Win it any way you can
That’s how Coach Beau Baldwin summed up the Eastern Washington Eagles’ 26-18 win over the Northern Colorado Bears on Saturday.
It wasn’t a pretty win. No, this win was a grind-it-out, nail-biting, don’t-make-a-mistake type of win. The team that blinked first might find itself on the short end in this one. Fortunately for the Eagles, it was the Bears who blinked. An interception by Vincent Gamboa on the Bears’ final play sealed the win.
It wasn’t the type of game Eagles’ fans are used to seeing. The Eagles played a conservative game on offense behind red-shirt sophomore quarterback, Jordan West. It was only West’s second start for EWU after Vernon Adams broke his foot in the Eagles’ 56-53 win over Idaho State on October 4th. West helped lead the Eagles to a 42-30 victory over Southern Utah in Cedar City last week.
The Eagle offense was efficient. Grinding out 165 yards on the ground while West finished 19-33 passing for 237 yards and 1 touchdown, it was enough to secure keep the talented Bears defense off-balance. One key stat, however, stood out above the rest when it comes to efficiency. Zero turnovers.
The Bears came into the game ranked #1 in FCS in interceptions and 2nd in forced turnovers. With a young quarterback having zero turnovers against the #2 FCS team speaks volumes to the play-calling and preparation the EWU coaching staff did this past week. “He (West) played really good,” Coach Baldwin said of West. “Zero turnovers against a team that’s leading the nation in picks. I’m sure he’ll say he could’ve made one or two red zone throws. He took what they gave them all game and he’s 2-0 as a starter, which isn’t easy to do,” Coach Baldwin.
2-0 as a starter with a little help from the Eagle defense. EWU’s defense limited the Bears to 306 yards of total offense. Aside from a couple of big plays, the Eastern Washington had a bend-but-don’t break mentality. They knew coming in that it would be a challenge. Senior defensive lineman Dylan Zylstra had this to say, “The biggest challenge we saw on film was their excitement. They might not have the best record, but they brought it every snap. Their guys are blue-collar workers and kept coming.”
Make no mistake – the Bears made the Eagles work on both sides of the ball. The Bears defense made sure West didn’t get in any kind of rhythm with his receivers. It wasn’t until midway through the 2nd quarter that Walter Payton Award candidate Cooper Kupp caught a West pass. Coach Baldwin and his staff knew that it wasn’t going to be easy despite the Bears’ 2-4 record (1-2 in the Big Sky). “We know it was going to be a tough challenge. That’s the type of game they (Northern Colorado) play. They beat a good NAU team. We knew it would be a challenge at times. Both sides of the ball made enough plays to win,” Baldwin said.
It wasn’t just both sides of the ball, however. Special teams contributed to the overall effort as well, including a surprising fake field-goal call early in the 3rd quarter. Coach Baldwin, “We saw something during the week that we thought we could get. We watched for it in the first half, when we kicked a couple of field goals. I didn’t just use it because it was there. I try to use it situationally. Connor (Richardson) still had to make a play and Terry Jackson with his first career touchdown, it was really neat to execute that.”
The special teams also blocked a punt for the third straight game. The Eagles kickoff coverage team also did not allow the Bears’ speedy redshirt freshman, Ellis Olnic II, to have an impact on the game. Olnic came into Saturday ranked 19th in the FCS for kickoff returns. Averaging 27.1 on the season, Olnic’s longest was 34-yards. Only two other times was he able to return a kick with minimal results.
A complete game all the way around for the Eagles, even if it wasn’t the normal high-scoring affair Eagles fans have become accustomed to. But, when it comes right down to it, a win is a win. And, as Coach Baldwin said, “Win it any way you can.”
Any way…a win for EWU.
NOTABLE EWU STATS
- ATTENDANCE: 10,064 — 11th largest in EWU history
- TOTAL OFFENSE: NC – 306 yards (240 passing, 66 rushing), EWU – 417 yards (252 passing, 42 rushing)
- TOTAL OFFENSIVE PLAYS: NC – 61, EWU – 76
- PENALTIES: NC – 2/10, EWU – 6/50
- RED ZONE OPPORTUNITIES: NC – 1-1, EWU 3-3
- THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: NC – 6 of 15, EWU – 7 of 15
- SACKS: NC – 1 (6 yards), EWU – 7 (39 yards)
- TIME OF POSSESSION: NC – 29:26, EWU – 30:34