Big Sky Conference

BIG SKY ROUNDUP: Bengals rally to keep Cal Poly winless; NAU blasts UNC



After a wacky opening week, the Big Sky Conference produced more predictable results as four home teams won games and the two road victors entered their matchups as decided favorites.

The two road winners involved the Montana schools. The Grizzlies snapped a four-game road losing streak with a 45-33 win at Portland StateNo. 18 Weber State continued its push toward a second straight playoff berth with a gritty 25-17 win over Montana State on homecoming in Bozeman.

The rest of the league slate produced winners at home as No. 8 Eastern Washington won going away against Sacramento State, Idaho State rallied to keep Cal Poly winless, Northern Arizona blasted Northern Colorado at Walkup Skydome and UC Davis continued to exploit woefully wounded North Dakota at Aggie Stadium.

Southern Utah was idle on Saturday.

Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud and running back Antoine Custer

Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud and running back Antoine Custer

No. 8 Eastern Washington 52, Sacramento State 31 (CLICK FOR BOX SCORE — All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud threw touchdowns to five different receivers and caught a touchdown himself as EWU piled up 651 yards of total offense in its conference home opener.

Eastern jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and never trailed at sold-out Roos Field in Cheney. Eastern is now 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference. Sacramento State is 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the league. Both the Eagles and Hornets entered their match-up with 2-2 records and huge victories on the opening weekend of Big Sky Conference play.

“It’s a great team win,” Eastern head coach Aaron Best said. “We aren’t going to play perfect football. But we’re going to strive for it and be as close as we can.”

Gubrud passed for 447 yards and had five touchdown passes to five different receivers as the Eagles won their third-straight game after an 0-2 start. Running back Antoine Custer Jr., rushed for 81 yards and a score, and had a career highs of five catches for 115 yards and another score.

Eastern Washington running back Antoine Custer

Eastern Washington running back Antoine Custer

Nine different receivers caught passes from Gubrud, who even caught a 43-yard touchdown pass himself. He had the 17th-most passing yards in school history and his eighth game of 400 or more of his 22-game career. His 443 yards of total offense ranked 29th.

The Eagles finished with 651 yards of total offense to rank as the seventh-most in school history, coming on the heels of performances of 617 in last week’s 48-41 win at Montana  and 650 against Fordham the week before that. It’s the most yards in back-to-back-to back games in school history.

“It makes life easier on Saturdays when the players believe in the message, they believe in themselves and they believe in each other,” Best said. “After the first two games, we didn’t lose belief, we just didn’t win on the scoreboard. The last three weeks have been good and we’ve been playing better.”

Sac State quarterback Kevin Thomson threw for 253 yards and rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Jaelin Ratliff caught seven passes for 142 yards.

Eastern plays at UC Davis on Oct. 7 before returning home to host rival Montana State on Oct. 14. The Hornets don’t play again until hosting Idaho State on Oct. 14.

Northern Arizona 48, Northern Colorado 20 — NAU forced three turnovers, notched six sacks, piled up 14 tackles for loss, scored special teams and defensive touchdown and put forth a second straight explosive day on offense to win for a second straight week.

“I am proud of our program,” NAU head coach Jerome Souers said.  “After the Cal Poly game (a 28-10 win) we had some guys dinged up with injuries so things that could have slowed us down, but we had the next man step up on our depth chart.  We had a couple of guys on the defensive line who hadn’t played all year and stepped in and did a stellar job.”

Northern Arizona receiver Elijah Marks catches a touchdown against Northern Colorado/ NAU athletics

Northern Arizona receiver Elijah Marks catches a touchdown against Northern Colorado/ NAU athletics

NAU jumped out to a quick 20-0 lead in the first half and never looked back as sophomore Case Cookus tossed all three of his scoring strikes in the opening 30 minutes – upping his season touchdown total to nine through the first four games. Cookus found Jonathan Baldwin to cap the first scoring drive of the game. Cookus also threw touchdowns of 21 yards to Elijah Marks and 10 yards to William Morehand before the first half ended.

UNC running back Trae Riek scored a touchdown on the first possession of the second half to cut the advantage to 20-14. But Marks, who finished with seven catches for 106 yards, took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Northern Colorado would muster just two field goals the rest of the way as Northern Arizona’s defense swarmed. Sophomore linebacker Taylor Powell’s 85-yard interception return for a touchdown sewed up a 2-0 start in league play for the Lumberjacks.

Josh Clarke, Chauntez Thomas, Marcel Myers and Hamilton To’o all notched sacks while the first three all totaled two tackles for loss. Clark led NAU with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and the sack.

UNC quarterback Jacob Knipp threw for 301 yards and a first half touchdown to Frank Stephens. He found Alex Wesley eight times for 125 yards. NAU smothered UNC’s running game, giving up 69 yards rushing on 36 carries, including just 58 on 20 tries by the explosive Riek.

Idaho State 38, Cal Poly 34 — A week after falling on a last-second field goal at Northern Colorado, Idaho State mounted a comeback of its own. Cal Poly let a 14-point third-quarter lead slip away as Idaho State out-scored the Mustangs 21-3 over the final 18 minutes for a 38-34 Big Sky Conference football victory on Saturday afternoon in front of 7,105 at Holt Arena.

The Bengals trailed 31-17 with 3:37 left in the third quarter. Tanner Gueller hit Michael Dean for a 26-yard touchdown pass for the first touchdown of the rally. Gueller’s second touchdown to Dean from 30 yards out cut the Cal Poly lead to 34-31. The Idaho State defense, led by All-American candidate Mario Jenkins, forced a stop. Gueller engineered a 73-yard drive capped by a James Madison touchdown from two yards out with 6:41 left for the final margin.

Idaho State sophomore Michael Dean/ ISU athletics

Idaho State sophomore Michael Dean/ ISU athletics

“It’s never fun playing that defense-or that offense I should say-I hate seeing it because you never know,” ISU head coach Rob Phenicie said. “Credit to the defensive coaches for getting the key stops when we needed too.”

The Bengals tallied 489 yards of total offense while Cal Poly finished with 463. Tanner Gueller was 14-24 for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Dean caught six passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns while Mitch Gueller caught three passes for 125 yards and one touchdown. Senior Hagen Graves added four catches for 88 yards.

James Madison carried the ball 20 times for 78 yards and one touchdown and Tanner Gueller carried the ball eight times for a career-best 60 yards and one touchdown. Jenkins led Idaho State’s defense with a career-high 18 tackles. JonRhyeem Peoples had a career-best 14 tackles and Joe Martin added 14 tackles.

The loss spoiled a brilliant rushing performance by Cal Poly junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, who rushed for 202 yards on 25 carries, breaking the school record for rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback. Chris Brown ran for 195 yards against UC Davis in 2014. Jenkins ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more, but the Mustangs suffered their fifth straight loss to open the season, matching the 0-5 start by the 2002 Cal Poly team.

UC Davis 48, North Dakota 24 — Sophomore quarterback Jake Maier threw for a career-high 415 years and four touchdowns, while junior wide receiver Keelan Doss finished with 11 catches for 199 yards, helping host UC Davis rack up 651 yards of total offense en route to ensure UND continues reeling.

In front of 9,508 at Aggie Stadium, Davis piled up its most offensive yards since the 658 the Aggies put up against New Mexico Highlands in 2001.The total fell 46 yards shy of the record of 697 set against Mesa State in the NCAA Division II playoffs on Nov. 25, 2000.

Davis tight end Wesley Preece caught three touchdowns Saturday/ UC Davis athletics

Davis tight end Wesley Preece caught three touchdowns Saturday/ UC Davis athletics

“When you get this type of support behind you, it is a real game changer,” said Maier regarding Saturday’s raucous crowd. “When you have a crowd that gives you that extra energy, and supports you from start to finish, it makes it easier to fight through adversity. When this place is rocking like it was tonight, it helps us compete with confidence.

“It’s one of the greatest feelings in college football, and something you dream about. Football is more fun when we play in a stadium like this.”

The Aggies improved to 3-2 overall and evened their Big Sky record at 1-1. The Fighting Hawks, who had a pair of 100-yard rushers in John Santiago (170) and Brady Oliveira (107), fell to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in conference play.

“We work every day during practice to make games like today a reality, which is not easy,” said Doss, who now has 41 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns this season. “When our defense makes stops, teammates like Wes makes catches and Jake makes throws like he did today, that is a byproduct of the hard work that takes place throughout the week leading up to the game,” said Doss.

Santiago took UND’s opening play from scrimmage 81 yards for a touchdown to jump-start the Fighting Hawks. He finished with 170 rushing yards to register the first 100-yard rushing game of his season and 14th of his career. Oliveira added 107 rushing yards as UND racked up a season-high 294 yards on the ground.

“I thought we got here and were in a good frame of mind, but we gave up too many points and too many big plays early,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “They put us on our heels tonight. We really need to rally and motivate the guys to stick with it. This is a program where the vision doesn’t change. The belief in how we do things doesn’t change, but we have to get better results.”

UC Davis wide receiver Keelan Doss/ UC Davis athletics

UC Davis wide receiver Keelan Doss/ UC Davis athletics

Doss caught a 65-yard touchdown pass on the first play for the Aggies after Santiago’s big run and the home team led 14-7 before three minutes had passed.

UC Davis would never trail again as Maier found Wesley Peerce for the next score on a 3-yard strike. It would be the first of three touchdown receptions for the Aggies’ tight end, who finished with eight catches for 97 yards. The home team would convert a UND turnover into another touchdown and Preece’s second score came after a three-and-out to push the advantage to 35-10 before the Fighting Hawks could regroup.

UC Davis, now 2-0 at home, returns to the field on Saturday, hosting Eastern Washington for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Aggie Stadium. UND hosts Northern Colorado.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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