Eastern’s Quirky Playoff Win Over Montana

Sometimes the quirks go your way, sometimes they don’t. For the first time in three seasons, I did not attend a home Eastern Washington Eagles football game. Family obligations called me away at the last minute, so it felt like a quirky day not being at Roos Field. It’s hard to explain to people  how weird (and disappointing) it was to not be there. Although I couldn’t be there, I tried to watch as much of it as I could online. 

Quirkiest of all is watching a game from home versus watching it live. There is a completely different feel to it. Although tv provides replays, when you’re live, you can focus on the secondary or the wide receiver-defensive back match-up on the outside.  Or, just focus on one key battle in the trenches. With tv, you’re at the mercy of the cameras. 

As quirky as it was for me, that’s about how it played out for EWU and the Montana Grizzlies. 

  • Quirky: The #3 ranked offense in all of FCS (EWU) had one touchdown after one. 
  • Quirky: The #3 ranked offense in all of FCS (EWU) had 13 points at the half. 
  • Quirky: Montana, although only #6 in total offense in the Big Sky Conference, had been averaging 40+ points per game in their last three wins. They had three at the half. 
  • Quirky: Eagles ran 41 plays in the first half. Montana ran 30 plays. Again, score was 13-3. 
  • Quirky: Montana had more passing yards than Eastern – 223 to 182. The Eagles outrushed the Grizzlies, 212 to 124. 
  • Quirky: Montana ranked #2 in turnover margin in the FCS. They had three turnovers tonight vs Eastern’s one INT. 


With a first-round bye, the Eagles were rested. But, the Grizzlies were on a roll having won all three of their games since a 36-26 loss to the Eagles on November 8. A rainy day in Cheney could have contributed to the slow start for both teams. Familiarity too. Coach Beau Baldwin, “We got to a point the first time we played them where we played a lot of games in a row to that point. We had a lot of guys in need of a bye, and you could see that from a physical standpoint in that game. This game we were a little fresher.” 

Fresher and focused. Particularly on defense. “The turnovers were huge and we’ve grown this season. We make sure we aren’t using youth as a crutch to why we aren’t successful. No, we’re going to grow as a defense and keep getting better. The old guys are picking up the new guys, and Coach Graham and the staff keep tinkering and make adjustments.” Old guys like Todd Raynes with two interceptions, one returned for a TD and senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin leading the Eagles with 9 tackles and one blocked punt (setting up EWU’s first touchdown). Young guys like freshman Victor Gamboa with eight tackles (one behind Hamlin), one forced fumble and one pass break-up. And, of course, sophomore Cooper Kupp with 12 catches for 86 yards, several key ones to keep drives alive. 

From a tv perspective, the key play for me was a 27-yard scamper by Quincy Forte in the 3rd quarter. Midway through the third quarter, Eastern was up 20-3. A 4-play, 82-yard drive by Montana cut the lead to 20-10. That drive was aided by a roughing the passer penalty deep in their own territory. It felt as if momentum was starting to turn at that point, albeit from my couch. Eastern took the next possession, 10-plays, 75-yards topped by the Forte drive. Although the Grizzlies would cut the lead to 10 again in the fourth quarter, that first response by the Eagles was the back-breaker for me. 

Despite the loss, it was a stellar night for Montana seniors, Travon Van and Zack Wagenmann. Van finished with 9 catches for 161 yards, 1 kickoff return for 45 yards while Wagenmann had three sacks of EWU quarterback, Vernon Adams. Always tough to end the season and college career early for seniors. Wagenmann, “I feel like a lot of football teams claim they’re a brotherhood and a family, but I can honestly say we are. It has been incredible to play with these guys playing a game I love, and a game I know they love. To do that together for five years, we made some awesome memories. It has been an honor to know these guys.” Added Van on this senior class, “It meant a lot to play. I came in two years ago and they welcomed me with open arms and made it feel like a family. It sucks it had to end today but I love every single one of them. The young guys, the staff, the training room, all of them.”   

Not only the end of the line for the seniors, but the end of the line for Head Coach Mick Delaney too. Delaney is retiring after this game. “I am so proud of this football team and these coaches; they hung in there with me and with each other. I think the program is in great shape right now. We have a lot of great young football players and a good recruiting class. The program is going to be fine.”  

The Griz finish their season 9-5. They’ll be searching for a new coach, starting quarterback, starting #1 receiver – a big task for a proud, storied program. But, if history is indication, the Griz will be just fine. Eastern, on the other hand, has another home game in sight. They’ll host 11-1, Illinois State, next Saturday at 1pm local time in Cheney. 

This time, no quirkiness – I’ll be there. 




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Posted by Sunny Cadwallader

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