EWU Semi-Final Loss Defies Description

It is nearly impossible to narrow down today’s FCS playoff game between Eastern Washington and Youngstown State into one word or phrase. But, there are a few that come to mind after the YSU Penguins upset the EWU Eagles, 40-38 on a last minute play.

 

***

Bitter.

As the sun began to set just after kickoff, the temperature began to drop. 12 degrees at kickoff was cold, but with the sun setting the weather became bitterly cold.

Fans could be seen adding layer upon layer of clothing as the made their way from their cars to the stadium. It’s winter in the Pacific Northwest. We know that and we come prepared for it. 

I, myself, had four shirts, a coat, three layers of clothing on my legs and feet, three on my head and still, in single digit weather and snowy as the game went on, the bitterness was felt up and down my body.

And, it stung.

***

Stunned.

The Inferno (Roos Field) was quiet. Except for one annoying fan on the opposite with a high-pitched scream, the Eastern Washington Eagle crowd was quiet.

Loud for most of the night – partly to support their team and partly to stay warm – they were trying to make sense of what they just saw. Victory snatched. Title hopes dashed. A season ending just short of the goal again.

Perhaps they were praying, hoping that somehow, some way the replay review would turn in their favor.

It couldn’t end like this, could it? It can’t end like this for Cooper Kupp…

Silenced.

***

Respect.

Game in and game out, Cooper Kupp was amazing to watch on the field. When you think opponents have him locked down, he makes a play that he shouldn’t make. Two or three guys try to drag him down and yet, it’s Kupp that does the dragging.

Kupp is the guy you hate to play against because even if you do everything fundamentally right, he still makes you look silly.

He isn’t flashy. He won’t get in a defender’s face and brag about a play. No, Kupp just plays football.

After every game, I’ve watched Kupp embrace teammates and opponents alike. But tonight, in his final game in an Eastern Washington uniform, it seemed a bit more than usual.

Penguin player after Penguin player sought out Kupp. They’d embrace and talk briefly – congratulatory words of a different sort from each, most likely. It was clear that these Youngstown State players had tremendous respect for Kupp. 

While this went on, others were waiting.

His teammates, perhaps 20-30 of them waited for Kupp in the middle of the field. They waited because he was their leader. Their leader in this one final act — of thankfulness and prayer.

Reflecting.

***

Joy and sorrow.

That high-pitched screaming fan was ecstatic. Their team is heading to Frisco, TX to play in the FCS National Championship game on January 7 against James Madison.

This fan was joined by super excited fans 1, 2 and 3 who ran onto the field when they probably shouldn’t have.

If it was my team, I might have done the same.

YSU players were smiling and laughing – completely full of joy at their amazing win. Some were running around Jim Valvano-style looking for someone to hug.

Shoulders slumped. Helmets off, helmets on. Hands on hips while others squatted down trying to make sense of it all. 

Others shook hands and found a place of comfort – in their families. Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles all consoling young men who gave everything they had on that field. They were trying to talk them through the gut-punch they just experienced.

It was unexpected. Not so much the loss itself, but rather the way they lost. How do you prepare for that kind of ending? How do you make sense of something that was within your grasp and then snatched away at the last second?

Hugs with smiles on one side. Hugs with tears on the other.

Juxtaposed. 

***

Bittersweet.

For the Eastern Washington Eagles and their fans, tonight will be a bitter pill to swallow. 

There will be no trip to Frisco this year. It is another season without an FCS title. But, it was far from a failure. 

This Eastern Washington Eagle team was special. Finishing 12-2 overall (including a win over their neighbors to the south – Washington State Cougars), undefeated in the Big Sky Conference with record-setting players on both sides of the ball, this team had an amazing season even without a title. 

Then again, maybe it’s not so much bitter, but it’s a bittersweet ending for this team. 

All season long, when push came to shove, they responded. When you thought they were down, they proved you wrong. “It’s such an amazing group,” said Head Coach Beau Baldwin. “(They) gave us so many memories. It was a resilient bunch the entire year and they played the toughest schedule in school history.”

I was proud of them before we even kicked off this football game,” Baldwin added. “I’m proud of the way they handled so many situations coming into this season and how they approached and attacked the off-season. One play doesn’t define the effort, the heart, the camaraderie and the culture that this team carried all the way through the season. That’s how I feel.”

There will be a bit of a bitter feeling for EWU to be so close to Frisco. But, it is also bittersweet. “The toughest thing is knowing we don’t get three more weeks together,” said Coach Baldwin. “If it doesn’t hurt that you don’t have that time together, then it probably wasn’t as meaningful as you really wanted it to be.”

This team like others before it and after will always have a bon. That bond is built not so much during the season but more so in the off-season.

The blood, sweat and tears of weights and conditioning. The countless rehabbing of injuries. The jockeying for practice time with the 1’s. And, the long conversations about football, school and life. 

Those times are mostly over now. Though the bond remains, the times together do not. 

As for me, I don’t know where I will be next September when football rolls around again. Will I cover another promising Eastern Washington football season? It’s hard to say.

What I can say is that it has been a privilege to see these young men bond and grow. I’ve seen the seniors go from wide-eyed, nervous freshmen to confident, passionate young men in a few short years. Where they go from here is up to them. 

I hope that their time on the playing field and in the classroom at Eastern Washington will be a launching pad to be valuable contributing members of society. I hope that they make a positive impact in their road ahead. 

No, I don’t cheer for any team I cover. But, I do root for the young men in life. I’m a mom -that’s how I’m wired. I can’t help but root for life success for these young men. 

Let’s let that be the final word for the night.

Success. 

***

CadChica Sports

Ebukam, EWU Defense Shine In Playoff Win Over Richmond

Baby, it may be cold outside but the Eastern Washington Eagles were on fire at The Inferno today. The Eagles earned a playoff win over Richmond, 38-0, by playing stellar defense and…the usual…offense.

They will face the Youngstown State Penguins next Saturday in Cheney, WA in a FCS Playoff semi-final. The Penguins were a 30-23 double-overtime winner over Wofford earlier Saturday.

The expectation is always that the Eagle’s prolific offense will put up high offensive numbers. EWU, led by dual Walter Payton Award nominees Gage Gubrud and Cooper Kupp, did what it is so good at – put points on the board. Gubrud was 21-32 passing for 287 yards and three touchdowns. A banged-up Kupp (sprained AC joint, left shoulder) led all receivers with six catches for 128 yards and 1 touchdown.

For EWU fans, those are “expected”. But today, however, today was all about the defense.

In one of their best games of the year, the Eastern Washington defense was hungry, stout and opportunistic. Senior Samson Ebukam terrorized the Richmond backfield all game long. Ebukam had eight tackles (four for loss), one forced fumble, one recovered fumble and one interception.

Those numbers don’t include the amount of times Ebukam and his fellow EWU defenders pressured Richmond sophomore quarterback, Kevin Johnson. Johnson was forced into action this season after injuries hit the Spiders quarterback spot this season.

The defense was also buoyed by the return of Miquiyah Zamora. The senior linebacker was out for the Eagles second-round win over Central Arkansas with an injured hamstring. Zamora came back with a vengeance as he tied Ebukam for the team lead in tackles with eight.

Late in the fourth quarter on the ESPN3 broadcast, commentator and former NFL player Chad Brown referenced the saying, “Stats don’t always tell the story.” But, as Brown added, today they very much did for the Eastern defense.

  • First time an Eastern Washington Eagle defense had shut out an opponent since the 2009 season (Northern Colorado, 16-0).
  • Held Richmond to under 200 yards of total offense UNTIL the final Spiders possession late in the fourth quarter against Eastern’s second-string defense.
  • Richmond’s rushing yards (48) and attempts (37) were nearly equal. At the half, the Spiders had 3 yards on 23 attempts.
  • Season high of six sacks for EWU

Richmond could not combat the Eagle defense. Nor could they combat the elements. Whether (no pun intended) the weather was a factor or not, this tweet was an example of the uncharacteristic nature of the Spiders play today:

 

Richmond senior linebacker Omer Howard said, “Today obviously hurts, we didn’t play anywhere close to how we’re capable of playing, but when I look back there is no other group of guys that I would have rather spent my senior season.”

Comments from Coach Beau Baldwin, Cooper Kupp and Samson Ebukam below:

The Eagles will host Youngstown State at 3:30 pm PT next weekend. The Penguins come into the game on a 5-game win streak, having last lost on November 5 to the 5-time defending champ, North Dakota State Bison, 24-3. YSU is ranked 12th in defense in FCS (314.7 yards per game) and 7th in scoring defense (17.7 points per game). 

If Eastern Washington keeps playing with fire like they have on defense, Frisco and a National Championship are well within their grasp. 

***

CadChica Sports

EWU Wins 2016 Playoff Opener – I Reflect on 2014

PLAYOFF MEMORY

Just another playoff game. A new season, new expectations and the start of a new path for the Eastern Washington Eagles football team. 

Missing out on the playoffs in 2015, I sat in the press box pondering this thought. Another playoff game. 

2014 was the last time the Eagles were in, and hosted, an FCS playoff game. I was sitting in the same seat in the press box when EWU lost 59-46 to Illinois State in 2014. It was a game I won’t forget because I found myself praying. 

No, not praying for a game or result or team. I was praying for what was playing out below me. 

I was the first one in the press box to notice the cluster of people in the stands. Late December nights out in Cheney can be bitterly cold, especially when the team is losing late in the game. A cluster of people together in the emptying stands could’ve just been folks trying to stay warm. 

But, they weren’t focused on the game. Something else was happening. 

**

Medical emergencies happen. And sometimes they happen at a football game. Every so often they affect a player and their family. 

Sadly, John Rodgers, father of then-EWU player Jake Rodgers, never recovered. He passed away shortly after Christmas 2014. 

As I sat in front of my computer to write a game-story for this 2016 playoff opener, no ideas came to mind. Despite the 31-14 victory over the Central Arkansas Bears, it was a bit of a struggle for the Eagles. But that’s playoff football. Nothing new to write about there. 

Looking at the stat lines, I suppose I could have focused on how well the depleted linebacking corp played. Or, how 11 different EWU players caught a pass – a group that went without reigning Player of the Year, Cooper Kupp, for all but a minute of the second half. 

Nope. 

Nothing. 

Maybe it’s odd that nothing came to me for a story. Definitely not the way to go for young writers out there. You should always write, they say. 

Well, I’m writing…it’s just not the story I thought I would write. 

I still think about Jake Rodgers from time-to-time when I enter Roos Field. I’ll check on his progress in the NFL (he just signed with the Carolina Panthers practice squad). And, I’ll remember. 

I’ll remember that day, at this time of year…

and pray. 

CadChica Sports

***

A few game photos from the 31-14 EWU win

NOTE: After their 31-14 win on Saturday, the Eastern Washington Eagles will face the Richmond Spiders on December 10th. The Spiders upset the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in a 27-24 thriller in Grand Forks on Saturday.

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A Non-Game Story On EWU’s 48-17 Win Over ISU

With 4:13 left in the third quarter at Roos Field, Idaho State’s Nikko Hayes was hurt. On both knees at first, then one, the redshirt sophomore from Lompoc, California wasn’t right. No one surrounded him until one young man walked up and checked on him.

The young man started motioning to the Idaho State training staff to come check on Hayes, which they did. Then, the young man walked back to his team – the Eastern Washington Eagles.

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**

When the clock struck 0:00 on last night’s 48-17 Eastern Washington victory and the post-game press conferences concluded, I couldn’t write. Oh, I could write. I just couldn’t write another routine game story.

Not this time.

Last night was the last regular season game at Roos Field for twelve EWU seniors. They are:

  • #1 Shaq Hill: WR – Stockton, CA, 20 starts (co-captain)
  • #2 Jabari Wilson: RB – Carson, CA, 16 starts
  • #3 Samson Ebukam: DL – Portland, OR, 33 starts (co-captain)
  • #4 Miquiyah Zamora: LB – Pasco, WA, 41 starts (co-captain)
  • #5 Jordan West: QB – Maple Valley, WA, 13 starts
  • #9 Zach Wimberly: TE – Tumwater, WA, 20 starts (co-captain)
  • #10 Cooper Kupp: WR – Yakima, WA, 47 starts (co-captain)
  • #11 Kendrick Bourne: WR – Portland, Oregon, 28 starts
  • #23 J.J. Njoku: DB – Tacoma, WA, 7 starts
  • #32 Zach Bruce: DB – Spokane, WA 19 starts (co-captain)
  • #60 Jerrod Jones: OL – Arlington, WA, 5 starts
  • #94 Matthew Sommer: DL – Salem, OR, 27 starts

As I watched each of them during pre-game Senior Day ceremonies, I watched them embrace their families and friends prior to their names being announced. Some had large entourages while others had just a few. But, each of them had someone to walk onto The Inferno with them.

Around the country, many other young men had or will have similar experiences this month. Whether this is at FCS level or FBS or Division II or III, even NAIA, each of them played college football. They found a home, a safe place, a talent, a skill through football. But, they cannot reach it alone.

They all had to have at least one person to believe in them. It could have been a dad or mom, an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, a cousin, a neighbor, a friend, a teacher or, quite simply, a coach. Someone who, through word or action, encouraged them to believe in themselves.

The Eagle players embraced those people, but I believe they were also embracing those who weren’t there. The ones who also told them, “You can’t….” or “You won’t….”. Embracing brings challenge. Challenge to who you are as a person, a player and, in this case, as a man.

I remember back in 2012, covering this team for the first time, not really knowing what I was doing. I was like them, a freshman, in a way. Only my playing field was journalism. I knew sports, but covering them was a different level than sports fandom. They knew football, but college was a different level than high school.

Me, the players, we all watched and learned quickly early on. We participated, practiced, made mistakes, relished in victories, but we always desired to improve.

And, improve we did.

As the years have gone on, we became more involved in the entire process. While injuries or other circumstances prevented some from playing as much as they would have liked through the years, they were still helping teammates, asking questions, encouraging others and being ready when opportunities arose.

Injuries weren’t part of my field, thankfully, I still grew in my role. I observed, asked questions that others wouldn’t or didn’t know how to, encouraged others and was ready for every opportunity that came my way.

We grew up around the red turf.

**

I’ve covered these young men, but not in the way that some would think. I couldn’t travel to away games nor attend practices. Real life – a paying job – prevented that. But, I still felt like I knew them.

I’d read the stories, watch them whether they were on the field or not. As those around me would talk about them, I listened. I asked questions of them or about them.

And some, I even interviewed.

Miquiyah Zamora was a unique name on the Eastern Washington roster. Because one cannot and should not ever assume anything based solely on a name, I asked the EWU Sports Information department if Zamora was Hispanic. The answer was yes.

Most folks in football view the sport in black-and-white terms. A quick look at the NFL shows a measley 0.8% of players are Latino, 1.9% Asian and 0.2% identify as Other, according to T.I.D.E.S. Easy to see why media and fans view it with black-and-white glasses, no? 

When I found out Zamora was Hispanic, I began following him more closely. In 2014, I was able to do a story on him for The Sporting Nation. Back then, he was a shy, nervous kid around the media, including me, despite our shared Latino heritage. 

We talked about football, his teammates and his grandpa, who raised him. We talked about him again after last night’s win. “That guy, bar none, one of the hardest, toughest working guys,” said Zamora. “When he was raising me, that rubbed off on me.” 

**

The memories these seniors have of their time at Eastern Washington will last a lifetime. For me, I remember watching Shaq Hill take a kick at or near the end zone (hard to remember these days), and running up the sideline – taking it all the way to the house. Kind of like freshman running back Antoine Carter, Jr did last night. 

Then, there’s Kendrick Bourne putting moves on hapless defensive backs, making guy after guy miss.

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How about Jabari Wilson refusing to go down with two defenders grasping at his uniform, trying to get one extra yard. 

Last night, there was Zach Wimberly getting an opportunity to score a touchdown after a costly third-quarter fumble – a play that looked as though Wimberly wanted to hurdle a defender. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, Zach.)

I remember this guy below – a photo I’m grateful for being in the right place and the right time that day. Samson Ebukam intercepted a Southern Utah pass and sprinted – yes, sprinted – in for the touchdown…as a freshman.  

I’ll remember last night too, not for what Jerrod Jones did on the field. Wait, then again, he did do something memorable on the field last night. He proposed to his girlfriend during the senior walk-out. 

She said yes.

**

Nikko Hayes of the Idaho State Bengals was hurt. The young man I wrote about that checked on him was none other than Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp. The record-setting and reigning FCS Player of the Year, was concerned about his opponent.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen Kupp check on an opponent on the field. It was in that moment, I knew I couldn’t write a regular game story.

For all the records and accolades that have and will come Cooper Kupp’s way, one thing remains – who he is as a young man.  

Kupp is a young man that has a genuine, caring heart. He cares about teammates, opponents – just people in general. “It’s a blessing to play with him,” said Zamora. “Even when I’m…kind of mad, he can calm a guy like me down.” 

You want Cooper Kupp for an interview, it’s hard for him to say no. Especially after setting the record for most receptions in FCS history last night with his 396th, a pass tossed by his good friend and fellow senior, Jordan West. He will give you his time…unless, of course, Coach says otherwise. 

“It’s been an amazing five years here,” said Kupp, post-game. “Being able to learn from some of the best players, who I think have been some of the best in the nation, year in and year out – guys that just challenged me and pushed me to be the best that I can be.” 

Kupp checking on Nikko Hayes is Cooper Kupp in a nutshell. He cares about every part of the game, not just the game itself, but the people in it. All of the people. 

**

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Kupp will go down as one of the greatest players in history not just at Eastern Washington but in FCS. He and his fellow seniors have left a legacy of resiliency, passion and focus. Their efforts won’t soon be forgotten. 

I hope that I find myself in Frisco, Texas in early January covering their final game ever as Eastern Washington Eagles. That is where the FCS National Championship game is played every year. 

I don’t hope that in the sense that I am cheering for the team. Far from it. As a journalist, I don’t root for teams that I cover. I do, however, cheer for stories. Having been a mom for 30 years, it’s hard for this mother’s heart to not cheer for young people. 

I cheer for them to find success in life. In every relationship, that they would find joy. In every venture, they find growth. In every opportunity, they find knowledge. In every loss or failure, they would find strength to get up and get going again. In every challenge, they find confidence. In every victory, they find satisfaction in the process.

Finally, along every path, I pray they find belief – a belief in themselves and others. 

Still, there’s a great deal of football left to play this season. It’s a long way to Frisco from here on November 13, 2016. But, these Eastern Washington Eagle seniors know this. Yet, it’s hard for them not to realize the fruits of their labor and struggles from previous years playing out now. 

Perhaps that’s what I am cheering, or praying, for most. Whatever positives come out of their experience at Eastern Washington, I pray they pass that along to others. Determination, effort, hard work and most importantly, belief.

Thank you Shaq, Jabari, Samson, Miquiyah, Jordan, Zach, Cooper, Kendrick, J.J., Zach, Jerrod and Matthew. 

I cheer not for your victory on the field, but in life. 

***

CadChica Sports

Defense Steps Up As EWU Tops Montana 35-16

What happens when you put two high-octane offenses on the field on a cold, rainy, sometimes windy day in Cheney? 

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You get a lot of offense but not the high-scoring game that some were expecting. And so it was on this fall day as the Eastern Washington Eagles beat the Montana Grizzlies, 35-14, before 10,931 rain-soaked fans. The win moves the Eagles to 6-2 on the season, 5-0 in Big Sky conference play. For the Grizzlies it’s the second straight loss to a Big Sky opponent after their 45-34 loss last week to Northern Arizona in Flagstaff last week. 

The game featured two of the top five passing offense in all of FCS, but it was the defenses that stood tall when it mattered most. Despite giving up 540 yards of offense to Montana, the Eagle defense kept Griz quarterback Brady Gustafson out of the end zone for most of the game. 

After a punt on their initial series, Montana needed only three plays to go 23 yards on their second possession to jump out to a 7-0 lead. The drive came after a 16 yard punt return by Montana senior, John Nguyen on a 34-yard punt by Eastern’s Jordan Dascalo. 

Another three-and-out by a sputtering Eastern offense gave Montana the ball back. Starting at their own 7, it looked as though the Grizzlies might jump all over the Eagles. But, the Eastern defense did what would become their signature for the day. They went on lock-down when it mattered most, forcing a 48-yard field goal attempt by redshirt freshman Tim Semenza that went wide left. 

It was the wake-up call that the EWU offense needed. Taking over on their own 31, Gage Gubrud hit All-American Cooper Kupp on second and 10 for a 69-yard strike to tie it up. 

The Eagle defense continued their solid play for the remainder of the first half. With the Grizzly offense gaining 299 total yards in the half, EWU only yielded three additional points. 

Meanwhile, Gubrud, Kupp and company made the most of their 240 yards of offense tacking on two more touchdowns to take a 21-10 lead into halftime. 

It was more of the same in the second half. Two Gage Gubrud touchdown passes – one for 40-yards to  Cooper Kupp and one for 13 yards to Shaq Hill – put the Eagles up comfortably while the defense continued to stymie the Grizz offense. Only a 47-yard Gustafson to Keenan Curran touchdown (extra point missed) prevented the third-quarter shut out. The score came after Montana’s Yamen Sanders picked off Gubrud in the end zone. 

Whether it was the defenses or the elements, neither team could produce any points in the final quarter. “Everyone thinks that every game we play is 56-54 and it’s not true,” said EWU Coach Beau Baldwin after the game. “We played an incredibly tough non-conference schedule that’s different than some. Coming into this game, when you look at the Big Sky Conference opponents, we were third or fourth in the conference in points allowed on defense. I’m proud of those guys on defense for stepping up (today), but they’ve done it before.” 

Baldwin’s comments were evident in the results. Although Gustafson went 45-63 for 398 yards (2 TDs, 2 INTs), the Grizzlies could only generate 16 point. Prolific through the season thus far in the red zone (4th in the FCS), the Eastern defense only allowed three trips into the red zone today (Montana went 2 for 3). 

While the defense proved worthy against a tough opponent, the offense has some cleaning up to do after what Coach Baldwin termed a “sloppy” effort in the fourth. “A good and aggressive defense like Montana’s is going to force you sometimes to be sloppy because they’re good at what they do,” he said. “They’re able to create havoc. They do a good job and I respect how they play the game.” 

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Gubrud finished 21-37 with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It was another record-setting day for “Gage was doing a good job choosing his spots (when we were moving the ball), said senior receiver Cooper Kupp. “(He was) using well-time aggression and being patient with what he was doing.” 

Cooper Kupp as he broke another FCS record with a catch in his 46th straight game, making it his twelfth record broken at the FCS level.

The Eagles head to Cal-Poly (3-1 in Big Sky, 5-2 overall prior to Saturday) next weekend to take on the Mustangs. Eastern beat the Mustangs 42-41 in Cheney last season in overtime after a Cal-Poly two-point conversion failed in the first overtime. Game time will be at 6:05 pm PST. 

Other notables (via EWU Athletics): 

* Senior Kendrick Bourne had his ninth 100-yard performance receiving, finishing with five catches for 124 yards.
* Sophomore safety Mitch Fettig had a career-high 13 tackles, as well as an interception. He eclipsed his previous career high for tackles by four.
* Senior safety Zach Bruce came one tackle from his career high, finishing with 13 and a pass broken up.
* Senior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora had 11 tackles, giving him 322 in his career to move into the No. 9 position in school history.
* Sophomore linebacker Alek Kacmarcik was the fourth Eagle in double figures in tackles with 11, as well as an interception he returned 46 yards.

***

CadChica Sports

Sweet Entrance to the Bye Week for EWU

Bye week will be a little bit happier for the Eastern Washington Eagle football team. 

Quarterback Gage Gubrud threw for 435 yards (33-39-0) and rushed for 79 yards (11 carries) on the way to a 49-31 victory over the Northern Colorado Bears. The win moved the Eagles to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play for the season as they head into their bye week. They’ll next play in Bozeman against the Montana State Bobcats on October 29th. 

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Gubrud led all players in both passing and rushing for the game. It was a sure sign of the confidence that Gubrud played with today. “When you’re up against a team that is making you be patient – teams that play that way defensively – what they’re saying is eventually that (offensive) coordinator is going to get impatient and want to call something downfield,” said EWU Coach Beau Baldwin. “Gage kept taking what they gave him. He kept taking it or he took off and ran. That is how they (UNC) got NAU last week. Gage stayed patient the entire game.”

Northern Colorado came into Saturday off to their best start since 2003 when they also started 3-1. The Bears came into the game on a high after their 21-18 upset win over Northern Arizona last week in Flagstaff. It was enough to earn them consideration with top 25 votes in last week’s FCS Coaches poll. 

Whatever momentum the Bears came into the game with, they continued to roll with it to start the game. They held a 7-3 lead after the first quarter and a 17-14 lead at the half. They made the most of their opportunities whereas the Eagles did not. 

Eastern Washington found themselves knocking on the door on two of their first three possessions but failed to put the ball into the end zone both times. They settled for fields goals both times. A Jabari Wilson fumble recovered by UNC halted the Eagles on their second drive. 

But, as these Eagles have done time and again this season, they adjusted. 

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At the half, the Eagles had only 14 points to show for their 327 yards of offense. Gubrud and the Eagle offense made the most of their possessions in the second half. 

Gubrud went 12-of-14 for 151 yards passing while rushing for 49 yards on 5 attempts in the third quarter alone. Senior receiver Shaq Hill hauled in a pair of touchdowns among his three receptions in the quarter. 

“We found the big moment type of shots to Shaq,” described Coach Baldwin. “Gage saw him and took advantage. I really loved the way he (Hill) played. He was patient, didn’t try to force things, (he) took the run when it was there and played very base that way. Shaq had a monster day.”

The defense adjusted too. After giving up 17 points, 254 yards of offense in the first half, the Eagle defense only surrendered 215 yards and 17 points in the second half. Of course, it helps that the Bears lost star running back Trae Riek to injury didn’t help UNC’s offensive balance. Riek left the game in the second quarter with an arm injury and never returned. 

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659 yards of total offense, 49 points and the Eastern Washington Eagles are now 5-1 heading into their bye week.

“It’s important to go into a bye week coming off a win, and that’s huge,” said Coach Baldwin. We’re happy to get to this point and find a way to win ballgames and still have the bye week (for EWU) to shore some things up and heal a few of our players. We’ll see what we can do coming out of it.”

Yes, it is a perfect time for the bye week for EWU. Two weeks to prepare for back-to-back games with the Montana schools – the first in Bozeman against MSU followed by the Grizzlies at home in Cheney. Two weeks to heal from injuries as well. And to enjoy the 5-1 start. 

***

CadChica Sports

EWU Rallies for First Win Over Northern Iowa, 34-30

Hello, Old Friend

There are some football games that you can figure out fairly early how they’re going to play out. Then there are games like tonight in Cheney, WA where the Eastern Washington Eagles come from behind to beat the Northern Iowa Panthers, 34-30. 

It didn’t look that way early on for the Eagles. Led by star senior quarterback, Aaron Bailey, the Panthers took an early 10-0 lead after the first quarter. Bailey was the Panthers do-everything guy going 6-10 with 92 yards passing while rushing for 35 yards on 5 carries and 1 touchdown. UNI was 4 of 7 on third downs and 1 of 1 on fourth down in that quarter.

Meanwhile, the Eagles struggled on offense to start the game. Playing without senior All-American and Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, EWU seemed out of sync. Sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud, in only his third career start, only went 3-7 for 9 yards passing. 

It looked as though Gubrud and the Eagles figured things out a bit early in the second quarter. The Eagles went 80 yards in 8 plays to cut the lead to three. The drive was highlighted by a 30 yard run by senior receiver Shaq Hill that put the ball inside the 20. Hill finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown reception on a Gubrud pass.  

But, the Eagle defense could not contain the Panther offense before halftime. UNI had back-to-back touchdown drives going 65 yards in 4 plays (1:48) in one and 45 yards in 5 plays (2:11) in the other, leading to a 24-7 halftime lead. 

At the half, the Panthers held a 257 to 172 total yard advantage over the Eagles. They were 5 of 10 on third down (EWU = 3 of 9) and 1 of 1 on fourth down (EWU = 0 of 2). UNI was 5 of 10 in the red zone compared to EWU’s 1 of 2. 

Then halftime happened. 

And Antoine Custer happened. 

The freshman running back from Custer, CA took the kickoff at the 7 and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown. It was the first spark that the Eagles needed. 

A quick three-and-out for the Panthers offense and EWU was back in business, down 24-14. But, a Gage Gubrud interception quickly halted that momentum leaving it up to the Eagle defense with Northern Iowa taking over at the EWU 30. 

Whatever the coaches and players said or did at halftime should be bottled up and used in the future because the Eagle defense stymied the Panther offense again. They kept the score close after a missed Matt Easley 43-yard field goal attempt. 

The Eagle offense could not capitalize going three-and-out on their next series. On their next offensive series, Coach Beau Baldwin recognized the need for another spark calling on sophomore quarterback Reilly Hennessey to lead them. “When we’re in a game, just like at any position, when somebody might be struggling or not feeling it, you want to do what’s best for the team,” said Baldwin. “We felt like making a change and doing something a little bit different.”

Aided by a crucial 4th and 1 offside call on UNI, Hennessey and the EWU offense went 65 yards on 7 plays (2:25) to cut the Panther lead to three. Northern Iowa clung to a 24-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The teams would trade scoring drives in the final quarter. EWU took the lead on a 7 play, 52-yard drive (2:55), on a 7 yard Hennessey pass to Stu Stiles. Stiles had the unenviable task of filling in for senior All-American receiver Cooper Kupp. Kupp was injured in last week’s heartbreaking 50-44 overtime loss to FCS #1 North Dakota State.  

After a Northern Iowa field goal made it 28-27, Eastern Washington could not convert on a 46-yard, 12 play drive on their next possession. UNI would take over on downs and drive to the EWU 32. A Matt Easley field goal gave the Panthers the lead, 30-28. 

“When you are in a fight and you’re getting beat up, you either keep getting beat up or you fight back,” Coach Baldwin said after the game. His Eagle team fought back in a big way on their next series.

“Sneaky Beau Baldwin”, as senior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora calls his coach, pulled out a fake field goal play on 4th and 13. Hennessey, the holder, took the snap, rolled right and found a wide open Beau Byus for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion failed. 

“We’ve had the in our arsenal for a while,” Baldwin said in his post-game comments. “You pull it out when you think it’s right. Our guys practice it and I trust them and you execute it.” img_5002

UNI would get the ball back one more time with a chance to win, but the EWU defense was having none of that as they forced a fumble to end the game. 

It was the first victory for the Eagles against the Panthers. They came into the game 0-6 against them after last season’s close 38-35 loss in Cedar Falls. All six of Eastern’s previous losses took place in Iowa. This was the first visit to Cheney by Northern Iowa.

The win puts the Eagles at 2-1 for the season as they head to Flagstaff for an important Big Sky showdown with Northern Arizona next Saturday. The Lumberjacks defeated the Eagles in Cheney, 52-30 last season. NAU is on a two-game win streak versus EWU having beaten the Eagles 28-27 thriller in 2014 in Flagstaff. They are coming off a 73-3 win at home over Division II New Mexico Highlands on Saturday. 

For now, however, the Eagles will enjoy this win tonight. Who will be the starting quarterback next weekend? That will have to wait. Whichever guy is taking snaps, Coach Baldwin thinks they’ll be just fine, “When you have three quarterbacks that can win you games, that’s a nice luxury to have.”

A predictably unpredictable luxury. 

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CadChica Sports

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