FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The playoff fate for the Eastern Washington University Eagles is back in the hands of an NCAA committee.
The Eagles let an 18-point lead slip through their grasp but scored the winning touchdown with 3 minutes, 30 second left Saturday to conclude the regular season with a 49-45 Big Sky Conference football victory over Northern Arizona at the Walkup Skydome.
Eastern was outgained 747-487 in total yards but won the turnover battle 4-0. The Eagles led 28-10 and 35-17 in the first half, and 42-27 late in the game before NAU scored three straight times to take a 45-42 lead with 5:20 left.
Eastern responded with a five-play, 74-yard drive, with senior quarterback Matt Nichols passing 13 yards to Nathan Overbay for the winning score – Overbay’s 12th TD catch of the season. The defense did the rest, stopping NAU on a fourth-and-3 play at the EWU 32-yard line with 34 seconds to play.
“I sat over on the bench and had my head down – I couldn’t even watch that last drive until I heard us celebrating,” Nichols said. “Then all of the sudden I was taking a knee for the victory.”
“Everyone on the field was saying to each other to just find whatever it was that they could hold onto to get us through the game,” EWU senior linebacker Makai Borden said. “We needed to leave everything on the field and make the sacrifices that are appropriate to get a win like this.”
Nichols completed 22 of 33 passes for 408 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions as EWU wrapped up a fourth consecutive win and a possible berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
The 16 teams for the FCS playoffs are announced at noon today. EWU is hoping that an 8-3 record would be good enough for one of eight at-large berths handed out.
Nichols became the second player in Big Sky history to pass for more than 12,000 career yards, and his total of 12,155 is 53 yards from the conference record.
“It was a battle to the end,” Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said. “We were playing on a good surface and both offenses got on a roll. Sometimes you play them 16-0 and sometimes you get in shootouts, but I’m proud of our team for finding a way.”
Northern Arizona finished with 574 yards through the air and 173 rushing, while the Eagles finished with 486 total yards. The Eagles forced four turnovers, including an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Borden.
Eastern finished the Big Sky season 6-2 and in a second-place tie with Weber State, which is also hoping for a playoff berth with a 7-4 record and earlier 31-13 win over the Eagles. Northern Arizona lost its fourth straight game and closed the year 5-6.
“As a team we figured out a way to win it,” Baldwin said. “I’m proud of everybody. It wasn’t perfect, and a lot of times it’s not perfect when you play a good opponent. They were a much better opponent than 5-5 coming into this game.”
EWU 49, NAU 45
NAU—FG Myers 43
EWU—Jones 80 pass from Nichols (Jarrett kick)
NAU—Sweeney 21 pass from Herrick (Myers kick)
EWU—Edwards 8 pass from Nichols (Jarrett kick)
EWU—Edwards 10 pass from Nichols (Jarrett kick)
EWU—Borden 85 interception return (Jarrett kick)
NAU—Curry-Chapman 21 pass from Herrick (Myers kick)
EWU—Edwards 18 pass from Nichols (Jarrett kick)
NAU—FG Myers 51
NAU—Berry 32 pass from Herrick (Myers kick)
EWU—Jones 71 run (Jarrett kick)
NAU—Henderson 6 run (Myers kick)
NAU—FG Myers 46
NAU—Berry 60 pass from Herrick (Fitzpatrick pass from Herrick)
EWU—Overbay 13 pass from Nichols (Jarrett kick)
|Time of Poss.||24:03||35:57|
RUSHING—E. Washington, Jones 13-115, Beaumonte 4-11, Team 2-(minus 5), Nichols 4-(minus 18), Zuber 1-(minus 25). N. Arizona, Henderson 31-183, Dixon 1-0, Ja.Hines 2-(minus 4), Herrick 3-(minus 6).
PASSING—E. Washington, Nichols 22-33-0-408. N. Arizona, Herrick 47-65-2-574, Shanks 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—E. Washington, Davis 7-132, Gant 4-67, Kaufman 4-64, Edwards 3-36, Jones 2-82, Overbay 2-27. N. Arizona, Berry 12-194, Meadows 11-101, Sweeney 8-121, Shanks 6-48, Henderson 2-42, Curry-Chapman 2-25, Fitzpatrick 2-16, Dixon 2-11, Rauschert 1-11, Czyz 1-5.