us the next man up mentality. We would love to have him but he’s down so it’s next man up. I know I’m a senior, so my job is to make big plays and there’s a couple freshman out there making plays, and I have to lead them.”
Cal Poly, which was held to a 29-yard field goal by Casey Sublette and a 60-yard scoring pass from Khaleel Jenkins to J.J. Koski after Northern Arizona had built a 28-3 lead, fell to 0-4 and 0-1.
Northern Arizona led in all statistics, including 23-17 in first downs, 467 to 326 in total offense and a one-minute advantage in time of possession. The Lumberjacks are now 11-1 in their series against the Mustangs.
Cal Poly senior fullback Jared Mohamed rushed for 124 yards on 29 carries, his second 100-yard game of the season and third of his Mustang career. Mohamed is filling in for All-American Joe Protheroe, who will mis the rest of the season with a knee injury. Jenkins completed five of 15 passes for 148 yards and was intercepted twice.
Byron Evans collected 10 tackles, Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson intercepted passes and Tristen Vance recovered a pair of Cal Poly fumbles to lead Northern Arizona defensively.
Linebacker Jayson Lee notched 10 tackles for Cal Poly and Mason Montgomery, also a linebacker, added nine. Kam Dennis recovered a Lumberjack fumble while Mark Reza and Jack Ferguson combined on one sack. Cal Poly recorded seven tackles for lost yardage.
The Mustangs are off to an 0-4 start for the first time since the 2002 season. Cal Poly plays at Idaho State next week while NAU hosts Northern Colorado.
Sacramento State 54, Southern Utah 27 — In perhaps the most surprising result of all Big Sky games on Saturday, Kevin Thomson tied a Sac State school record with seven total touchdowns as the Hornets put forth their most productive outing since Jody Sears’ first season at the helm in 2014.
Thomson, a UNLV transfer, threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 149 yards and four touchdowns to pace Sac State. The Hornets dominated Southern Utah on both sides of the ball, rolling up 586 yards of total offense and snaring three interceptions of SUU quarterback Aaron Zwahlen, who filled in for injured senior Patrick Tyler.
Thomson led a group of seven Hornet ball carriers which rushed for 333 yards against a Southern Utah defense which entered the game having allowed just 123.7 yards per game. SUU most recently held nationally-ranked Northern Iowa to minus-16 rushing yards. Thomson’s total is the most all-time by a Hornet QB, breaking Safron’s mark of 146 against Montana State in 2014.
Redshirt freshmen BJ Perkinson and Isaiah Gable added 72 and 68 rushing yards, respectively. Overall, the Hornets carried the ball 59 times to tie for the second most in a game in school history. The 333 rushing yards ranks as the sixth most by a Sacramento State team.
When Thomson did throw, he found five receivers, including three who finished with at least 50 receiving yards. Andre Lindsey had 100 yards on just four catches with a pair of touchdowns. The 25.0 yards per reception average actually lowered Lindsey’s season mark to 30.5 yards per catch. Isiah Hennie tied for the team lead with four catches for 57 yards and tight end Stone Sander had three grabs for a career high 78 yards.
Zwahlen was 24-for-38 for 188 yards but was picked off three times. Austin Clark recorded his first interception of the season on the opening drive of the game. The team also had interceptions from Malcolm Thomas and Mister Harriel to raise its season total to 10 in just four games. All three interceptions led to touchdowns for the Hornets in the game.
Clark led Sacramento State with 12 tackles while Harriel and Marcus Bruce each added seven. George Obinna recorded two of the team’s three sacks and the Hornets tallied five tackles-for-loss in the game.
Sacramento State will next travel to Eastern Washington to take on the Eagles on Saturday. SUU has a bye.