Sulser catch vs. UW

Montana's Gabe Sulser catches a pass against Washington during the Grizzlies' 13-7 win on Saturday at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. 

BOZEMAN — Montana’s upset win over Washington was easily the biggest story from the Big Sky Conference’s first full week of football, but the Grizzlies weren’t the only Big Sky team to earn a big win.

The conference also boasted wins over FBS teams from Eastern Washington and UC Davis, and Montana State nearly pulled off its own FBS upset. Big Sky teams went 6-7 during the week, a strong showing considering the conference’s tough slate. 

Two days before the Grizzlies’ 13-7 victory over Huskies, who were ranked No. 20 in all of FBS at the time, EWU pulled off a 35-33 win in double overtime at UNLV, an unranked FBS team.

EWU led that game 20-6 going into the fourth quarter and had a good chance to win at the end of regulation, but Seth Harrison missed a 32-yard field goal wide left as time expired.

It would’ve appeared that UNLV had all of the momentum, especially after it opened overtime with a touchdown. But EWU’s Eric Berriere threw a touchdown pass on the first play of each overtime drive. The Eagles converted a two-point conversion after the second TD, and their defense ended the game with a stop on the 1-yard line on the Rebels’ two-point attempt.

Also on Thursday, UC Davis earned a 19-17 win at Tulsa, a member of the American Athletic Conference. It was close throughout, and Tulsa led 17-13 through three quarters. A pair of short field goals from Isaiah Gomez gave the Aggies the lead for good midway through the fourth.

MSU was 2 minutes, 17 seconds away from giving the Big Sky four FBS wins last week, but Wyoming went ahead with 0:47 left, and the Bobcats ran out of time on their final drive.

Southern Utah, the only Big Sky team to play in Week 0, fell to 0-2 with a 41-14 loss at Arizona State on Thursday. Weber State also lost to a Pac-12 team that day, 40-17 at Utah.

Colorado handled Northern Colorado on Friday, giving Washington a chance to complete a 4-0 showing for the Pac-12 against Big Sky schools last week.

As for the rest of the Big Sky, Idaho handled Simon Fraser 68-0, Cal Poly beat San Diego 28-17, Sacramento State defeated Dixie State 19-7, Northern Arizona lost 42-16 to Sam Houston (the top-ranked FCS team), Portland State lost to Hawaii (FBS) 49-35 and Idaho State fell to North Dakota 35-14.

Griz, Cats rise in rankings

UM was rewarded for its big win in the latest Stats Perform FCS Top 25 rankings, which were released Monday.

The Griz rose from No. 9 to No. 4 and received five first-place votes, the third-most of any team behind No. 1 Sam Houston (32 first-place votes) and No. 2 South Dakota State (11). James Madison, which received the other two first-place votes, dropped from No. 2 to No. 3.

Stats Perform also named Montana the FCS National Team of the Week.

Despite the loss, MSU moved up in the rankings from No. 12 to No. 11. The Bobcats are the fourth-highest Big Sky team in the top 25. EWU rose from No. 11 to No. 7, while Weber State fell from No. 6 to No. 10.

Montana State at Wyoming

Montana State's Troy Andersen upends Wyoming's Xazavian Valladay at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday in Laramie, Wyoming.

UC Davis leaped from No. 23 to No. 14.

Sacramento State was the only other Big Sky team to receive votes, finishing with 40 points.

UM leapfrogged Weber, North Dakota State, Delaware, Southern Illinois and North Dakota. NDSU fell from No. 4 to No. 5, Delaware from No. 5 to No. 6, SIU from No. 7 to No. 8 and North Dakota from No. 8 to No. 9.

MSU moved up due to a loss from previous No. 10 Jacksonville State, which fell to No. 16 after losing 31-0 to UAB.

Big Sky players of the week

Montana was also rewarded with two Big Sky player of the week honors, both given to Helena Capital graduates.

Griz junior linebacker Marcus Welnel was named defensive player of the week, and redshirt freshman punter Brian Buschini shared it with UC Davis kicker Isaiah Gomez.

A pair of quarterbacks, EWU’s Eric Barriere and Davis’ Hunter Rodrigues, were chosen as co-offensive players of the week.

Welnel finished with a game-high 12 tackles (one for loss), one sack and an interception in the final minute that sealed UM’s victory.

Buschini averaged 47 yards on seven punts, three of which were downed inside Washington’s 20-yard line.

Barriere threw for 374 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 29 of 39 passes (74.4%). He also rushed for 32 yards on nine carries (3.6 ypc).

Rodrigues completed 28 of 35 passes (80%) for 311 yards, a TD and no interceptions.

Gomez made all four of his field goal attempts and accounted for 13 of Davis’ 19 points against Tulsa.

Other POY nominees included Montana senior quarterback Cam Humphrey and MSU senior linebacker Troy Andersen.

Big Sky announces 'FACTS' campaign

Last week, the Big Sky announced the launch of a campaign called “FACTS: A Competitive Advantage” designed to combat COVID-19 misinformation.

The conference set up a landing page that addresses incorrect information about COVID and provides resources to answer questions about the disease.

“For more than a year our Health & Safety Committee has recommended protocols for how our teams can practice and compete safely, and their expertise has been invaluable as we navigate the pandemic,” Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a press release. “Some of our committee members created this content to communicate with not only our current student-athletes and coaches but also the general public about the coronavirus and vaccinations to ensure that everyone can access accurate and timely information in order to make educated decisions.”

At the Big Sky Football Kickoff in July, Wistrcill said “we need to increase our vaccination rates” and that lowly vaccinated football teams would be in jeopardy of forfeiting games.

MSU had reached a vaccination rate of about 90% during fall camp, according to head coach Brent Vigen. UM has declined to disclose how many of its football players are vaccinated.

“I’m not expecting games to be canceled,” UM athletic director Kent Haslam told 406mtsports.com last month. “We’re making good progress. 100% vaccination is our goal, and that’s what we’re pushing for.”

Half of Montana’s eligible population is fully vaccinated. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have spiked across the state largely because of the Delta variant. The recent COVID surge has led to a record number of patients at several Montana hospitals.

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores406

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