BOZEMAN — There’s a marquee matchup in the Big Sky Conference this week that will likely go a long way toward deciding who wins the league title and ultimately claims an automatic bid to the FCS postseason.
No. 3 Weber State and No. 6 Sacramento State, with identical records of 6-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play, will tangle Saturday at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California. The winner will be alone in first place and in the driver’s seat toward a championship.
Weber State is coming off an impressive 36-20 win on the road in a top 25 matchup at UC Davis. The Wildcats’ defense, ranked No. 1 in the Big Sky, sacked Aggies quarterback Jake Maier three times and held him to just 160 passing yards while limiting UC Davis to only nine first downs.
WSU kicker Trey Tuttle made five field goals, which tied a school record. For his efforts, Tuttle was named the Big Sky’s special teams player of the week on Monday.
Sacramento State thumped Cal Poly 38-14 on the road last week as running back Elijah Dotson rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns, and also had 50 receiving yards. Quarterback Kevin Thomson — who has been so hot in recent weeks — did not account for a touchdown, but the Hornets didn’t need him to.
Dotson on Monday was named the league’s offensive player of the week.
Sac State still boasts the Big Sky’s No. 1-ranked offense, which makes this matchup with Weber State that much more intriguing.
The Wildcats come into the game having won five in a row, the longest active streak in the Big Sky. Sacramento State has won four straight.
Weber State laid claim to a share of the conference championship last season, and is looking to win at least a share of its third in a row. Sacramento State hasn’t won a league title of any kind since 1995 when it was a member of the now-defunct American West Conference.
The Hornets joined the Big Sky in 1996.
Eastern Washington and UC Davis were picked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, by both the media and coaches in the preseason Big Sky polls. They each shared the league title last season with Weber State, and were expected to challenge for hardware again this year.
With its loss to Weber State, UC Davis fell to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the league. With five losses, the Aggies now have a very slim chance at a playoff berth and would (likely) have to win out in order to be in the conversation.
EWU fell to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in the league following a 34-17 defeat at Montana on Saturday. The Eagles are in the same boat as UC Davis, except their chances for the playoffs are even slimmer because one of their victories came against Division II Lindenwood (Mo.) in Week 2, a win that won’t carry weight with the postseason selection committee.
It’s a bit of a fall from grace for Eastern Washington, which has won or shared six Big Sky titles in the last nine seasons.
Portland State’s shot at a fourth straight win was squashed when Northern Arizona kicker Luis Aguilar made a 38-yard field goal with four seconds left to lift the Lumberjacks to a 31-29 victory over the Vikings on Saturday at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Arizona.
PSU’s Cody Williams had made a 21-yard field goal on the possession prior to put the Vikings ahead with 1:26 to go. The drive could have continued but Davis Alexander’s run on third-and-5 on the previous play was marked just shy of the first-down marker.
NAU was out of time outs, but Portland State was forced to kick the field goal and give the ball back.
Lumberjacks quarterback Case Cookus passed for three first downs on the ensuing drive to set Aguilar up with the game-winner.
“That's Case Cookus,” PSU coach Bruce Barnum said in a press release. “Those situations, he thrives on. We were trying to manage the clock and not have to put the defense out there at all” at the end of the game.
Finally, a ‘W’
Southern Utah had lost nine consecutive Big Sky games dating back to 2018 entering last week’s home game against Idaho State. The Thunderbirds put an emphatic end to that skid with a 59-34 victory.
It was a scoring explosion for SUU, who came in averaging just 22.5 points per game. Quarterback Chris Helbig threw four touchdown passes.
The Thunderbirds also got an interception return for a touchdown from freshman cornerback Carlton Johnson. Johnson also intercepted a pass on the first play of the game. He was named the Big Sky’s defensive player of the week for his performance.
Weber State moved ahead one spot to No. 3 in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 poll. The Wildcats switched places with South Dakota State, who lost to rival and top-ranked North Dakota State on Saturday.
Sacramento State jumped up one spot to No. 6. Montana (6-2, 3-1) moved ahead two positions to No. 8 with its win over EWU. Montana State (5-3, 2-2) tumbled five spots to No. 14 following a 16-12 loss at North Dakota.
UC Davis, ranked No. 22 last week, fell out of the poll altogether after losing to Weber State.
Around the league
NAU’s Cookus threw two touchdowns versus Portland State and is now 13 shy of breaking league record of 110 set by former Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams. … This week’s ROOT Sports game of the week pits Southern Utah versus Montana State. The game will kick off at noon Mountain time on Saturday from MSU’s Bobcat Stadium.