Big Sky Breakdown

BIG SKY ROUNDUP: Weber posts historic victory, EWU remains undefeated with OT win


The Big Sky Conference continued to be the wild West of college football on Saturday afternoon.

Portland State became the first team since North Dakota State in 2011 to defeat two FBS school in one season, Weber State won in Missoula for the first time in a generation, Eastern Washington secured a spot as one of two teams in the league without a conference loss (Southern Utah is the other) with an overtime win, Idaho State pulled an upset and UC Davis earned its first win as Northern Arizona experienced a serious letdown.

About the only game that played out how many expected it would on paper was No. 18 Montana State’s 35-13 win over Sacramento State. Montana State scored on its first two possessions, it’s final possession of the first half and two straight drives to begin the final frame as Sac State’s offense remained stagnant and could not keep pace.

Here’s a look at the rest of Saturday’s action from around the Big Sky.

Weber State 24, No. 12 Montana 21, OT — For the first time since 1987, Weber State earned a win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

The Wildcats did it with a fast start, a powerful run game, a salty defense and another fallen Montana signal caller. The victory is Weber State’s third win in the last four games and moves the Wildcats to 2-1 in Big Sky play, 3-3 overall. Montana is now 3-3 after its first conference loss in three outings.

Weber State rushed for 253 yards, including 112 and a touchdown by sophomore Eric Wilkes. Junior quarterback Jadrian Clark threw for just 54 yards but rushed for 84 yards. The Weber defense notched seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and forced a key fumble in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal and WSU’s first win in the Garden City in 28 years.

IMG_6063“That was unbelievable,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “I just can’t say enough about how the players and coaches bounced back from last week. To come up here in a hostile environment and to win for the first time in 28 years is a huge thing for our program. We had so many key plays and key players today and I was so proud of the toughness and resiliency of our team.”

Weber State opened Saturday’s action by forcing a Montana three-and-out, then scoring quickly. Weber marched 53 yards in four plays to take a 7-0 lead a little more than three minutes into the game. The drive included a trick play where wide receiver Drew Batchelor completed a 38-yard pass to fullback Cory Thomson.

Montana answered with two touchdown drives before the first quarter finished, the first capped by a four-yard touchdown catch by senior Ben Roberts and the second a four-yard touchdown run by John Nguyen.

But Weber would not back down. In the second quarter, WSU junior quarterback Jadrian Clark engineered a 11-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cam Livingston to tie the game, 14-14. Cordero Dixon intercepted Montana quarterback Chad Chalich and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with less than three minutes to play in the first half to give Weber a 21-14 lead at intermission.

Chalich, Montana’s backup starting for a third straight week because of an injury to starter Brady Gustafson suffered September 19, was on crutches from there on. Third-string quarterback Makena Simis took the reigns and struggled at first. He guided UM on a six-play, 95-yard drive capped by a 44-yard touchdown pass to Robert with 4:51 to play to tie the game.

Griz granite helmet wet copyIn overtime, Montana took the ball first. On the first play, outside linebacker Tre’Von Johnson sacked Simis, who fumbled and Filipe Sitake recovered. Weber gave the ball to Thomson on three straight plays down to the Montana 9-yard line before Josh Kealamakia drilled a 27-yard field goal for the victory.

“Overtime was disappointing,” Montana head coach Bob Stitt. “We probably should have just handed the ball off, but again, you want to try to steal one. We had set something up, and we wanted to take a look at it, but again, I didn’t want to get into a field goal kicking contest in overtime either.

“Overall it’s very disappointing. I feel horrible for our players. As a coach, you feel like a parent. You want to help ‘em. And when it doesn’t go their way it’s heart wrenching that you can’t help them.”

Weber State hosts North Dakota next Saturday. Montana has its second bye of the season next week.

No. 7 Eastern Washington 42, Cal Poly 41, OT — In Cheney, Eastern Washington rallied from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to score 22 unanswered points between regulation and overtime to move to 2-0 in league play, the last undefeated team in the Big Sky.

EWU junior quarterback Jordan West hit junior wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for a 25-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to give EWU a 42-35 lead. Cal Poly’s triple option attack rushed five times, capped by a one-yard Chris Brown touchdown, the senior quarterback’s third of the day. Cal Poly elected to go for two and the victory. Junior Kori Garcia was stopped short and EWU won for the thrird straight week.

IMG_6053“I’m so happy for our players for finding a way to grind it out and make plays,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. “It was a barn-burner.

“I don’t care where we are ranked or this and that — we’re a team that can go out and win any game in the Big Sky. But because the league has so many talented and well-coached teams, we have the ability to lose any game if we don’t bring it.”

Cal Poly jumped out to a 21-6 lead thanks to a dominating rushing attack and a defense that refused to allow Eastern’s explosive offense to get on track. Brown and sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe scored rushing touchdowns to cap 12-play drives and Roland Jackson’s 55-yard touchdown on an end-around put Cal Poly up three scores early.

Cal Poly rushed for 503 yards on 89 carries all told, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and possessing the ball for 36:09. Brown rushed 31 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns, including a 13-yard spurt with 9:16 left in regulation to put the Mustangs up 35-20. Protheroe rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Garcia added 88 yards on 15 carries.

IMG_5982The Mustangs put the clamps on EWU junior wide receiver Cooper Kupp better than any team has this season. Kupp had at least nine catches, at least 133 yards and at least two touchdowns in each of EWU’s previuos four games. He finished with four catches for 21 yards and no scores on Saturday.

In his place, Bourne caught a career-high 10 passes, including an eight-yard touchdown catch at the beginning of the fourth quarter and the game-winning score. West threw for a season-low 224 yards but tossed four touchdowns, including a 16-yard touchdown to sophomore Nick Sblendorio with 57 seconds left in regulation to tie the game 35-35.

The game ended a stretch for Cal Poly that saw the Mustangs play six straight teams ranked in the preseason top 25, including four of those contests on the road. Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2) has a bye next week before taking on Portland State in San Luis Obispo on October 24. Eastern Washington plays at Idaho State next weekend.

Portland State 66, North Texas 7 —In Denton, Portland State entered its second FBS matchup of the season as a slight Las Vegas favorite over the winless Green Mean. The Vikings left Denton, Texas with a $450,000 payday and North Texas fired its head coach.

Portland State scored on seven straight first half possessions to take a 42-0 lead into halftime and did not let up, not allowing a North Texas score until the final minute of the game. The win was the largest by an FCS over an FBS team, breaking a record set in 1981.

PSU running back Steven Long vs. North Texas

PSU running back Steven Long vs. North Texas/by Anthony Vu

“Are you serious?” PSU head coach Bruce Barnum said when confronted with that stat after the game. “That history thing is kind of cool. We’ll have to enjoy that on the way home.”

Portland State defeated Washington State 24-17 to kick off its surprise 2015 season. The Vikings, picked 12th in the 13-team Big Sky in preseason polls, bounced back from last week’s 19-16 loss to North Dakota to move to 4-1.

Portland State rushed for 368 yards, including 138 yards on nine carries for David Jones before halftime. Jones scored a 70-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Junior Alex Kuresa threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes for 34 yards to Darnell Adams, 56 yards to Thomas Carter and 60 yards to Jones. Mitchell Thompson, a sophomore, capped the Vikings’ scoring barrage with a 68-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter as PSU piled up 670 yards of total offense.

An hour after the completion of the largest FCS upset of an FBS school, North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal fired head coach Dan McCarney.

Portland State hosts Montana State next weekend.

UC Davis 38, Northern Arizona 24 — In Davis, The Aggies’ rushing attack finally found its footing and the result was UC Davis’ first win of 2015.

IMG_5979Head coach Ron Gould’s West Coast pro-style attack prioritizes an even run-pass balance. The Aggies have struggled to produce on the ground this season. On Saturday, UCD rushed for 208 yards, opening up things in the passing game as well as the Aggies piled up 497 yards of total offense. Davis possessed the ball for nearly 41 minutes.

NAU sophomore Emmanuel Butler’s ninth touchdown catch of the season with 12 seconds left in the first half sent the game to the locker room tied 17-17. But Chris Martin’s three-yard touchdown catch and Nehemiah Wilson’s 25-yard scoring grabe gave Davis a 31-17 lead entering the fourth quarter. A Manusamoa Luuga one-yard TD dive with 2:47 left put Davis up 38-17.

Davis quarterback Ben Scott completed 20-of-35 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Luuga rushed for 99 yards on 23 carries and caught five passes for 62 yards, while Joshua Kelley added 94 yards on 20 carries. Ramon Vargas caught three passes for 75 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Nau logoNAU gained 430 yards of total offense despite possessing the ball for just 19:18. The Lumberjacks converted just 2-of-13 third-down conversions. Senior Casey Jahn rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries. Freshman quarterback Case Cookus completed 20-of-33 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, including two scoring tosses to senior tight end R.J. Rickert. Butler caught seven passes for 110 yards, his fourth 100-yard effort this season as NAU fell to 1-2 in Big Sky play, 3-3 overall. The loss comes on the heals of a 49-41 victory over Montana State in Flagstaff. NAU has a bye next week.

Davis (1-5, 1-2) plays at Northern Colorado (3-2, 1-2) next week. The Bears had a bye this week.

Idaho State 37, North Dakota 31 — In Grand Forks, the Bengals looked like they might fall victim to the same downfall as in its previous three road games. But Idaho State quarterback Michael Sanders finally found his stride and helped Idaho State earn a key win in the process.

ISU wide receiver KW Williams

ISU wide receiver KW Williams/ ISU athletics

North Dakota rushed for 270 yards, including 155 by freshman John Santiago. ISU came into the game having surrendered 500 yard rushing in each of the last two weeks in losses to UNLV (80-8) and Cal Poly (58-26). Idaho State’s stagnant offense contributed to the poor defensive performance each week.

On Saturday, ISU moved the ball up and down the field for the first time against a Division I opponent with Sanders at the helm. North Dakota’s stingy run defense allowed just 53 yards rushing and just one rushing first down. But ISU’s offense totaled 25 first downs and 480 yards of offense nonetheless as Sanders, a Scottsdale Community College transfer, completed 32-of-49 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns.

ISU trailed 31-15 with 1:21 left in the third quarter following a 27-yard Santiago touchdown run, his second of the day. Sanders hooked up with KW Williams for a 47-yard touchdown in the waning seconds of the third quarter to cut the UND lead to 31-22.

ISU backup running back Jakori Ford scored a one-yard touchdown with 10:30 left to draw ISU within two, 31-29. With 6:15 to play, Sanders found Ford for a 27-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 87-yard touchdown drive. Sanders’ pass to Madison Mangum completed the two-point conversion.

IMG_5989With UND sophomore quarterback Keaton Studsrud on the shelf with an injury suffered in the third quarter, the UND offense could not mount a rally.

On third and six from the ISU 39, Bengals’ defensive tackle Tyler Kuder chased down Ryan Bartels. On the next play, Bartels threw incomplete and ISU took over.

Williams finished with 12 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Mangum finished with 10 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. ISU notched three sacks, six tackles for loss and forced three turnovers. Kuder led the charge with 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

North Dakota’s defense was without senior linebacker Taj Rich and sophomore safety Cole Reyes. Rich blew out his knee in the 19-16 win over Portland State.

UND plays at Weber State next week. Idaho State hosts Eastern Washington.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez or otherwise noted. 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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