Dan Hawkins

Coach Dan Hawkins and UC Davis have lost three straight games and are 0-2 in the Big Sky Conference standings.

BOZEMAN — UC Davis fell behind by two touchdowns early last week on the road against North Dakota and was forced to chase the lead the entire game. And when the Aggies finally pulled ahead late with a touchdown and a two-point conversion, they couldn’t hold on.

UND’s Brady Leach hit a 46-yard field goal with 57 seconds left, and that proved to be the dagger in UC Davis’ 38-36 loss Saturday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was their second consecutive Big Sky Conference defeat and their third straight loss altogether.

The Aggies had a chance to win in the final moments by moving the ball to North Dakota’s 30-yard line, but a false start penalty and a delay of game pushed them back. The drive eventually stalled when quarterback Jake Maier threw incomplete on fourth down with 31 seconds left.

The Aggies, a co-champion of the league last season that was picked in over the summer to finish second this year, saw their record fall to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in conference games. (North Dakota is a former Big Sky team that is transitioning into the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Games played against the Fighting Hawks count toward the league standings again this season.)

UC Davis finished 10-3 last season and made a run to the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. The Aggies won their first six Big Sky games in 2018 and went 7-1 in the league, which led to high preseason expectations this year. They were ranked as high as No. 4 in the STATS Top 25 FCS poll but came in at No. 24 this week.

With four losses through the first six weeks, they now find themselves in dire need of a victory with Cal Poly visiting this week.

“We knew what we had to do coming into this season,” standout UC Davis tight end Wes Preece, who caught three touchdowns against UND, said during the postgame press conference. “Obviously we want to win tight games like this, but we’re going to bounce back.”

Eastern Washington finds itself in a similar boat.

The Eagles dropped to 2-4 overall and to 1-1 in league play following a 48-27 loss to Sacramento State. EWU fell out of the Top 25 on Monday for just the second time since 2011.

According to the school, Eastern had been ranked in the STATS poll for 46 consecutive weeks and in 103 of the past 104.

EWU went 12-3 last season and was a co-champion of the Big Sky with a 7-1 record. The Eagles made a run to the FCS national championship game, where they lost to North Dakota State. They were picked to win the league this year by both the coaches and the media.

“We have to get better in a lot of ways,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said in a press release. “There are not a ton of things we are doing great right now, including myself.

“I have to look at the mirror and find out what it is that will get us to the next step and then the next step after that. We can’t take one step forward and two steps back. This loss will certainly sting and linger — it doesn’t feel very good and they never do. But we have to be better.”

EWU hosts Northern Colorado on Saturday.

That’s 3 for Sneed

Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed was superb again in the Grizzlies’ 59-20 homecoming victory over Idaho State last week in Missoula.

Sneed threw for 397 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for a team-high 67 yards and two scores. His 464 yards of total offense are a new career high. Sneed was the catalyst as the Grizzlies erased a 17-0 first-quarter deficit.

On Monday, Sneed was named Big Sky Conference offensive player of the week. It is the third straight player of the week nod for the senior from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Sneed, perhaps the midseason front-runner for the Big Sky’s offensive MVP award, is the first player to earn three consecutive player of the week honors since Eastern Washington QB Gage Gubrud in 2017. 

He was also named the STATS national offensive player of the week on Monday. Sneed is the first Grizzly to win a Big Sky player of the week award three consecutive times, and is the first Griz QB to win it three times in same season since John Edwards in 2002.

Alexander the great

Portland State, following a 52-31 victory over Southern Utah last week, improved to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky. The Vikings are one victory away from tying their win total from all of last season.

Quarterback Davis Alexander was again solid for PSU, throwing for 234 yards, rushing for 80 more and accounting for three total touchdowns.

Alexander’s efficiency has been key for the Vikings. He has thrown for 1,402 yards with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His completion percentage is 61.4%. Alexander’s 275.3 yards of total offense per game ranks among the top QB names in the league — UM’s Sneed, Northern Arizona’s Case Cookus, Sacramento State’s Kevin Thomson, EWU’s Eric Barriere and UC Davis’ Maier.

“He's a magnificent player, a great leader, and he is fun to watch,” Vikings coach Bruce Barnum said of Alexander in a PSU release. “If we protect him, don't let him get hit, he is going to help us win some games.”

No ‘O’ for Andersen

Montana State’s Troy Andersen did not record any offensive statistics in a 34-28 overtime win at Cal Poly last week, which marks the first time that has happened in his career.

Andersen, a junior from Dillon, has 147 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the five games he’s played this season. But against Cal Poly he was used exclusively at outside linebacker in an effort to curtail the Mustangs’ triple option offense.

Andersen has played running back, quarterback and linebacker in his career at Montana State. His 2,074 rushing yards rank 12th in the school record book while his 29 rushing touchdowns are third.

Receiver Travis Jonsen has taken on a larger role in MSU’s running game in the past two weeks, combining for 190 rushing yards and four touchdowns as a wildcat quarterback in that span. His 9-yard TD run in overtime last week was the game-winner.

Poll position

Aside from UC Davis’ 12-position slide and EWU falling out of the Top 25, things held steady for the Big Sky teams ranked in this week’s STATS poll.

Weber State (3-2, 1-0) remained at No. 4 while Montana State (5-1, 2-0) stood pat at No. 6. Montana (5-1, 2-0) held firm at No. 8.

Sacramento State (3-2, 1-0) received 350 voting points this week, leaving it just on the outside looking in. No. 25 Sam Houston State (4-2) moved into the poll this week with 351 points.

Around the league

Weber State DE George Tarlas was named Big Sky defensive player of the week on Monday. Tarlas had six tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups in the Wildcats’ 41-35 win at Idaho. … NAU PK Luis Aguilar was named special teams player of the week. Aguilar made two field goals, including a career-long 57-yarder, in the Lumberjacks’ 41-23 win over Northern Colorado. The 57-yarder matched the longest field goal for any kicker in Division I this season.

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Email Greg Rachac at Greg.Rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac

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