Big Sky Conference

BIG SKY ROUNDUP: Idaho State springs upset, Southern Utah outlasts UNI



The Big Sky Conference finally got on the board in the Missouri Valley-Big Sky challenge thanks to the Thunderbirds.

North Dakota actually posted the Big Sky’s first victory in the challenge between two of the top leagues in the FCS. The Fighting Hawks blasted Missouri State 34-0 last week. The reigning Big Sky champions took down a team expected to finish last in the 10-team MVC.

On Saturday, Southern Utah posted the first marquee win thus far in the series. The Missouri claimed victory in five of the first six games between the leagues, including No. 2 North Dakota State dominating No. 5 Eastern Washington 40-13 in Cheney last week and South Dakota blasting UND 45-7 in Vermillion on Saturday.

In front of a raucous home crowd, Southern Utah nailed a field goal in the final minute to lift the team to a 24-21 victory over No. 18 Northern Iowa. It marked the Big Sky’s second win in seven matchups in the series.

SUU’s win served as one of premier wins for the Big Sky as most of the teams in the league wrapped non-conference play on Saturday. The other came as Idaho State, a perennial cellar dweller in the league, posted a 30-28 win over Nevada. The victory over the former Big Sky member served as ISU’s first over an FBS opponent since 2000.

ISU quarterback Tanner Gueller (4)

ISU quarterback Tanner Gueller (4)/ by Brooks Nuanez

Idaho State 30, Nevada 28 — The Bengals built a 30-7 lead before hanging on for dear life at Mackay Stadium in Reno on Saturday night. The upset marks Idaho State’s first win over an FBS opponent since defeating Utah State 27-24 in Logan in 2000.

The Bengal defense forced three turnovers. Idaho State finished with 383 total yards while Nevada had 423.

Junior Tanner Gueller was 19-38 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Sophomore Michael Dean caught five passes for 133 yards and one touchdown. Junior James Madison carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards.

Senior Mario Jenkins led the Bengal defense with 17 tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. Sophomore Adkin Aguirre had eight tackles and one fumble recovery. Junior Tucker Louie-McGee and junior Joe Martin each had seven tackles.

Idaho State jumped out to a 10-0 in the first quarter after the Bengal defense forced a punt and Martin came up with an interception.

Idaho State took a 3-0 lead when Parker Johnson connected on his first of two 36-yard field goals. Following a Nevada turnover thanks to a Brandon Monroe interception, ISU took its 10-0 lead on a Ty Flanagan one-yard run with 6:45 left in the quarter. Nevada followed with a touchdown with 11:31 left in the second quarter but another field goal by Johnson from 36-yards out made the score 13-7 with 9:27 left in the first half.

Then with 3:12 left until halftime, Hagen Graves caught a 15-yard strike from Gueller to up the lead to 20-7 and Johnson made a 19-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to give the Bengals a 23-7 lead at halftime.

With 10 minutes left in the third quarter the Bengals took a 30-7 lead thanks to a 50-yard touchdown reception by Dean. Nevada then scored 21 straight points and had a chance to tie the game with under a minute to play after a touchdown. But the two-point conversion fell short and Matt Peterson recovered the onside kick to seal the victory for the Bengals.

North Dakota junior John Santiago on a 66-yard kickoff return/ by Russ Hons, UND athletics

North Dakota junior John Santiago on a 66-yard kickoff return/ by Russ Hons, UND athletics

No. 23 South Dakota 45, No. 10 North Dakota 7 — South Dakota utterly dominated the defending Big Sky champions from UND from opening whistle until final buzzer, stamping the first 3-0 start for the Coyotes since 2006.

In the only matchup of FCS-ranked foes this weekend, the Coyotes (3-0) ruled from the onset as the Fighting Hawks (1-2) could never find a rhythm on either side of the ball.

Senior quarterback Chris Streveler, a hulking former transfer from Minnesota, continued his stellar play, throwing for 290 yards and a touchdown nd running for two more scores. His seven-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter staked the hosts to a 17-0 lead. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Shamar Jackson with 10 seconds to play in the first half gave USD a 31-0 advantage at the break. His 14-yard touchdown run five minutes into the third quarter ensure the rout was on as the hosts led 38-0 at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

“This is one of those games you really have to learn from,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We can’t just flush this one away. Early on, it was penalties that cost us. We had third-and-two and third-and-three that turned into third-and-long situations. You just can’t do that.

“Then we couldn’t get stop their run game. We had chances to get them off the field and could not come up with a stop. That was the most disappointing part of it.”

Neither team turned the ball over in a contest that saw USD outgain UND by over 300 yards (575 to 257). The Coyotes were also 8-for-17 on third down and converted both of their fourth-down attempts. USD also held a 33-10 advantage in first downs.

UND managed just 103 yards of total offense in the first half and its best scoring chance came after a 66-yard kickoff return by John Santiago, but came up empty after a 41-yard field goal attempt by Reid Taubenheim sailed wide.

The Coyotes’ were stout defensively too as UND went just 1-for-12 on third-down conversions and came up empty on four fourth-down attempts.

The Fighting Hawks cracked the scoreboard midway through the third-quarter when Keaton Studsrud found Travis Toivonen from 10 yards out, but it was too late to mount the thrilling comeback UND put together a season ago in the 47-44 double-overtime win against the Coyotes in Grand Forks. The win was the 30th in 96 meetings between the two teams.

Santiago finished with 85 yards rushing to pace UND, who finished with just 102 total yards on the ground. Studsrud finished 11-for-22 in the passing department for 133 yards and the scoring strike to Toivonen.

The next time the border rivals meet, it will be as members of the Missouri Valley in 2020. UND is leaving the league permanent in 2018. North Dakota opens its final Big Sky slate next week at home against Montana State. 


Eastern Washington’s defense piled up a school-record 10 sacks on Saturday/ EWU athletics

No. 12 Eastern Washington 56, Fordham 21 — After two straight losses to begin the Aaron Best era, Eastern Washington finally found its rhythm in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles found a little history too on the school’s first ever venture to New York.

With EWU’s defense registering a school-record 10 sacks and the offense piling up 650 total yards, the No. 12 Eagles defeated Fordham of the Patriot League at Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx. Eastern scored 28 unanswered points to pull away from a 7-7 tie after the first quarter.

“I don’t know if words describe how this team has come together and believed in themselves,” said Best, who took over for legendary Beau Baldwin in the off-season after Baldwin’s departure to Cal. “They did a great job of coming across the country and playing well on both sides of the ball.”

Junior All-America quarterback Gage Gubrud passed for 399 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for two scores in helping Best record his first victory as EWU’s head coach. Eastern finished with its seventh-most yards in school history, compared to just 217 for the Rams.

The Eagles had a dominating 181 to minus-3 advantage in the second quarter. Because of the sacks, Fordham had just 26 net yards rushing.

“I don’t care if it was six sacks or 10 sacks, that defensive front four was amazing,” Best said. “And that was without (first-team All-Big Sky tackle) Jay-Tee Tiuli, a player who has a lot of experience and success. Give (assistant coaches) Eti Ena, Jeff Schmedding and Brian Strandley a ton of credit. The linebackers filled the gaps like they need to and our backend wasn’t too shabby themselves. If we play defense at that pace and with that passion, we have a chance in most ballgames. That’s who we are – we are blue collar.”

It was just EWU’s eighth game ever east of the Mississippi River, and sixth in the Eastern time zone. It was the first-ever meeting for EWU against the Rams, a collegiate football power in the 1930s known for the “Seven Blocks of Granite” featuring the famous Vince Lombardi.

Saturday’s game was the 200th in 16-plus years for Best as a coach at Eastern. He was 129-68 in 16 previous years as an assistant coach from 2000-2006 and 2008-16 until taking over as head coach this season.

EWU celebrates/ EWU athletics

EWU celebrates/ EWU athletics

The game was to feature a pair of players who finished in the top four in voting last year for the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, but only one of them played. Gubrud was third and Fordham running back Chase Edmonds – injured and unable to play versus the Eagles — was fourth. While Gubrud passed for a FCS record 5,160 yards, Edmonds is chasing the FCS career rushing record. He has 5,400, needing 1,159 to equal the record of 6,559 set by Adrian Peterson of Georgia Southern. A year ago, Edmonds was first in the nation in rushing yards per game (163.5), and second in all-purpose yards per game (194.6) and points per game (10.9).

Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play on the road at Montana on Saturday night.

“We’re not going to talk about our trip to Missoula yet – we’ll deal with that on Sunday,” Best said. “We’ll enjoy the ride home. The first one is always the big one, so congratulations Eagle Nation.”

Southern Utah 24, No. 18 Northern Iowa 21 — The Thunderbirds opened their home season with a bang on Saturday evening, upsetting No. 18 Northern Iowa thanks to a field goal in the final minute of play in front of 8,841 fans in Cedar City on Saturday night.

Southern Utah shook off a three-interception day from senior quarterback Patrick Tyler, the reigning Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week, to find a way to win. Tyler, who threw for 200 yards overall, marched SUU inside the 10-yard line with 1:50 to play to set up Manny Berz’s go-ahead field goal from 26 yards out.

“I was just excited to be out there and get a chance to contribute to the team,” Berz said. “I had all my trust in my long snapper Chandler Dowell and my holder Judd Cockett, and they did their job and I did mine.”

Southern Utah kicker Manny Berz before his game-winning field goal/ by SUU athletics

Southern Utah kicker Manny Berz before his game-winning field goal/ by SUU athletics

James Felila’s 20-yard touchdown run, his second of the day, with 4:35 left in the third quarter put Southern Utah up 21-10 in a defensive battle. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Eli Dunne threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Trevor Allen before finding Briley Moore for the 2-point conversion. Minutes later, Austin Errthum hit a 30-yard field goal for Northern Iowa to tie the game at 21 with 5:37 left.

The Panthers had a 53-yard field goal attempt with three minutes but SUU’s Jarmaine Doubs blocked the kick, returning it 29 yards to the UNI 17 to set up the game-winning field goal.

Jalen Russell intercepted UNI Eli Dunne as Northern Iowa heaved the ball for one last try, which sealed the game and gave SUU the win.

Felila finished with 92 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-yard plunge in the first quarter that served as the first score of the game for the home team. Not 30 seconds into the second quarter the Thunderbirds scored again as Tyler found Bryan Beckon from 33-yards out to put the Thunderbirds up 14-0.

The Panthers would cut into the Thunderbird lead before the first half was up, as Seth Thomas returned an interception for a touchdown with 6:52 left in the first half.

Junior linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu had 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble for the Thunderbirds. Senior outside linebacker Taylor Nelson had 11 tackles for SUU.

“I’m really proud of the guys, we’ve talked about way bigger goals than this,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “We’re 0-0 in the Big Sky and we were picked seventh, so we’ve got a lot to prove next week and we don’t win the Big Sky without that game.”

The Thunderbirds will continue their season next weekend, when they will head to Sacramento to face off against the Hornets of Sacramento State.

Weber State celebrates/ by WSU athletics

Weber State celebrates/ by WSU athletics

Weber State 31, Sacramento State 24 — Weber State jumped out to a big lead, then held on for a 31-24 win over Sacramento State Saturday night at Hornet Stadium. The win moves WSU to 2-1 as the Wildcats return home next week to open Big Sky play.

The game got off to a terrific start for Weber State as the Wildcats scored three-straight touchdowns and made two-point conversions on each score to jump out to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter.

WSU opened the scoring with a trick play as tight end Andrew Vollert found Drew Batchelor for a three-yard touchdown, followed by a Stefan Cantwell two-point conversion to make it 8-0 with 7:56 left in the first quarter.

On the next Sacramento State possession, Jonah Williams blocked a Sac State punt and picked up the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. It was the first blocked punt returned for a touchdown by a WSU player since 2002. Cantwell then found Kallin Fisher for the two-point conversion to make it 16-0 with 6:39 left in the quarter.

Early in the second quarter Cantwell found Batchelor for a 12-yard touchdown, followed by a Vollert pass to McKay Murphy and the ‘Cats led 24-0.
Sacramento State got on the board with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Thompson to Jaelin Ratliff to make it 24-7 with 6:02 to play. On the next play from scrimmage, Cantwell’s pass was intercepted by Malcolm Thomas and returned 15-yards for a Hornet touchdown to make it 24-14. The Hornets cut it to 24-21 in the third quarter after a three-yard run by Andre Lindsay.

Weber State opened the fourth quarter with an 11-yard, 60-play drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Cantwell to make it 31-21.

After a big kickoff return, the Hornets added a 36-yard field goal to make it 31-24 and Weber State was able to stop Sacramento State the rest of the way.

Weber State head coach Jay Hill/by Brooks Nuanez

Weber State head coach Jay Hill/by Brooks Nuanez

“We got off to a great start and really fought when things didn’t go our way,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “I was proud how they continued to battle. It wasn’t the cleanest of games but we did a lot of little things that you have to do to win games and we were able to do that.”

Weber State had 279 yards of total offense, compared to 220 for Sacramento State. WSU also had 21 first downs with just nine for the Hornets. The ‘Cats also converted on 50 percent of their third down conversions and held the Hornets to 4 of 13 on third downs.

Individually, Cantwell threw for 109 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 56 yards and another score. Batchelor led the receivers with four catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns and Vollert had four catches for 26 yards. Treshawn Garrett led the rushing attack with 18 carries for 99 yards.

Defensively, Landon Stice, playing in his first game of the year, had seven tackles with one tackle for loss. Jawain Harrison Jr. also had seven tackles, while Taron Johnson had five tackles and one pass breakup. The Wildcats had five tackles for loss and one sack.

The win was Weber State’s first win in Sacramento since 2008. The Wildcats will return home next week to open Big Sky play as they host UC Davis on Saturday. It will also be the annual Homecoming game at Weber State.

UC Davis Ryan Parenteau/ courtesy of UCD athletics

UC Davis Ryan Parenteau/ courtesy of UCD athletics

UC Davis 37, Portland State 14 — The Dan Hawkins era continues to gain momentum.

The successful head coach took over at his alma mater in the off-season and has already led the Aggies to two Division I wins, as many as UCD had all last season. The victory over Portland State affirmed the improvement; the Vikings went toe to toe with back-to-back FBS opponents before losing to BYU (20-6) and Oregon State (35-32) in consecutive weeks before last week’s bye. 

From the opening kick of Saturday’s game at Providence Park, UC Davis dominated all three facets of this designated non-conference matchup against the Vikings. The Aggies scored 17 unanswered points before the break, and recorded nearly 300 total yards of offense.

Even though the Vikings scored on their first drive of the second half, that became its only meaningful highlight because UC Davis’ defense, another blocked punt from Ryan Parenteau a two-yard swing pass from Jake Maier to Ethan Hicks in the third quarter, and additional touchdowns from Keelan Doss and C.J. Spencer in the fourth led to a 37-14 victory.

“We’re continuing to practice better and play better, always in search of the ‘perfect game,’ ” said head coach Dan Hawkins. “There are things to clean up, but a lot of guys battled. I thought our defense played well, again. We didn’t turn the ball over offensively, which was something we really worked on. We were able to get two big special teams plays on a pair of blocked punts, very critical to curb some of the momentum.

“These guys deserve some confidence and a little wind in their sails. They’ve worked so hard, have been so dedicated and so ‘on it,’ it’s been unbelievable.”

With the win, UC Davis snapped its five-game head-to-head slide versus PSU, recorded its first win in Portland since Oct. 24, 2009, and will enter next weekend’s Big Sky opener at Weber State with a 2-1 record. The Aggies’ 17-0 lead at halftime marked the first time that UC Davis had shutout an opponent in a half dating back to the first half against Sacramento State on Nov. 21, 2015, leading 21-0 at the break en route to a 35-21 victory.

PSU head coach Bruce Barnum/by PSU Athletics

PSU head coach Bruce Barnum/by PSU Athletics

The Vikings will enter their first league matchup at 0-3. All the promise of two tough performances against FBS programs disappeared in a flurry of mistakes for Portland State. PSU suffered two blocked punts, a fumble, missed blocking assignments and a critical personal foul that kept a UCD drive alive just when PSU didn’t need it to happen.

“We got outplayed. We got whupped,” said Viking Coach Bruce Barnum. “I don’t think that is my football team (today) after what we saw in the prior two games… there was no rhythm, no energy, but UC Davis outplayed us.”

Davis ran up 490 total yards against the Vikings’ defense. Davis quarterback Jake Maier wound up hitting 24 of 32 pass for 316 yards. The Vikings ran for 246 yards, but hit only 12 passes in 31 attempts for just 115 yards. Freshman Jason Talley rushed 77 yards on 14 carries for PSU.

Colorado 41, Northern Colorado 21 — The Northern Colorado football team came into Folsom Field Saturday afternoon and didn’t back down to the challenge of facing the defending Pac-12 South Division champions Colorado.

The loss moves Northern Colorado’s record to 1-1, as they head into Big Sky Conference play next weekend.

UNC built an early 7-0 lead as quarterback Jacob Knipp found speedy Alex Wesley for a 33-yard touchdown. Colorado answered, forced a UNC turnover, then answered again to flip the advantage and lead 14-7.

Northern Colorado earned a prime chance of its own to even the game at 14 after a punt hit off of the leg of Colorado’s Daniel Talley and UNC recovered at their own 48. On the first play after retaining possession, the Bears took a shot deep but just missed as Knipp’s pass went through the hands of a streaking Hakeem Deggs down the middle of the field for a would-be touchdown.

Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp/by UNC athletics

Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp/by UNC athletics

Follow that drive that ended up stalling for UNC, CU came out and marched right down the field to make it a 21-7 ballgame. The lead swelled to 28-7 late in the first half. UNC kept competing, having it’s next to last possession of the half extended by a targeting call on 3rd and 7. They did not waste the opportunity, as Knipp connected with Wesley for the second time of the day for a touchdown. This time, it was a 52-yard bomb that put Northern Colorado back in the end zone and cut the lead to 28-14.

Northern Colorado received the opening kickoff of the second half and marched down the field. A roughing the passer penalty set up the Bears scoring play by putting them on the 27-yard line of CU. Knipp found tight end Mike McCauley down the left sideline to make it a one-score game at 28-21, Colorado.

CU scored 13 unanswered points thereafter to avoid the upset.

Northern Colorado hosts Idaho State top open Big Sky play next week.

Montana 56, Savannah State 3 (CLICK FOR STORY)

All photos attributed. All Rights Reserved. 

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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