A week after four of five favored teams earned victories, the Big Sky Conference returned to its unpredictable ways on Saturday.
Southern Utah buckled into the driver’s seat with a dominant victory at Montana State and Weber State moved one step closer to a winning season with a win over UC Davis in the only games that played out like expected on Saturday.
Montana was expected to win in Pocatello but not in the wild fashion the Grizzlies did. Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona put a wrench in the conference race with two weeks remaining with upset wins over Portland State and Eastern Washington, respectively.
Northern Colorado 35, No. 10 Portland State 32 — In Greeley, the Bears assumed control on their own 11-yard line with 44 seconds to play trailing 32-28. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Knipp hit freshman wide receiver Alex Wesley for a 58-yard gain and then hit freshman running back Trae Riek for a 28-yard gain down to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Riek punched in a touchdown for the game-winning score with 23 seconds to play.
“When we got the ball back with fifty seven seconds and no timeouts I simply looked at Jacob and said, ‘Make everybody a believer’,” UNC head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said in a UNC press release. “We have a special group of young men. We very easily could have packed it in after last week’s loss (63-21 loss at Northern Arizona), but this week we worked on assignment football and I told the guys that if everyone did their job today that we would win this game. The kids responded, came out and did what they were supposed to do.”
The win lifts Northern Colorado to 3-4 in Big Sky Conference play, 5-4 overall. The win total marks the highest in five seasons with head coach Earnest Collins Jr. at the helm. The win marks the first time UNC has defeated a Top 10 team in the FCS since moving up to Division I and joining the Big Sky in 2006. It is the third win in program history over a ranked opponent.
The Bears jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter off Wesley’s 34-yard score and a 16-yard touchdown run from redshirt sophomore back, Brandon Cartagena. Knipp bumped the Bears’ lead to 21-7 with a one-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa hit Darnell Adams for a 19-yard touchdown with 10 seconds to play in the first half to cut the UNC lead to 21-17.
Adams caught a 64-yard touchdown with 9:41 left to play to cut the UNC lead to 28-25 and Steven Long’s 25-yard touchdown run with 5:07 left gave UNC a 32-28 lead. But the Bears were able to battle back.
Riek finished with 145 yards rushing and 57 yards receiving for the Bears. Knipp threw for 270 yards as Wesley caught three passes for 89 yards.
Portland State fell to 4-2 in league, 7-2 overall despite 110 yards rushing from David Jones, 81 yards and two touchdowns from Long and 250 yards passing and two touchdowns from Kuresa.
No. 22 Montana 33, Idaho State 27 — In Pocatello, on the first possession of overtime, Montana sophomore quarterback Makena Simis fumbled, giving Idaho State a chance for an upset win. The UM defense held, forcing an ISU field goal from 27 yards out. From there, pandemonium ensued.
The field goal snap went over the holder’s head to the right. UM junior JR Nelson pounced on the bad snap and then tossed the ball over his head to streaking senior Eric Johnson, who sprinted 40 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The victory helped Montana stay alive in the postseason picture. UM moved to 4-2 in Big Sky play and into a tie with Portland State and Northern Arizona for third place in the standings behind Southern Utah (6-0) and Eastern Washington (5-1). The Grizzlies are 5-4 overall and will need wins at home against EWU and at Montana State to finish the season to move on to the postseason playoff bubble.
Gueller, Idaho State’s redshirt freshman quarterback, threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns but Nelson’s interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter helped Montana enter the halftime locker room with a 21-13 lead.
Gueller connected with Tyler Graves for a three-yard touchdown to cut the Montana lead to 24-19 early in the fourth quarter. Jakori Ford’s 53-yard touchdown run gave ISU a 27-24 lead with 10:17 to play. Montana kicker Daniel Sullivan hit a 26-yard field goal with 5:43 left to tie the game 27-27.
In his third start, Simis completed 23-of-39 passes for 169 yards and an interception but he added 105 yards rushing on 22 carries. True freshman Jeremy Calhoun added 98 yards on 21 carries and a first-quarter touchdown and John Nguyen rushed for 62 yards and a TD as Montana rolled up 265 yards on the ground.
The loss drops Idaho State to 1-5 in Big Sky play, 2-7 overall.
Northern Arizona 52, No. 4 Eastern Washington 30 — The Eagles have been pulling out win after win by the skin of their teeth. On Saturday in Cheney, NAU built a 14-0 lead and then avalanched any chance of an EWU comeback late.
NAU forced four EWU turnovers, including a Marcus Alford 70-yard interception return for a touchdown a minute into the fourth quarter to give the Lumberjacks a 31-14 lead. Less than two minutes later, NAU turned a turnover into a Corbin Jountti touchdown to take control.
EWU would score twice in the final frame but Jountti added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter as NAU won going away. The ‘Jacks also stopped the Eagles three times on fourth downs as NAU ended the Eagles’ 19-game regular-season home winning streak. It was just the sixth loss on Eastern Washington’s red turf since the surface was installed in 2010.
The 52-point outburst marked the third straight week that NAU has scored 52 points and the fourth time it has surpassed 49 points. The win also kept the Lumberjacks in contention for the FCS playoffs as NAU moved to 6-3 overall, including 4-2 in league play. EWU is now 5-1 in Big Sky play, 6-3 overall.
A week after Northern Arizona freshman quarterback Case Cookus threw seven touchdowns in a win over Northern Colorado, EWU kept the passing attack in check. Cookus completed 22-of-30 passes for 224 yards and Cookus hit sophomore Emmanuel Butler for a touchdown. The NAU rushing attack piled up 160 yards on the ground but averaged 3.0 yards per carry. Sophomore wide receiver Kendyl Taylor rushed for 66 yards on 12 carries, senior running back Casey Jahn rushed 19 times for 56 yards and two touchdowns and Jountti added 11 carries for 51 yards and three touchdowns.
Eastern Washington quarterbacks Jordan West and Reiley Hennessey combined to complete 28-of-51 passes for 367 yards. Junior Kendrick Bourne caught nine passes for 154 yards and junior Cooper Kupp added nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown for EWU, who plays at Montana next week.
Weber State 23, UC Davis 3 — In Ogden, Treshawn Garrett led Weber to a 20-3 halftime lead and the Wildcats cruised from there, moving to the brink of their first winning season since 2010 in the process.
Garrett, WSU’s true freshman running back, scored two second-quarter touchdowns to give Weber the 20-3 lead midway through the second frame. The Las Vegas product finished with 19 carries for 152 yards as WSU moved to 5-5 this season, including 4-3 in Big Sky Conference play. The Wildcats have a bye next week before taking on rival Idaho State with a winning season on the line.
UC Davis quarterback Ben Scott did not start. With C.J. Spencer under center, the Aggies mustered just 174 yards of total offense. Davis rushed for just 28 yards on 22 carries. UCD notched just nine first downs and converted just 1-of-13 third downs.
Garrett led a Wildcat offense that piled up 479 yards of total offense, including 321 yards on the ground. Junior quarterback Jadrian Clark threw for 158 yards and rushed for 48 yards. Cam Livingston caught five passes for 96 yards.
Cal Poly 36, Sacramento State 14 — In San Luis Obispo, five different Mustangs scored touchdowns and Cal Poly led for the duration, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process.
Joe Protheroe, Jared Mohamed and Reagan Enger rushed for touchdowns and Jordan Hines and Kyle Lewis caught touchdown passes from Chris Brown as Tim Walsh’s Mustangs improved to 3-6 on the year and 2-4 in Big Sky games.
Sacramento State, despite a 25-22 advantage in first downs and a two-minute edge in time of possession, fell to 2-7 and 1-5.
In a 54-37 loss last week at Southern Utah, Cal Poly produced four 100-yard rushers. The Mustangs had none Saturday night, but prevailed over the Hornets with a 461-395 advantage in total offense. Cal Poly rushed for 366 yards and passed for 95 yards.
Sacramento State was held to just 35 yards on the ground, the lowest total given up in the Mustang defense since Oct. 8, 2011, when Central Oklahoma managed just 10 rushing yards. Three weeks earlier, South Dakota State rushed for just 28 yards.
Enger led the Mustang rushing attack with 91 yards on just six carries. Protheroe added 73 yards on 17 trips while Mohamed finished with 67 yards on nine carries.
Brown completed six of seven passes for 95 yards, equaling his season high for passing yards set against Idaho State in early October. Lewis caught three passes for 34 yards and one score.
For Sacramento State, Ketteringham completed 33 of 42 passes for 335 yards and one score. Harrison caught 12 passes for 128 yards and Jaelin Ratliff added nine receptions for 116 yards.
Cal Poly’s defense recorded four sacks. End Kelly Shepard was in on two of them while linebacker Tu’uta Inoke logged a team-high 10 tackles. Cornerback Karlton Dennis added seven tackles and two pass breakups.
Big Sky leader Darnell Sankey had 13 tackles for Sacramento State and Manny Scott-Anderson added 10.
Cal Poly plays its final road game of the 2015 season next Saturday, visiting UC Davis in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. The Aggies fell to Weber State 23-3 Saturday, dropping to 1-8 and 1-5.