North Dakota State doesn’t just fall short of owning the FCS or Missouri Valley Football Conference anymore, it’s not even the king of the Dakotas – either one.
In its last seven games since January, the Bison have lost to South Dakota State in the 2022 national championship game, and gone without holding a lead in 2023 regular-season defeats to South Dakota and North Dakota.
Whether the nine-time FCS champion since 2011 can regroup to be in contention for another deep playoff run is very much in doubt after a 49-24 beatdown at North Dakota.
North Dakota Thrashes Rival NDSU
North Dakota’s Luke Skokna returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and the Fighting Hawks were on their way to escaping the long shadow cast downstate by NDSU. They ended a five-game losing streak to the Bison on the Division I level with their first win in the series since 2003.
UND (4-2, 2-1 MVFC) only had 296 offensive yards, but the 49 points were the most allowed by NDSU in its Division I era (since 2004). Gaven Ziebarth carried the ball 18 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns, while Skokna also had three scores, adding both a TD run and reception to his return.
Despite going 20 years between wins over NDSU, the Fighting Hawks lead the all-time series 63-50-3. They’ve won 23 of their last 25 games inside the Alerus Center.
Script Flipped in Big Sky
Idaho was expected to be the Big Sky team within the state to earn a Top 25 win Saturday night. Instead, it was Idaho State on a wild night inside the conference.
The Week 7 nightcap was one of the more anticipated games of the week, and No. 16 Montana (6-1, 3-1) scored the first 20 points of a 23-21 win at No. 3 Idaho (5-2, 3-1), reclaiming the Little Brown Stein rivalry trophy. Junior Bergen caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from Clifton McDowell, and the defense forced three turnovers and had six sacks for 40 yards in losses, which limited the Vandals to 58 net rushing yards on 32 carries (a 1.8-yard average).
Idaho State (2-4, 2-1) scored 28 points unanswered points in the final 16 minutes of a 42-41 upset of No. 21 Eastern Washington (2-4, 1-2), ending a 12-game losing streak to the Eagles since 2005, and perhaps the visitors’ realistic chances for an FCS playoff bid.
Bengals quarterbacks Jordan Cooke and Hunter Hays combined to pass for 523 yards and three touchdowns, while wide receiver Chedron James was the chief target with an FCS season-high 15 receptions for 206 yards and a score.
Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay Getting Hot
After starting the season slowly out of conference, Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay are heating up.
They won a share of the 2022 ASUN title as part of a three-way first-place tie with Central Arkansas, and now they seek to close in on the Bears in the first-year United Athletic Conference race, maybe even join them in the Top 25.
EKU opened 0-3 with losses to Cincinnati, Kentucky and Western Carolina, but have won three straight games, including 41-35 over Tarleton in double overtime. Logan Blake ruined the Texans’ second OT possession with an interception, then Parker McKinney scored from one yard out for the win.
Austin Peay has won four straight games since opening losses to Southern Illinois and Tennessee, including a 41-14 roll past Gardner-Webb with quarterback Mike DiLiello accounting for three TDs.
NEC Title Race Looks Great … Again
Since the Northeast Conference gained an automatic FCS playoff bid for its champion in 2010, it has captured the most titles with six, but the Dukes have advanced to the second season only twice, losing the tiebreaker to a fellow first-place team three times and with the conference title game in the spring 2021 season.
This season, veteran coach Jerry Schmitt and the Dukes want it all. They inched into first place with a 44-20 win over Central Connecticut State as quarterback Darius Perrantes passed for a season-high 265 yards and three touchdowns.
As usual, the NEC race looks terrific, with Duquesne off to a 2-0 start in conference, but just ahead of defending champion Saint Francis, Merrimack and Wagner at 2-1 each.
Pioneer Race Doesn’t Just Look Great … It Is
Drake lost its first eight games last season, including five in the Pioneer Football League, but a season-ending three-game winning streak set the Bulldogs up nicely for this season. In routing defending champion St. Thomas 52-21 to end the Tommies’ 13-game league winning streak, they earned a share of first place alongside Davidson.
Quarterback Luke Bailey completed 24 of 32 passes and set career highs with 411 passing yards and five TD passes.
Davidson, the PFL’s automatic playoff qualifier each of the last three seasons, joined Drake at 3-0 with a 35-33. Mari Adams was a workhorse with 30 carries for 171 yards and three touchdowns, while Coulter Cleland completed 19 of 20 pass attempts.
Marist, which has a loss to Davidson, dispatched San Diego 30-16 to move 3-1 alongside St. Thomas
Stock Up, Stock Down
Stock Up: Harvard (5-0) is getting much of the national attention in the Ivy League for being one of two unbeaten FCS teams, but fans of the league have been winners as well. Seven of the eight Ivy games have been decided by one possession, including six being determined by a field goal or less. Add in non-league games, and five have been decided in overtime.
Stock Down: Mercer is flirting with falling short of the FCS playoffs again after a 22-10 loss to No. 25 Chattanooga. The Bears (4-3, 2-2 SoCon), whose seven-win seasons in 2021 and last year didn’t lead to a first-ever playoff bid, also have a 38-14 defeat to Furman, so a win at No. 9 Western Carolina on Oct. 28 is a must. In fact, coach Drew Cronic’s team may need to sweep its final four games to reach their goal of the second season.
News and Notes
Will Leyland kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to lift No. 10 South Dakota past No. 23 Youngstown State 34-31. … That other team in South Dakota, the SDSU Jackrabbits made it 20 wins in a row with a 41-6 win over Northern Iowa. Coach Jimmy Rogers’ 6-0 team forced five turnovers and quarterback Mark Gronowski accounted for 321 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. … Western Illinois’ Jared Campbell made the most of his one punt against Missouri State, booming an 86-yarder – the longest of the FCS season and second-longest in Leathernecks history. … Portland State (3-3, 2-1) is lurking in the Big Sky race, ready to at least be a spoiler in the weeks ahead. Quarterback Dante Chachere accounted for all six Vikings’ TDs – five passing and one rushing – in a 45-21 victory over Northern Arizona, which has wins over Montana and Weber State. … Yale offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie was sidelined for the Bulldogs’ 31-3 win over Sacred Heart, likely due to injury. The 6-foot-5, 326-pounder is a 2024 draft prospect, and the FCS class already may not run deep. … Monmouth running back Jaden Shirden, the 2022 FCS rushing leader, has done his best work this season against CAA Football foes. In a 61-10 win over Hampton, he needed only 16 carries to rack up 276 yards (17.3-yard average) and four touchdowns. … Villanova (5-2, 3-1 CAA) controlled the ball for nearly 41 minutes and held Elon to 99 yards and a combined 1 of 11 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts in posting a 21-0 shutout win. … The Southern Conference will have a top-10, first-place showdown next Saturday when No. 5 Furman visits No. 9 Western Carolina. Furman beat defending champion Samford 27-21, posting nine sacks and getting 13 solo tackles from Cally Chizik, while Tyler Huff (284 yards of total offense, two TD passes) and Dominic Roberto (128 rushing yards, TD) fueled the offense. … Hunter Rice (18 carries, 111 yards, two TDs) scored from 19 yards out with 4:42 left to lift VMI to a 17-13 win at The Citadel in the “Military Classic of the South.” … Mississippi Valley State won for the first time, 42-17. Freshman Ty’Jarian Williams passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns. … Texas Southern’s LaDarius Owens led a 34-31 win at Bethune-Cookman with 329 all-purpose yards (the fourth-highest total of the season) on runs, receptions and returns. … Presbyterian’s games during its spring 2021 transition to the PFL did not count in the league standings for the Blue Hose, so their 20-17 overtime triumph at Dayton was considered their first one, ending an 18-game losing streak since the start of the fall 2021 PFL schedule. Mack Mikko provided the warning margin with a 34-yard field goal. … Houston Christian (3-4) topped Prairie View A&M 30-0, joining Columbia as the only FCS teams with two shutout wins to date. … Northwestern State’s game at Nicholls was canceled following the shooting death of junior football player Ronnie Caldwell early Thursday.