The best halftime adjustment doesn’t always have to be the biggest – or the most complex, for that matter.
That fact was hammered home again Saturday afternoon at Roos Field, where No. 1-ranked Eastern Washington University used a second-half turnaround by its defense to bump off ninth-ranked Southeast Missouri State 37-17 in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Eagles (10-2), who are seeded fifth in the playoffs despite their lofty national ranking, got another splendid effort from junior tailback Taiwan Jones, who rushed for 168 yards and a pair of touchdown, and some decent producing from junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who threw for 178 yards and two more scores.
But it was the vastly improved second-half play of Eastern’s defense that had the biggest impact on a crucial playoff victory that not only propelled the Eagles into the quarterfinals but also gave them another home game next week against North Dakota State – a 42-17 second-round winner over Montana State on Saturday.
A decision on whether that game will be played on Friday or Saturday will be made today.
After being gashed by Southeast Missouri State for 242 first-half yards, Eastern’s defense manned up after intermission and limited the ninth-ranked Redhawks (9-3) to one first down and a mere 28 yards of total offense after intermission.
Not surprisingly, Eagles defensive coordinator John Graham downplayed the magnitude of any halftime adjustment he ordered up.
“I think it was more just a matter of our kids seeing what they were doing,” he said. “Any time you play against an option like theirs, the first couple of series things happen at a different speed. You just have to get used to that speed, and once we did, we kind of settled down in our basic defense and started making plays.
“We told our kids their option would be faster than what it looks like on film and that they’d just have to weather the storm. And I though they did a pretty good job of doing just that.”
The Eagles’ offense did its part, putting together three solid second-half scoring drives that not only snapped a 17-17 halftime tie but provided a relatively comfortable margin of victory.
Jones was sensational again, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and breaking loose on a 56-yard second-quarter touchdown run that tied the game at 14, before the two teams exchanged field goals just prior to intermission.
Jones was called away for a random drug test after the game and was not available to comment on his performance. But Mitchell was more than willing give credit to his 6-foot-1, 200-pound teammate, who also scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run.
“It’s the same thing every week,” Mitchell said of Jones, who eclipsed 100 yards for the 13th time in this career. “He’s going to surprise you no matter what. Some people say you can’t see it on film, but I see it every time he runs. … The kid is amazing.”
Southeastern coach Tony Samuel agreed with Mitchell’s assessment.
“He’s fast, and he’s quick,” Samuel said of Jones, “and he breaks angles. We worked on breaking those same angles (on defense), but he still made cuts and was successful with it.”
EWU coach Beau Baldwin liked the way his offense operated against a solid defense that is built to prevent the big play.
“I really wanted to be balanced (on offense) going into this game,” he said, “and I felt we were able to stay really balanced throughout the second half. They’re a team that doesn’t give up a lot of big plays – of course, Taiwan finds a way to make big plays against a lot of people.”
EWU 37, SE Mo. St. 17
|SE Missouri St.||7||10||0||0||—||17|
EWU—Jones 1 run (Jarrett kick), 7:38.
SEM—Jackson 10 interception return (Geldbach kick), 3:05.
SEM—H.Harris 1 run (Geldbach kick), 4:14.
EWU—Jones 56 run (Jarrett kick), 3:43.
SEM—FG Geldbach 34, :43.
EWU—FG Jarrett 39, :01.
EWU—Edwards 10 pass from B.Mitchell (Jarrett kick), 4:56.
EWU—Herd 10 pass from B.Mitchell (Jarrett kick), 13:40.
EWU—M.Brown 9 run (kick failed), 5:57.
|Time of Possession||26:40||33:20|
RUSHING—SE Missouri, H.Harris 20-108, Scheible 14-54, M.Jones 4-37, Grass 1-3, Cox 1-(minus 3). E. Washington, Jones 25-168, M.Brown 13-54, Team 3-(minus 2), D.Johnson 1-(minus 3).
PASSING—SE Missouri, Scheible 6-15-2-69. E. Washington, B.Mitchell 21-34-1-178.
RECEIVING—SE Missouri, Brown 2-26, Ahamefule 1-38, Edwards 1-5, H.Harris 1-1, Cox 1-(minus 1). E. Washington, Edwards 8-65, Kaufman 4-37, Herd 3-28, Jones 3-18, Hart 2-25, M.Brown 1-5.