The Autumn Wind may be a Raider, but today it was a friend of the Eastern Washington Eagles. Three missed field goals by the Weber State Wildcats, all wind-related, propelled the Eagles to their sixth straight victory with a 14-13 win before 8,359 rain-soaked fans.
The win moved the Eagles to 5-0 in the Big Sky conference (6-2 overall). The Wildcats fell to 3-3 in the conference, 4-5 overall.
Heading into today’s Halloween game, the only known commodity was that the weather would be a factor. Rain had soaked the area for the past couple of days. Rain was in the forecast off and on for Saturday.
However, it was the wind that was the major player today.
On a day that saw winds blowing between 20-25 mph, early on it looked as though the wind was going to be the friend of the Weber State Wildcats.
Heading into the wind in the first quarter, junior quarterback Jadrian Clark led the Wildcats down the field on a 10-play, 87-yard drive to take an early 7-0 lead. Clark was 6-for-9 passing for 104 yards in the first quarter alone.
Even though EWU had the wind at their backs, they couldn’t generate much offense. 8 plays for 27 yards on their first drive and 3 plays for -18 yards on the second possession.
Yes, you read that right. Minus 18.
Penalties and a stout Weber State defense held Jordan West, Cooper Kupp and company in check. The Eagles managed only 62 yards in the first quarter.
A Josh Kealamakia field goal made it 10-0 at the end of one. Heading into the game Kealamakia was 9-13 on the season. Respectable numbers for a player handling all three of the kicking disciplines for the Wildcats.
That field goal wouldn’t be the last time Kealamakia’s name would be called.
It’s amazing to think how good this Eastern Washington Eagle offense has been this season. The #1 ranked FCS passing offense, led by the #1 passer in Jordan West, has been scary good this 2015 season.
Averaging 409 yards per game through the air, the Eagles faced a Weber State team that ranked seventh in the Big Sky conference having given up 17 touchdowns and 214+ yards/game so far this season.
Today, had all the promise of a big EWU passing-day.
Were it not for that wind, we might have had just that. Instead, Weber State mixed up their defensive pressure and blanketed the Eastern receivers throughout that first quarter. Said EWU Coach Beau Baldwin, “We knew coming into this game, that even if it was a clear day, that Weber State would be physically the toughest team we’ve played up to this point.”
After adding a Kealmakia 44-yard field goal in the first quarter that made it 10-0, Weber State looked to keep the prolific Eastern offense on the sidelines in the second quarter.
A strong drive to start the second had the makings of another Wildcat score. A tipped Clark pass fell into the hands of EWU freshman linebacker, Alek Kacmarcik.
A promising Wildcat drive turned into a huge opportunity for Jordan West and the Eagle offense. 8 plays and 73 yards later and Eastern was on the board, highlighted by a 40-yard touchdown reception by Cooper Kupp from West.
That pass just so happened to be on a 4th and 5 for the Eagles.
Weber State took a 13-7 lead into halftime after adding a 24-yard field goal by Kealamakia. Momentum was on their side as they would get the ball to start the third quarter.
Enter Miquiyah Zamora, Todd Raynes and the Eastern Washington defense.
The Eagle defense forced a quick three-and-out enabling their offense to strike quickly in the second half. A 10-play, 41 yard drive capped by another West-to-Kupp touchdown and the Eagles had their first lead of the game.
It was all the scoring they would need. And, all they could muster.
The remainder of the game was all about the defenses. Zamora led all defenders with a career-high 16 tackles. He and Raynes (13 tackles) were all over the field in the second half for EWU. “They won us this game,” said EWU junior wide receiver, Kendrick Bourne. “They forced them to kick field goals and we got fortunate for them to miss three and that’s just a blessing”.
Those field goal attempts were all the Wildcat offense could muster no matter if they were with or against the wind. EWU’s defense forced 29, 38 and 40-yard field goal attempts on the Weber State second-half possessions.
It’s one thing to battle a motivated defense. It’s another thing to battle the elements.
Each time Kealamakia and Weber State battled the second-half wind, they lost.
“Forcing field goal attempts were huge. Even if they made them, we were in a better situation on the scoreboard,” said Coach Baldwin. “Forcing field goal attempts were huge. Even if they made them, we were in a better situation on the scoreboard.”
A better situation on the scoreboard and in the Big Sky Conference. They host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (3-2) next weekend. NAU currently is tied for fourth in the Big Sky. Last season, they defeated EWU in a tight contest, 28-27, in Flagstaff.
It will be a 6-game winning streak for Eastern versus the 2-game winning streak for NAU. Something’s gotta give, right?
Early forecast has rain set for Cheney next Saturday. It could be another wild one. Or, it could be another nail biter. The Autumn Wind may have a say again at Roos Field.
Kickoff is set for 3:05 pm PT (4:05 pm Arizona time) on November 7.