By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, when a Football Championship Subdivision team upsets a major-conference team, it deserves to be in the spotlight as much as any other team across the nation.
Think a No. 14 team upsetting a three seed in the early rounds of March Madness. That always gets your attention when your bracket starts to fall apart.
Jacksonville State? Yes, the Gamecocks were all over any highlight show that you might have watched this weekend following their thrilling, 49-48, double- overtime rally past Ole Miss and a stunned Houston Nutt, who won the Eddie Robinson Award as the FCS coach of the year back at Murray State in 1995. Murray State, of course, now plays in the same Ohio Valley Conference as Jacksonville State.
North Dakota State? Well, the Bison's 6-3 win at Kansas was the polar opposite of Jacksonville State's on the scoreboard, but it left an FBS coach as equally stunned, first-year Jayhawks skipper Turner Gill. Maybe his squad should have taken even a closer look at North Dakota State than they did beforehand because since the Bison moved to the FCS in 2006 they are an impressive 4-3 against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, beating Minnesota, Ball State, Central Michigan, and, now, Kansas (Turner, this certainly isn't the University of Buffalo anymore).
The reality, though, is that FCS teams aren't supposed to beat FBS teams. It's tougher to do in football than in most other collegiate sports.
So the 2-38 record that FCS teams posted against the big boys this weekend can be filed away with the guaranteed paychecks that come with playing these games.
There will be plenty more FCS-FBS matchups next weekend before the two divisions basically go their own ways.
What shouldn't be lost amid the deserved hoopla for Jacksonville State and North Dakota State is that plenty of FCS-versus-FCS games started to shape the season.
William & Mary, the No. 4 team in the country and an FCS semifinalist last season, has already lost a conference game. Now that should get your attention.
Of course, don't be overly surprised by the result because in CAA Football - the FCS' dominant conference - there is a March Madness quality in the way its teams routinely knock each other off.
Massachusetts pulled the upset of the Tribe, 27-23 as Jonathan Hernandez totaled 201 yards of total offense (132 rushing and 69 receiving) and rushed for a touchdown, and Northeastern transfer John Griffin rushed for two touchdowns, including a 5-yarder with 3:23 left to erase the Minutemen's 23-21 deficit. Linebacker Tyler Holmes' interception with 2:05 left then clinched the upset.
"It's just a testament to the team, these guys and who they are and where they have been through the winter, through the spring, the summer and the fall," Minutemen coach Kevin Morris said. "We had a long, hot preseason and every time I asked them to get something done, they got it done. Certainly today that character came out and they responded with tremendous form."
"I felt in a lot of respects we played very well," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock, who held out star linebacker Jake Trantin, "but we did not do what we needed to do defensively in a lot of situations, as far as third- and fourth-down conversions. We let them convert."
The CAA's other eye-opening score in Week 1 was Maine's 3-0 loss to Albany of the Northeast Conference. Maine came into the season believing a healthier squad will turn around last year's 5-6 record, but the shutout loss might have been an ominous sign. The visiting Great Danes made Herb Glass' 21-yard field goal midway through the first quarter stand up.
Speaking of standing up, the crowd was on its feet in Springfield, Mo., as Missouri State roared past Eastern Kentucky, 31-9, in one of the better wins for fifth-year coach Terry Allen, and one seemingly worthy of getting the Bears into The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25. Junior Chris Douglas' 86-yard touchdown run in the second quarter highlighted the win, and quarterback Cody Kirby rushed for a pair of TDs.
Among the impressive road wins, Jacksonville tripped Old Dominion, 35-25, behind its offensive stars, quarterback Josh McGregor (24 of 34 for 311 yards and three touchdowns), running back Rudell Small (118 rushing yards and two TDs) and wide receiver Josh Philpart (115 receiving yards and two TDs). Also, Lehigh went to Des Moines, Iowa, and left Drake a 28-14 winner behind Jay Campbell's three rushing touchdowns. The Mountain Hawks had not boarded a plane for a game since going to Furman for an NCAA quarterfinal in 2001.
COULD THIS WEEK'S NO. 1 BE 0-1?
It will be interesting to see where Villanova is ranked on Monday. It's possible the defending FCS champion could remain No. 1 despite a 31-24 loss to Temple on Friday. The Wildcats jump-started their 14-1 campaign a year ago by edging Temple, but this year's game was a toss-up, with a slight edge to the Owls from the FBS.
"I told the guys I have never been more proud of a Villanova team," head coach Andy Talley said after the loss. "We can go far as a team this year and I am happy and excited about that."
Second-ranked Montana, which has lost in the last two FCS championship games, including 23-21 to Villanova last year, drilled Western State, 73-2, would stand to surpass Villanova if there is a change atop the poll. Third-ranked Appalachian State barely got past Chattanooga, 42-41; fourth-ranked William & Mary lost to UMass, 27-23; and fifth-ranked Southern Illinois brought out the medical examiner in a 70-7 win over Quincy.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Montana expected to drill Western State and did with 10 touchdown receptions. Oops, make that a combined six for the offense and four interceptions that the defense returned for touchdowns, tying an NCAA single-game record.
Jordan Tripp (22 yards), Erik Stoll (34) and Trumaine Johnson (18) scored on short returns in the first quarter, then Sean Murray had the shortest one of all, 14 yards in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't have a lot of sustained drives, and that was disappointing. But thanks to the return team, we didn't need to," Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said after winning his first game in Missoula.
Overall, the Griz defense allowed only 94 yards on 59 plays.
Pflugrad was one of the small handful of winners among FCS coaches who made their debuts this weekend. The new coaches were 6-11.
Besides Pflugrad, the winners were Bethune-Cookman's Brian Jenkins (70-10 over Edward Waters), Georgia Southern's Jeff Monken (48-3 over Savannah State and debuting coach Julius Dixon), Southern's Stump Mitchell (37-27 over Delaware State), Tennessee State's Rod Reed (27-14 over Alabama A&M) and Western Illinois' Mark Hendrickson (45-0 over Valparaiso and debuting coach Dale Carlsson).
PRESLEY DELIVERS, BUT WHEW...
Few players in the FCS entered the season under the microscope as much as Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley, who has replaced two-time Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards.
App State played it a little too close for comfort, but Presley got the thumb's up by rallying the Mountaineers from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 42-41 win at Chattanooga.
Presley, a junior, completed 22-of-29 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 25 yards and two other touchdowns, and scored a TD on a "reception" that was the oddest play of the game.
With the game tied 35-35 in the fourth quarter, Chattanooga jumped offsides on 3rd-and-1 from the Mocs' 29 yard line, giving Presley and the Mountaineers a free play. Presley threw a quick pass to wide receiver Matt Cline, who was drilled by defender Chris Lewis-Harris and fumbled the ball. Presley picked up the loose ball and followed blocked into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown from 33 yards out.
Statistically, Cline collected the reception and Presley the 33 receiving yards.
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
College football is old hat to Georgia State coach Bill Curry, but his new program won its first-ever game, 41-7 over NAIA program Shorter before an announced crowd of 30,237 in the Georgia Dome. QB Drew Little threw for two touchdowns. "I've never been more proud of a group of young men than I am of this group," said Curry, the former head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky ... The most scintillating performance in a losing cause belonged to Eastern Washington junior Taiwan Jones, who collected a career-high 322 all- purpose yards on just 18 touches in the Eagles' 49-24 loss at Nevada. The All- America rushed 12 times for 145 yards, caught two passes for 92 yards and returned four kickoffs for 85 yards. He turned a Bo Levi Mitchell pass into an 82-yard catch-and- run for EWU's first touchdown of the season ... True freshman running back Zach Bauman was lost in the shadow of All-America quarterback Michael Herrick during the preseason, but in a 48-0 win over Western New Mexico he announced his arrival by rushing for 167 yards and four touchdowns ... Liberty had three receivers surpass 100 yards in a 52-7 win over St. Francis (Pa.): Chris Summers (129), B.J. Hayes (100) and Pat Kelly (115). Quarterbacks Mike Brown and Tyler Brennan combined for 452 yards and six touchdowns ... Senior linebacker Brandon Wiggins of Elon collected 19 tackles against Duke and senior linebacker Jeffrey Williams of Gardner-Webb had 18 against Brevard .. Speaking of defensive dominance, The Citadel was in on seven sacks in a 56-14 win over Chowan. Erik Clanton collected two solo sacks and assisted on two more, while fellow defensive lineman Derek Douglas had two solo sacks ... Led by North Dakota State's win at Kansas, Missouri Valley Football Conference teams won six of seven games.
The key FCS game next weekend is No. 9 South Dakota State's trip across the country to No. 16 Delaware. Coach John Stiegelmeier's Jackrabbits were one of only three Top 25 teams not to open their season this weekend (No. 14 Northern Iowa and No. 23 Penn were the other two). Delaware and All-America quarterback Pat Devlin tuned up by coasting past Division II West Chester, 31-0.
Among FCS-FBS matchups, Southern Illinois will travel to Illinois, New Hampshire visits Pittsburgh, James Madison will go to Virginia Tech and Montana State will visit Washington State.