BOZEMAN — Eastern Washington’s back-and-forth, down-to-the-last-second win over Montana on Saturday night had one of the largest margins of victory of any football game last week involving a top-25 FCS team.
The Eagles, ranked No. 6 in the Stats Perform FCS top 25 at the time, came back to beat the then-No. 4 Grizzlies 34-28 in Cheney, Washington. It was one of 11 games featuring ranked teams that finished with a scoring margin of seven points or less. EWU and UM weren’t the only top-25 Big Sky schools to play a close game, either.
In another game between top-10 teams last week, No. 5 North Dakota State edged then-No. 10 North Dakota 16-10. The rivalry game was within one score until NDSU went ahead 16-7 with 1:13 left.
Top-ranked Sam Houston trailed then-unranked Stephen F. Austin 20-6 going into the fourth quarter. A touchdown and two-point conversion with 9:08 left pulled the Bearkats within a score, and they took a 21-20 lead with 2:37 to go. SFA’s Chris Campos missed a 51-yard field goal with 40 seconds on the clock to keep Sam Houston’s undefeated season going.
No. 3 James Madison, which handled then-No. 9 Weber State on Sept. 18, struggled to fend off then-No. 25 New Hampshire. UNH returned an interception for a touchdown, forced a fumble on the following drive and scored on the drive after that to turn a 17-7 halftime deficit into a 21-17 lead through three quarters. JMU took a two-point lead with 8:20 left, and the Dukes intercepted UNH at their own 38-yard line with 1:45 remaining to escape with a 23-21 victory.
Unranked Western Illinois erased a 21-0 deficit to then-No. 7 Southern Illinois and sent the game into overtime. Both teams scored touchdowns on their first drives of OT, and SIU survived 31-30 after WIU’s would-be game-winning two-point conversion attempt came up short.
Then-No. 8 UC Davis, playing without injured star quarterback Hunter Rodrigues, struggled in its Big Sky home opener against unranked Idaho on Saturday. The Aggies trailed 20-13 through three quarters, but a good fourth gave them a 27-20 win to improve their record to 5-0 (2-0 in Big Sky play).
No. 9 Delaware looked like it would exit its game against Albany stress-free after going up 20-9 with 3:37 left, but Albany responded with a 75-yard TD pass 12 seconds later to keep it interesting. Delaware ran out the clock on its ensuing drive for a 20-15 win.
Albany lost to Rhode Island 16-14 two games prior. Rhode Island, ranked No. 21 last week, beat Stony Brook 27-20 in overtime on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, then-No. 13 East Tennessee State defeated Wofford 27-21, and No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana edged McNeese 38-35.
No. 2 South Dakota State was the only top-10 FCS team last week that won by more than a score. The Jackrabbits rolled to a 55-7 victory over Dixie State, which will play at Montana this Saturday.
Lots of movement in rankings
All of those close games led to some changes in this week’s Stats Perform FCS poll.
The top three and No. 5 (North Dakota State) stayed the same, while Montana (3-1, 1-1 Big Sky) and Eastern Washington (5-0, 2-0) traded places.
One slot behind the Griz is UC Davis (5-0, 2-0), which moved up from No. 8 to No. 7, swapping spots with Southern Illinois.
Montana State (4-1, 2-0) cracked the top 10 for the first time this season, rising one spot from No. 11, after beating Northern Colorado 40-7 on Saturday.
The fifth Big Sky school in the Top 25, Weber State (2-3, 1-1), remained No. 19 following its 38-7 win at Cal Poly (1-4, 0-2), which will play at MSU on Saturday.
North Dakota’s 16-10 loss to NDSU resulted in a drop from No. 10 to No. 13. New Hampshire (now No. 22) and Stephen F. Austin (now No. 23) were rewarded for their close losses to top-three teams.
NAU, EWU earn player of week honors
The latest Big Sky football offensive and defensive player of the week awards both went to Northern Arizona, while Eastern Washington took the special teams honor.
NAU quarterback RJ Martinez was named offensive player of the week for the first time this season. In a 48-17 win over Idaho State, the true freshman completed 26 of 45 passes (57.8%) for 369 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he rushed for 57 yards and a score on six carries.
Martinez’s teammate, safety Morgan Vest, intercepted two ISU passes to earn the defensive honor.
EWU kicker Jackson Cleaver got the special teams accolade for connecting on both of his field goal attempts (from 32 and 30 yards) and both PATs. The freshman was filling in for an injured Seth Harrison.
Montana State nickelback Ty Okada and Montana linebacker Jace Lewis were both nominated for DPOW, while Griz returner Malik Flowers received a special teams nomination.
MSU’s Pence named volleyball player of week
Montana State received a Big Sky volleyball player of the week honor for the first time this season.
Middle blocker Emma Pence got the latest defensive honor after averaging 2.13 blocks per set in two matches last week. The junior from Nevada had a match-high eight blocks in a five-set loss to Weber State, and she finished with nine in a sweep of Idaho State.
Pence’s 1.39 blocks-per-set mark this season is 18th among all Division I volleyball players, and she has the second-most block assists (77) in the nation, trailing only Maryland’s Rainelle Jones (83), who is No. 1 in blocks per set.
Montana’s only Big Sky volleyball player of the week honor was awarded three weeks ago, when Ellie Scherffius was the offensive recipient.