It’s not often the head coach is the last person to learn his starting quarterback is dazed.
But Eastern Washington’s Mike Kramer found himself unexplainably out of the loop at the most inopportune of times Saturday afternoon in Reno H. Sales Stadium.
As a result, Kramer’s previous unbeaten Eagles had their Big Sky Conference title hopes and postseason playoff aspirations rocked by an unexpected 17-7 loss to the Montana State Bobcats.
The game, played in relentless, flag-shredding winds, turned on a series of strange events that unfolded after intermission. But none proved as bizarre - or as decisive - as the one nobody seemed to remember.
It came, apparently, on Eastern’s final drive of the third period when Harry Leons was drilled while releasing a third-down pass that fell incomplete. The Eagles’ starting quarterback suffered what was later diagnosed as a mild concussion, but he never mentioned the problem to Kramer, who was busy watching Montana State’s crucial 48-yard touchdown drive that spanned the quarter break and gave the Bobcats a 10-7 lead with 14:01 left in final period.
It wasn’t until MSU’s ensuing, high-hanging kickoff pinned the Eagles back on their own 13-yard line that Kramer was informed of Leons’ dizziness.
After a heated, face-to-face sideline encounter with head trainer Carla Baker, Kramer ordered back-up quarterback Griffin Garske into the game without having thrown so much as one warmup pass.
Two snaps later, an obviously unprepared and confused Garske threw a bullet right into the stomach of Bobcats linebacker Jeff Alexander, who returned the ball 23 yards for a touchdown that decided the issue.
“I was pretty amazed,” said Alexander, who had only to stiff-arm Garske just inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line to score his first touchdown since junior high school. “He threw it right to me.”
Afterward, Kramer was at a loss to explain why he wasn’t informed of Leons’ injury. And neither Leons nor Baker stayed around to talk to reporters.
“It was a very bad situation,” Kramer admitted, “and something that we have to attend to. I’ve never been in a situation where you’ve been off the field for 15 or 20 minutes and all of a sudden somebody says, ‘Hey, I can’t go.’
“Evidently, Harry was woozy standing there on the sidelines and finally went to the trainer right as we gained possession of the ball. Then all of a sudden, it’s ‘Griff, grab your helmet and go!’ I don’t blame Griff, he was in a tough situation. I was more warmed up than he was.”
The loss, witnessed by an MSU homecoming crowd of 11,107, dropped the Eagles to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky. Montana State, 3-1 and 2-0, replaced EWU atop the Big Sky standings.
Eastern gained just 84 yards on the ground and allowed five sacks. MSU defensive end Neal Smith, the Big Sky player of the week the previous week, charged past EWU’s startled offensive line for three sacks and also forced a fumble.
Montana State coach Cliff Hysell said he was pleased with the effort of his entire defense.
“We really struggled defensively the first two games, but the past two weeks we’ve really put it together,” he said. “To hold this outfit to seven points was a heck of an effort.”
“Give them credit, they knocked us off the ball,” added Kramer. “They knocked us out.”
The Eagles, who also lost freshman cornerback Ole Oleson to a second-half knee sprain and linebacker Jerod Jeske to a concussion, will try to regroup for next Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. home matchup against Cal State Sacramento.
“Don’t count us out, yet,” warned senior linebacker Justin Guillory. “That was just our first loss. We have enough seniors and we’re mature enough to bounce back and not hang our heads.” MSU 17, EWU 7
E. Washington 0 7 0 0 - 7
Montana St. 0 0 3 14 17
EWUPrescott 2 run (Atwood kick), 14:31 MSUFG Groshelle 35, 11:51 MSUCrump 2 pass from Compson (Grosh elle kick), 14:01 MSUAlexander 23 int. return (Groshelle kick), 13:15 A11,107.
EWU MSU First downs 15 14 Rushes-yards 36-84 40-55 Passing 212 203 Comp-Att-Int 14-25-1 16-28-0 Return Yards 00 31 Punts-Avg. 6-40.0 6-32.8 Fumbles-Lost 3-3 3-3 Penalties-Yards 5-60 2-10 Time of Possession 28:08 31:52 RUSHING-EWU, Prescott 20-71, MacKenzie 8-28, Leons 5-(-16). MSU, Wright 15-28, Morgan 2-22, Tyler 10-15, Compson 11-(-16).
PASSING-EWU, Leons 11-19-0-173, Garske 3-6-1-39. MSU, Compson 15-27-0-192, Peot 1-1-0-11.
RECEIVING-EWU, Ogden 6-108, T. Knaevelsrud 2-36, Ballew 1-29, Prescott 2-21. MSU, Morgan 4-60, Vallez 4-57, Crump 3-23.