Big Sky Conference

BIG SKY ROUNDUP: EWU, PSU win in thrilling fashion, Southern Utah stays unbeaten


On an afternoon in which Cooper Kupp continued to set records, the Eastern Washington Eagles needed a series of clutch plays across the board to avoid an upset for the ages.

Kupp caught 20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns to continue his obliteration of almost every Big Sky Conference and FCS passing record. But it was Jordan Dascalo’s 44-yard field goal set up by two Kupp first-down catches that helped lift No. 7 EWU to a 43-41 victory over upstart Northern Colorado in Greeley on Saturday.

EWU junior quarterback Jordan West hit Kupp for a 22-yard touchdown, the 52nd of Kupp’s illustrious career, to give Eastern a 40-28 lead with 5:23 to play. But Northern Colorado staged a feverish rally that almost gave the Bears its first-ever win over the three-time defending Big Sky champions. UNC quarterback Jacob Knip hit Michael McCauley for a 20-yard touchdown with 2:12 left to cut the Eastern lead to 40-35. The Bears recovered the ensuing onside kick, Knipp hit McCauley for a 58-yard touchdown and Darius Graham converted the two-point conversion to give UNC a 41-40 lead with 1:23 remaining.

Mikhail Dubose sacked West on second down on the following drive, putting EWU in a precarious situation. But West hit Kupp for a 31-yard pass and a first down, then moved the chains again with first-down passes of 10 yards to Terence Grady and 13 yards to Kupp. West’s next two passes fell incomplete, brining on Dascalo, who missed two extra points earlier in the game. He drilled the kick as time expired to lift EWU to its fourth straight Big Sky win and its fifth straight victory overall.

EWU kicker Jordan Dascalo celebrates a game winning field goal

EWU kicker Jordan Dascalo celebrates a game winning field goal

“It was one of those hard-fought games on the road,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin in an EWU press release. “At different times they felt in control, and then we felt in control up 12. But give them credit – they made plays. Ultimately it took us to go down and make a big field goal by Dascalo. When he hit it there was never a doubt – he drilled it. Give him credit, he hasn’t kicked a lot of those. He does in practice, but he hasn’t been our field goal kicker. But he keeps getting better and better. He just hasn’t kicked much in the past.”

Kupp finished with school records in catches and yards in a single game, bringing his career totals to 281 receptions, 4,338 yards and 52 touchdowns. A pair of second quarter grabs broke the previous league receptions record of 268 held by Kasey Dunn of Idaho (1988-91). A 19-yard reception during a last-minute touchdown drive in the second quarter surpassed the previous league record of 4,140 yards held by EWU’s Eric Kimble (2002-05).

Kupp has played only 35 games in his career, and now finds himself within striking distance of several FCS records, including the touchdown record. He now has 52 TD receptions in his career, just six behind the record of 58 set by New Hampshire’s David Ball.

UNC tight end Michael McCauley catches and runs for a touchdown vs. EWU/by Rob Trubia

UNC tight end Michael McCauley catches and runs for a touchdown vs. EWU/by Rob Trubia

“He means so much in how he leads, how he handles things and treats teammates. More than just the receiver he is, he’s just incredible in how he carries himself and the person and teammate he is,” Baldwin said. “That’s Cooper Kupp in a nutshell. He has all the tools as not just a football player, but as a human. We’re just lucky and enjoying every day we get to spend with him. It’s something special.”

West threw for 428 yards and four touchdowns as EWU piled up 648 yards of total offense and notched 35 first downs. Knipp threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns, including three scoring strikes to McCauley and the Bears returned a punt and an interception for touchdowns in the third quarter to keep the game tight.

EWU moves to 5-2 overall, 4-0 in Big Sky play with the win. The Eagles host Weber State next week. The loss drops UNC to 4-2 overall, 2-3 in Big Sky play. The Bears play at Northern Arizona next week.

No. 13 Portland State 38, Cal Poly 35 — The “Barny Ball” train continued to chug full steam ahead with a thrilling win following a 15-hour bus ride to San Luis Obispo, California. With the game tied 35-35 with 2:34 to play, PSU marched 52 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 27-yard Jonathan Gonzalez field goal to lift Portland State to its sixth win.

PSU kicker Johnathan Gonzalez kicks the game winning field goal over Cal Poly/by Ryan Vance

PSU kicker Johnathan Gonzalez kicks the game winning field goal over Cal Poly/by Ryan Vance

Despite the absence of senior starting quarterback Chris Brown, Cal Poly’s vaunted triple option offense rushed for 420 yards and averaged almost six yards per carry in putting Portland State on the ropes. But Portland State junior quarterback Alex Kuresa threw for 232yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 101 yards and two more scores in the win.

On the final drive, Kuresa, a junior college transfer, ripped off a 12-yard run on the first play, then hit sophomore Trent Riley for two straight 11-yard completions. Kuresa’s seven-yard run and nine-yard pass to junior Darnell Adams helped get the Viking offense down to the Cal Poly 10 to set up the win.

“He changed up some stuff, went to some audibles in that last drive that got us close enough for the chip-shot field goal,” Vikings head coach Bruce Barnum said in a PSU press release. “Alex had a helluva game.”

A week after Portland State rushed for a school-record 465 yards against Montana State, the Vikings were held to 154 yards and 3.7 yards per carry thanks to a swarming effort that included 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. Joe Gigantino and Kelly Shepard each had 2.5 tackles for loss and Burton De Koning added two tackles for loss for the Mustangs.

Cal Poly running back Kori Garcia stiff arms a PSU defender/by Cal Poly Athletics

Cal Poly running back Kori Garcia stiff arms a PSU defender/by Cal Poly Athletics

“Cal Poly did a great job taking away our run game. They did some things we had to adjust to at halftime,” Barnum said. “But we weathered the storm. It is hard-to-impossible to win down here. You see why these guys have been so good on this field with the way they play.”

Portland State countered by forcing three Cal Poly fumbles and recovered all three. Junior Alexis, Michael Doman and Tyler Foreman all forced fumbles.

The victory moves PSU to 3-1 in Big Sky play, 6-1 overall. Portland State hosts No. 19 Montana next week. Cal Poly is now 1-3 in league play, 2-5 overall. The Mustangs are likely out of playoff contention. CP plays at Southern Utah next week.

Southern Utah 34, UC Davis 6 — UC Davis began the game with more scoring success than any Southern Utah this season thus far. That’s how stout the Thunderbirds’ defense has been and continues to be.

Davis senior Brady Stuart’s 33-yard field goal gave UC Davis a 7-0 lead. His 48-yard field goal helped the Aggies enter the locker room trailing just 7-6 to one of two remaining undefeated Big Sky teams. But Southern Utah turned up the heat in the second half and the SUU offense found its stride as the T-Birds won for a fifth straight week to move to 4-0 in conference play.

SUU TBirds/SUU Media Relations

SUU TBirds/SUU Media Relations

The Southern Utah defense entered the game having allowed three points all conference season. On Saturday, the Thunderbirds continued to swarm. SUU held Davis to 78 rushing yards and 2.2 yards per carry. UCD gained just 235 yards of total offense. Senior defensive end James Cowser piled up two sacks and three tackles for loss as SUU totaled seven sacks and 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Sophomore linebacker Taylor Pili added two sacks while senior safety Miles Killebrew piled up 15 tackles and a tackle for loss.

Offensively, SUU continued to roll despite the abrupt resignation of offensive coordinator Gary Crowton two weeks ago. Over the last two weeks, SUU is averaging nearly 40 points per game. On Saturday, Southern Utah piled up 531 yards of total offense including 336 yards passing by senior quarterback Ammon Olsen. He found senior wide receiver Justin Brown eight times for 121 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to give SUU a 20-6 lead. Senior tight end Steven Wroblewski also caught a touchdown pass.

Southern Utah is now 5-2 overall. The Thunderbirds host Cal Poly next weekend. Davis is 1-4 in league, 1-7 overall. The Aggies play at Weber State next week.

Northern Arizona 52, Weber State 36 — Weber State’s bid for a third straight fourth quarter comeback fell short as NAU continues to be the hardest team in the league to get a bead on.

NAU wide receiver Emmanuel Butler catches a pass down the sidelines vs. Weber State/by Nick Canaday

NAU wide receiver Emmanuel Butler catches a pass down the sidelines vs. Weber State/by Nick Canaday

The Lumberjacks jumped out to a 35-3 lead late in the first half and led 42-9 early in the third quarter. WSU then ran off four straight touchdowns to cut the lead to six points just over 10 minutes to play but NAU’s two touchdowns late in the game sealed the win. The Wildcats drop to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in Big Sky play with three games remaining.

“You have to give NAU credit for getting us on our heels early,”  WSU head coach Jay Hill said in a Weber press release. “We fought back well in the second half but you can’t put yourself in that position and that’s what we did to start the game.”

Northern Arizona won for the third straight time at home this season. NAU blasted Montana State 49-41 before losing at UC Davis the following week, the Aggies’ lone win this season. Off a bye, NAU stayed hot offensively behind true freshman Case Cookus.

For the first time this season, an opponent held NAU sophomore wide receiver Emmanuel Butler without a touchdown as he finished with just 41 yards receiving, his lowest total during a stellar second season. Cookus threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns anyways. Senior Dejzon Walker caught eight passes for 106 yards and a 6-yard touchdown to begin the scoring barrage. Sophomore Elijah Marks, junior Kendyl Taylor and sophomore Hunter Burton caught touchdowns and Cookus rushed for a touchdown as NAU took a 35-9 lead into halftime.

Weber State wide receiver Darryl Denby catches a pass vs. NAU/by Weber St. Athletics

Weber State wide receiver Darryl Denby catches a pass vs. NAU/by Weber St. Athletics

The NAU lead swelled to 42-9 with senior Eddie Horn’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown. Then the Weber comeback began. Junior quarterback Jadrian Clark scored a three-yard rushing touchdown and threw a 27-yard touchdown to junior Ross Stribling before the third quarter ended. Sophomore Erik Wilkes scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to cut the NAU lead to 42-36 but a senior Ryan Hawkins 19-yard field goal and a senior Casey Jahn 1-yard run helped NAU move to 2-2 in Big Sky play, 4-3 overall.

Weber State hosts UC Davis next week. Northern Arizona hosts Northern Colorado.

 Sacramento State 38, Idaho State 13 — With quarterback Michael Sanders back home in Pocatello with an injury, redshirt freshman Tanner Gueller made his first career start. Three third quarter interceptions and Mike Kramer decided to go with his third quarterback even if Trae Pilster is actually a wide receiver. Nothing seems to be working for the Bengals as ISU’s nightmare season continues.

Sac State quarterback Nate Ketteringham against ISU/Sac State Athletics

Sac State quarterback Nate Ketteringham against ISU/Sac State Athletics

“The game caught up to Tanner a bit. He started thinking instead of reading his keys and going through his progressions,” Kramer said as ISU fell to 1-4 in league play, 2-6 overall. “To Trae’s defense he has played quarterback for five days. We weren’t going to burn the freshman. Mike is at home and hopefully we can get him back on his feet in two weeks.

“Three interceptions is my limit.”

ISU trailed just 17-10 at halftime but three third-quarter turnovers and five turnovers overall helped the Hornets to their first Division I win this season. Sac’s offense entered the game averaging 10 points per game during a six-game Division I losing streak. Sac true freshman quarterback Nate Ketteringham had his best outing to date, completing 20-of-26 passes for 287 yards, including two touchdown tosses to senior Shane Harrison.

“They are God-awful and they found a way to play better tonight,” Kramer told Kyle Franko of the Idaho State Journal. “A high school team could do what we did defensively tonight.”

Idaho State has a bye next week before returning home to host Montana on November 7. Sacramento State plays in-state rival Cal Poly in San Luis Obisipo next week.

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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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