“I’m not supporting you next year.”
As I made my way back up to the press box near the end of the third quarter, I walked by a frustrated Eastern Washington Eagle fan at the top of the stairs. Those were his words. If looks could kill, his wife might be under arrest right about now. But, those words exemplified the frustration felt by many of the Eagle fans tonight. Another promising record-setting season ending far too soon for EWU as the Eagles fell 59-46 to the Illinois State Redbirds in an FCS quarterfinal game in Cheney, WA.
The phrase constantly uttered in the press box tonight was “out-of-sync”. Eastern Washington’s offense didn’t look like the traditional offense Eagle fans were used to this season. Junior quarterback, Vernon Adams Jr, overthrowing receivers. Sophomore wide receiver, Cooper Kupp, dropping catchable passes. An Eastern defense unable to stop a high-octane Illinois State offense.
For most quarterbacks, tonight’s line – 25-44 passing for 425 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions – would equal a great game. Not tonight. And not against this Illinois State defense. The Redbird front seven kept Adams and the potent Eagle offense in check for most of the night. Of those 425 yards, 283 came in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over. Said Adams, “As a whole offense, we’ve definitely played better. I have to get the ball off quicker. You have to be on point against a team like this. You can’t make too many mistakes. I give credit to them. They’re a really good football team.”
Asked if he felt like the offense was out-of-sync, Zach Hill (passing coordinator and quarterback coach) said, “There were a few things that we didn’t click on that sometimes we do. But, it felt a little choppy at times. Defensively, you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Illinois State. Their d-line did a pretty good job of getting to him (Adams) a little bit, flushing him from the pocket and having him make some throws on the run. Overall, it wasn’t anything they did to confuse us. It was just a tight game.” Said Redbirds Head Coach, Brock Spack, “ We mixed our coverage a little bit. We mixed between four- and three-man rushes. We felt we had to execute better. They’re a great offense. Best offense we’ve seen all year – at least throwing the football they were very good.”
Illinois State was clicking on all cylinders on defense. The Redbirds limited Eastern to 95 yards net rushing. Sophomore wide receiver Cooper Kupp lead the way for the Eagles with 10 catches for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the big numbers for Kupp, the game was very much won in the trenches. Coach Spack: “We’re a pretty physical team. You have to be to be in the Missouri Valley – it’s the way our league is set up. It allows you to be ready for a game like this. Giving a boxing analogy, we kind of wanted to take the fight to the center of the ring. We felt we were heavy punchers and they were boxers so we wanted to take it to the middle of the ring and not the outside of the ring.”
As bad as Eastern played, this game was really all about Illinois State. Nearly every facet of the game was dominated by the Redbirds.
Tre Roberson now with 27 TD passes in 2014, which ties the single-season record set by Matt Brown in 2012 #RedbirdFootball
— ISU Redbirds (@ISURedbirds) December 13, 2014
The two-headed monster that is quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich gashed the Eagle defense at every opportunity. Behind an offensive line that averages over 300 lbs, Roberson and Coprich found “Red Sea-sized” holes in that Eastern Washington defense. In addition to Roberson’s record-setting night, Coprich rushed 30 times for 258 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a big 74-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter to answer a late EWU rally. Said Coach Spack, “Every game this season he’s been a tremendous player. He’s tough. He’s got great foot speed. He sees things that a lot of good backs don’t. I just hope the country got to see him. He’s deserving to be in Philadelphia (for the Walter Payton Award ceremony), if not this year then next year.”
The Roberson-Coprich duo made for a long night for the Eastern defense including leading tackler and senior, Ronnie Hamlin. Said Hamlin, “They’re a really good offense. Our guys brought it to the table. There were just too many mistakes. If one guy misses a wrong read and it’s out of the gate with these guys because they are fast. They are a good team, and I am rooting for them.” Hamlin ended the night with 16 total tackles (12 solo) to finish his illustrious Eagle career with 473 tackles – a new Big Sky Conference record. He and the other seniors left an impact on this Eagle program. Coach Hill, “Ronnie is one of the players who is the heart of our defense and the heart of our team. He’s very quiet and reserved. He doesn’t need to be that motivational leader, but everyone respects how he plays the game and how he carries himself.”
In the fourth quarter, I usually head down to the field for some post-game photos and/or interviews. It was under ten minutes left to play when I stood up from my press box seat. When you’re in the press box, you can see the home team seats immediately below you. I noticed a group gathered together, but they weren’t focused on the game.
I suppose it wouldn’t have meant that much, but I saw one of the Eastern Washington players leaving the edge of the stands (still at field level). A player interacting with the fans in that way isn’t normal during the game. I stood there as play continued on the field. Something was up and I couldn’t move. The longer I stood there, the more active things became. Security and a state trooper were already on the scene. Next, an EWU trainer was called. With an ambulance on scene, the medics were called over. More help arrived on the scene. Everyone in the press box was focused on the stands.
Play was halted as emergency vehicles arrived via field level. Eastern Washington, as of press time, released this statement:
On behalf of the Eastern Washington University community, I send my heartfelt support to the student-athlete whose father suffered a medical emergency in the stands during the final minutes of Saturday’s football game in Cheney. Our thoughts are with the EWU student and his family during this very difficult time.
I also am grateful to local emergency responders who quickly attended to the patient and performed CPR before transporting him to a Spokane hospital.
EWU will not release the name or medical status of the individual involved without the consent of the family.
According to Sam Adams from local news outlet, KHQ/SWX:
Cheney police confirm Jake Rodgers dad was the one in stands. Jake is a lineman at EWU and is from Spokane, Shadle Park high school.
— Sam Adams SWX (@SamAdamsTV) December 14, 2014
As of post time, we are still awaiting for the latest on Rodgers’ dad. Rodgers was informed by medical staff on hand – sprinting off the field before play resumed. A quick onside kick by the Eagles, recovered by the Redbirds, a few kneel downs and the game was over. After the game, Head Coach Beau Baldwin did not participate in the press conference:
— Jim Allen (@srjimallen) December 14, 2014
— Jim Allen (@srjimallen) December 14, 2014
When we know more, it will be updated on Twitter by various outlets, including the two gentlemen above. Prayers and thoughts to the Rodgers family.
RELATED: Football finishes a distant second by John Blanchette, Spokesman-Review
The Illinois State Redbirds move on to the FCS semifinals for the first time since 1999. They will face #1 New Hampshire next Saturday for the right to play in the FCS championship game in Frisco, TX. For the Eastern Washington Eagles, it’s another day of moving off the field. No more practices or game film to watch for this season. Junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr will head to Philadelphia tomorrow for the Walter Payton Award ceremony. Plenty of holes to fill on this EWU roster. Not just starters, but depth as well.
A tall task ahead for both teams, ableit, different paths. The Redbirds will be a tough out for New Hampshire or any team they face, if they make it to the finals. It should be a hard-fought, leave-it-all-on-the-field type of matchup. For Adams and the Eagles, it’s back to the drawing board…and an early off-season.
Plenty of time for Eagles fans’ frustration to subside.