Published November 20, 2014
There may have been as much answered about the entire FCS on Saturday as the two perennial national powers playing in the long-awaited Montana at Appalachian State showdown.
Oh, did they stage another classic game in Appalachian State's thrilling 35-27 win. Quarterback Jamal Jackson (two passing, one rushing) and running back Steven Miller (two touchdowns) had a hand in all five3 of the Mountaineers' touchdowns.
"I think everybody realizes that was a great win for our team, a great win for our program and our school," ASU coach Jerry Moore said. "We've played some great ball games with Montana."
"We knew we were going to get their best shot," Jackson said.
In the big picture, the depth of the FCS showed in the fact that, incredibly, both of these teams sat outside the Top 10 of The Sports Network FCS Top 25 heading into the game.
Repeat, outside the Top 10.
You couldn't convince any of the 30,856 in attendance at Kidd Brewer Stadium that it was the case. No. 11 Appalachian State and No. 12 Montana, now both 1-1, lived up to the excitement surrounding their first-ever regular-season meeting - UM had won the two prior meetings in national playoff games.
And the playoffs are where the FCS landscape could come into account with this matchup.
The national title race is exceptionally strong this year, and perhaps has been growing with each season since Appalachian State won three straight championships from 2005-07.
There's no doubt the Mountaineers and Montana (two national championships, five-time national runner-up finishes) are heavyweights in the picture again, but they already have enough company in their Southern and Big Sky conferences, respectively - which has tightened the national picture.
It's easy to think the two teams were underrated in this past week's poll and maybe it was true. But then you have to answer to last year's national finalists, champion North Dakota State and runner-up Sam Houston, as well as Montana State and Eastern Washington in the Big Sky, a Youngstown State off a win at Pittsburgh in Week 1 and a handful of other elite programs.
That's no easy task.
Come playoff time, the NCAA selection committee best remember this game and reward both schools for taking on such an imposing opponent.
You might want to see them play a rematch deep in the playoffs.
"This was a perfect atmosphere," ASU All-America cornerback Demetrius McCray said. "In 2009, we went up there - I was actually a freshman (and) I made the trip. It's like revenge."
Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb said beforehand that it felt like "wedding day" had finally arrived for a matchup that was anticipated since the ink hit the contract in 2009. The two teams will meet again at Montana next year.
The fast pace to the game (900 yards) matched the lively crowd - could they hear the noise back in Missoula? - and the incredible atmosphere for the FCS showcase.
Montana went ahead 28-21 on Jackson's 25-yard sideline touchdown pass to Andrew Peacock with 13:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Montana almost tied the game when Dan Moore took a Trent McKinney screen pass and went 87 yards - with the help of a convoy of blockers - to cut the deficit to 28-27. But kicker Chris Lider came on and drilled a line drive that was as wide right as a Florida State kick.
Jackson, Miller and ASU weren't done, though, going on a 78-yard touchdown drive. Miller's 2-yard scoring run at the 5:05 mark made it 35-27.
But the Mountaineers still had to hold on by stopping Montana's final two drives with interceptions, one by safety Patrick Blalock and then one by McCray - his second of the game - in his end zone with 18 seconds to play.
And that was the difference: Montana's four turnovers to Appalachian State's zero.
It seems possible that McKinney, under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach, is more dangerous than last year's starter, the suspended Jordan Johnson.
But, for one, he's behind Jackson in experience. While McKinney threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 68 yards and one TD, Jackson didn't turn the ball over with 260 passing yards and 65 rushing yards
McKinney rallied Montana from a 21-7 deficit in the second quarter to tie the game by halftime, but Montana didn't lead after a three-minute stretch in the first quarter.
"We didn't come down here to have people tell us we played a great game, we down came here to win," Montana first-year coach Mick Delaney said. "Now we got to regroup and get ready to play Liberty, who also is a fine football team."
Not on Appalachian State's level. Few are, of course, but there's enough in the FCS these days.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/97vhfse.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: Bethune-Cookman won at South Carolina State for the second straight time, 27-14, to gain a huge advantage in the MEAC race. The Wildcats host defending champion Norfolk State on Oct. 20.
Falling: After putting a scare into Maryland one week earlier, William & Mary opened its home schedule with a thud, falling to Lafayette, 17-14. Up next: a trip to defending conference champion Towson.
PLAY THE LOTTERY OR RETIRE NOW
This corner of In the FCS Huddle has predicted four FCS upsets of FBS programs in the first two weeks of the season, and gotten all four correct: McNeese State over Middle Tennessee, Eastern Washington over Idaho and UT Martin over Memphis in Week 1 and Illinois State over Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
Expect an ohfer in the predictions the rest of the season.
Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley earned his 100th win in the Panthers' 59-0 rout of Central State.
Farley is 100-41 in his 12 years at UNI.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: The Pac-12 should lock the doors on Sacramento State. For the second straight year Saturday, the Hornets beat one of its teams, this time Colorado, 30-28, on Edgar Castaneda's 30-yard field goal as time expired. Much of the credit goes to quarterback Garrett Safron, who completed 25-of-37 passes for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions ... Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen asserted himself in a 50-31 loss to Cal, going 31-of-45 for 292 touchdowns and four touchdowns, with one interception. The Thunderbirds held a nearly 12-minute advantage in time of possession, but surrendered 30 fourth- quarter points ... Eastern Washington punter Jake Miller showed Washington State what it's missing as the sophomore bested his school record with a 74- yard punt in the Eagles' 24-20 loss in Pullman.
Big South: Six overtime possessions and six touchdowns, but Coastal Carolina stopped Furman's attempt for a two-point conversion in the third overtime to hold on to a 47-45 victory which was Joe Moglia's first as Chanticleers head coach ... Liberty is thinking FBS down the road, but the Flames are 0-2 under new coach Turner Gill.
CAA Football: Ricky Tunstall kick-started Delaware's 38-14 win over Delaware State in the Route 1 Rivalry with a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown to open the scoring. Speaking off defense, Blue Hens linebacker Paul Worrilow had 18 tackles.
Ivy: Princeton's Chuck Dibilio, who captured 2011 Ivy League rookie of the year honors after rushing for 1,068 yards and scoring eight touchdowns, isn't in school this semester while he recovers from a stroke in January. The Tigers will open their season in his hometown, Bethlehem, Pa., when they visit Lehigh next Saturday. He will spend the day with the team.
MEAC: North Carolina A&T outmatched West Virginia State, 77-0 - a single-game school record. Dominique Drake scored three touchdowns on only nine carries ... Inclement weather ended Savannah State's 55-0 loss to Florida State in the third quarter. Savannah State has been outscored by a combined 139-0 in its first two games.
Missouri Valley: No. 2 North Dakota State's 22-7 win at Colorado State made the Bison 6-3 against FBS opponents since they joined the FCS in 2006. It might be hard for voters to deny the defending national champions the No. 1 ranking on Monday ... Former Valley power Southern Illinois is 0-2 for the first time since 2001 and is now 9-15 since the start of the 2010 season. The Salukis won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons from 2003-09 ... Illinois State's 31-14 victory at Eastern Michigan was its first over an FBS opponents since 2001. Meanwhile, Indiana State's 44-0 blanking of Quincy was its first shutout since 1996.
Northeast: Monmouth made a statement with its 41-6 drubbing of Rhode Island, which has decided against joining the NEC to stay in CAA Football. Redshirt senior Kyle Frazier threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore running back Julian Hayes totaled 121 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns to fuel the Hawks ... The Dayton-Duquesne series has been terrific in recent years, but Dayton must be sick of Dukes running back Larry McCoy, who had his fourth 100-yard game against the Flyers in a 17-7 win. He finished with 124 yards and a game-clinching touchdown ...Expected to contend in the Northeast Conference, Bryant is 0-2 after a Week 1 drubbing against non- scholarship Marist and then a 39-28 conference defeat on Saturday to a Saint Francis (Pa.) squad that had lost its standout running back, Kyle Harbridge. Ouch.
Ohio Valley: It was a little too close for comfort, but injury-plagued Eastern Kentucky beat Morehead State, 24-17. Matt Denham got rolling with 166 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries ... Southeast Missouri struggled past Mars Hill, 30-18, in a turnover-fest. Safety Tylor Brock had two interceptions and forced a fumble.
Patriot: Georgetown, a team with such poor history in football, is now 2-0 for the third straight season. Coach Kevin Kelly's Hoyas got there this year on Matt MacZura's 35-yard field goal inside the final two minutes of a 13-10 win over Wagner.
Pioneer: Want defensive domination? In a 31-10 win at Charleston Southern, Jacksonville stifled the Buccaneers with four sacks, five quarterback hurries, 12 tackles for loss and an interception, while limiting them to 5-of-17 third- down conversions.
SoCon: Most people thought The Citadel could be improved, until perhaps they looked at the Bulldogs' early season schedule. Well, coach Kevin Higgins' squad was good enough to go to Georgia Southern and stun the No. 3-ranked team. 23-21. A year ago, the Bulldogs fell by two points in Statesboro, Ga. ... Incredibly, 17 players had carries in Wofford's 82-0 destruction of Lincoln (Pa.). All-America fullback Eric Breitenstein only had five of the carries.
Southland: Junior running back Timothy Flanders' 120 rushing yards in No. 1 Sam Houston State's 54-7 victory over Incarnate Word lifted him to a school- record 2,709 yards in his career ... What a win for Central Arkansas in going to Murray State and posting a 42-20 win on Wynrick Smothers' five touchdown passes ... One week after being shut out by Louisiana-Lafayette, 40-0, Lamar goes and shuts out Prairie View A&M, 31-0.
SWAC: Grambling State needs a lift from quarterback D.J. Williams or Frank Rivers following its 0-2 start ... SWAC teams are 2-9 in non-conference games.
Extra Point: FCS teams have seven wins over FBS opponents, surpassing last year's total.
A LOOK AHEAD
With conference play to kick in more on Sept. 22, next Saturday's schedule will still feature a lot of non-conference games, led by No. 19 Stephen F. Austin's visit to No. 4 Montana State.
McNeese State at Weber State is another Southland-Big Sky matchup. Montana will host Liberty, while San Diego heads across the country to Harvard, Eastern Illinois visits Illinois State and UC Davis goes to South Dakota State.
In FCS-vs-FBS games, No. 1 Sam Houston State travels to Baylor, Northern Iowa visits Iowa, James Madison takes on West Virginia at FedEX Field in Landover, Md., Cal Poly goes to Wyoming and Stony Brook takes on Syracuse.
The big conference matchups are Alabama State at Grambling State, which is a meeting of the two divisional favorites in the SWAC; William & Mary at Towson in CAA Football; and The Citadel at Appalachian State in the SoCon.