By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the Montana Grizzlies' uniforms were redesigned this offseason, something basically was overlooked and left on the front of the jerseys.
First-year head coach Robin Pflugrad, his great program off to a 1-2 start for the first time since 1992, points out "we have the bull's-eye on us," and perhaps even tougher for the Griz, "we get everybody's best shot."
No doubt more than a few fans in Montana's rabid fan base have hit the panic button, and won't be leaving a seat open for Pflugrad at their next tailgate. But a closer look at the Griz' play and their upcoming schedule indicates they could get back on track rather quickly.
No panic seems necessary.
The 35-33 loss at Cal Poly was a result of Montana often struggling to defend an option offense as welll as two late turnovers offensively. The 36-27 loss at Eastern Washington - and it was 30-27 until a fumble return on one final untimed down provided another touchdown - came against a quality Big Sky Conference opponent that was playing on its most emotional night ever with the debut of a new red turf. The Griz also were undone by six turnovers.
But there were some encouraging signs. Against Cal Poly, the Griz saw the big- play ability of wide receiver Jabin Sambrano. Against Eastern Washington, Pflugrad made running back Chase Reynolds (22 carries for 114 yards) a factor in the game plan again and quarterback Andrew Selle's solid showing indicated that a shared role with Justin Roper may not be necessary anymore.
By the end of that run, the Griz should be 5-2 and won't find itself in last place - as they do now - and might even be back in first place with Big Sky teams likely to keep knocking each other off.
"We definitely have to look each other in the eye. We do that pre-game and we've got to do it post-game now," Pflugrad said. "There's kind of two ways to go right now. I like the character of our team, I like the attitude, I like the effort. We have a lot of new faces and I think we're still getting to know each other to a certain degree."
"I think you have to every week irregardless of the outcome because we have the bull's-eye on us, we get everybody's best shot. And that's a tribute to the program at Montana, the tradition, the foundation's that been there 20- plus years. Again, having a lot of new faces, some of those guys have never been in that process. That's part of education, that's part of teaching our players how to respond."
PEAKS AND (MISSOURI) VALLEY
Several Football Championship Subdivision conferences had wacky results on Saturday, none more so than the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which rivals the Big Sky and Southern Conference to be the second-best behind CAA Football.
Most stunning was fifth-ranked Southern Illinois' 24-21 loss to Southeast Missouri State. The Redhawks rallied from a 21-3 deficit in the second half to drop the Salukis in their new home digs.
"This is one of those that is extremely disappointing," SIU coach Dale Lennon said. "It was there for the taking, we just failed to close. We just didn't have the ability to make the stop when we needed to, and to be successful you got to play four quarters. We played three quarters and didn't get it done."
Also falling was No. 10 Northern Iowa, which doesn't lose often at home, as it did to No. 11 Stephen F. Austin, 22-20, and No. 20 South Dakota State, which fell 24-14 at home to Illinois State. The Jackrabbits (0-2) will now try to guard against their season collapsing in a brutally tough first half of the season, which continues Saturday with a visit to Nebraska on Saturday.
NOT FLYING YET
A 2-1 record would seem to be a solid start for the Dayton Flyers, the preseason favorite in the Pioneer Football League. But there are some warning flags for coach Rick Chamberlin's team.
The Flyers lost at Duquesne, which was picked seventh in the Northeast Conference, and then had to hold on at home for a 34-28 win over Morehead State, picked ninth in the PFL. More was expected from a team that features standout quarterback Steve Valentino and a veteran offense.
"If we execute just a bit better, specifically there in the fourth quarter, we probably pull this thing out," Morehead State coach Matt Ballard said after the near-miss against the Flyers.
WHO WAS THAT AGAIN?
Only six FCS teams are 3-0. Appalachian State, Delaware and Jacksonville State are power programs. Central Arkansas was 10-2 just two years ago. Alabama State and Bryant? Well, nobody would have been surprised if they had three wins combined through this point of the season.
But each with a 3-0 record? And no team has a jump on its conference race like Alabama State, whose three wins are all in the SWAC.
Coach Reggie Barlow, who was 4-7 last season and 12-21 through his first three seasons, has pushed all the right buttons in would could be a critical year for him at Alabama State. A 18-15 win at Prairie View A&M arguably is his biggest with the Hornets. Andrew Lyons delivered a game-winning 47-yard field goal with 23 seconds and the defense absolutely shut down 2009 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year K.J. Black, the PVAM quarterback.
Bryant's biggest win came at Fordham in its season opener. On Saturday, the Bulldogs outmatched Merrimack, 46-29, as running backs Jordan Brown and Mike Canfora played a game of you-top-this. Brown went over the 100-yard mark for the third straight game by rushing for 183 yards, while Canfora scored five touchdowns (three rushing and two receiving).
This is only the third season in Division I for coach Marty Fine's Bulldogs.
THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER
In addition to Stephen F. Austin's win at Northern Iowa for the Southland Conference, Texas State took down No. 17 Cal Poly, 21-12. Dexter Imade and Karrington Bush combined to rush for 181 yards and three touchdowns ... With Cornell's Kent Austin and Princeton's Bob Surace losing on Saturday, first- year coaches went 6-13 in their first games this season ... Yale had one of the more exciting ends to a game this weekend. Head coach Tom Williams didn't bring on the field-goal unit as the final seconds ticked down in the Bulldogs' game against Georgetown. Quarterback Patrick Witt surged over the goal line from one yard out as time expired, giving Yale a 40-35 victory. Witt threw for 407 yards and two touchdowns ... Elon's Aaron Mellette caught 18 passes in a loss to Richmond to set the Phoenix's single-game record. Terrell Hudgins, runner-up for the Walter Payton Award last season, caught 16 passes three different times in his career ... Not to be outdone, junior wide receiver Joel Bradford set a Chattanooga record with 254 receiving yards (on 11 catches) in a 42-24 win over Eastern Kentucky ... Clearly, some highly regarded CAA Football team is going to tumble hard this season. Massachusetts, picked eighth in the conference's preseason poll, toppled William & Mary, the second choice, on opening weekend, and Rhode Island, picked ninth, stopped New Hampshire, the third choice, 28-25, on Saturday. Freshman James Timmins' 39- yard fumble return for a touchdown with 2:11 left was the game-winner for the Rams (1-2), who hadn't beaten UNH since 2003 ... Massachusetts (2-1) converted two more fourth downs in its 42-37 loss at Michigan, making the Minutemen an incredible 7-for-7 on fourth-down conversions through three games ... The fifth through eighth teams in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 - No. 5 Southern Illinois, No. 6 Montana, No. 7 Elon and No. 8 New Hampshire - all fell to fellow FCS teams on Saturday. In all, an incredible 10 of the Top 25 teams lost their games ... San Diego (0-3) is struggling, but not junior defensive end Mario Kurn, who has seven sacks this season.
A Saturday of numerous important conference games will soon be a weekly occurrence after three weeks of mostly non-conference action. Some of the key conference matchups next weekend are Appalachian State at Samford in the Southern Conference, Delaware at Richmond in CAA Football, Eastern Washington at Montana State in the Big Sky Conference, Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois (which faces a must-win) in the Ohio Valley Conference, Harvard at Brown in the Ivy League, Missouri State at Illinois State and Southern Illinois at Youngstown State in the Missouri Valley, Prairie View A&M vs. Grambling State at the Cotton Bowl in the SWAC and Robert Morris at Wagner in the Northeast Conference.
Among non-conference games, Liberty visits James Madison in a terrific matchup. The No. 3 Dukes have had two weeks to prepare for the Flames after they stunned Virginia Tech on Sept. 11. The Flames, led by catch-me-if-you-can quarterback Mike Brown, are coming off a stunning loss at Robert Morris.
There are another nine FCS-versus-FBS matchups, and the Missouri Valley has center stage with South Dakota State going to Nebraska and Northern Iowa visiting Iowa State (the Panthers won the last meeting in Ames). Charleston Southern has the road game just about everyone wants - at Hawaii.