SAN JOSE, Calif. – The football season opened about the way it should have for the fourth-ranked Eastern Washington University Eagles, considering they were playing a Division I-A team.
They did some good things and some bad things and they had a chance to win before San Jose State took control in the second half for a 35-24 victory at Spartans Stadium on Saturday.
The Eagles can live with that, but they also realized their biggest fear – injuries.
The list included both quarterbacks. At least starter Erik Meyer was just battling cramps. Backup Chris Peerboom hurt the index finger on his throwing hand, a potentially serious injury if it’s a tendon injury.
The bad news started early.
As rumored, the training-camp play of backup right tackle Chris Perkins was rewarded with a start. That shifted Zack Wasielewski to left tackle, allowing All-American Rocky Hanni to stay at left guard.
But Perkins went out with an ankle sprain late in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Right guard Matt Alfred moved out to tackle and Chris Carlesen, originally scheduled to start at left guard, moved in at right guard.
The most serious injury appeared to be defensive tackle Garrett Quinn going down with a sprained knee in the second quarter, but he returned in the third.
Young running back Chris Anderson hurt his right wrist on a special teams play early in the game. Late in the game, linebacker Joey Cwik was speared in the back.
“We got real nicked up,” EWU coach Paul Wulff said. “As long as I can remember, we’ve never had so many players go down during a ballgame. It was really frustrating, but hopefully a lot of them will be back.”
Meyer’s line holds up
Meyer was pleased with his offensive line, despite the late lineup change and the changes necessitated by injuries.
“They played pretty good,” he said. “I had a lot of time back there, I just missed a couple of throws. They had a couple of sacks, but I thought they played pretty well.”
Meyer was sacked four times but he had enough time to complete 23 of 38 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns. It was his ninth game with more than 300 yards, matching his third-highest total.
Rugged start for Peerboom
The first snap to Peerboom when he stepped in for Meyer was a disaster. Peerboom dropped it and SJSU recovered.
When Peerboom got in again, he failed to complete either pass he attempted.
“He got thrown in all of a sudden, fumbled a snap, but overall I thought he was a strong leader,” offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. “If he’s in the situation again he’ll be fine. If he’s ever called on to start a game, he’ll be just fine. I have all the confidence in the world in Chris.”
Overall, with 462 yards of offense, the offense had a decent day, it just wasn’t good enough.
“We obviously did some good things, we made big plays, but we still made a few too many mistakes,” Baldwin said. “There were times we either didn’t finish in the red zone, or we threw a pick or fumbled a snap, just some things we’ve got to clean up that way. We can live with not scoring every time you get the ball, but you can’t make a big mistake or not capitalize in the red zone.”
Davis run turned tide
Though a Meyer interception returned for a TD and Peerboom’s fumble in the third quarter were obvious momentum changers, one play in the first half stood out.
The Eagles were up 17-7 late in the second quarter. After Brett Bergstrom boomed a 53-yard punt into the end zone the Spartans got a 5-yard penalty. But on the next play, Yonus Davis busted up the middle for 43 yards.
“It was a bad call. I shouldn’t have called it,” EWU defensive coordinator Jody Sears said. “I had a blitz and we were a gap short. I shouldn’t have made that call in that situation. We should have played basic.”
Davis then ripped off a pair of 9-yard runs. After a short run by the fullback, Adam Tafrailis threw a 20-yard TD pass.
“I thought the kids played really, really hard,” Sears said. “We started (well). I made a couple of bad calls in the first half. I didn’t have them in the best position. Those are things we can get corrected. We’ve just got to go back to fundamentals in tackling.”
Kimble passes Randall
Add another feather in the cap of All-American wide receiver Eric Kimble. He caught nine passes, the third breaking Kyler Randall’s school record of 166 career receptions.
“Right now I’m not focusing on the records,” said Kimble, who had his 13th 100-yard game with 118 yards. “I’m focused on what I can do to help the team out. We didn’t get the victory – that’s what my main goal was. Career records are going to come out at the end.”