Following is a look around Big Sky Conference football by Jon Kasper, the conference’s assistant commissioner. Kasper used to write for the Missoulian, where he covered the University of Montana football team for several years.
This Week’s Sky Highlights
The three undefeated teams in Big Sky Conference play all hit the road this Saturday…Top-ranked Eastern Washington travels to Southern Utah. The Eagles are seeking their sixth straight victory, while the Thunderbirds hope to recover from last week’s loss to Weber State…Undefeated and No. 11 Cal Poly guns for its ninth straight win as it travels to Sacramento to face the dangerous Hornets. Cal Poly (7-0) is one of two undefeated teams left in the FCS. Sacramento State lost 31-28 at Eastern Washington last week….No. 13 Northern Arizona travels to Northern Colorado where the Lumberjacks hope to pick up a seventh straight win. Northern Colorado scored 52 points last week in a win over Idaho State….No. 4 Montana State returns from a bye week to face a potent North Dakota offense. North Dakota threw for 660 yards in a win over Montana last week…UM will try to get back on track as it takes on Idaho State on ROOT SPORTS…Portland State heads back to California for the second straight week to take on UC Davis.
This Week’s Sky Schedule
Saturday, Oct. 27
$*#1 E. Washington (6-1) at Southern Utah (3-5), 1:05 p.m.
$*#13 No. Arizona (6-1) at No. Colorado (2-5), 1:35 p.m.
*Idaho State (1-6) at Montana (3-5), 1:40 p.m. TV: ROOT SPORTS/DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1 Talent: Tom Glasgow/Jason Stiles/Sherdric Bonner/Jenny Cavnar
$*North Dakota (4-4) at #4 Montana State (6-1), 2:05 p.m. TV: Max Media (Montana)
$*Portland State (2-5) at UC Davis (3-5), 2:05 p.m.
$*#11 Cal Poly (7-0) at Sacramento State (5-3), 6:05 p.m.
$Game available on the Internet at www.bigskytv.org. Times Local to Site/Subject to Change.
Around the Big Sky
EAGLES REMAIN NUMBER ONE: Eastern Washington edged Sacramento State 31-28 at “The Inferno” on Saturday, and maintained its No.1 ranking in both major polls. EWU received 125 first-place votes and 4,014 total points in The Sports Network Poll. In the Coaches’ poll, EWU received 22 first-place votes and 642 total points. Montana State, which had a bye last week, moved up to fourth in both polls. Cal Poly is ranked 11th in both polls. The Mustangs earned three first-place votes in the Sports Network Poll. Northern Arizona is now 13th in both polls. Georgia Southern is No. 2 in both polls, followed by North Dakota State.
POLY STILL PERFECT: Cal Poly hiked its record to 7-0 with a 37-25 home win over Portland State on Saturday. Since moving to Division I in 1994, this is the third time Cal Poly has started 7-0. The Mustangs also accomplished the feat in 1997 and 2004. Cal Poly is one of two undefeated teams remaining in the FCS. Lehigh of the Patriot League moved to 8-0 with a 42-19 win over Bucknell. Tennessee State and Harvard both lost for the first time last Saturday. Cal Poly has won eight straight dating back to the season finale last season. Cal Poly and Lehigh are tied for the longest active win streak in the FCS at eight games. Only Alabama (11), Oregon (10) and Mississippi State (9) have longer active win streaks at the FCS level. Florida, Ohio State, Ohio and Rutgers also have eight-game winning streaks. Quarterback Andre Broadous accounted for four touchdowns in the win over Portland State, rushing for two and passing for two. The Mustangs, who rank third in the nation in rushing offense, rolled up 347 yards on the ground against the Vikings. Cal Poly will try to run its winning streak to nine when it plays at Sacramento State on Saturday. Cal Poly has won five straight over the Hornets.
AIR ASSAULT IN GRAND FORKS: North Dakota set a school record with 660 passing yards in a 40-34 victory over Montana on Saturday in Grand Forks. North Dakota senior quarterback threw for a Big Sky single-game record 660 yards, the second-most ever in an FCS game. Hanson completed 42-of-61 passes with five touchdowns and three interceptions. At halftime, he had 410 passing yards and four touchdowns. His 660 yards broke the single-game Big Sky mark of 624 set by Weber State’s Jamie Martin in 1991 against Idaho State. Martin’s record was the FCS record until Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke threw for 730 yards in a win over New Hampshire on Sept. 22, 2012. Hanson’s top target, junior Greg Hardin, broke the single-game Big Sky record for receiving yards. Hardin caught 12 passes for 333 yards with three touchdowns. His 333 yards broke the previous Big Sky mark of 315 set by Northern Colorado’s Patrick Walker last season against North Dakota. Hardin’s 333 receiving yards are the most in a Division I game this season. Hardin also had 87 kick return yards, giving him 420 all-purpose yards. The 420 all-purpose yards rank second in Big Sky single-game history. Portland State’s Ryan Fuqua had 437 all-purpose yards in a 2001 game against Eastern Washington. The 420 all-purpose yards by Hardin are the most in a Division I game this season. Three North Dakota receivers finished with at least 100 receiving yards. Blair Townsend, who entered the game with three catches all year, caught 13 for 152 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Jameer Jackson had eight catches for 124 yards. North Dakota amassed a school-record 704 yards of total offense. Hardin’s final catch, a 32-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left, broke the 34-34 tie. Hardin has 12 TD catches this season, which ranks second in the FCS. The game featured 1,018 passing yards as Montana chipped in with 358 through the air. Sophomore Shay Smithwick-Hann came off the bench to throw for 306 and three touchdowns.
LUMBERJACKS SEEK SEVENTH: Northern Arizona heads to Northern Colorado on Saturday seeking its first same season seven-game winning streak since 1958 when it played at the NAIA level. Northern Arizona won its sixth straight game with a 21-7 victory over UC Davis, the program’s first six-game winning streak since 2008. NAU is 4-0 in league for the first time since 2008. NAU has only started 5-0 in conference once – in 1996. This marks the ninth time the Lumberjacks have been 6-1 after seven games, having also accomplished the feat in 1923, 1956, 1957, 1962, 1976, 1977, 1993 and 1996 and 2008. Northern Arizona closed the 1978 season with three wins and opened the 1979 season with five wins. NAU hasn’t won seven games in a regular season since 2003, the last time the program made the playoffs
FIRSTS FOR COACHES: Saturday proved to be historic for Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr., and Weber State interim coach Jody Sears. Collins Jr., earned his first Big Sky Conference victory as the Bears beat Idaho State 52-14. Collins, in his second season, had been 0-11 in conference games. Northern Colorado amassed 537 yards of total offense against the Bengals. Quarterback Seth Lobato threw five touchdown passes, and Tromaine Dennis rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The 178 yards set a Northern Colorado Division I record. The 52 points was the most ever scored by the Bears in a Big Sky game. Sears won his first game at the helm of the Wildcats after opening with seven straight losses. Weber State stopped a Southern Utah 2-point conversion with 54 seconds left to secure the win. Mike Hoke threw for 206 yards and a touchdown, and ran for a score in the win. C.J. Tuckett rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown.
LEAGUE MOURNS PASSING OF BLOOMFIELD: Sacramento State and the entire Big Sky Conference mourn the passing of Hornet football player John Bloomfield. Bloomfield died on Sunday. The 23-year-old senior defensive end had been in a coma since September. “We have lost a member of our family,’’ said Sacramento State Director of Athletics Terry Wanless. “John was a young man who brightened the lives of all those he touched. He was a great example of someone who took on the challenges of life and found a way to make it better.’’
ISU-UM ON ROOT SPORTS: Montana will take on Idaho State in the ROOT SPORTS Game of the Week from Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Mountain. The game will air live on ROOT SPORTS and DirecTV’s Audience Network 239-1. Tom Glasgow, Jason Stiles, Sherdric Bonner and Jenny Cavnar will call the game. Montana is 1-3 on ROOT SPORTS this season. Idaho State is making its debut on ROOT SPORTS.
IN THE SAGARIN: Four Big Sky teams are ranked in the top 14 of this week’s Sagarin Ratings. Cal Poly is ranked third among FCS teams and 82nd overall. Eastern Washington is fifth in the FCS and 86th overall. Northern Arizona is 10th, and Montana State is 14th. North Dakota (29), Montana (30) and Southern Utah (38) give the Big Sky seven in the top 40. The Big Sky is ranked fourth among FCS conference behind the Missouri valley, Colonial and Southern. North Dakota State is the No. 1 FCS team. Georgia Southern is second.
Extra points: Montana needs to win its final three games to avoid its first losing season since 1985…Montana has four conference losses for the first time since 1990…Home teams won five of the six conference games last week. Road teams still hold a 16-13 edge in conference games…Greg Hardin of North Dakota was named the Co-Offensive Player of the Week by The Sports Network…Northern Colorado’s Dominic Gunn needs 31 kick return yards to reach 2,000 for his career…Portland State All-American kicker Zack Brown returned last Saturday after missing five games with an injury. Brown made a 35-yard field goal to extend his streak to nine consecutive…Southern Utah QB Brad Sorensen recorded his 11th career 300-yard passing game with 320 in a loss to Weber State…There have been 22 300-yard passing games by 14 different quarterbacks in the Big Sky this season…Idaho State has allowed at least 52 points in five straight games…ISU QB Kevin Yost is on pace to attempt 545 passes in 11 games this season. The Big Sky record is 505 set by EWU’s Bo Levi Mitchell in 2010, when he appeared in 15 games…Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona are tied for the national lead in lost fumbles with one. Southern Utah has lost just two fumbles…Cal Poly ranks second in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 56.76 percent. Montana State is third at 56.53. NDSU is first at 56.86…Southern Utah linebacker Zak Browning is the national leader among freshman in tackles with 81. Southern Utah has been led in tackles every game this season by a freshman. Southern Utah failed to intercept a pass for the first time in a game this season last week…North Dakota freshman wide receiver Jameer Jackson has been added to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List…Northern Colorado has rushed for 696 yards in seven games, passing last year’s total of 617 yards…Since 2010, EWU is 20-1 in games after Oct. 1.