Big Sky Conference

BIG SKY ROUNDUP: NAU wins again, SUU keeps pace



Northern Arizona won for the sixth straight week, remaining undefeated in Big Sky Conference play with three crucial games remaining. Southern Utah continued proving the Thunderbirds are contenders for a second league title in three seasons. Montana’s road woes continued while Weber State kept pace in the Big Sky race. Montana State takes a two-game winning streak into November after essentially eliminating Idaho State from playoff contention. UC Davis rallied to win the Battle of the Golden Horseshoe and keep rival Cal Poly winless in the process. North Dakota rallied as well, earning its second Big Sky victory to push Portland State to 0-8.

The Big Sky race entered November with five teams with at least four wins under their belts. That group includes NAU, SUU, Weber State, Montana State and idle Eastern Washington. Sacramento State and Montana are tied for sixth at 3-2 in league play.

2017 Football Standings

Northern Arizona5-01.0006-24-12-1W6
Southern Utah4-10.8006-23-03-2W4
Weber State4-10.8006-23-13-1W2
Eastern Washington4-10.8005-32-13-2L1
Montana State4-20.6674-42-22-2W2
Sacramento State3-20.6004-43-11-3L1
UC Davis2-30.4004-43-11-3W1
Idaho State2-40.3334-53-11-4L1
North Dakota2-40.3333-62-21-4W1
Northern Colorado1-40.2002-52-20-3L4
Cal Poly0-50.0000-80-30-5L8
Portland State0-50.0000-80-40-4L8

Northern Arizona 37, Sacramento State 17 — Northern Arizona safeties Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson each returned an interception for a touchdown to lead the Lumberjacks to their sixth consecutive victory with a 37-17 victory over Sacramento State on Saturday night at the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome.

Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers at the 2017 Big Sky Kickoff/ by Brooks Nuanez

The win over the Hornets extended the Lumberjacks current winning streak to six games – their longest since the 2013 season – and moved their overall record to 6-2, including an unblemished 5-0 in conference action. Sacramento State slips to 4-4 on the season and 3-2 in the Big Sky following the defeat.

Johnson’s pick-six marked his team-best fourth interception overall. He snagged a pass by Sacramento State’s Roman Ale and cruised 46 yards for the score with 7:03 remaining to put away a game that was separated by just six points (23-17) entering the final quarter.

“I’m really proud of our team, we’ve been on a roll,” NAU head coach Jerome Souers said. “Sometimes you come out to play and everything doesn’t roll out for you like you thought it was going to. This was a challenging Sacramento State team that is much improved. We knew it was going to be a battle. The thing we were most concerned about today was the self-inflicted mistakes that we had. We had an inordinate amount in the first half. We have not had ball security issues that we had today. We haven’t had penalties like we committed today on both side of the ball.

“What I loved was the passion we showed for the game. I love it when we play hard, our guys battled and they didn’t stop. The defense was inspirational, making big plays.”

Despite playing without his leading receiver Elijah Marks, NAU sophomore quarterback Case Cookus directed the ‘Jacks offense to over 400 yards for the sixth straight game with a total of 533 while completing 35-of-57 pass attempts for a total of 407 yards and a touchdown. His top target in the win was freshman Chancellor Brewington who hauled in eight passes for a season-best 119 yards while also scoring his first collegiate touchdown.

Northern Arizona running back Joe Logan hurdles a Sac State defender/ by NAU athletics

Sophomore Joe Logan led the ‘Jacks on the ground with 67 yards rushing and notched his fourth touchdown on the ground this season to push the lead to 30-17. Junior Cory Young added 62 yards on 15 carries.

The Hornets (4-4, 3-2) struggled to find rhythm on offense, finishing the game with 233 yards of total offense and committing two costly turnovers. Sacramento State used both Wyatt Clapper and Roman Ale at quarterback during the game and the duo finished 5-of-20 for 91 yards with a score. Over half of those yards came on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Dotson in the third quarter which helped the Hornets pull within three points.

Joseph Ajeigbe led the ground game with 11 rushes for a career high 119 yards. Ajeigbe had the team’s first touchdown of the game with a 71 dash up the middle for his fifth score of the season.

“(NAU) had us on our heels a little bit,” Sac State head coach Jody Sears said. “They were moving and things were happening pretty fast for Roman and Wyatt. We’ll get it corrected and move forward. That was a good football team.

“We have to stop worrying about the standings and get back to work and get a good game plan that we can execute. It will be good to get back home. We have to learn from it and embrace it but we’ll be ok.”


The Lumberjacks return to action next weekend as they hit the road to take on the University of Montana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula. Sac State hosts Northern Colorado.

Southern Utah 27, Northern Colorado 14 — No. 25 Southern Utah won their fourth consecutive game on Saturday afternoon in Greeley, Colorado, to move one step closer to its second Big Sky title since 2015.

With the victory the Thunderbirds have moved to 6-2 and 4-1 in the Big Sky Conference. The 6-2 mark secures a winning season for the Thunderbirds for the third consecutive fall. This is the first time since transitioning to Division I football that SUU has had three winning seasons in a row.

Southern Utah defensive tackle Fesi Va’avaka is playing fullback in recent weeks/ by Jason Bacaj

“That’s huge,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said of the accomplishment. “When I went into the interview process I said I want to create a winning program here, and I want to be sure our program takes the next step. I thought we were able to beat anybody in the country any given week, but we weren’t able to win year after year no matter what the schedule was, so being able to do that and continue the legacy that Ed Lamb started here really means a lot to me and I hope it means a lot to the coaches and players that have been in this program.”

The Thunderbirds wasted little time getting things going, as Bishop Jones forced a fumble on the Bears’ opening drive to put the Thunderbirds in prime position. Senior quarterback Patrick Tyler took advantage of the play, as he ran into the end-zone from 31 yards away to put the Thunderbirds up 6-0.

The Thunderbirds would strike once more before the end of the first quarter, as Jay Green Jr. followed Fesi Vaa’ivaka into the end-zone from two yards out to build the lead to 13-0.

After a UNC touchdown just about seven minutes into the second quarter, the Thunderbirds put their third touchdown on the board with five minutes remaining in the opening half when Tyler found Logan Parker from nine yards out. SUU took a 20-7 lead into halftime.

The Bears scored on their opening drive in the third quarter, but the Thunderbirds were able to counter a little later in the same frame with a 13-yard pass from Tyler to Cameron Chambers to put the T-Birds up 27-14, Chambers’ first touchdown of the 2017 campaign.

Tyler threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns for the Thunderbirds on 21 completions. He also ran for 34 yards and the early score.

“Whenever you can win six games and have a winning season that’s great for the program,” Tyler said following the game. “It’s great for everybody, we put in a lot of hard work and we deserve it.”

James Felila rushed 23 times for 126 yards. Tyler’s top target was Logan Parker, who caught four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Taylor Nelson had 10 tackles to lead the team, with 1.5 tackles for loss. Chance Bearnson had two sacks on Saturday to lead the team in that category.

“We did not make enough plays,” UND head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. “We didn’t make enough plays in the first half and on defense we had those two turnovers early to give them short fields. In the second half, we were able to hold them to seven points but missed out on a chance to put a little pressure on them when we were wide open in the end zone.

The Thunderbirds will return home next weekend for a matchup with the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota. Northern Colorado plays at Sac State.

North Dakota 48, Portland State 21 — After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, North Dakota dominated the remainder of the game to register a win over at Providence Park. The Fighting Hawks (3-6, 2-4 BSC) picked up their first road win of the season and got touchdowns from all three phases to snap a two-game losing streak.

Brady Oliveira (5) and John Santiago celebrate on Saturday/ by UND athletics

“It was a really good team win,” UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “I thought all three phases really contributed tonight after a rough start. We did not get off to a good start, so credit our guys for coming back in those last three quarters and really playing dominating football.”

The Vikings built an early 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of UND miscues in the opening quarter, but the visitors erased those plays from the memory bank and dominated the rest of the way, scoring 34 unanswered points to keep Portland State (0-8, 0-5 BSC) winless on the season.

UND got 13 of those points back before halftime after senior Reid Taubenheim connected on field goals from 22 and 25 yards out and James Johannesson scored on a 1-yard plunge with 3:45 to play before the break. Johannesson’s team-leading fourth touchdown of the season came following a Torrey Hunt interception, which was the first of four turnovers UND would force the rest of the way.

In the third quarter, UND’s offense, defense and special teams all scored touchdowns to put the game out of the reach. Junior John Santiago started things with a 13-yard rushing score that put the Fighting Hawks ahead for the first time at 20-14. The All-American then followed it up with one of the most electric punt returns in school history. He broke seven tackles en route to a 64-yard return that made it a 27-14 contest.

He would also become just the fourth UND player to eclipse the 3,000-yard rushing mark in the contest, finishing with nine carries to land on 3,002 for his career, which also happened to be the announced attendance at Providence Park.

After the teams swapped punts, Jaxson Turner batted an Eason pass in the air and defensive end Austin Cieslak corralled the ball for a pick-six from five yards out to push the visitor’s lead to 34-14. Turner was a menace all game, finishing with a career-high eight tackles, including for four a loss.

After Brady Oliveira made it a 41-21 contest with a 3-yard rushing score with just over a minute to play, Turner sacked PSU back-up quarterback Davis Alexander near midfield and Carter Wilson capped the scoring with a 50-yard fumble return for UND’s second defensive score of the night.

UND stays on the road and will play again next Saturday at Southern Utah. Portland State plays winless Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. 

UC Davis 31, Cal Poly 28 — Sophomore quarterback Jake Maier threw for 459 yards and four touchdowns and the UC Davis defense came up with a pair of stops on fourth down to halt Cal Poly on its final two drives on the night, as the Aggies jumped out quickly and held off the Mustangs for a 31-28 victory on Saturday night in front of 10,503 fans at Aggie Stadium.

The win pushed UC Davis to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky Conference, taking home the victory in the “Battle for the Golden Horseshoe” in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Aggie Stadium’s 11-year history.

Cal Poly, led by Jared Mohamed’s 143 yards on a career-high 35 carries, fell to 0-8 overall and 0-5 in conference play.

Senior hydrology major Ryan Bua finished with a career-high 16 tackles — the most in the program’s Division I era — while the Aggies sacked quarterback Jake Jeffrey three times and finished with five tackles for loss.

UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier/ by UC Davis athletics

Maier finished 33-for-43 with four touchdowns through the air — two each to Wesley Preece and Aaron Moore — while his 459 yards are also a program Big Sky era record and stand third on the all-time list behind Kevin Daft’s 495 yards against Southern Utah in 1998 and Daft’s 482 yards at New Haven in 1997 NCAA semifinals.

Moore, who finished with a career-high 159 yards on seven catches, and junior Keelan Doss added 145 more on 14 balls, became the first teammates to collect 100 receiving yards in a game since Brandon Rice (five catches for 140) and Bakari Grant (seven catches for 118) against Cal Poly on Oct. 13, 2007.

With Saturday’s final total, Doss will enter next week’s road game at Idaho State with 1,121 receiving yards. He is the eighth Aggie receiver in program history to collect 1,000 or more in a single season, and the first since 2005.

Leading, 31-14, at the break, the Mustangs went 75 yards in seven players to make it a 10-point game, and got a huge boost from their defense, stopping the Aggies on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line. Cal Poly then methodically drove down the field for another score, using 17 plays to go 99 yards, capped by a two-yard plunge by Mohamed to make it 31-28.

That’s when the UC Davis defense stiffened, forcing a punt deep in Cal Poly’s own end thanks to a sack on 3rd-and-8 by junior managerial economics major Terrell Cloud.

The Aggies crossed the 50 only to give the ball back, but the defense didn’t back down. Junior international relations major Isiah Olave knocked away a pass on 4th-and-7 inside the 5-yard line that almost turned into an interception, and the Mustangs dropped back-to-back balls on third and fourth down that would have kept their final drive alive, giving the ball back to UC Davis, which took a pair of knees to end the game.

Sophomore Bryce Rodgers added to the defensive ledger with 11 tackles — two for a loss — and a sack, while sophomore natural sciences major Nas Anesi added 10 more. Olave broke up a pair of passes and the defense came up with a pair of fumbles — the second of which halted a Cal Poly 14-play drive on the UC Davis 9-yard line late in the second quarter.


UC Davis plays at Idaho State next weekend. Cal Poly hosts Portland State.

Eastern Washington – IDLE

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