Paul Petrino, Mason Petrino

Idaho coach Paul Petrino, left, and quarterback Mason Petrino converse during a game earlier this season. The Vandals upset heavily favored Eastern Washington last week.

BOZEMAN — Who saw Idaho’s victory over Eastern Washington coming?

The Vandals were 20-point underdogs entering Saturday’s home matchup with EWU but started hot and held on for a 35-27 win.

Idaho (2-2) jumped out to a 28-0 lead at halftime and maintained its poise as the Eagles (1-3) rallied to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Mason Petrino’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cotton midway through the final frame proved to be decisive for the Vandals.

Petrino accounted for three total touchdowns, Cotton caught 10 passes for 110 yards and Aundre Carter rushed for two other scores as Idaho claimed its most significant win since dropping back down to the FCS and rejoining the Big Sky Conference before last season.

Perhaps most impressive is that Idaho’s defense held the explosive Eagles to 103 total yards and just six first downs in the opening half.

Defensively, Idaho linebacker Charles Akanno led the way with nine tackles, three pass breakups and three quarterback hurries. His forced fumble in the second quarter led to a 21-0 lead.

Akanno also pressured QB Eric Barriere into an incompletion on fourth down deep in the red zone to snuff out a potential EWU scoring drive in the third quarter.

On Monday, Akanno was named Big Sky Conference defensive player of the week, as well as the STATS national FCS defensive player of the week.

The game was of the nonconference variety and does not count toward the Big Sky standings. Still, it was a double-take inducing outcome when you consider the history:

EWU came into the game ranked No. 11, and this stands as the Vandals’ first win over a team ranked in the top 11 of a poll since a 1999 victory over Montana. It was also their first victory over a team ranked in a top 25 media poll since beating Cal Poly in 2007.

Idaho hadn’t knocked off a fellow FCS team ranked No. 11 or higher since beating eventual national champion Montana in 1995.

Eastern Washington’s 1-3 start is its worst since opening the season 0-4 in 2011, one year after it claimed its first national championship.

Griz make grade

Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed continues to put up big numbers.

On Saturday, Sneed completed 30 of 40 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns in the Grizzlies’ 47-27 home victory over Monmouth. His 75% completion rate was the best of his career so far. For his efforts, Sneed was named on Monday as the Big Sky’s offensive player of the week.

In a league chock full of quality QBs, Sneed’s 303.5 passing yards per game rank fourth. His completion percentage of 69.4 ranks No. 1 among qualified passers.

Also on Monday, Montana kickoff returner Malik Flowers was named the league’s special teams player of the week. Flowers’ 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter broke a 7-7 tie and the Grizzlies never relinquished the lead.

Missed opportunities

UC Davis and North Dakota State met Saturday in the biggest game on the FCS calendar, and the Bison did what they usually do — protect their home turf.

No. 1 NDSU beat the fourth-ranked Aggies 27-16 to extend its overall winning streak to 25 games and win for the 16th time in 17 tries again teams ranked in the top five.

But that’s not to say UC Davis didn’t have its chances. The Aggies out-gained NDSU in total yards 422 to 354 but converted just 5 of 19 third-down plays (26%) and scored just once on three red zone opportunities. By contrast, the Bison went 4 for 4 in the red zone with three touchdowns.

Trailing 20-16 with less than four minutes left, UC Davis’ defense dropped a potential interception that could have been returned for a touchdown. Later, the Bison scored the clinching TD on a 10-yard run by Trey Lance.

The Aggies host Montana this week in an anticipated Big Sky game that will be broadcast regionally on ROOT Sports. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Mountain Time.

Series finale

The Big Sky Conference held a 3-1 advantage in the third annual challenge series between it and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but the MVFC turned the tables last week by winning all five games between two of the top leagues in the FCS.

Aside from North Dakota State’s aforementioned win over UC Davis, South Dakota State beat Southern Utah 43-7, South Dakota edged Northern Colorado 14-6, Northern Iowa topped Idaho State 13-6 and Illinois State outpaced Northern Arizona 40-27.

The Big Sky has a chance to get one back this week in the challenge finale, as Weber State hosts Northern Iowa.

With five wins last week, the MVFC clinched its third consecutive challenge series victory over the Big Sky.

Poll position

Montana and Montana State climbed again in the STATS Top 25 FCS poll on Monday, while Eastern Washington fell hard.

The Bobcats (3-1) beat Norfolk State 56-21 and rose one spot to No. 7, their highest ranking since the 2013 season. Montana (3-1) also moved ahead one spot to No. 18 after beating Monmouth. EWU, meanwhile, dropped 10 spots to No. 21 after its loss at Idaho.

Weber State (1-2) had a bye last week but still moved up one into the top five at No. 5. Northern Iowa brings the No. 9 ranking into Weber State this week. UC Davis, despite losing at top-ranked NDSU, remained at No. 4.

Nationally, Villanova (4-0) vaulted 10 spots to No. 8 after a 52-45 win over top-10 Towson.

Around the league

Portland State QB Davis Alexander threw a career-high five TD passes and had 366 yards in a not-surprising 59-9 win over Eastern Oregon of the NAIA Frontier Conference. … Southern Utah had three kicks blocked in its loss at South Dakota State. … Montana State RB Logan Jones has rushed for 100-plus yards in consecutive weeks. His two 100-yard games rank him in a tie for No. 1 in the Big Sky entering conference play.

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

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