Montana State (3-1, 2-0) at Northern Arizona (3-2, 1-1)
Going into the season, this matchup didn't appear especially crucial for Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks were picked by Big Sky coaches to win the conference but are scrambling to stay in the chase. They were upset last week by Weber State, 36-23, and tonight must face a Montana State team riding high after a 17-7 upset of Eastern Washington. Northern Arizona, ranked No. 10 in one Division I-AA poll, allowed 529 yards against the Wildcats and slipped from the top of the defensive chart in the conference to fourth place. Sophomore Travis Brown, who had 10 passes intercepted in his first 122 throws this season, has since thrown 97 consecutive passes without an interception. He will need to keep an eye on Bobcat defensive end Neal Smith, who last week had three sacks for the second week in a row and has 10 this season. Cliff Hysell, Montana State's sixth-year coach, has never defeated Northern Arizona and the Bobcats have not won in Flagstaff since 1979, a stretch of nine games.
Montana (3-1, 1-0) at Idaho State (0-4, 0-2)
Montana, the Big Sky bully, already smells a third consecutive conference title and is on the prowl with Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington and Cal State Northridge skidding. The Grizzlies showed their muscle last week in a 28-13 loss at Wyoming, a I-A program that gave fits to Ohio State and Colorado. The setback dropped Montana to No. 2 in both polls behind unbeaten Youngstown State. Mick Dennehy, Montana's second-year coach, is 9-0 in conference games and 17-2 with the Grizzlies. Tom Walsh, Idaho State's first-year coach, is at the other end of the spectrum. The Bengals came close to giving Walsh his first victory last week but fell at Cal State Sacramento, 23-19. Free safety Trevor Bell has four interceptions, tying him with Weber State's Scott Shields for the Big Sky lead.
Cal State Sacramento (1-3, 1-1) at Eastern Washington (4-1, 2-1)
Before anyone gets too excited about Sacramento's first-ever conference victory, a reality check: That wasn't Florida the Hornets defeated. Or even Florida A&M;, a I-AA top-25 school. It was winless Idaho State, heir apparent to Sacramento and Portland State as the conference's pushover. The Hornets fumbled at the Idaho State two in the fourth quarter but Lamont Webb recovered and scored the winning touchdown in a 23-19 victory. Sacramento is allowing 481.5 yards per game, which should be music to Eastern Washington's Harry Leons, who has passed for 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns. Leons was knocked silly by five Montana State sacks last week and left the game with a mild concussion. He will not start but might play. The Eagles lost, 17-7, and fell from the top 25 in one poll and are ranked No. 19 in the other.
Nonconference St. Mary's (2-3) at Portland State (1-4)
Portland State's freshman tailback Chip Dunn, who played at Pasadena Muir High, last week fueled the Vikings' second conference victory in two Big Sky seasons. He rushed for 250 yards and scored three touchdowns, helping Portland State surprise Northridge, 26-13. Dunn entered the game with 206 yards rushing. The Vikings remain a work in progress and will have their hands full against I-AA independent St. Mary's. The Gaels played tough in a 35-14 loss at Montana on Sept. 20. Senior Sean Laird has passed for 6,162 yards in his career at St. Mary's, 105 yards shy of the school record. He owns the school record of 54 touchdown passes in his career.