Beau Baldwin has seen his share of college football games change dramatically over short spans of time.
So Eastern Washington’s second-year head coach was much more disgruntled that he was surprised by the way the final 92 seconds of the first half played out in Saturday’s disappointing 31-13 loss to Big Sky Conference rival Weber State at Woodward Field.
“Sometimes, in football, you go through stretches where, within a minute and a half, things change in a hurry,” Baldwin said, looking back on a 12-point swing just prior to halftime that proved too much for 14th-ranked EWU to overcome. “We were obviously on the wrong end of that today.”
Because of that, Eastern (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky) not only suffered its first loss of the season to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, but also gave up sole possession of first place in the BSC standings and turned record-setting performances by senior quarterback Matt Nichols and junior linebacker J.C. Sherritt into little more than secondary storylines.
Nichols, after suffering through an unproductive first half that included one of his three interceptions, ended up completing 24 of 39 passes for 354 yards and a touchdown to raise his career passing yardage total to 10,315 and move ahead of Erik Meyer (10,261) into first place on Eastern’s all-time list.
Sherritt, who gave the Eagles their only first-half touchdown with a 36-yard interception return, also managed to get involved in a school-record 24 tackles to break the single-game record of 23 set by Greg Belzer against Portland State in 1998.
But none of that seemed to matter after the late first-half meltdown that helped Weber State (3-3, 3-1) move into a second-place tie with EWU.
“It was a minute and half that got, obviously, a little out of hand,” Baldwin said. “And it ended up being a pivotal part (of the game), because it put us in a big hole going in at halftime.”
Trailing 10-7 late in the second quarter, and having apparently forced the 21st-ranked Wildcats into a long field-goal try following a third-down incompletion of a tipped pass, Eastern was flagged for a personal foul – apparently for helmet-to-helmet contact by linebacker Kyle Wilkins, who appeared to be going after the tipped pass.
Armed with a new set of downs, Weber moved to the Eagles’ 4-yard line before settling for the second of Matt Snoy’s three short field goals – this one coming with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the half.
On EWU’s next possession, Nichols misfired on three straight passes before the Eagles gave the Wildcats two additional points on a bad punt snap that Cameron Zuber ran down and flipped out of his own end zone for a safety that made it 15-7 with 1:08 left in the half.
Following the Eagles’ ensuing free kick from their 20-yard line, junior quarterback Cameron Higgins capped a five-play, 53-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Mike Phillips that put the Wildcats up 22-7 at halftime.
Eastern, after appearing befuddled by the Wildcats’ defense throughout most of the first three quarters, got its offense untracked in the final period when it scored its only offensive touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Nichols to Aaron Boyce. But two more drives ended in lost fumbles inside Weber’s 3-yard line and helped define the Eagles’ dismal afternoon.
“It just wasn’t our day,” said senior wide receiver Tony Davis, who caught a team-high six passes for 131 yards. “As much as you don’t want to admit it, sometimes things just don’t go your way. This was one of those times, and it was tough.”
Weber St. 31, EWU 13
Web—FG Snoy 22
EWU—Sherritt 36 interception return (Jarrett kick)
Web—Phillips 80 pass from C.Higgins (Snoy kick)
Web—FG Snoy 21
Web—Phillips 30 pass from C.Higgins (Snoy kick)
Web—FG Snoy 23
EWU—Boyce 19 pass from Nichols (kick blocked)
Web—Smith 3 run (kick failed)
|Time of Possession||36:04||23:56|
RUSHING—Weber St., Smith 32-143, Bolen 6-33, C.Higgins 2-10,
Team 2-(minus 2). E. Washington, Jones 13-64, Beaumonte 4-9,
Nichols 8-(minus 10), Team 2-(minus 28).
PASSING—Weber St., C.Higgins 21-37-1-235. E. Washington,
RECEIVING—Weber St., Toone 7-52, Bolen 3-26, Eldridge 3-6,
Phillips 2-110, Smith 2-21, Tafuna 2-12, Francisco 1-5, Halfhill 1-3. E.
Washington, Davis 6-131, Boyce 5-88, Overbay 5-74, Jones 5-48, Edwards 2-17, Martin 1-(minus 4).