Best games of the FCS fall season
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By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - While there have been fewer FCS games this fall than usual, there hasn't been a shortage of exciting games.
The FCS vs. FCS matchups have been outstanding, and a handful of strong performances against FBS opponents are sprinkled in.
Here are the 10 best games of the fall, noting two games versus FBS opponents remain next month - Western Carolina at North Carolina on Dec. 5 and UIW at Arkansas State on Dec. 12:
1. Stephen F. Austin 35, Abilene Christian 32, OT (Oct. 24)
The first NCAA football game at Globe Life Park, the Texas Rangers' former home in Arlington, established a hard-to-top standard. Trae Self's 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chad Aune in overtime lifted SFA in the only fall game between two teams from the same FCS conference (Southland). Self also threw for two TDs in the final 2:23 of regulation and finished with career highs for total offensive yards (374) and total TDs (four). Ryan Stapp' 85-yard scoring return off a blocked field goal attempt was a highlight for Abilene Christian, which turned the ball over five times.
2. North Dakota State 39, Central Arkansas 28 (Oct. 3)
The Trey Lance showcase for NFL scouts became a threat to North Dakota State's FCS-record winning streak as Central Arkansas held the lead three times for nearly 29 minutes of game clock before the Bison put away their 38th straight victory late. Lance struggled as a passer (15 of 30, 149 yards, two touchdowns, first career interception), but dominated on the ground (143 yards and two second-half TDs). UCA's Breylin Smith threw for three touchdowns.
3. Jacksonville State 19, FIU 10 (Oct. 23)
The Gamecocks posted their first victory over an FBS opponent since 2013 and ended the FCS level's 67-game, 13-month losing streak against the top tier of Division I. Freshman Alen Karajic kicked four field goals and the Gamecocks possessed the ball for a whopping 42:16 as running backs Josh Samuel (163 yards, touchdown) and Uriah West (116) posted career-high rushing performances behind a dominating offensive line.
4. Central Arkansas 27, Missouri State 20 (Sept. 26)
Trailing 20-7 late in the third quarter, Central Arkansas faced a surprising potential loss, only to score three touchdowns in a 2-minute, 23-second span - one each offensively (Tyler Hudson 7-yard reception from Breylin Smith), defensively (Dre Matthews 30-yard fumble return) and special teams (Hudson 57-yard punt return). After falling behind early in the fourth quarter, Missouri State reached UCA territory three more times, including a possession that reached the Bears' 7-yard-line. UCA's defense totaled nine sacks and four takeaways, while Missouri State allowed only 177 yards.
5. Georgia Southern 27, Campbell 26 (Sept. 12)
The Camels didn't trail in the game's first 53:18 before falling shy of what would have been the first FBS win in program history. After pulling within 27-26 on Hajj-Malik Williams' 20-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Kelsey with 15 seconds left, the Big South squad went for a 2-point conversion, but Williams threw an incompletion. He accounted for 310 yards of total offense and three TDs.
6. Eastern Kentucky 31, Central Arkansas 28 (Oct. 24)
Backup quarterback Dakota Allen threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Matt Wilcox Jr. with six seconds remaining to lift the Colonels, who had fallen behind for the first time on UCA signal caller Breylin Smith's 1-yard run with 1:21 to go. EKU built a 17-7 halftime lead on Parker McKinney's two touchdown passes, but he was injured late in the first half. It was the Colonels' first win over a ranked team since 2013 (UCA was preseason No. 11) and the first over a non-conference ranked opponent since 2003.
7. Troy 31, Eastern Kentucky 29 (Oct. 17)
This was the ultimate hard-luck loss of the season as Eastern Washington went ahead 29-28 with 21 seconds left, but still lost on a 47-yard, game-ending field goal. Parker McKinney passed for a career-high 370 yards, combining with Keyion Dixon on a 90-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and then a 4-yarder to provide the 29-28 lead. Troy started the final drive at its 40 and had two 15-yard passes before Evan Legassey nailed the game-winning field goal.
8. Southern Illinois 20, Southeast Missouri 17 (Oct. 30)
Nico Gualdoni kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Salukis in the "The War for the Wheel" rivalry matchup. Javon Williams Jr. rushed for 135 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown, and had a 31-yard punt return into SEMO territory to help set up Kare Lyles' 18-yard touchdown pass to Avante Cox in the fourth quarter, which provided a 17-14 lead. The visiting Redhawks tied the game on a field goal with 4:16 left.
9. Texas Tech 35, Houston Baptist 33 (Sept. 12)
The Huskies were a 41-point underdog in their first matchup against a Power-5 Conference opponent yet quarterback Bailey Zappe shredded Texas Tech for a career-high 567 passing yards and four touchdowns. His final TD to Jerreth Sterns pulled the Southland squad within 35-33 with 3:23 remaining, but they were denied on a 2-point attempt. Texas Tech then ran out the clock.
10. Central Arkansas 24, Austin Peay 17 (Aug. 29)
The fourth quarter of the FCS Kickoff - college football's first game during the pandemic - was terrific. Jeremiah Oatsvall's 1-yard touchdown run with 1:40 left gave Austin Peay a 17-16 lead, but Central Arkansas went back ahead on quarterback Breylin Smith's 10-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Lujuan Winningham with 34 seconds left. The two also combined on a game-winning TD against Austin Peay in a 2019 matchup.
Other Games Considered: Houston Baptist 33, Eastern Kentucky 30 (Oct. 3); Western Kentucky 13, Chattanooga 10 (Oct. 24); Central Arkansas 33, Missouri State 24 (Oct. 17); Jacksonville State 34, Mercer 28 (Oct. 10); Army 14, The Citadel 9 (Oct. 10); UTEP 17, Abilene Christian 13 (Sept. 19); Central Arkansas 37, Eastern Kentucky 25 (Nov. 14)
Updated November 23, 2020