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Big Sky becomes the Big Crazy

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just another night in the Big Sky Conference, huh?

- Montana State nearly gets an FBS scalp, going up 22-7 on Washington State after three quarters, only to let it slip away in a 23-22 loss.

- Weber State rallies past conference rival Northern Colorado, 50-47, in a game that features over 1,000 yards of offense.

- Eastern Washington slips past old rival, but a Division II team in Central Washington, 35-32.

- And, oh, by the way, in a matchup of future Big Sky opponents, Cal Poly takes down No. 1-ranked Montana, 35-33.

Pacemaker, anybody?

The latter score, obviously, was the most stunning on a Saturday evening full of eye-openers across the Big Sky. It marked the second straight weekend in which the nation's top-ranked FCS team lost, as defending national champion Villanova opened the season on Labor Day Weekend with a 31-24 loss to FBS Temple.

There appears to be some questions surrounding Montana, who have won at least a share of 12 straight Big Sky titles.
Cal Poly's win over Montana was a tad bittersweet for the Great West Football Conference considering earlier in the week both Cal Poly and UC Davis, the two premiere programs in the five-team conference, accepted bids to join the Big Sky for football only, likely for the 2012 season.

As a result, Great West football will probably fall apart with only three remaining programs - North Dakota, South Dakota and Southern Utah - expected to receive interest from other conferences, and all the independents committed to other conferences.

And clearly the Big Sky will be getting stronger.

Cal Poly pulled the upset after sophomore quarterback Doug Shumway came off the bench in relief of starter Tony Smith and threw two touchdowns to help put the Mustangs ahead 35-20. Justin Roper threw a pair of touchdowns to pull the Griz within 35-33, but a 2-point conversion failed with 5:34 left. The Griz then turned the ball over on their final two possessions.

Mustangs senior linebacker Marty Mohamed had 15 tackles as well as an interception with 4 seconds left, gaining just their second win in 15 all-time games against Montana.

Considering Montana first-year coach Robin Pflugrad has tried to open up the offense with Roper playing as much as incumbent quarterback Andrew Selle, and All-America running back Chase Reynolds getting many fewer touches than a year ago, there appears to be some questions surrounding the Griz, who have won at least a share of 12 straight Big Sky titles.

IT'S GOOD TO BE A DUKE

Cal Poly's win over Montana will have the biggest ramification when The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 comes out Monday afternoon, but the most stunning score on Saturday was James Madison's 21-16 win at Virginia Tech - one of the biggest ever among FCS schools taking down FBS opposition.

It was one thing for JMU players to call the win the biggest in program history considering they weren't around in 2004 when the Dukes captured the FCS title game, but when head coach Mickey Matthews, the only two-time winner of the Eddie Robinson Award, said the same afterward, it said something about winning in Blacksburg.

Despite a 6-5 record last season, Matthews beamed in the preseason that his squad had outstanding talent and depth. Quarterback Drew Dudzik, back healthy again, rushed for the final two touchdowns while the Dukes overcame a 16-7 deficit.

"It's the biggest win in school history. I'm just happy to be a part of it," Dudzik said. "Our team, we believed we could win all week. Us captains did a great job getting the team to believe; the coaches did a great job. We showed out there on the field today. We had great play-calling. All three phases - offense, defense, special teams."

KEEP THE UPSETS COMING

How about the Big South rising on Saturday? Gardner-Webb become the first team in conference history to beat an FBS program. A mere hours later, preseason favorite Liberty became the second, with both victims from the Mid-American Conference.

Gardner-Webb worked overtime for a 38-37 victory at Akron. After the Zips broke a 31-31 tie with a touchdown, GWU senior cornerback Bryce Nixon blocked the PAT. Juanne Blount then scored on a 4- yard run for the Runnin' Bulldogs and Ryan Gates nailed the extra point for the upset.

"I was most proud of the way our kids did not quit in this game and kept fighting," GWU coach Steve Patton said. "(The win) was a direct result of those kids playing for 60 minutes."

And more ...

Liberty tripped Ball State, 27-23, as quarterback Mike Brown threw for two touchdowns and scored on a 1-yard run for the game-winning touchdown with 4:55 left in the fourth quarter.

Also on Saturday, South Dakota of the Great West stopped Minnesota, 41-38. Junior quarterback Dante Warren was unstoppable with 433 yards of total offense (352 passing and 81 rushing) and five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing).

That gives the FCS six wins over FBS opposition. Last weekend, Jacksonville State upended Ole Miss, 49-48, in double overtime, and North Dakota State topped Kansas, 6-3.

HOYA PARANOIA

Georgetown entered the season with 12 straight losses. Now the Hoyas have a winning streak under coach Kevin Kelly.

They followed up a 20-10 win at Davidson with an even more impressive road win on Saturday, 28-24 over Lafayette in the Patriot League's first game.

Scott Darby threw for two touchdowns and the Hoyas forced four turnovers, turning two into touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Nick Parrish told The Sports Network during the preseason that he hoped his team could fly under the radar and pull off some wins. Opponents are aware of them now.

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

Great West commissioner Ed Grom wrote in an email to The Sports Network on Friday that he has to remain silent about the Big Sky expansion until the necessary withdrawal steps are taken by UC Davis and Cal Poly. "I have yet to receive in writing the intent of UC Davis and Cal Poly to join the Big Sky ...," Grom wrote ... Sean Payton was expected to be the coach in the spotlight Saturday at Eastern Illinois as the Panthers retired the No. 18 that the coach of the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints wore as a quarterback in Charleston. Instead, Central Arkansas stole the thunder for its coach, Clint Conque, whose collected his 75th win to surpass Harold Horton as the winningest coach at the Southland Conference school ... Elon senior quarterback Scott Riddle became the Southern Conference's all-time leading in passing yardage in a 55-28 win over Shaw. His 244 yards pushed him to 10,558 in his career, which passed former two-time Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State ... Needing to fill huge shoes this season, Edwards' successor has been nothing short of amazing. DeAndre Presley is 42 of 60 (70 percent) for 625 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. He also has rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns and has been responsible for an FCS-high 27 points per game. App State (2-0) figures to move up from No. 3 to No. 2 nationally after Montana's loss ... North Dakota State quarterback Jose Mohler may have needed an extra ice pack after getting sacked 11 times in Northern Iowa's 16-9, season-opening win in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Ben Boothby had four sacks as the Panthers set a school record ... Alabama State is the first team to be 2-0 in conference play. Next up for the Southwestern Athletic Conference squad is a trip to defending champion Prairie View A&M on Saturday.

SNEAK PEEK

Inter-conference play remains a big part of next Saturday's action, but the schedule features an intriguing matchup out of the Big Sky Conference. The Montana at No. 17 Eastern Washington matchup is superb enough considering the potential title ramifications, but throw in the Eagles debuting their new red turf against the national runner-up in each of the past two seasons, and Cheney will be the place to be.

Among the inter-conference matchups are No. 8 Elon at No. 7 Richmond, which play on-campus for the first time in 80 years at the renovated Robins Stadium, and No. 10 Stephen F. Austin will travel to No. 14 Northern Iowa.

There remains a handful of FCS-versus-FBS matchups, with the headliner being No. 18 Massachusetts' trip to Michigan. Rest assured, this week in Ann Arbor, they won't be fondly recalling the Wolverines' loss to Appalachian State to open the 2007 season.

The final two debuts of the FCS' 19 new head coaches also will take place. Princeton and Bob Surace head to Lehigh and Cornell and Kent Austin visit Wagner.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


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