Going in at halftime, with his Eastern Washington Eagles tied at 17 in their second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff showdown against visiting Southeast Missouri State, coach Beau Baldwin told his players that the eventual outcome would probably be decided by four or five key second-half plays.
Turns out, he was right.
But of those several key plays Baldwin’s top-ranked team made in a 37-17 win over the Redhawks at Roos Field, none was more important than the tackle senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt made on a fourth-and-1 play late in the third quarter.
With the Eagles leading 24-17 and SEMO trying desperately to keep a promising drive alive, Sherritt knifed through to drop Henry Harris for a 1-yard loss. Eastern took over on downs on the Redhawks’ 43-yard line and proceeded to put together a nine-play scoring drive that sealed the deal.
“That’s why he’s an All-American,” EWU defensive coordinator John Graham said of Sherritt, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles. “They were done after that. It set the tone, and our kids started rallying around it and didn’t give up another first down from that point on.”
Sherritt, a 5-foot-10, 220-pounder from Pullman, led all FCS defenders in tackles last season in being named a consensus first-team All-American. He said he had a good idea of what was coming on the fourth-and-short situation, because of what the Redhawks had done on a similar situation earlier in the game when Harris powered his way to a 1-yard touchdown run.
“I knew the yardage, so I just started creeping,” he said. “We thought they were going to run power when they got into that set, and luckily they ran away from me. Zach (Johnson) came in and spilled two guys and that let me run clean to the ball.
“It was the same (as the touchdown) play, so it helped getting to see it again. We just had to react a little faster to it.”
“Even though you win by 20, you look back of four or five plays, a lot of time, as being key plays,” Baldwin said. “And that stop on fourth down was obviously one of those plays.”