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By Craig Haley, FCS Exec. Director - Archive - Email
Surpassing all the hype
Cooper Kupp Eastern Washington and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, right,
finished a step ahead of Montana State in a thriller.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Perhaps the beauty of Saturday's three FCS Top 25 matchups was that all three games were happening at the same time.

No matter where you turned, the furious action was surpassing all the expectations and hype.

Saturday will go down as one of the better days of the season no matter how good the conference races become in the next two months. No. 4 Montana at No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 2 Eastern Washington at No. 14 Montana State and No. 7 New Hampshire at No. 17 Richmond saw to it.

You can throw in No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana losing at Southeast Missouri State to make the day even more intriguing. But the trio of Top 25 games were enough to energize the FCS nation because highly anticipated matchups don't always satisfy, and these three were special.

North Dakota State's 22-10 win over Montana was great from the start because the two programs were on the field together for the first time since 2003. Montana is the most storied off all current FCS programs and NDSU has surpassed everyone in the division in the last four seasons.

Those who appreciate defensive wizardry in this day of offensive football should have loved how the Bison methodically added to their historic run. During the three-time defending national champion's FCS-record 28-game winning streak, 13 of the wins have come against ranked FCS teams. It's the fifth- longest winning streak in Division I in the past 50 years.

The most thrilling of the three games was Eastern Washington's 52-51 win at rival Montana State. After pulling within a point with 27 seconds remaining, the visiting Eagles went for a two-point conversion and the win because their place-kicker was injured. Show-stopping quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. scored the two-pointer for a ridiculously good ending.

And just as important was the way Montana State answered questions about itself. There was plenty to be unsure about with the Bobcats before the season, but some veteran backups have emerged into the limelight and quarterback Dakota Prukop could be even better than four-year starter DeNarius McGhee. The Bobcats have plenty of winnable games ahead before their regular-season finale at Montana, which should be another dandy.

Eastern Washington's win almost made New Hampshire's look pedestrian, but it wasn't. With starting quarterback Sean Goldrich on the bench because of an injury suffered earlier in the fourth quarter, Andy Vailas took the Wildcats on a 15-play, 75-yard game-winning driving at Richmond, converting a fourth-down scramble on the play before Nico Steriti's 2-yard TD run with 19.1 seconds left delivered a 29-26 CAA Football win.

May all of conference play be so grand as these games.


While the Top 25 matchups stood out, there were many other observations from Week 4. Here are 10 more:

- Southeastern Louisiana came into the season as a clear No. 3 behind Eastern Washington and North Dakota State, but the Lions (2-2) have reminded that they don't have the consistency of those two national programs. It's one thing to not fire at FBS Tulane, but to do the same against Southeast Missouri State (a three-win team in each of the past three seasons) should have coach Ron Roberts' squad's attention. The transfer-filled team needs to regroup quickly with its Southland Conference schedule beginning next weekend.

- The memo about FCS teams sneaking up on them was definitely delivered to the FBS in the offseason. After posting a record 16 wins last year, FCS teams aren't getting it done this season as this weekend's 1-10 record dropped them to 6-87 overall (.065) against the FBS. The 10 losers lost by an average of 37.8 points. The winner came in a thriller, though, as Southland Conference member Northwestern State slipped past Louisiana Tech, 30-27, on Chris Moore's 47-yard field goal at the buzzer. The win was the Demons' first over an FBS foe since 2005, ending a 17-game losing streak in those matchups.

- Starting the season way after the rest of the FCS was evident with the play of Ivy League teams, who struggled to a 3-5 record. The winners were Harvard (against Holy Cross), Yale (Lehigh) and Dartmouth (Central Connecticut State), and all three trailed in the second half of their games. Particularly surprising was Princeton's 39-29 loss at San Diego, after the Tigers set their target on an unbeaten season, and an Al Bagnoli-coached Penn squad allowing 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a 34-31 defeat at Jacksonville. All four Ivy road teams lost.

- Take away the three 1-0 Ivy League teams and there are eight other unbeaten teams remaining. The most under-the-radar are Bucknell (3-0) and Texas Southern (4-0). Bucknell's 36-20 win at Northeast Conference favorite Sacred Heart on Saturday was eye-catching. The Bison - that's the right nickname, if you ask North Dakota State fans - kept Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel and running back Keshaudas Spence relatively in check while improving to 3-0 for the first time since 1997. Sophomore R.J. Nitti has been terrific in replacing a four- year starting quarterback, Brandon Wesley. At Texas Southern, all the Tigers have done is beat the teams in front of them - not a who's who of teams, but enough to give coach Darrell Asberry's squad as many wins as it had in the 2012 and '13 seasons combined. The Tigers are 2-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

- Speaking of the SWAC, the first full weekend of conference action produced a surprising, if not ironic result. Grambling State went on the road and beat Jackson State, 40-35 - a year after forfeiting the matchup because of its six- day player boycott. Fast-improving Grambling, now under first-year coach Broderick Fobbs, had not won on the road since its 2011 SWAC championship season. Starting quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for three touchdowns but was injured in the victory.

- It was the weekend of ... the place-kicker? Moore provided the heroics for Northwestern State and North Dakota State's Adam Keller was 5-for-5 on field goals in outscoring Montana. Liberty's John Lunsford kicked a 57-yard field goal in Liberty's win over Bryant (the FCS record is 63 yards), and three others converted from beyond 50 yards: Southeast Missouri State's Ryan McCrum with a 54-yarder against Southeastern Louisiana; Missouri State's Marcelo Bonani with a game-winning 53-yarder against Central Arkansas; and Coastal Carolina's Ryan Granger with a 51-yarder against Florida A&M.

- After going 6-0 in Week 3 play for the first time in conference history, the Big South was put to the test with a much tougher schedule this weekend, and the smallest FCS conference responded well with Coastal Carolina slamming Florida A&M, 48-3; Gardner-Webb upending Wofford for the second straight year, 43-36; unbeaten Charleston Southern beating yet another Southern Conference team, crosstown rival The Citadel, 20-18, in a game that had all of Charleston jumping; and Liberty topping previously unbeaten Bryant, 38-21. A 4-2 record this weekend has the Big South at 17-6 overall.

- With the New Hampshire-Richmond game going down to the wire, the CAA race got off to a terrific start. Villanova, which beat James Madison in another entertaining game, has looked the best in perhaps the deepest conference in the FCS. And the race has gotten even better with Albany, last year's bottom dweller, already ahead of that 1-11 overall and 0-8 CAA pace by starting 3-0 under first-year coach Greg Gattuso, who gained his 100th win as a college coach in the Great Danes' conference-opening win over Rhode Island.

- Is the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference not Bethune-Cookman or South Carolina State, the defending co-champs? It's possible this season as North Carolina A&T (3-1) is only a one-point loss to Coastal Carolina away from being unbeaten. Coach Rod Broadway's squad has sacrificed a home game to play South Carolina State in Atlanta in two weeks, but the Aggies don't have Bethune-Cookman on their schedule. If they can get through Howard and South Carolina State to start MEAC play, the title race will take quite a turn.

- It's time for the Stickum. The three worst turnover margins per game in the FCS belong to Ohio Valley Conference teams UT Martin, Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State. Extend it farther among OVC teams and Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State are among the 11 worst averages in the FCS. OVC teams are minus-32 in the turnover department.


A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found here.

The full FCS scoreboard can be found here.


Stock Rising - A Jerry Rice Award winner - any Jerry Rice Award winner. It's been a sign of greatness for sure. The inaugural recipient, Towson running back Terrance West in 2011, is off starting as a rookie for the Cleveland Browns. Villanova quarterback John Robertson, the 2012 winner, is the most feared player in CAA Football. Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, coming off a usual 152-yard, two-touchdown game, should be catching passes in the Pac-12.

Stock Falling - Furman shares the early lead in the Southern Conference, but it's tenuous considering the Paladins (2-2, 1-0) aren't the same team without starting quarterback Reese Hannon, who suffered a season-ending fractured ankle in their season opener. The Paladins' 15-game winning streak against Presbyterian ended last weekend and then they fell on Saturday to a South Carolina State team they beat in the FCS playoffs last November.


In an Eastern Washington-Montana State game with so many offensive standouts, senior Shawn Johnson posted an absurd 374 all-purpose yards on 23 touches for MSU, which lost the 52-51 heartbreaker. Johnson, who scored three touchdowns, had 150 rushing yards, 62 receiving yards, 141 kickoff return yards and 21 punt return yards.

All-Patriot League defensive end Alec May of Georgetown had four sacks among his nine tackles in the Hoyas' 17-3 win over Brown. It gives the senior 15.5 sacks in his last seven games dating to last season.


Looking at where teams may stand in a projected playoff bracket on Nov. 23, and not based on current records or conference standings:

Illinois State/Montana State winner at No. 1 seed North Dakota State

Southern Illinois/Eastern Kentucky winner at No. 8 seed McNeese State

Bethune-Cookman/Chattanooga winner at No. 5 seed Jacksonville State

Fordham/Liberty winner at No. 4 seed New Hampshire

Tennessee State/Montana winner at No. 6 seed Southeastern Louisiana

Sacred Heart/Northern Iowa winner at No. 3 seed Villanova

Richmond/North Carolina A&T winner at No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina

Jacksonville/South Dakota State winner at No. 2 seed Eastern Washington

On the at-large bubble: Sacramento State, Delaware, William & Mary and Youngstown State


After this weekend's strong schedule of matchups, Week 5 isn't nearly as good next Saturday, even while conference play begins to heat up.

The notable conference matchups include: Big Sky, Cal Poly at Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington at UC Davis; CAA, Delaware at James Madison, William & Mary at Stony Brook and Maine at Towson; Ivy, Harvard at Brown; Missouri Valley, Western Illinois at Southern Illinois; Patriot, Fordham at Holy Cross; Pioneer, Jacksonville at Butler and San Diego at Marist; Southern, Samford at Chattanooga; Southland, Sam Houston State at Lamar; and SWAC, Southern at Alcorn State, Texas Southern at Alabama State and Prairie View A&M versus Grambling State at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The non-conference schedule includes Charleston Southern at Charlotte, Liberty at Indiana State, Villanova at Penn, Dartmouth at New Hampshire and Florida A&M at Tennessee State.

As part of the Yale Bowl's 100th anniversary season, Yale will host Army in the Ivy League's first matchup against an FBS team since those two programs met at Army in 1996.

The only other FCS-FBS matchup is Eastern Illinois at Ohio.

Top-ranked North Dakota State will be on a bye.

FCS Football News
· FCS Top 25 Roundup - Week 4

· In the FCS Huddle: Surpassing all the hype

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