BOZEMAN — FBS football teams, especially those in the Pac-12, might hesitate to schedule games against Big Sky Conference opponents going forward.
Two weeks after Montana shocked then-No. 20 Washington, Northern Arizona upset fellow Pac-12 team Arizona 21-19 on the road Saturday night. It was the Lumberjacks’ first win of the season and first over the Wildcats since 1932.
The firsts didn’t stop there. NAU’s win over Arizona and UM’s over Washington marks the first time Big Sky teams have ever defeated two Power 5 programs in the same season, per the Big Sky (the Power 5 consists of the Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC).
NAU’s victory was the fourth over an FBS opponent for the Big Sky this season, the most such wins for the conference since 2012. Eastern Washington beat UNLV 35-33 in double overtime and UC Davis topped Tulsa 19-17. Both wins, like the Griz’s, were in Week 1. Montana State almost earned the Big Sky’s fourth FBS win of the opening week at Wyoming, but the Bobcats lost 19-16.
NAU also had one of those 2012 FBS wins, 17-14 at UNLV. The other three: Sacramento State won 30-28 at Colorado (a Pac-12 team) and 49-19 at New Mexico State, and EWU topped Idaho 20-3 (Idaho rejoined the Big Sky in 2018).
On Saturday in Tucson, NAU trailed 13-0 until the 1:48 mark of the second quarter. That touchdown started a string of 21 straight points for NAU, which went ahead 21-13 with 7:53 left in the game.
Arizona (0-3) scored a TD with 2:16 remaining but threw an incomplete pass on the two-point attempt, and the Lumberjacks (1-2) ran out the clock on the following drive.
“At the beginning of the week we talked about (how) this is an opportunity to show guys that thought they were FBS football players, ‘This is an opportunity to show an in-state team that you can play at this level,’” Northern Arizona coach Chris Ball said, via the Arizona Daily Sun. “It worked out for our players, and it was very, very satisfying.”
Arizona has lost 15 straight games. The Wildcats’ last win was 35-30 at Colorado on Oct. 5, 2019, three weeks after they beat NAU 65-41.
Portland State uses free beer to entice fans
Last week, Portland State head football coach Bruce Barnum said he’d buy beer for anyone who attended the Vikings’ home opener against Western Oregon on Saturday. Not just one beer per person, but “all of them,” he told the Oregonian’s John Canzano.
“I’m not buying your ticket, but I’ll buy your beer,” Barnum said. “I don’t care if you’re watching the Oregon (or Oregon State) game, watch them on your phone. Buy your ticket and come to the game, I think you’ll like what you see.”
Barnum made the brew offer because “I’ve got to get people to see my kids,” he told Canzano. More than 2,000 free beers were distributed at Barney’s Beer Garden on Saturday, according to PSU.
The announced attendance for PSU’s 21-7 win on Saturday was 3,124, less than half of Hillsboro Stadium’s capacity. For comparison, nearly 20,000 people showed up for Montana State’s Gold Rush game against Drake two Saturdays ago, and more than 25,000 went to Montana’s home opener against Western Illinois the same day.
Rain poured during Saturday’s PSU-WOU game, but attendances were not much higher than 3,124 for most of the Vikings’ 2019 home games, none of which offered free beer. The highest Hillsboro Stadium attendance during the 2019 season was 6,191 on Nov. 2 against UM. Many of those people were Griz fans.
PSU (1-2) will host Montana State this Saturday for both teams’ Big Sky opener. The Vikings last faced the Bobcats on Sept. 22, 2018, also at Hillsboro Stadium. MSU starting quarterback Troy Andersen (now a linebacker) rushed for 211 yards in the 43-23 win, setting the program record for single-game rushing yards from a quarterback. The attendance for that game was 4,135.
“It seemed like we had more fans than they did,” Andersen said after MSU’s 52-10 win over San Diego on Saturday.
UM-EWU game to air on ESPN2
Next week’s game between No. 4-ranked Montana and No. 6 Eastern Washington will be televised on ESPN2, the conference announced Monday.
It will be the first regular-season Big Sky game to air on ESPN2, per the conference. UM (2-0) will travel to Cheney, Washington, to take on EWU (3-0) on Saturday, Oct. 2. The game, originally slated to be broadcast on ESPNU, will kick off at 8:30 p.m Mountain time.
The Grizzlies beat the Eagles 34-17 the last time they met in 2019 in Missoula. EWU has won 18 straight home games.
Two Big Sky teams rise, one falls in rankings
Montana, which had a bye last week, remained No. 4 in the latest Stats Perform FCS Top 25. Montana State (2-1) stayed put at No. 13 as well, but the other ranked Big Sky teams made moves.
The biggest change was Weber State’s drop from No. 9 to No. 14. The Big Sky team fell to 1-2 after a 37-24 loss to No. 3 James Madison on Saturday in Ogden, Utah. JMU (3-0) led 17-3 at halftime and 37-10 midway through the fourth quarter. The Wildcats’ other loss was 40-17 to Utah, a Pac-12 team.
Eastern Washington moved up one spot to No. 6 after a 62-56 win over Western Illinois (0-3), an FCS team that lost 42-7 a week earlier at UM. In Saturday’s win, EWU never trailed and scored 34 straight points in a span of less than a quarter to take a 55-21 lead at halftime. The score was 62-35 going into the fourth.
UC Davis (3-0) rose from No. 14 to No. 12 after a 60-27 win over Dixie State, which lost to Weber 40-3 a week earlier and 19-7 to fellow Big Sky team Sacramento State to open the season.
Sam Houston and South Dakota State, which both had byes last week, remained No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Sam Houston beat Northern Arizona 42-16 to start the season.
EWU, NAU players earn weekly honors
Eastern Washington redshirt senior quarterback Eric Barriere’s record-setting performance against Western Illinois led to his second Big Sky offensive player of the week honor of the season. Northern Arizona players received the defensive and special teams selections.
Barriere, a preseason all-American, completed 31 of 45 passes (68.9%) for a career-high 542 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions against Western Illinois. His 487 passing yards in the first half broke the FCS record for yards in one half.
The weekly defensive accolade went to linebacker Harrison Beemiller, who recorded 10 tackles (4 ½ for loss) and a forced fumble in the Lumberjacks’ upset of Arizona.
Fellow NAU graduate student DJ Arnson earned the special teams honor after averaging 51.6 yards per punt on nine attempts. Six of his punts exceeded 50 yards, including a 62-yarder with 4:30 left in the game, and three were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series wraps up
Western Illinois' games against Montana and Eastern Washington were two of the six in this year's Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge Series.
The series wrapped up on Saturday, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference finished 4-2 against the Big Sky. Western Illinois accounted for both MVFC losses, while South Dakota beat Northern Arizona 34-7 and Cal Poly 48-14, North Dakota beat Idaho State 35-14 and Northern Iowa beat Sacramento State 34-16.
The MVFC has finished with a winning record against the Big Sky in all four years of the series' existence (5-3 in 2017, 5-3 in 2018, 6-4 in 2019). The conferences didn't face off last regular season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but MVFC teams went 2-0 against Big Sky squads in the FCS playoffs (only regular-season games count in the series standings).
The Big Sky and MVFC had 11 teams combined in the Stats Perform FCS preseason top 25, and at least one of each conference has been represented in every FCS championship game since 2008.
Griz get both women’s soccer players of week awards
Montana earned both Big Sky women’s soccer player of the week honors last week, with the offensive selection going to Taylor Stoeger and the defensive one going to Taylor Hansen.
Stoeger, a senior forward from Wyoming, scored her first two goals of the season in the Grizzlies’ 6-0 home win over Texas Southern on Sept. 10. Hansen assisted Stoeger on both goals, scored one herself and played a key role in the shutout. The back line senior from California also helped UM beat Boise State 1-0 on Sept. 12.
It’s the second time the Griz have swept the Big Sky’s weekly player of the week awards this season. The offensive award went to Jaden Griggs, a junior forward from Washington state, and the defensive honor was given to Canadian redshirt freshman goalkeeper Camellia Xu.