Eastern Washington’s 35-24 comeback win over Montana State on Saturday felt like a carnival ride to many of those involved. Ups and downs, huge momentum swings and another crazy ending to the first half made it seem that way.
We have additional thoughts and post-game comments from Eagles coach Beau Baldwin and some of his players below, along with links to related stories about the game.
For starters, you can read the game story that appeared in Sunday morning’s S-R here, and you can access the game story that ran in Sunday’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle here. I’ve also included this link to the story put together by EWU’s sports information department, and this link to what MSU’s sports info folks had to say.
You can read more on all of Saturday’s Big Sky Conference games here.
As all the stories indicate, this game was wild at times, especially just prior to intermission when the two teams combined to score three touchdowns in the final minute of the first half.
Eastern, which had been held to two first down on its first five possessions, mounted its first scoring drive of the game from its own 20-yard line following a punt exchange. The Eagles capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Matt Nichols to Nathan Overaby with 53 seconds left in the second quarter and took a 7-6 lead.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Montana State fumbled the ball on its first play from scrimmage and Eastern’s Matt Johnson recovered the ball and returned it to the Bobcats’ 15-yard line, where Nichols — on the very next play — connected with Overbay for another touchdown that made it 14-6, Eastern, with jsut 32 seconds left in the half.
Then, on the first play following a short Eagles kickoff that was downed at MSU’s 40-yard line, Bobcats quarterback Cody Kempt lofted a 60-yard touchdown pass to Everett Gilbert with 18 seconds left on the clock.
Not surprisingly, Eastern’s Taiwan Jones returned the next kickoff 41 yards, giving the Eagles a first down at MSU’s 40 with 10 seconds left. But a 7-yard completion from Nichols to Jones, followed by a incomplete pass, mercifully ended the half, with EWU leading 14-12.
“We always say to stay off the roller coaster,” said J.C. Sherritt, Eastern’s junior strong-side linebacker and the nation’s leading tackler, who got involved in 18 more stops on Saturday, “and the end of that first half was the reason why.
“We were on the big one right there.”
“We like to make it interesting right before halftime,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin. “But seriously, it’s just football. You’re dealing with athletes on each team who can make plays, and we were able to make a play on them.
“Our defense put us in great position with another turnover, and then Nate goes up and grabs another touchdowns. And they turn right around and their player (Gilbert) makes a heckuva play. He’s a great receiver.
“The bottom line is, when you get to good teams out there on the field, they’re going to make plays. We just happen to have some weird endings of first halve, and hopefully that will slow down, or I’m going to get gray in a hurry.”
Gilbert ended up with five receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown for the Bobcats, and earned the respect of Eastern’s defenders.
“That No. 14 (Gilbert), we knew he was fast from watchign film,” Sherritt said. “But his game speed? Man, he’s one of the fastest we’ve played against, and he made up pay a couple of times.”
Gilbert was involved in the game’s most controversial play, when he appeared to have made a leaping catch of a fourth-down pass from Kempt in the back left corner of the end zone. Had the catch counted, the touchdown would have given MSU at least a 30-28 lead with just under eight minutes left in the game.
But after huddling for some time, the officials ruled that Gilbert did not get a foot down inbounds, and the ball went over to Eastern, which proceeded to march 96 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
Nichols said he was standing on the sidelines waiting for the officials to make a call and hoping they would give the Bobcats the touchdown.
“I really was,” said the Eagles’ senior quarterback, “because I was thinking our offense was going to go down and score again, no matter what, and we ended up doing that anyway. It’s one of those things where this team is so resilient, no matter what happens, we believe we can win, and were’ going to go out and make the plays to do that.”