Eastern Washington University put together a big second-half surge and capitalized on several Montana State mistakes Saturday afternoon to turn back the Bobcats 34-17 in Bozeman and keep its slim postseason playoff hopes alive.
Junior quarterback Matt Nichols threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in front of a Bobcat Stadium crowd of 13,547 as the Eagles (3-4 overall, 2-2 Big Sky Conference) overcame a 17-14 halftime deficit and beat MSU (3-4, 1-2) for the sixth straight time.
Nichols, after a lackluster first half, jump-started EWU’s offense with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Boyce with just less than 6 minutes left in the third quarter and then connected with Brysen Brown on a 25-yard scoring pass early in the fourth as the Eagles took their first step toward winning the five consecutive Big Sky games they almost certainly need to win to nail down an Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth.
Nichols, who sneaked for the game’s first score in the first period, completed 20 of 31 passes for 189 yards and also engineered a ground game that produced another 108 yards and included a 3-yard fourth-quarter scoring run by Alexis Alexander.
The Eagles’ defense did the rest, limiting MSU’s powerful rushing attack to 87 yards and forcing four Bobcats turnovers that led to 21 points – seven of them directly, when senior cornerback Ryan Kelley came up with the first of his two interceptions and returned it 37 yards for a second-quarter TD that helped offset Eastern’s paltry first-half offensive production of 93 yards.
“Our defense played outstanding and kept us in the game,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “And offensively, we never panicked. We continued to stay the course against a good football team with a good defense.
“I was proud of how we stayed with it.”
Another main contributor to Eastern’s defensive dominance was senior end Greg Peach, who had three of the Eagles’ five sacks to boost his national-best season total to 14 and his career total to 311/2, which broke the school record of 30 held by Frank Staudenraus.
“Coming into the game, we were just looking for a victory to stay alive,” Peach said. “Our whole team came together – special teams included.”
The Eagles, who now get a much-needed bye week – their second of the season – before entertaining Sacramento State at Woodward Field on Nov. 1, outgained MSU 204-113 in the second half.
Montana 43, Sacramento State 7: Cole Bergquist threw four touchdown passes and ran for another as the Grizzlies cruised past the Hornets in Missoula.
Weber State 17, Northern Colorado 10: Cameron Higgins threw for 413 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats past the Bears in Ogden, Utah.
Northern Arizona 52, Idaho State 30: Freshman running back Deonte Williams rushed for 194 yards and three touchdowns to power the Lumberjacks to a win over the Bengals in Pocatello.