North Dakota, you’re not in the Big West Conference anymore.
UND, one of five newcomers to the Big Sky Conference, goes on the road this week to face seventh-ranked Eastern Washington. After that, it’s Northern Arizona, Montana and Montana State.
“Every week is just a battle and every week you’re going to face a good football team,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “And Eastern is a national contender. We’re in the thick of it right now.”
Fortunately for North Dakota, it can count on one of the best receivers in the conference in Greg Hardin, who already has seven touchdowns and is the team’s best deep threat. He has 24 catches for 495 yards, an average of 20.6 yards per catch.
“Greg’s just one of those guys, if you were to stand next to him on the field, you wouldn’t be that impressed,” Mussman said of the 5-foot-11, 167-pounder.
“But he’s deceptively fast, runs great routes, and even though he’s not that fast, in his game speed he has a different gear. He’s been our big play guy since he got here.”
For Hardin, it’s a matter of creating separation during summer drills, and the games take care of themselves.
“It goes to everyone on the offense,” said Hardin, a junior from Bellevue, Neb. “But you have to win your one-on-one matchups.”
Pavel delivered clutch kick for EWU: No play was more crucial to the Eagles’ win over Montana than Jimmy Pavel’s perfectly executed onside kick.
With 2:16 left and Eastern trailing by two points, Pavel confronted his second onside-kick attempt in three games. His previous try, at Washington State, went slightly awry. But this one was spot-on, despite a new NCAA rule that requires the ball to bounce at least twice before it can be fielded by a member of the kicking team.
“On this one I was a little more relaxed and hit it a little lighter,” Pavel said at practice earlier this week. After it seemed to roll on the turf, the ball bounced at just the right height to give the Eagles a shot.
After Shaquille Hill recovered the kick, “Everyone was so stoked, they were ready to celebrate,” Pavel said. “It was great knowing that I gave the team the shot they needed, but I’m just doing my job.”
Pavel was temporarily out of his job Saturday when holder Jeff Minnerly was injured while playing defense. The Eagles didn’t have a trained backup to hold for Pavel, who’s right-footed, so quarterback Vernon Adams held for lefty Kevin Miller on all placement kicks against Montana.
This week, the Eagles are holding tryouts to replace Minnerly at holder.
The team without a nickname: North Dakota brings a couple of new twists to the Big Sky, as the only school without a nickname and the only institution where the most popular sport is neither football nor men’s basketball. Long known as the Fighting Sioux, UND was among 19 schools listed by the NCAA in 2005 with “hostile and abusive” nicknames. The NCAA allowed some schools to keep such nicknames provided they received tribal support. But in the University of North Dakota’s case, the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe endorsed using the nickname and logo, but The Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal council didn’t. The final word came in a state referendum in June, as two-thirds of voters said the nickname should go. Meanwhile, the state legislature ordered that the school must wait three years to choose a new mascot and nickname. That was intended partly as a cooling-off period for the school, which has a wildly popular, NCAA title-contending hockey team. But in a compromise reached last week, the NCAA allowed some Sioux logos to remain in the school’s hockey and basketball arenas.
Who knew this would happen?: Montana is now 0-2 in Big Sky Conference play for the first time since 1992. The Grizzlies have won or shared 16 of the last 19 Big Sky championships. This week also marks the first time since the 1998 season that Montana is not ranked in The Sports Network Top 25. The last time Montana was not ranked in The Sports Network Poll occurred on Oct. 12, 1998, two days following a 21-7 loss at Cal State Northridge. Adding to its problems, Montana will be without its leading rusher this weekend after Dan Moore suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter of last weekend’s game at Eastern Washington. Coach Mick Delaney said Moore suffered a high ankle sprain after earlier breaking a small bone in the same foot. Moore is the fourth-leading rusher in the Big Sky Conference with 431 yards in five games, despite missing most of the game at EWU.
Extra points: Cal Poly moved to 83rd overall in the Sagarin (including FBS teams) and third in the FCS ranks. EWU (10), Montana (18), Northern Arizona (19), Montana State (21) and UC Davis (25) gave the Big Sky six teams in the top 25 of the Sagarin. … NAU beat Portland State 24-10 in Flagstaff on Saturday for its first four-game win streak since 2008, which was the last time Jerome Souers’ team started conference play 2-0. … NAU junior RB Zach Bauman rushed for 92 yards and a TD in the win over Portland State, hiking his career rushing total to 3,085 rushing yards on 598 carries. … Southern Utah drew 8,417 to Eccles Coliseum last weekend against Montana State, the largest crowd in stadium history for a day game…Road teams have won seven of 12 conference games