The Big Sky’s playoff picture didn’t get much clearer on Saturday win week 11 of play, however we now have the setup for a big final weekend of regular season play. No big upsets this weekend, which means there are six teams alive for a playoff berth, but possibly only three or four spots will be given to Big Sky teams. As of now Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, Weber State, Eastern Washington, and Sacramento State are alive for spots. Realistically, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State will probably not be in the field. The other four, however, are still alive.
The final weekend will pit a bubble team, Montana against its in-state rival Montana State. Northern Arizona and Southern Utah will also face off, with NAU quite possibly being on the bubble. Southern Utah and Weber should have spots wrapped up for Sunday’s selection show.
The Big Sky’s week started with Eastern Washington take a trip across a couple of time zones to take on the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. The Hawks are having a bit of a letdown this season due to a number of injuries to key starters. Eastern Washington on the other hand was dealing with the suspension of two players due to some extracurricular activities last weekend. One of those players was starting quarterback Gage Gubrud. The Fighting Hawks got on the board first with a Keaton Studsrud touchdown run. Eastern Washington would answer with a half back pass, Sam McPherson to Talolo Limu-Jones. Eastern Washington hit on two more scoring plays in the second quarter including a touchdown from quarterback in relief Eric Barriere to McPherson. Barriere also had a touchdown run. North Dakota tried to make it interesting in the fourth quarter by closing to gap to within seven but couldn’t close out. Eastern Washington will take on Portland State next weekend while North Dakota’s season is over.
After Montana’s victory against Northern Arizona last weekend without starting quarterback Gresch Jensen the Griz were happy to have Jensen back for Northern Colorado. The Bears know a thing or two about playing with a backup, as Jacob Knipp was knocked for the season and Conor Regan was brought in for the remainder of the season. The Griz got off to a quick start with a touchdown run from Gresch Jensen to open up the scoring. Northern Colorado answered right back with a scoring drive of their own, Alex Wesley catching a 26 yard pass from Conor Regan. From there the Griz scored 37 straight points and blew the doors off of Northern Colorado. The Bears managed a garbage time pick six by Marshaun Cameron to get the score a tiny bit closer. Montana will be at Montana State next weekend, while Northern Colorado will host Cal Poly in the Big Sky pillow fight of the week.
Portland State, the Big Sky’s kicking post this season, hosted Weber State this weekend. If you read that last sentence correctly you can probably imagine how this game turned out. Weber State got up 49-3 at the half and that’s really all you need to know about this game. The Wildcats rushed for 421 yards in this contest and somehow only kept the ball for two and a half minutes more than the Vikings. Kevin Smith rushed for 143 yards, David Jones rushed for 103 yards, and Treshawn Garrett rushed for 88 yards. Combined the rushers had seven touchdowns for the Wildcats. Portland State scored a couple of touchdowns in the second half, presumably against the Weber State JV. Weber State will host Idaho State next weekend in the Zion border war, while Portland State will look to keep it respectable against Eastern Washington.
Southern Utah kept their winning ways going and their lead in the Big Sky with a victory against UC-Davis this past weekend. The Aggies came into the game looking for an upset of the Big Sky’s leader and instead found a buzzsaw. Jake Maier turned in a respectable game, however it wasn’t enough to overcome the Thunderbird defense. Patrick Tyler earned Big Sky player of the week honors, as he passed for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Southern Utah quickly got up 21-0 on the Aggies, the first score on an interception return, then a Patrick Tyler touchdown pass. Jay Green would punch in a one yard touchdown to follow. At the half the Thunderbirds were up 26-7. Davis would come back and score in the third and fourth quarter, however the game was pretty much in hand before the Davis offense woke up. Southern Utah will host Northern Arizona next week while Davis will play the Causeway Classic against Sacramento State.
Case Cookus made his return to the field this week one week after being ejected against Montana for a helmet to helmet hit. Cookus came back and threw for 314 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for a touchdown as well. On the other side of the ball was the Montana State Bobcats who were looking to play the role of upset team, as their season is basically already over. The Bobcats made the game interesting in the fourth quarter by scoring with 13:18 left in the 4th to even it up at 30. NAUs Joe Logan would put in a touchdown to give the Lumberjacks a seven point lead with 4:49 left in the game. Montana State wasn’t done and went driving. Chris Murray hit Kevin Kassis with :32 seconds left in the game to put the Cats in position to win or tie the game. Coach Jeff Choate opted for the two point conversion and Chris Murray could not finish the play and NAU would escape with the win. Montana State will host Montana next week in the Treasure State Super Bowl, while Northern Arizona will be at Southern Utah.
In the night cap the Sacramento State Hornets went on the road to take on fairly helpless Cal Poly. The Hornets were trying to keep their very remote playoff chances alive and needed a win. Sacramento State put their foot to the gas almost immediately scoring three plays into the game and went on to score 49 straight against the Mustangs. Kevin Thomson had three touchdown passes for the Hornets. Ernest Jenkins returned a blocked field goal attempt for a 74 yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Hornets piled up 465 yards on offense while only holding the ball for 21:15 of the game. The Hornets will host UC-Davis next weekend while Cal Poly will be playing in the Big Sky pillow fight at Northern Colorado.
Eastern Washington 21
North Dakota 14
Northern Colorado 14
Weber State 63
Portland State 17
Southern Utah 47
Montana State 36
Northern Arizona 37
Sacramento State 49
Cal Poly 14
Big Sky Player of the Week
This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler. Tyler was 26/36 for 370 yards and three touchdowns as the Thunderbirds took care of business against UC-Davis on Saturday in Davis, CA.
Big Sky MVP Candidates
Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington – Did not record any stats
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 9 receptions, 123 yards
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 11 receptions for 93 yards
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – 17/25 for 228 yards, 3 TD, 30 yards rushing 1 TD
Patrick Tyler, QB, Southern Utah – 26/36 for 370 yards, 3 TD 2 INT, 15 yards rushing
Big Sky Power Rankings
1. Southern Utah
2. Weber State
4. Eastern Washington
5. Northern Arizona
6. Sacramento State
8. Montana State
9. Idaho State
10. Northern Colorado
11. North Dakota
12. Cal Poly
13. Portland State
Final Thoughts and Hot Takes
Fully expected to UC-Davis to pull the upset this week, but that Southern Utah team might be the real deal. I haven’t known what to think of them all season, and every week I think, “there’s no way they can win again this week” and they do. Hope they can win out and get a playoff seed, they’ve earned it.
Montana State going for two and losing was basically how I expected that game to end. As I was sitting in the bar area at Jakers in Missoula watching the game I said to the group with me, and whomever was in earshot at the time, “This is going to end with the Cats failing on a two point conversion.” Welp. That said, Jeff Choate made the right decision. The Cats literally had nothing to lose (except the game). They’re not going to the playoffs, they’re on the road, what the hell.. take the shot. You’re the hero if you convert it, no worse off if you lose. Right decision, poor execution.. didn’t like that play call.
I’m guessing none of you had Sacramento State blowing out Cal Poly when this season started.
Gage Gubrud’s replacement, Eric Barriere, had an okay day in his first start for Eastern Washington. 13/23 for 130 yards and a touchdown pass, as well as 55 yards rushing and a touchdown. Game probably looks a bit different if Gubrud is playing, but he didn’t.
The Big Sky comes down to next week. There’s a three way tie at the top of the conference for the autoqualifier bid. Southern Utah, Weber State and Northern Arizona are all 6-1 in conference. Montana, Eastern Washington, and Sacramento State are all sitting at 5-2 in conference. Eastern Washington and Sacramento State are both 6-4 on the season. In theory, EWU and Sacramento State are probably not getting into the playoffs at 7-4 (if they both win next week). That leaves Montana, Weber, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah probably fighting for three spots. Southern Utah and NAU play next weekend. Weber did not have to play NAU this year. Going to be a screwy tie breaker scenario that plays out.
At the same time… can’t believe we give a playoff spot to the NEC and the Pioneer league. Man alive.. why? I get it, but why? Also, the Patriot league leader, Lehigh, is 4-1 in conference.. and 4-6 overall. The second place team, Colgate, is 6-4, 4-1 in conference. Lehigh owns the tiebreaker over Colgate in this situation.
North Carolina A&T won the MEAC this past weekend. They have indicated that they will play in the Celebration Bowl rather than the FCS playoffs. That’s a shame that one of the FCS’s top teams, and one of two that are left undefeated, won’t be competing in this year’s playoffs. It would be interesting to see how they’d fare in the tournament.
My picks for the week: Montana, Northern Colorado, Weber State, Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington.