OGDEN, Utah – Beau Baldwin tried all week to remain as pragmatic as possible about the possibility of being without star running back Taiwan Jones, who suffered an abdominal contusion in last weekend’s road loss to Montana State, for any extended period of time.
With Jones listed as probable, at best, heading into Saturday’s Big Sky Conference game against Weber State, Eastern Washington’s third-year head coach said that some of his other players simply needed to make more plays to make up for the absence of Jones, should it occur.
And with Jones unable to go against the Wildcats, a bunch of those other players did just that as the 16th-ranked Eagles rolled to a 35-24 victory in front of a Stewart Stadium crowd of 5,462.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns; backup running backs Darriell Beaumonte and Mario Brown, a true freshman, combined for 114 yards on 39 carries and had a hand in three TDs; and wide receiver Ashton Gant, a senior from Pullman, caught a career-high five passes for 110 yards and two TDs as Eastern (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) notched an important bounce-back win following last Saturday’s 30-7 blasting in Bozeman.
The defense also made huge contributions as strong safety Matt Johnson and linebackers Tyler Washburn and J.C. Sherritt all picked off Cameron Higgins passes in a much-needed win over the Wildcats (2-3, 1-2).
“It felt really good,” Baldwin said. “I was proud of the way we responded – and not just today, but how we responded with great practices (during the week). We came out with a focus.”
Mitchell had his best game as an Eagle, connecting on 23 of 36 passes and hitting Gant, Beaumonte and Brown with TD tosses.
“He took each play one at a time and kept taking what they would give him,” Baldwin said of Mitchell. “He took underneath routes when they were there, and led us to first downs. And when it was time to go over the top, he put it in spots where our guys could catch it.
“I thought from the get-go, all the way back to the spring, that he has those tools. But it takes time in a new system getting used to things. I’m really proud of him, because what he did in practice carried over into the game.”
Beaumonte, a hard-running junior, rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries also hauled in a 16-yard scoring pass from Mitchell early in the fourth quarter. Brown added 37 yards on 13 carries and caught a 5-yard TD pass that put the Eagles up 14-3 just before halftime.
After being dominated in the first half, Weber came back in the third period to take a 17-14 lead on a 65-yard TD pass from Higgins to Mike Phillips. But Eastern answered with an 80-yard drive, capped by a 37-yard scoring toss from Mitchell to Gant, and never trailed again.
Higgins, who came in as the Big Sky’s leading passer, completed 25 of 44 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. But all three of his interceptions led to EWU scores.
“We had our hands full defensively, but our players did a good job,” Baldwin said. “We slowed them down early, so we were able to get a lead and keep it going into halftime. Then they made some key picks down there in the red zone that were huge.”