GREELEY, Colo. – Matt Nichols threw a pair of touchdown passes and Jesse Hoffman rushed for 127 yards and a score as the Eastern Washington Eagles breezed to a 34-0 victory over the Northern Colorado Bears in a Big Sky Conference football game on Saturday.
Eastern (2-5, 2-2) took a commanding lead by playing a near-perfect first half against the Big Sky newcomers and posted its first shutout since blanking Stephen F. Austin 3-0 in 1987 – 215 games ago.
“Our team did a great job,” said Eagles head coach Paul Wulff. “Our coaches did a good job to put our players in a position to make plays and they did. We did some really, really good things.”
The Bears ended drives in Eagles territory just three times, including two inside the 26. Both of those ended in interceptions with the deepest penetration to Eastern’s 17.
“It really was a good performance by our defense to get the shutout,” said Wulff. “There were really only two possessions that they got close to scoring and we had interceptions both times.”
Eastern tallied four touchdowns in the first 19 minutes of the game as redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Nichols led scoring drives of 81, 72, 37 and 14 yards. Eastern’s 291 yards of offense in the first half were more than the 288.7 Eastern was averaging entering the game.
Eastern held Northern Colorado to 100 yards in the first half and had interceptions by Gregor Smith and David Eneberg.
To conclude the first-half explosion and give EWU a 31-0 lead at intermission, Brett Bergstrom made a 56-yard field goal – the second-longest in school history. Only the 57-yarder Eric Stein had 20 years ago against Montana State was longer.
“We came out in the first half and played good football,” said Wulff. “We executed well and we were focused.”
Eastern finished the game with a season-high 478 yards of offense, while holding the Bears (1-6, 0-4) to 169.
Nichols was 11 of 13 for 202 yards in the first half. He finished the game 16 of 21 for 259 yards.
“Matt made some nice decisions and some great throws,” said Wulff.
Hoffman topped the century mark on just 16 carries and Toke Kefu added 49 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Eastern’s leading receivers were a trio of redshirt freshmen – Aaron Boyce, Tony Davis and Brynsen Brown. They each had three catches for a combined 156 yards.
Eneberg led the Eagles with six tackles, a forced fumble, a pass broken up and an interception. Fellow linebacker Shea Emry had seven tackles and Bryan Jarrett had six.
Eastern’s longest drive of the first half came on its second possession of the game when EWU drove 81 yards on nine plays. Boyce caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Nichols to cap the drive.
The Eagles scored again before the end of the first quarter on a 2-yard run by Kefu to cap a 72-yard drive that took just five plays. True freshman Jeffrey Solomon then showed his promise for the future by following a 16-yard kickoff return with a 37-yard TD grab from Nichols on the next play.
Hoffman gave Eastern a 28-0 lead with 11:10 left in the first half with a 12-yard scoring run. That followed an interception by Smith that he returned 29 yards to the UNC 12-yard line.
But the best drive of the game for the Eagles came when they took over at their 13-yard line with 1:42 left before halftime. Nichols completed four passes to take the Eagles into Bears territory, where Bergstrom kicked his 10th field goal in 11 tries this year.
Earlier in the game, he missed from 39 yards – his first miss of the season. In the second half he made a 47-yarder that gave EWU a 34-0 lead with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
“We still have four games left,” said Wulff, “and we need him to continue to help us win.”
The Eagles will have to win their last four games if they are to continue their current streak of seven straight winning seasons. The streak started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern has never overcome a 0-3 start to finish above .500.
Eastern Washington 34, Northern Colorado 0
EWU—Boyce 37 pass from Nichols (Bergstrom kick)
EWU—Kefu 2 run (Bergstrom kick)
EWU—Solomon 37 pass from Nichols (Bergstrom kick)
EWU—J.Hoffman 12 run (Bergstrom kick)
EWU—FG Bergstrom 56
EWU—FG Bergstrom 47
|Time of Possession||30:44||29:16|
RUSHING—Eastern Washington, J.Hoffman 16-124, Kefu 10-49, R.Cole 6-19, Peerboom 1-8, Nichols 3-5, Solomon 1-5, Alexander 1-2. Northern Colorado, Wilson 21-97, Wiedeman 5-30, Waterman 1-2, Vaden 1-(minus 2), Ealy 2-(minus 3), Breazeale 2-(minus 3).
PASSING—Eastern Washington, Nichols 16-21-1-259, Peerboom 1-3-0-7, Team 0-2-0-0. Northern Colorado, Wiedeman 8-18-3-48, Breazeale 0-5-0-0.
RECEIVING—Eastern Washington, Boyce 3-65, Bry.Brown 3-53, T.Davis 3-38, McAndrews 2-34, Ramos 2-15, Solomon 1-37, Overbay 1-18, Alexander 1-9, J.Hoffman 1-(minus 3). Northern Colorado, Ealy 5-24, Wilson 2-15, Chesla 1-9.