It was another fabulous week in the Valley. The league went 7-1, increasing its overall nonconference record to 17-2 against FCS squads. The ten teams whose nickname doesn’t rhyme with “schleatherhecks” are 17-0 against teams from our level, and Western’s two losses are to top ten teams. This week had everything from blowouts to last-second game winning TDs and everything in between. I correctly predicted all ten games as well, running my overall record to 29-1 picking MVFC games this season. Just call me MVFC Nostradamus. Or don’t, because I didn’t really have to put my neck out there too many times to make most of these predictions. My strategy was “use conventional wisdom but also lean homer” and that seems to work well for an MVFC guy. A recap of the week in the Valley is below.
-#7 Eastern Washington 62, Western Illinois 56: They probably won’t be in the playoff race this year but Missouri Valley squads beware……the Leathernecks can definitely sling it. In the league’s lone loss of the week, Western Illinois mounted a crazy comeback and nearly pulled off a big upset of the 7th ranked Eastern Washington Eagles. Unfortunately, time just ran out on WIU in this crazy game. I’ll be typing all night if I try to describe all the twists and turns of this one, so I’ll skip to the third quarter where a 73-yard TD run by Dennis Merritt gave Eastern Washington a 62-28 lead. It was a great day for those who carried Eric Barriere on their FCS football fantasy team. By this point, the EWU QB had already thrown six TD passes (he actually accomplished that by halftime), en route to a 542-yard passing day. The Eagles looked well on their way to a blowout. Then, a few minutes later, Connor Sampson threw the second of his four TD passes to cut the lead to 62-35. Sampson threw another one early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 62-42. WIU added another TD midway through the 4th to make it 62-49, and yet another on 4th down with two minutes to go to make it 62-56 with two minutes to play. After a failed onside kick attempt, the Leathernecks had the chance to stop EWU on third down and get the ball back, but Eric Barriere ran for a first down, and the Eagles were able to ice the clock from there. EWU remains undefeated, but they may have a bit of a problem lingering with their defense. Or maybe the Leathernecks are just better at moving the football than we thought. WIU put up 643 total yards which included a rare solid day from their ground attack. Connor Sampson was 31-46 for 425 yards and 4 TDS (as well as a pick) while eight WIU players combined for 175 rushing yards with 4 TDS. Like EWU, Western Illinois also has a defense problem, but we knew that already. Eric Barriere was 31-45 for 542 yards and 6 TDs, while Dennis Merritt had 148 yards and two TDs on 12 carries to lead the EWU rushing attack. In total EWU put up 754 yards (despite accruing just 36 yards in their last 5 drives combined). My 38-21 EWU prediction was a little low. Western is still one of the bottom teams in the MVFC, but they are going to play spoiler this year for sure. They can move the football and are not as hapless as they have been the last couple years. They’ll open the league slate next week at Youngstown State.
-#11 North Dakota 38, Drake 0: The first of three Valley teams to feast on the hapless Pioneer League was North Dakota, as they handled Drake 38-0. My 42-14 prediction gave the Bulldogs offense too much credit, as they were simply out gunned by the Fighting Hawks and were only able to put up 163 total yards. UND started off a bit slow, punting and fumbling on their first two possessions. They recovered to score quick TDs on each of their next two chances, holding the ball for a total of 2:25 between the two drives. They added another TD to take a 24-0 lead into the break, despite their struggles to hold onto the ball in the first half (they lost three fumbles). UND added another TD early in the second half and had another one very late in the 4th quarter to win by a 38-0 final. The Fighting Hawks dominated the game statistically, outgaining Drake 527-163. There were A LOT of turnovers in this game. Drake committed four, and UND had five. Tommy Schuster threw for 234 yards on 23-36 passing for UND and added two TDs and a pick. Isaiah Smith led six Hawk rushers with 125 yards on 12 carries, but Luke Skokna wasn’t far behind with 123 yards on eight carries. Both had a TD. North Dakota has a week off to prepare for their league opener at home against NDSU on October 2nd.
-#18 Northern Iowa 44, St. Thomas 3: The second shellacking of an overmatched Pioneer League team came from UNI as they handled St. Thomas 44-3 in the Tommies’ first game against a DI team. I predicted a 45-3 UNI win, so I should be content that I got almost exactly what I expected. But I have to say that I am a little disappointed in what I saw from Theo Day under center in his first start as a Panther. We knew that UNI had a good defense and running game already, and I wanted Day to come out slinging and build confidence and rapport moving forward. Instead, he missed several open guys, never hit a deep ball and struggled to get into any rhythm during the game. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high for a guy making his first collegiate start, and Day didn’t need to be a star today against the Tommies anyway. The sense of urgency that the Panthers had when Day made his sparkling debut in the second half last week against Sacramento State wasn’t there because it wasn’t necessary. The Panther defense did what you’d expect out of an elite FCS defense playing against a Pioneer League outfit, holding the Tommies to 105 total yards and forcing four turnovers. UNI put up 386 yards of their own, evenly split between 193 through the air and 193 on the ground. Dom Williams paced the Panther rushing attack with 73 yards on 7 carries and a TD. St. Thomas may have been overmatched but they didn’t back down. UNI only led 17-3 at halftime and they had to keep their foot on the gas until into the fourth quarter. It is going to be fun following the trajectory of their athletic department the next few years. I could see them evolving into a fully-funded football program, and if I lived in the Twin Cities I’d buy hoops season tickets. UNI has a week off before they start conference play against Youngstown State in the UNI-Dome.
-#5 North Dakota State 35, Towson 7: Another week, another businesslike W for the Bison. The NDSU offense was once again steady and consistent, and the defense was solid, allowing just one TD in the final minutes. NDSU has allowed just two TDs total in three games this season and has outscored their opponents 129-13 overall. Things will likely get tougher in MVFC play (the Bison have played arguably the easiest schedule of any Valley team so far with two home games and no FBS game) but it isn’t like NDSU is playing cupcakes (last week not withstanding). Albany and Towson are both from the CAA, one of the “big three” FCS conferences, and NDSU dominated them both. The Bison defense was stout yet again, holding Towson to 200 yards total and just 37 yards on the ground. The North Dakota State run game was once again solid as well, running for a total of 328 yards on 46 carries. Nine Bison had a carry in this game (down from eleven last week) and Dominic Gonnella led the way with 92 yards on 13 carries. Quincy Patterson was again solid-but-unspectacular completing 6-11 passes for 165 yards, a TD and a pick. We are still waiting to see how he will handle being needed to pull out a win, as so far his Bison have cruised by keeping the ball on the ground and playing great defense. I had the Bison winning 31-16, once again underestimating the men from Fargo. NDSU will take next week off before a huge showdown at North Dakota on October 2nd.
-Indiana State 23, Eastern Kentucky 21: In the game of the day and the finish of the year in the Valley, Indiana State scored a last second TD to ruin the postgame fireworks show at Eastern Kentucky. The last second heroics made a winner out of the Trees against this AQ7 squad with playoff hopes. It also made me perfect on the week (and 29-1 overall) after I predicted an ISU win (my predicted score was 17-16). Firstly, I noticed EKU was already rocking the A-Sun logo on the unis and the field, which is one less thing for the checklist for next year I guess. ISU got on the board with a fumble return early on, but they gave it back with a pick six later in the half. Both teams added regular TDs drives by their offenses for a 14-14 score at the break. Indiana State added a field goal in the third quarter to take a 17-14 lead. With eight minutes to go, the Sycamores missed a 34-yard field goal. EKU, who had either punted or turned the ball over on downs their previous five possessions, then went on a clutch 14-play, 80-yard drive to score a go-ahead TD. The drive featured three third down conversions. The ensuing kickoff was not as clutch for the Colonels. It is hard to tell what really happened, but it looked like the Eastern Kentucky were attempting a squib kick and the ball just hit the up man instead of making its way down the field. I can’t say that is for sure what happened, but what I do know for sure is that the kick was very short and allowed ISU to start the drive in EKU territory with :49 to go. The Sycamores completed a couple of passes to get the ball to the 25-yard like with one second to go. From there, Kurtis Wilderman hit Phazione McClurge for a 24 yard TD right at the goal line. The play was reviewed because it was right at the goal line, but it stood, and Indiana State had a clutch W. Kurtis Wilderman entered the game in the second half after Anthony Thompson was an ineffective 6-15 for 102 yards, a TD and two picks. Wilderman was 11-17 for 111 yards and the clutch TD to pull out the win. Don’t be surprised to see him starting under center next week. Peterson Kerlegrand led the ISU rushing attack with 45 yards. ISU outgained EKU 319-287 overall and committed two turnovers to EKU’s one. The Trees will open league play at home against South Dakota State next week.
-Illinois State 31, Eastern Illinois 24: Before I get started on this one, I have a bone to pick. Both this game and the previous one (Indiana State/Eastern Kentucky) did not have scorebugs on the broadcast. I don’t know if this is a thing in the OVC and A-Sun, but for someone who likes to flip back and forth between several games both OTA and on the ESPN app, it was pretty frustrating that when I flipped to one of these games I had no idea what the situation was. I felt like it was 1986 or something (you know, minus the access to a bunch of games via streaming apps on my smart TV). Both games were pretty competitive too, so a scorebug would have been useful. I don’t understand why scorebuggery is difficult for these schools, but D3 schools can do it…..high schools can do it…….it isn’t that hard. What the heck is the deal here EKU and Eastern Illinois? All that said, this was an exciting game that wasn’t decided until very late. I think the Redbirds were hoping they were the kind of team that would have a game like this in hand before the waning moments…….but it is starting to look like maybe they aren’t. Once again, ISU won without much help from their quarterbacks. After the Rebirds took a 10-7 halftime lead, they added to it with a game changing 95-yard pick six early in the third quarter. EIU battled back to tie the game at 17 with a blocked punt return and a field goal. In response, perhaps in a nod to their throwback scorebugless broadcast, ISU drove the entire length of the field for TD without the benefit of a completed pass. The effort was aided by two EIU personal fouls (and another on the ensuing kickoff for good measure). Pinned inside their own five, EIU executed a 96-yard TD drive to tie the game early in the 4th quarter. Then the Panthers quickly got the ball back again after a Redbird punt, and drove 63-yards from their own nine to the Illinois State 28. There they elected to go for it on 4th and two, and they were stuffed by the ‘Bird defense. This gave Illinois State the ball with four minutes to go, and they capitalized. The ensuing drive featured two long runs by Cole Mueller, another EIU personal foul and a short Pha’leak Brown TD run to take a 31-24 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The final score was 31-24, not terribly far off from my 27-13 prediction. Mueller was the star for ISU, running for 144 yards on 16 carries. That led a Redbird rushing attack that put up a total of 239 yards and scored three TDs. Bryce Jefferson left the game after one series and his replacement, Jackson Waring, wasn’t much better. The two combined for just 54 yards on 7-10 passing. Overall, the Panthers outgained the Redbirds 315 to 293 but were outdone by the Redbirds rushing attack. The win made Redbird head coach Brock Spack the all-time winningest coach at ISU with 87 wins. Illinois State opens league play at Southern Illinois next week.
-#8 Southern Illinois 55, Dayton 3: This was the fifth and final Valley-on-Pioneer game of the season. In all, the MVFC went 5-0 with an overall score of 250-13 in these matchups. There isn’t a whole lot to be taken from that stat, as we all know the disadvantages the Pioneer League clubs face relative to those of the MVFC. The Pioneer League is awesome for a lot of reasons. It is unique, it allows for many programs to play football that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance, and it gives fully-funded squads a chance to play very winnable games that still count as DI wins. Among Pioneer League clubs, Dayton appears to be one of the better ones. The Flyers beat an Eastern Illinois team last week that turned around and took Illinois State to the brink this week. Dayton has a history of getting wins or putting a scare into fully-funded squads, but the Salukis had little trouble with the Flyers. In my prediction I said that Dayton would “make SIU work a little harder than they want to” and the Salukis would win 31-10. That was kind of true for awhile as SIU’s lead was just 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. But they opened it up in the second frame with four touchdowns to take a 38-0 lead at the break and cruised to a 55-3 win. Dayton just could not slow down SIU who put up 658 yards of offense including 406 on the ground. The Flyers were able to amass a respectable 218 yards of their own, led by Jack Cook who had 131 yards on 14-24 passing. For SIU, Nic Baker was nearly flawless going 16-21 for 235 yards and 3 TDs. Javon Williams Jr had 123 yards on just three carries including a TD. In all, 13 Salukis registered official carries combining for 406 yards on 45 attempts. There was plenty to go around for SIU who will stay in Carbondale to face Illinois State next week in their league opener.
-South Dakota 48, Cal Poly 14: You guys, the Coyotes are quietly looking really good. After a close loss to the Big 12’s Kansas, USD came back home and registered a 34-7 win over Northern Arizona in week 2. That win looks more impressive now, as the Lumberjacks turned around and took out the Pac 12’s Arizona Wildcats this week. USD went on the road this week to face another Big Sky opponent in Cal Poly and just kept on rolling, finishing with a 48-14 road win. Are the Mustangs world beaters? No, but they are a Big Sky team, and the Coyotes had their backups out in the third quarter on the road. Get this teams some damn top 25 votes already! I am very intrigued by what they have done so far and look forward to seeing if it translates to the Valley and they can make a playoff push. For the second week in a row, South Dakota got off to a lightning start scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions. USD had built a 21-7 lead just ten minutes into the game and scored on every possession of the first half. The lead kept growing and growing until they had built a 41-7 halftime edge. They cruised to the finish in the second half playing mostly backups, turning a late turnover into a TD for a 48-14 win. South Dakota outgained Cal Poly 615-243 in total yards including a 353-62 advantage on the ground. They did this without the services of starting running back Travis Theis. Michael Mansaray led the way with 141 yards on 21 carries and 2 TDs, but seven Yotes combined for the 353 yards total. Signal caller Carson Camp was 17-20 for 226 yards and two TDs through the air for another stellar day. They made my prediction of a 28-17 win look downright cowardly. The Coyotes will look to carry this momentum into their league opener at Missouri State next weekend in what has suddenly become a big-time FCS matchup. Keep it up Yotes!
That’s it for the MVFC, but here are some other FCS results of note from around the nation in week 3.
-Kentucky 28, Chattanooga 23: The Mocs led into the 4th quarter against this SEC foe. A solid showing for a team currently sitting just outside the FCS top 25.
-Holy Cross 20, Yale 17: For those keeping track at home that’s a win over UConn, a loss to Merrimack and win over Yale to start the season for the Crusaders. Holy Cross indeed.
-#23 New Hampshire 19, Lafayette 13: The stellar start to the season continues for the Wildcats who were not picked to do much this year but are looking like they might make some noise.
-#22 VMI 31, Cornell 21: I said that if VMI is as good as they hope to be they have to win this one. They did.
-#12 Villanova 34, #21 Richmond 27: This one was a bit overlooked because of JMU-Weber, but it provided a more entertaining ending. A 24-0 third quarter gave the Spiders a 24-13 lead, and they increased that to 27-13 early in the fourth. But Villanova came storming back with three touchdowns in the final 5:01 to win a game with big playoff implications.
-Campbell 72, Presbyterian 0: The Blue Hose are probably having one of the more interesting seasons in the FCS so far. I asked last week if their gunslinging ways could continue against a fully funded team. The answer, it turns out, was a hard no. Ren Hefley, the QB with 10 touchdowns in week one, had six picks in this one.
-Incarnate Word 42, Texas State 34: In a win that makes YSU look better by association (the Penguins beat the Cardinals on opening night), Incarnate Word claimed FCS-over-FBS win number nine on the season with this win.
-#10 Jacksonville State 27, North Alabama 24: The tenth ranked Gamecocks were taken to the brink by the winless Lions, one week after upsetting Florida State.
-Louisiana-Monroe 12, Jackson State 7: Coach Prime’s group had a 7-3 halftime lead, but three second half field goals were the Tigers’ undoing in their quest to get FCS-over-FBS win #10. JSU outgained the Warhawks, but three turnovers did them in.
-#3 James Madison 37, #9 Weber State 24: It was billed as the game of the week in the FCS, but it was a bit of a dud. The Dukes dominated in a game that wasn’t even as close as this score makes it seem.
-Northern Arizona 21, Arizona 19: The FCS got win #10 over the FBS late in the evening with this one. Undaunted by season opening butt whoopings at the hands of Sam Houston and South Dakota, NAU went to Tuscon and took out their in-state Pac 12 rivals.
And that is it for this week! I’ll be posting a week 4 MVFC preview later in the week. Follow me on Twitter @BeatMVC and GO VALLEY!