By David Coulson, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You would think that with the memory of Appalachian State's victory over Michigan two years ago still fresh in people's minds that football fans would have learned to expect the unexpected when FCS teams take on FBS squads in the opening week of the season.
It didn't come as a big surprise to die-hard FCS supporters when Villanova opened the season on Thursday night with a 27-24 victory over Temple and it didn't shock many when defending national champion Richmond beat Duke 24-16, or William & Mary toppled Virginia 26-14 on Saturday night.
Those FBS squads were lucky that they survived several other games as Appalachian State, Northern Iowa, Central Arkansas, Southern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Massachusetts, Weber State and Stephen F. Austin took their games against East Carolina, No. 22 Iowa, Hawaii, Marshall, Indiana, Kansas State, Wyoming and SMU right down to the wire.
Even hapless Indiana State, coming off an overtime collapse to Division II Quincy and owners of a 27-game losing streak and losers of 51 of its past 52 games, held its own in a 30-10 loss to Louisville. The Sycamores actually took a 7-3 lead after the first quarter.
Standing on top of the mountain after the first full weekend of play was the Colonial Athletic Association, which won three of six games against BCS opponents.
When the CAA teams played under the Atlantic 10 banner, they won three games against the FBS in 2000, with Richmond beating Arkansas State 30-27, Northeastern stopping former A-10 member Connecticut 35-27 and Rhode Island dumping UConn 26-21.
But the three wins last week came in the span of three days. New Hampshire will look to add to that total when it goes for its fifth-straight FBS scalp against Ball State on Saturday.
James Madison opens at Maryland on Saturday, while Rhode Island draws UConn and Maine travels to Syracuse in two weeks. Delaware takes on Navy on Nov. 14.
None of those games is beyond reach and it would be shocking if the CAA doesn't take at least one more FBS victory before the year is out.
CROSSTOWN BRAGGING RIGHTS
Villanova, particularly quarterback Chris Whitney, struggled to stay in the game last Thursday against Temple in the first Mayor's Cup contest at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
But the defense kept the Wildcats in the game, forcing five Temple turnovers, and Ross Ventrone's 59-yard fumble recovery and TD return gave Villanova a huge shot of adrenaline it fed off of the rest of the way.
Whitney was close to being benched, but the junior quarterback caught fire with his team trailing 17-7 in the third quarter. With plenty of help from clutch receiver Brandyn Harvey (career-best nine catches, 142 yards, one TD), Whitney generated four scoring drives and finished with personal bests with 24-of-35 passing for 278 yards and two scores.
After Villanova tied the game with 1:24 remaining on a six-yard slant from Whitney to Harvey, safety John Dempsey intercepted a Vaughn Charlton pass near midfield to give the Wildcats one final chance.
Whitney, Harvey and company moved the ball into position and redshirt freshman Nick Yako ripped his kick through the center of the uprights from 32 yards out and Villanova had its 27-24 victory.
STATE OF THE STATE
When cornerback Derek Cox was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round of the NFL draft last spring, he not only was the first FCS player picked, he left William & Mary with a huge hole to fill in its secondary.
But those fears were somewhat alleviated by the play of redshirt freshman B.W. Webb Saturday against Virginia. Webb earned national player of the week honors from The Sports Network after intercepting three passes to key the Tribe's 26-14 victory.
Webb nearly equaled the single-game school record of four established by Jack Bruce against Richmond in 1947.
Webb's second pick-off set up a field goal in the second quarter and he returned his third interception 50 yards late in the fourth quarter to clinch William & Mary's win. The Tribe defense limited the Cavaliers to 268 yards, just 131 on the ground.
New starting quarterback R.J. Archer completed 23-of-44 passes for 184 yards to lead William & Mary's offense. His five-yard TD toss to Rob Varno tied the game at 7-all in the first quarter.
Another hero was All-American kicker Brian Pate, who hit four of seven field goal attempts, including one from 20 yards that gave the Tribe the lead for good at 16-14 with 5:35 left in the third period.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Several seniors from Richmond remembered traveling to historic Wallace Wade Stadium and scoring a 13-0 shutout of Duke in 2006. They returned Saturday night as seasoned players and defending FCS national champs and showed an improving Blue Devil squad that this generation of the Spiders is even better than that previous version.
The Spiders took control midway through the first quarter when Tyler Kirchoff blocked a Duke punt and Jonathan Mayfield finally grabbed it at the five to waltz in for the game's first touchdown. Kirchoff, a back-up running back, added a fourth-quarter touchdown on a one-yard smash to extend Richmond's lead to 21-9 with 9:39 remaining.
Once Richmond gained the upper-hand, it never let the Blue Devils regain any rhythm. After the Spiders botched a snap for a Duke safety, the Blue Devils managed to score just two more times, once on a busted coverage that allowed Thaddeus Lewis to hit Johnny Williams for a 54-yard TD strike and again on a frantic fourth-quarter drive.
Duke managed just 19 yards of rushing, which negated much of the benefit from Lewis' 350 yards passing and allowed the Spiders to tee off on the Blue Devil receivers.
The biggest questions the Spiders had coming into the season remained largely unanswered.
Running back Justin Forte, replacing the graduated Josh Vaughn, managed 69 yards on 16 carries, including a two-yard TD burst in the second period, and the Spiders finished with 125 yards rushing.
Senior quarterback Eric Ward had a typical Eric Wind type of game, completing 12-of-23 passes for 143 yards and missing open receivers several times. But Ward didn't commit a turnover and outside of the safety on a bad snap and a fumble that the Spiders recovered, Richmond played almost mistake-free football.
Pierre Turner and Nicholas Battle, the replacements for the All-American defensive end duo of Lawrence Sidbury Jr. and Sherman Logan, had nondescript performances. Neither made a tackle, but both had one quarterback hurry apiece. Defensive tackle Martin Parker picked up Richmond's lone sack.
But the rest of the Spider defensive unit was flying to the ball and created havoc for Lewis and the Blue Devil offense.
Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley would have preferred to see his current team remembered for one of the greatest FCS over BCS upsets of all-time on Saturday afternoon. Instead the Panthers will earn recognition for one of the most bizarre finishes in college football history.
UNI thoroughly out-played No. 22-ranked Iowa behind the play of quarterback Pat Grace (23-of-37, 270 yards passing, one TD) and its tough defense for most of the day and built a 13-3 lead in the third period.
But the Hawkeyes pulled themselves off of the mat to finally take the lead on an 11-yard run by Adam Robinson in the third quarter and a six-yard pass from Rick Stanzi to tight end Tony Moeaki with 13:18 to play in the fourth period to make it 17-13.
Billy Hallgren kicked his third straight field goal to cut the margin to a single point with 4:26 remaining and the UNI defense got the ball back for the Panthers with just over two minutes left and 92 yards ahead of them.
Grace's clutch throwing, including a 16-yard connection with D.J. Hord on third and nine, helped move the Panthers to the Iowa 23 with seven seconds left on the clock.
The dependable Hallgren, who had hit 68% of his field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder in his first three seasons with UNI, was called out on first down to win one for the Panthers. But the Hawkeyes collapsed the middle of the UNI offensive line, allowing a leaping Broderick Binns to block a 40-yard attempt that appeared to be heading dead center.
Three Iowa players watched the ball bounce parallel to the line of scrimmage before an alert Ryan Mahaffey jumped on the ball with one second remaining. Officials huddled and then went to replay before ruling that the ball belonged to UNI, because Mahaffey had recovered it without the ball crossing the line, with the clock stopping automatically by rule.
Hallgren got another chance at a winning kick, this time from 41 yards, with an angle to the left of the goal posts. But Iowa again drove the UNI line backwards to enable Jeremiha Hunter to block the second kick.
Farley sank forward into the Kinnick Stadium turf, but he spoke of his pride for his team after the game.
"This football team today represented this program better than any team has ever represented this program," Farley said. "We asked them to play with class and poise and they did everything we asked of them. The expectation of every UNI football game we line up in is that we can compete and win any game we step on the field. I hope the state of Iowa realizes now that we've got a pretty good football program."
The win would have been just the second ever for an FCS squad, playing a ranked FBS opponent. Appalachian State's win over No. 5 Michigan remains the only time that has happened.
Appalachian State didn't look like it would be playing a meaningful second half on Saturday afternoon when it fell behind East Carolina 24-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter and still trailed 29-7 midway through the third period.
With Payton Award-winning quarterback Armanti Edwards dressed in street clothes on the bench, with his lacerated foot still mending, the Mountaineers had shown little firepower with their usually-dangerous spread attack.
But when coach Jerry Moore benched DeAndre Presley at quarterback and turned to third-string Toledo transfer Travaris Cadet, Appalachian State had the Pirates quaking in their boots.
Cadet rushed 15 times for 35 yards and one TD and connected on 7-of-9 passes for 55 yards as he led the Mountaineers to three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to cut the ECU lead to five points.
ASU's defense, which had been scorched by the Pirates in the first half (267-63 edge in total yardage), suddenly began shutting down ECU as the better conditioned Mountaineers to advantage of its tiring opponent.
Appalachian State appeared poised for another FCS upset when it moved from its own 24 to the 48-yard-line with just over a minute to play. But a fourth-down scramble by Cadet ended when his pass caromed off of the hands of a leaping CoCo Hillary in Pirate territory with 16 seconds to play.
Edwards, who had wanted to play on Saturday and had been cleared medically, was like a caged tiger after the game, storming away from the locker room. He is likely to take out his anger on McNeese State, when the Cowboys come to Boone and newly renovated Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday.
OTHER CLOSE CALLS
While Richmond, William & Mary and Villanova were celebrating big wins, there were several other squads that were experiencing the same heartbreak as Northern Iowa and Appalachian State.
Central Arkansas led Hawaii with less than 90 seconds remaining on Friday night when Greg Alexander hit Rodney Bradley with an eight-yard touchdown pass. New UCA starting quarterback Robbie Park was 20-of-31 for 186 yards and a TD as the replacement for Nathan Brown.
Eastern Kentucky was driving for a possible winning touchdown at Indiana on Thursday night when the Colonels fumbled the ball away inside the IU five-yard- line on second and goal. Colonel quarterback Cody Watts was 12-of-16 for 171 yards and a 61-yard TD toss to Garnett Phelps. Backup QB T.J. Pryor had a had one more chance, leading EKU into Indiana territory in the waning seconds before time ran out.
Southern Illinois just missed an upset that would have thrilled FCS everywhere, maybe even in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but the Salukis came up short in a 31-28 loss at former FCS powerhouse Marshall on Saturday. The Thundering Herd took charge with a 21-point third quarter for a 28-14 lead and added a field goal in the fourth period to offset a touchdown run and TD pass from SIU quarterback Chris Dieker (22-of-37, 206 yards, two TDs passing).
UMass fell behind 21-3 in the first half at Kansas State before mounting a comeback. A four-yard pass from Kyle Havens to Andrew Krevis and a 26-yard return of a blocked punt by A.J. Adeoba brought the Minutemen to within four points with 14 minutes remaining, but they couldn't get any closer.
Weber State was left kicking themselves when five Cameron Higgins interception contributed to a tough 29-22 loss at Wyoming on Saturday. Higgins was 32-of-51 for 322 yards and three TDs, while Trevyn Smith rushed 14 times for 97 yards, but the Wildcats came up short on a day when they were out-gained just 434-411.
Stephen F. Austin used its high-powered attack to build a 23-14 lead over Southern Methodist after three quarters. But the Lumberjacks made six turnovers, five on Jeremy Moses interceptions, and also gave up a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown to SMU's Emmanuel Sanders as the Mustangs rallied for 17 fourth-quarter points to win 31-23.
The showdown between No. 16-ranked South Carolina State and No. 25 Grambling in Orlando, FL. had drawn interest throughout the off-season. And the annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge lived up to all of the hype on a hot and humid day at the Citrus Bowl.
SCSU built leads of 14-0 in first period and 21-10 at the half behind the offensive exploits of running back William Ford (13 carries, 72 yards rushing) and quarterback Malcolm Long ((13-of-20, 101 yards passing and two TDs) in the nationally televised game on ESPNU.
But Grambling fought back behind two touchdown passes and one scoring run from quarterback Greg Dillon (17-of-28, 269 yards passing) to keep the pressure on.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the third period before Dillon's 24-yard scoring strike to Damian Jefferson made it a three-point game with under six minutes to play.
Grambling had one more chance to tie or win in the final minutes, but an interception by converted receiver Semaj Moody ended the Tigers' hopes.
OLD DOMINION DEBUT
Old Dominion used a first-half offensive explosion to win its first football game since 1940 on Saturday evening, 36-21 over Chowan. The Monarchs opened the game with 13 straight points as they built a 29-15 lead.
Thomas DeMarco was 11-of-20 for 123 yards and a touchdown passing and running back Jamar Parham rushed 13 times for 105 yards and a pair of scores to spark ODU. On the negative side, the young Monarchs allowed Chowan quarterback C.J. Westler to hit 27-of-48 passes for 293 yards and a TD and ODU was out-gained 341-320, but three interceptions helped the Monarchs win.
A sellout crowd of 1,9782 at Foreman Field was on hand to celebrate the victory.
A PAINFUL WIN
Central Connecticut State coach Jeff McInerney took a shower on Saturday morning before the Blue Devils played Lehigh, just like he does before every game. But a bathroom slip left McInerney with a torn leg muscle and on crutches during the game.
On the field, it was Lehigh that played more carelessly in the key moments of the game. The Blue Devil defense picked off Lehigh quarterback J.T. Clark three times on the way to a 28-21 victory.
A 40-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Wanket to Josue Paul with 1:26 left in the third quarter provided CCSU with its margin of victory and the defense did the rest. James Mallory had 31 carries for 117 yards to help the Blue Devils milk the clock.
It was a big non-conference win for the Northeast Conference, which just missed a pair of other stunners.
Albany led most of the way at Georgia Southern before the Eagles scored 10 fourth-quarter points on a 26-yard pass from Lee Chapple to Jamere Valentine and Adrian Mora drilled a 44-yard field goal with 40 seconds left to give Georgia Southern a 29-26 win.
Monmouth forged a 16-14 lead at Colgate in the first half, but the Raiders took control with their big ground game in the second half to win 35-23. Nick Eachus had 139 yards and three TDs on 20 carries for Colgate, to off-set the 26-carry, 102 yards rushing and one TD of Monmouth's David Sinisi.
09/08 23:16:36 ET