Who’s Next? FCS Giant Killers Reflect On Wins, Look For More Upsets

North Dakota Stuns Wyoming (Grand Forks Herald)By David Coulson

Executive Editor

College Sports Journal

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA. — In 1971, the seminal rock group The Who released one of the cutting edge albums of the decade, Who’s Next?, featuring such classic songs as Baba O’Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and Won’t Get Fooled Again.

 

On the second full weekend of college football in 2015, that question might also be a perfect fit for teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.

 

Last weekend started with a dynamite-sized bang again for FCS as Fordham, North Dakota, Portland State and South Dakota State scored knockout blows against Football Bowl Subdivision squads and several other FCS schools just missed making it an even bigger weekend of upsets.

 

There will be fewer opportunities in week two, but those performances from the first week should give FCS teams hope of more significant wins.

 

 

Maybe the next FBS scalp will come from North Carolina State’s head as it faces a test from Eastern Kentucky, a one-time FCS powerhouse that figures to be one of the top teams in the Ohio Valley Conference again this season.

 

Or perhaps another OVC stalwart like Jacksonville State, currently ranked No. 1 in the Any Given Saturday Top-25 poll, can pull off some magic at Auburn, much like the Gamecocks did in 2010 against Mississippi, winning 49-48 in double overtime.

 

Indiana State showed its mettle last year when it defeated Ball State, 27-20, and the Sycamores have another shot when they travel to Purdue on Saturday.

 

Cal Poly, another frequent giant killer over the past several years with wins over Wyoming (2012), San Diego State (2008) and Texas-El Paso (2003) and that one-point, overtime, heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin (36-35) in 2008, might be poised to take out Arizona State — a underachieving team that is already 0-1 on the season.

 

Can Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona be tougher for the Mustangs than beating Montana, 20-19, last Saturday on a 49-yard field goal in the final seconds? That is the same Montana squad that scored the game-winning TD against four-time FCS national champion North Dakota a week earlier with two seconds left.

 

ELIMINATE FCS OPPONENTS?

 

Probably no upset would warm the hearts of FCS fans more than a matchup between Liberty and West Virginia on Saturday. The Flames have shown themselves to be a capable road team with a win at FBS Appalachian State in overtime last year to go along with victories at Coastal Carolina and James Madison and a near-miss against talented Villanova.

 

The last time that Liberty traveled to Morgantown, W.V., the Flames dropped a narrow 33-20 decision to the Mountaineers in 2009.

 

Perhaps that was on the mind of WVU coach Dana Halgorsen this week when he foolishly suggested that teams from the Power Five conferences (the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big-12, the Pac-12 and the SEC) need to remove future FCS opponents from their schedules.

 

Or maybe Halgorsen was feeling cocky after knocking off six-time FCS national champion Georgia Southern — now a full-88-scholarship FBS team — 44-0 in the Mountaineers’ season opener.

 

“I know these matchups are huge paydays for these little schools, but these games count as wins for the FBS schools,” Halgorsen said, being quick to point out that the scheduling of Liberty this year and Youngstown State in 2016 were made before he was coaching at West Virginia.

 

The more personable Bill Stewart, who cut his head coaching teeth at FCS VMI before moving on to West Virginia, was the coach in Morgantown when those schedules were inked. The late Stewart was obviously more clued in to the need of these FCS-FBS contests than his surly successor.

 

Commissioner Jim Delaney has already forced through an edict that the Big Ten will no longer play FCS opponents (could that 34-32 victory by Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007 when the Big Ten television network was launched have influenced this decision?), but it may be harder for other Power Five leagues to do the same.

 

The fact is that nearly all of the schools in the FBS want to take advantage of a six, or seven-game home schedule, which means that the FCS contracts make that statistically possible.

 

Not only does such an arrangement provide big paydays for financially-strapped FCS programs, it also leads to a lot of money finding the coffers at FBS schools, both big and small.

 

Using the words of that famous Star Trek Vulcan, Spock, Holgorsen’s arguments are “simply illogical.”

Maybe he would rather watch some key FCS matchups this week, like Eastern Washington at Northern Iowa (a huge early-season, non-conference game with two teams facing potential 0-2 starts), Villanova at Fordham, Coastal Carolina at South Carolina State, or Portland State at Idaho State. 

 

ABOUT LAST WEEK

 

Fordham was in the right place, at the right time, on a pleasant Hudson River night   at picturesque West Point last Friday and the result was a 37-35 victory over Army.

 

It was Fordham’s second FBS win in three years, following a thrilling 30-29 victory over Temple at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles — Lincoln Financial Field — in 2013.

 

This writer was in the press box for that game two years ago and I wish I could have been on hand for last Friday’s performance as well.

 

It certainly didn’t hurt that Fordham had played competitively, though the Rams lost 42-31, in its final regular-season game at Army just nine months earlier. 

 

Chase Edmonds is already well known around the Patriot League, but this speedy tailback made a larger national impression by cutting through the Black Knight defense for 110 yards rushing and three touchdowns — including his 10-yard dash that broke a 29-all tie with 12:04 remaining.

 

One of the biggest questions for Fordham was how Marshall transfer Kevin Anderson would replace Michael Nebrich at quarterback? But in coach Joe Moorhead’s offensive system, Anderson was an immediate hit, passing for 266 of his eventual 322 yards in the first half and finishing 15-of-23.

 

It could not have been a pleasant week for former FCS/Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken following this loss. the Army brass doesn’t take losing well, whether it be in Vietnam, to the Naval Academy, or to an FCS school.

 

OH NO, DAKOTA

 

One of my biggest memories of a trip to Wyoming to cover the Cowboys’ 53-7 victory over Appalachian State in 2004 was a colorful tune played by the Wyoming marching band, called Oh Yes, Wyoming.

 

In one verse, the lyricist penned the line: “Oh No Dakota, Doesn’t interest me one iota.”

 

Wyoming football fans were probably even less amused with the home of the Fighting Sioux (still the nickname in my book, despite NCAA rulings otherwise) after North Dakota not only beat the Cowboys, but pretty much throttled them.

 

North Dakota built a 21-0 lead behind the play of running back John Santiago (24 carries, 148 yards, two touchdowns) and a defense that only allowed Wyoming to run four offensive plays on the Fighting Sioux’s side of the field in the first three quarters.

 

It took a 92-yard TD pass from Cameron Coffman to Tanner Gentry — the second-longest in program history — to finally get the Cowboys on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

 

Considering the old rivalry between North Dakota and North Dakota State, former NDSU coach Craig Bohl and his mostly-Bison-bred staff could not have enjoyed this defeat.

 

MORE DAKOTAS

 

Many observers expected South Dakota State to take a step back in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and from its recent place as a quality-FCS contender after the Jackrabbits lost the incomparable Zach Zenner from its backfield, due to graduation.

 

All Zenner did was become the first FCS rusher with three consecutive 2,000-plus-yard seasons.

 

But John Stiegelmeier’s club showed it still has offensive weapons by rattling the Kansas defense for 41 points and then holding off a furious rush by the Jayhawks at the end of the game.

 

Quarterback Zach Lujan passed fro 293 yards and three scores, Isaac Wallace rushed for 118 yards and a TD and Jake Wieneke hauled in eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns to spark the Jackrabbits.

 

Kansas missed a chance to attempt a possible game-tying field goal in the final seconds when Jayhawk quarterback Montell Cozart fumbled as he was trying to spike the ball to give KU a chance to get its place-kicking unit on the field for a 51-yard field-goal try. He recovered the fumble, but time ran out at the SDSU 34.

 

THE COMEBACK KIDS

 

Portland State was expected to finish no better than the middle of the pack by most FCS prognosticaters with Bruce Barnum taking over the program, but the Vikings showed some unexpected resiliency in a stunning 24-17 win at Washington State.

 

WSU took a 10-0 halftime lead in the driving rain, but PSU fought back, overcoming a 441-294 deficit in total offense, with 10 points in the third period to tie the game and then scored twice in the fourth quarter to triumph.

 

Steven Long’s one-yard TD blast with two minutes remaining gave Portland State its first lead. Alex Kuresa hit just 7-of-12 passes for 61 yards, but ran 16 times for 92 yards on the wet and chilly day.

 

It was Portland State’s first win ever against a Pac-12 school and its third victory in 35 FBS games. The win by the Vikings snapped a 19-0 WSU winning skein against FCS opponents.

 

NEAR MISSES

 

Several other FCS teams came tantalizingly close to giving the subdivision even more to brag about.

 

Southern Illinois failed on a two-point conversion attempt with 18 seconds left as Indiana avoided an upset with a 48-47 win. SIU allowed 595 yards of total offense by the Hoosiers, but Saluki QB Mark Ianotti had a school-record 517 yards of total offense to keep his team in the game. A missed extra point after a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty cost the Salukis with the score tied at 38.

 

The 2014 Walter Payton Award winner, John Robertson, passed for 153 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 66 yards and another score, but he came up short on a fourth and inches play in the fourth quarter with Villanova driving at the Connecticut 36. UConn held on to win 20-15.

 

Southern Utah played brilliantly on defense, but an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by Andrew Rodriguez late in the fourth quarter led Utah State to a 12-9 victory over the Thunderbirds.

 

Pittsburgh has felt the sting of losing to Youngstown State in the past, but held on to beat the Penguins, 45-37. Jody Webb scampered for 127 yards and two TDs, including a 75-yard sprint that cut the lead to eight with 4:24 remaining and Hunter Wells passed for 274 yards and a touchdown, but YSU came up just short in Bo Pellini’s first game as coach.

 

Towson returned to the form it displayed in its 2013 run to the FCS championship game, but fell short in a 28-20 loss to East Carolina. QB Connor Frazier scored with less than five minutes left to pull the Tigers within eight, but after the TU defense forced a three-and-out and a punt, Towson was unable to convert on a fourth-and-seven play from the Pirate 16.

 

Gardner-Webb took a 16-13 lead in the third quarter on Angel Guzman’s 21-yard interception return for a score, but big plays did in the Bulldogs as they fell 33-23 to South Alabama.

 

VMI, with Scott Wachenheim making his coaching debut, fell to Ball State 48-36, despite 399 yards and three TDs passing from Al Cobb (33-of-47).

 

In a crazy game at Texas Tech, Sam Houston State piled up plenty of points and yards, but defense did the Bearkats in for a 59-45 loss. After trailing 42-31 at the half, SHSU was outscored 17-0 in the third period as the Red Raiders pulled away.

 

In another wild offensive show, Vernon Adams led Oregon to a 61-42 victory over his old team from Eastern Washington. The two-time Payton Award runner-up passed for 246 yards and two TDs before one of his former teammates knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter and was ejected. Jordan West, the QB who replaced Adams, threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game with leg cramps.

 

AROUND FCS

 

Just one week after Montana stunned North Dakota State, the Grizzlies lost 20-19 at home to Cal Poly in Big Sky Conference play as Alex Vega barely cleared the crossbar on a 49-yard field goal with four seconds left. Vega, a redshirt freshman, had never made a kick of more than 34 yards in high school. Montana had taken a 19-17 lead on an intentional-grounding safety in the end zone with 3:43 left, but the Mustangs drove from their own 32 to the Griz 32 in the final 1:17.

 

Coastal Carolina held off Furman, 38-35, as Alex Ross passed for 328 yards and two scores and De’Angelo Henderson piled up 224 all-purpose yards. CCU broke open a 21-all halftime tie with 17 second-half points, but Reese Hannon (365 yards, two TDs passing) cut that advantage to three points in the fourth quarter for the Paladins.

 

Jacksonville State came from behind on the road as Miles Jones scored from the one to cap a 10-play, 79-yard drive that included a fourth and three conversion at the UTC 11 with 2:41 remaining to beat Chattanooga, 23-20. Troymaine Pope rushed for 180 yards on 15 carries for the Gamecocks. JSU limited the Mocs to 196 yards of offense and held UTC to a three and out on its final drive.

 

Kade Bell threw for 269 yards and a TD and Justin Horton clinched things with a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown as Jacksonville stunned Delaware, 20-14, for a win at Tubby Raymond Field. Delaware scored a late TD on Jalen Randolph’s one-yard plunge and recovered an onside kick, but the ball didn’t travel 10 yards and the Dolphins ran out the clock.

 

Danny Webb intercepted two key passes, returning one for a 93-yard touchdown and had a second at midfield late in the game to help Dayton to a 27-24 victory at Robert Morris. The Colonials led 10-0 at the half before the Flyers scored 17 unanswered points and took a 24-17 edge in the fourth quarter before Dayton stormed back to win.

 

Northern Arizona rode the receiving of Emmanuel Butler (seven catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns) to a 34-28 victory at Stephen F. Austin. Case Cookes passed for 267 yards and two scores and Casey John rushed 21 times for 157 yards to help NAU hold off a late SFA comeback.

 

In the annual MEAC-SWAC Challenge, South Carolina State forced three Arkansas-Pine Bluff interceptions and used a balanced offensive attack with 336 yards to overwhelm the Golden Lions, 35-7, in Orlando, Florida.

 

Tennessee State rallied from a 14-3 deficit with 21 fourth-quarter points to beat Alabama State 24-14. Daniel Duhart was 20-of-25 passing for 225 yards and a touchdown to lead the Hornets, who managed to blow the lead with a pair of costly, fourth-period fumbles.

 

And finally, hats off to Kennesaw State, which rolled to a 56-16 victory at East Tennessee State in the first game in school history. ETSU had an overflow crowd of 8,217 in its first game since abandoning the program in 2003, but KSU ran its Georgia Southern-styled, triple option for 416 yards rushing. QB Trey White had 191 yards of total offense to break the game open with 49 straight points after the Bucs had taken a 13-7 lead in the second quarter.

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