Eastern Washington’s 47-10 win over Big Sky Conference rival Portland State at Qwest Field in Seattle on Saturday seemed to work in a lot of ways.
Not only did the Eagles (6-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big Sky) keep their postseason playoff hopes alive by climbing into a second-place tie with Weber State (5-4, 5-2), but they sent 17 seniors out in style on a “Senior Day” away from home and reconnected with a whole bunch of almuni who reside in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Read on for more post-game comments on Saturday’s big win, along with links to related stories.
You can read the game story I wrote for Sunday’s S-R here, and the short sidebar I did on the reaction EWU athletic director Bill Chaves had to the first of what he hopes will become an annual “Showdown on the Sound” right here. The Seattle Times had a reporter at the game, as well, and published this game story on Sunday.
I’ve also included this link to a wrap up of other Big Sky games, provided by the league office in Ogden, Utah. The big news was Sacramento State’s upset of Northern Arizona, the only Big Sky opponent Eastern has left to play.
As for additional post-game comments, they all seemed highly positive about the entire Qwest Field experience — especially the record four interceptions turns in by sophomore safety Matt Johnson.
“He’s been close all year,” Eagles quarterback Matt Nichols said of Johnson. “He’s one of those guys who gets himself in the right position all the time, and it paid off for him today. It was pretty amazing.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody with four interceptions in one game. It was pretty cool.”
Johnson’s four picks helped EWU’s defense atone for an awful showing against the Vikings last year, when they allowed Drew Hubel to throw for 623 yards and five touchdowns in a 47-36 PSU win in Portland.
Hubel played in Saturday’s game, but did not seem to be 100 percent healthy after missing the previoius two games with a knee injury. The rangy 6-foot-5 junior started the game, but ended up alternating with sophomore Connor Cavanagh and completed just seven of 23 passes for 98 yards and three interceptions.
Still, Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said the biggest key to Saturday’s defensive effort was his team’s ability to limit Portland State’s big plays.
“I know they it a few shots,” he said of the Vikings, who managed just 278 yards and got only three points from their offense. “But when you’re in that (run-and-shoot) offense and have talented players like they do, you’re going to hit a few.
“But we didn’t give up those big shots … that was the biggest thing. If you make an offense work for everything adn don’t give up the big plays, it’s going to be tough on that offense to put up a lot of points. And that’s what we were able to do this year, as opposed to last year, when they hit a tone of big plays on us.”
Baldwin admitted, though, that PSU presented some early challenges with its physical play on defense.
“I give them credit, they hit you in the mouth,” he said of the Vikings. “They’re a physical football team and they came out whacking us. We took some shots early, especially from their safeties, and a couple of times they stuffed us on third down.
“We just needed to settle down on offense and get into a rythm, and once we did it was night and day difference.”
Portland State did a nice job of keeping tabs on Eastern’s Taiwan Jones, limiting the sophomore running back sensation to 62 yards on 12 carries. Jones did managed to break loose on a 47-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, after scoring from one yard out with just under four minutes left in the first period.
The biggest offensive surprise on this day was Jones’ backup, Tyler Hart, who rushed 42 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
“Tyler Hart is a great player,” Baldwin said of the 5-10, 205-pound sophomore from Friday Harbor, who has been plagued by injuries throughout the early part of his college career. “He’s obviously (playing) behind one of the best running backs in the country in Taiwan, so he doesn’t get a lot of attention.
“But Tyler’s a great player — not just as a running back, but as a really smart player. He understands things out of the backfield. You can put him in a lot of different situations where you can, hopefully, get him matched up don a linebacker and he understands how to get open.
“He could probably go out and function just fine as a slot receiver. That’s how good of an all-around football player he really is.”
The Eagles will not get a week off before returning to action on Nov. 14 with a non-conference game against Souther Utah in Cedar City, Utah. I’ll be taking my final week of vacation during that time.
Until then …