Look you guys, I am trying to play it cool and not make this about me. But I gotta say, after another perfect week I am now 39-1 picking MVFC football games this year. I know a lot of the games have been gimmes, but 39-1 is pretty dang good by any measure. We’ll see if I can keep that pace the whole year (spoiler alert: probably not). As for the action on the field, it was a pretty straightforward week. There weren’t any surprises, although there were a couple near misses. A recap of what happened is below.
#16 Missouri State 41, Illinois State 20 Illinois State seems to have a grasp on the first half, it is this second half thing that eludes them. For the second week in a row, the Redbirds got off to a respectable start before seemingly falling off a cliff. Meanwhile, Missouri State continues to impress, improving their record to 3-1. The Bears scored quickly in this one as Jason Shelley hit Jordan Murray for a 22-yard score to make it 7-0 MSU. Illinois State responded with two straight drives for scores, both ending in TD passes from Jackson Waring, to take a 13-7 lead. Mo State took the lead back in the second quarter with a two-yard TD run by Tobias Little. It was the first of three TDs for him on the day. ISU immediately responded. Jackson Waring was looking like Tom Brady as he slung a 75-yard TD pass on the first play of the next drive to give Illinois State the lead back, 20-14. That would be the end of the ISU scoring for the game, as they were outscored 27-0 the rest of the way (after being outscored 35-0 in the final 25 minutes last week). It started on the ensuing drive when the Bears found paydirt via Tobias Little once again to take a 21-20 lead. That would be the score at the break, and the second half was all Bears. An MSU blocked punt set them up with good field position, leading to Little’s third TD of the game for a 27-20 lead. A Montrae Braswell pick six for MSU on the Redbirds’ next possession made the game 34-20. Shelly then put the game away with a nice 69-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. The final was 41-20 to Missouri State. Shelley was solid again for MSU completing 19-27 passes for 319 yards, two TDs and a pick. Tobias Little carried for 91 yards on 14 carries and scored three TDs. Jackson Waring was 19-30 for 318 yards, three TDs and three picks for ISU. He is more mistake prone than Bryce Jefferson but does appear to be a more dynamic passer. Mo State outgained Illinois State 513-358. The Bears are at Youngstown State next week, while Illinois State has a week off before hosting NDSU.
South Dakota 38, Indiana State 10 Historically USD has dominated ISU at the Dakotadome, and last week was no exception. The Coyotes looked every bit the part of a contender as they dismantled Indiana State on D-Days. South Dakota did not get off to its customary quick start, as an Indiana State field goal early in the second quarter knotted the game at 3-3. From there, South Dakota rolled. On their next drive, USD drove to the Sycamore one yard line where they went for it on fourth down. In what was a pivotal play in the game, USD scored on a one-yard pass from Carson Camp to Brett Samson to give themselves a 10-3 lead. The Coyotes then held Indiana State to a three-and-out, and on the very next play following the punt Camp hit Carter Bell for a 47-yard TD. Just like that South Dakota had increased the lead to 17-3. After another three-and-out, Carson Camp methodically drove the Yotes down the field for another TD (Sampson was again on the receiving end of the TD pass from Camp). This gave South Dakota a 24-3 halftime lead, and they cruised through the second half from there. Indiana State did cut the lead to 24-10 at the end of the third quarter, but two fourth quarter TDs for South Dakota put the game firmly out of reach. The final was 38-10 South Dakota. USD dominated statistically to the tune of 417 total yards to 205 for Indiana State. That included a decisive 206-33 edge on the ground. Carson Camp was 19-26 for 200 yards and 3 TDs for USD, while Anthony Thompson could only muster up 135 yards on 16-24 passing (including a TD and two picks) for ISU. Nate Thomas as solid on the ground for the Coyotes with 111 yards and a TD on 11 carries, While Peterson Kerlegrand could only muster 32 yards on 11 carries for the Sycamores. ISU will host Western Illinois next week, while South Dakota will host North Dakota.
#5 North Dakota State 16, #10 North Dakota 10 This was billed as the MVFC game of the week, and perhaps the FCS game of the week. We didn’t see a lot of fireworks, as neither team was able to crack 300 total yards of offense. What we did get was a knock-down, drag-out heavyweight fight between two top-tier FCS teams. Both defenses set the tone early, with the teams exchanging punts to start the game. NDSU was then able to drive 38 yards for a field goal, keyed by a 27-yard run by Quincey Patterson. North Dakota responded with a 73-yard TD drive, capped by a 30-yard pass from Tommy Schuster to Bo Belquist to make it 7-3. Raja Nelson set up NDSU with a 50-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kick, and a Kobe Johnson 21-yard run set up for another field goal for the Bison to make it 7-6. That would be the score at the break as the defenses reasserted themselves and each of the next two drives for both teams ended in punts. The Hawks drove into Bison territory at the end of the half but ran out of time and came away with nothing. Defenses dominated the second half as well. The teams exchanged punts to start. Then a (perhaps ill-advised) fourth down attempt for North Dakota failed from their own 20. The defense held strong on the ensuing possession, but NDSU turned it into their third field goal to make the score 9-7 in favor of the Bison. Tommy Schuster threw a pick on his next possession, but the Hawk defense held again, keeping NDSU off the board. With six minutes to go UND got to midfield but were stopped there on fourth down. NDSU capitalized with their first touchdown of the game on a three-yard run by Patterson. A solid return of the ensuing kick helped UND get a field goal on their next possession to make it 16-10. But they failed to recover the onside kick and NSDU ran out the clock for the 16-10 final. UND outgained the Bison overall, 289-280. Quincey Patterson was just 4-10 for 48 yards through the air, and he has yet to have his definitive performance as a passer for the Bison. He did contribute with 92 yards and a TD on the ground, though, leading NDSU in that category. Tommy Schuster was 18-32 for a TD and two picks for the Hawks, while Otis Weah accumulated 85 yards on 19 carries. UND will head to Vermillion to face South Dakota next week, while NDSU will host a showdown with UNI.
#7 Southern Illinois 31, Western Illinois 30 Seventh ranked SIU escaped, and I mean escaped with a one-point victory in Macomb. You can call the Leathernecks a lot of things, but you can’t call them quitters. Western Illinois was picked to finish last in the MVFC preseason poll, but they are showing themselves to be much more than that. They won’t win the Valley, but I think they will ultimately have a say in who does. Things started off as expected in this one. WIU threw an interception on their first drive and the Salukis turned it into a TD on a Nic Baker pass to Landon Lenoir on third and long. After a WIU punt, SIU put together a 14 play, 90-yard drive capped off by a Baker TD scamper to make it 14-0. The Salukis then engineered another 14 play drive, this time for 70 yards, capped by a Donnavan Spencer 4-yard run to make the score 21-0 SIU. That was early in the second quarter, and it was just about all we would see of the Saluki offense the rest of the day. After giving up zero points in the fourth quarter to EWU and zero points in the second half to YSU, the Leathernecks held SIU to just a field goal over the final 39 minutes of regulation. Western then started chipping away, something they’ve made a habit out of doing. A 50-yard field goal started things off, cutting the lead to 21-3. Western Illinois’ Jalen Powe intercepted a Nic Baker pass and took it to the house on the next SIU possession. That made it 21-10 SIU at the break. Southern Illinois finally broke a string of four straight fruitless drives when they turned a Connor Sampson interception into a field goal in the third quarter to make it 21-10 SIU. Later in the frame Tony Tate completed a long pass to Michael McFarlane, and on the next play Connor Sampson added a 27-yard TD pass to make it 24-17. WIU then tied it with 6:50 to go on a 12-yard pass from Sampson to Choquette. Meanwhile, SIU punted six times in seven possessions, including four three-and-outs. Southern then got the ball at their own 22 with under a minute to go and drove it to the 28-yard line, but a 45-yard potential game winning field goal missed sending the contest to OT. Both teams scored on their first play in overtime. Nic Baker hit Landon Lenoir for a 25-yard TD in the top half of overtime to put the Salukis up 31-24. WIU responded right back with a 25-yard Myles Wanza run. WIU elected to go for two, and the Salukis snuffed it out (it looked like a bit of a broken play from the start), allowing SIU to escape with a 31-30 win. For WIU, the best part about this game was that Connor Sampson wasn’t doing it all himself. The defense stepped up big and held SIU to 291 yards, thirty less than WIU’s 321. Western also got 96 rushing yards, mostly from Myles Wanza who ran for 89 yards and a TD on 13 carries. For Western Illinois that is Walter Payton-esque. Sampson was 20-31 for 192 yards, two TDs and two picks…..a pedestrian day for him. For SIU, Nic Baker was 26-43 for two TDs and two picks, as their running game was unable to establish itself. The Salukis averaged just 1.6 yards per carry on 32 carries from six guys (for a total of 51 yards). Even if you remove Nic Baker from the equation, SIU was only getting about 2.5 yards a rush. SIU will remain in the top tier of the FCS rankings but have escaped with their lives for two consecutive weeks. The difficulty will notch up quite a bit next week for SIU with a trip to Brookings to face 2nd ranked SDSU. Western Illinois will go to Terre Haute to face Indiana State.
-#15 Northern Iowa 34, Youngstown State 7 New UNI QB Theo Day looked sharp as UNI dominated Youngstown State, 34-7. Northern Iowa showed the strong defense and solid running game typical of a Panther squad. However, they also showed a vertical passing game we are not used to seeing from the purple and gold. If Day can translate the sharpness we saw today to games against tougher defenses, well, “Happy learned how to putt”. UNI scored early and often in the first half, building a 31-0 lead by the break. They scored so quickly that YSU had a decisive advantage in time of possession despite failing to score until the final minutes of the game. The UNI defense allowed YSU a little bit of room underneath, and the Penguins actually had the same number of first downs as the Panthers (16). They also did much better on third down (7-16 to UNI’s 0-8). It didn’t matter, though, because the Panther offense made several big plays through the air and on the ground. Vance McShane scored on a 50-yard pass from Day on the Panthers’ second drive. On their next possession, UNI hit a field goal that was set up by a 36-yard run from Dom Williams. Two drives later, Williams scored on a 58-yard run. The next UNI possession was a two play, 54-yard TD drive. Day hit Quan Hampton for a 24-yard gain, followed by a 30-yard run for Bradrick Shaw. Northern Iowa’s final drive of the half started with a nice 69-yard TD pass that was called back for holding and ended with a 23-yard TD pass from Day to Isaiah Weston that counted. YSU finally got in the end zone on their final possession of the game. Until that point YSU’s drives consisted of 6 punts, two picks, two turnovers on downs, a fumble and a missed field goal. UNI outgained Youngstown 388-250 overall. Theo Day finished 11-16 for 188 yards and 2 TDs with a pick. Dom Williams had 119 yards and a TD on 11 carries. For YSU, Demetric Crenshaw was a decent 25-37 for 198 yards and a TD (with a pick), but UNI bottled up the dynamic Jaleel McLaughlin who was only able to muster 20 yards on 12 carries (12 of which came on one play). YSU averaged 1.6 yards per carry in this game. We’ll find out if this UNI offense is for real or is smoke and mirrors next week, as they head to Fargo to face NDSU (the first of a run of three games in four weeks against top ten teams for Northern Iowa). Youngstown hosts Missouri State.
-#2 South Dakota State 55, Dixie State 7 While the rest of the league was flittering around with new QBs, game winning two-point conversion attempts and defensive battles of top ten teams, South Dakota State just kept on trucking. Their schedule has not been particularly daunting (most good FCS teams would get at least three easy wins from their schedule so far), but in four games the Jackrabbits have outscored their opponents 193-37. Their 19-point win over FBS Colorado State has been by far their closest contest. Dixie “Don’t Call Me Utah Tech Yet” State started off OK in this one, though. They forced SDSU to punt on each of their first four possessions including three three-and-outs. The score was still 0-0 after one quarter. But then the Jacks said, “enough of this” and absolutely poured it on in the second quarter. They scored a TD on each of their final four possessions of the half and threw in a pick six for good measure. They put it on cruise control in the second half but did add 20 more points for the 55-7 final. The Jacks outgained the Trailblazers 404-253, including a 200-6 advantage on the ground. SDSU forced five turnovers including four interceptions. Chris Oladokun was 8-18 for 110 yards and two TDs (Keaton Heide was 4-5 for 94 yards and a TD in relief). Eight Jackrabbits combined for 200 yards on 44 carries, led by Pierre Strong with 88 yards and two TDs on 15 carries. Dixie State had eight punts, four interceptions and a turnover on downs before they finally scored a TD with 6 seconds to go in garbage time. The Jackrabbits will return to MVFC play where they will host a top ten showdown against Southern Illinois next week. Dixie State will presumably return to Utah and play another game against someone soon.
That is it for the Valley this week, but here is a quick recap of some of the action around the FCS.
-#20 Rhode Island 27, Stony Brook 20 (OT): The newly ranked Rams nearly laid an egg in their first game as a ranked team.
-Monmouth 54, Gardner-Webb 17: I said I thought GWU might be a dark horse in the Big South. Looks like I was wrong about that.
-#14 Southeastern Louisiana 38, McNeese State 35: The Southland favorites nearly blew it in their first league game against a struggling McNeese squad.
-Duquesne 37, Merrimack 14: The Dukes are in the driver’s seat early in the NEC race.
-Harvard 38, Holy Cross 13: The Crimson are pretty good. It would be cool to see how they would fare in the FCS playoffs. Unfortunately, its physically impossible.
-Elon 20, #22 Richmond: There won’t be a number by Richmond’s name anymore, I reckon.
-Citadel 35, #18 VMI 24: I don’t think VMI is going to repeat in the SoCon, and they won’t have a number by their name anymore either.
-#20 Kennesaw State 31, #17 Jacksonville State 6: Not sure the Gamecocks will retain a ranking either despite their win over Florida State. (UPDATE: They did. Rankings are dumb.)
-#9 Delaware 20, Albany 15: The so-called 9th ranked team in the nation squeaks by the winless Great Danes.
-#3 James Madison 23, #25 New Hampshire 21: In a very weird game, JMU needed a late TD to avoid the upset of New Hampshire despite outgaining the Wildcats 432-162 overall. (EDIT: This performance caused UNH to move up in the rankings. Rankings are dumb.)
-#13 East Tennessee State 27, Wofford 21: This was one of several near-upsets of ranked teams on the weekend. ESTU held on, though.
-#1 Sam Houston State 21, Stephen F. Austin 20: The defending champs needed two fourth quarter TDs, a two-point conversion, and a missed 51-yarder at the death for to cling to a one-point win. With the chaos in the middle/bottom parts of the polls, you have to wonder if SFA might get ranked following this loss. (EDIT: They did.) You also might wonder if SHSU will lose its top spot in the polls despite the win. (EDIT: They did not, holding on by one point).
-#24 UIW 38, Northwestern State 27: The Cardinals continue to look like contenders in the Southland.
-#8 UC-Davis 27, Idaho 20: Another highly ranked team needed a fourth quarter rally to avoid an upset.
-#6 Eastern Washington 34, #4 Montana 28: This was an entertaining one for the national audience. Montana looked to have pulled away, leading 21-10 through three quarters. EWU rallied to take a 34-28 lead and held on as Montana had a pass in the end zone with a chance to win it on the final play (it was knocked away). Attention now turns to the health of Montana QB Camron Humphrey.
That’s all for this week. Be on the lookout for a primer for week six later which will most likely drop on Thursday. I’m also planning on doing a write up of my thoughts on the Valley’s most recent addition, Belmont, when I get the chance. After we get through next week (the midpoint of the season), I’ll start adding power rankings and playoff projections to these writeups.
Until then, have a great week and GO VALLEY!