HILLSBORO, Ore. – The Big Sky’s hottest football team took it up a notch Saturday when No. 8 Eastern Washington blasted Portland State 50-17 in Hillsboro Stadium.
The Eagles (7-2, 6-1 Big Sky) won their fifth consecutive game, but unlike the previous four in the streak, this was a complete dismantling of the opponent. Eastern Washington took apart the Vikings in every way possible, from another electric performance by running back Taiwan Jones, to a punishing defense that had Portland State scrambling when the game was at stake. The Eagles’ special teams contributed, recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown.
“All week long we talked that we had to have the perfect game,” Jones said.
Perfect game? Not quite. But it was as emphatic a statement as the Eagles have made all season.
The win put Eastern Washington on the doorstep of a Big Sky championship. The Eagles have a half-game lead over Montana State, now 4-1 after a 23-20 overtime win over Idaho State. Eastern’s lone remaining league game is Nov. 20 against the last-place Bengals, while Montana State still has tough games left against Weber State and No. 7 Montana.
Jones’ showy performance included running 14 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns. He broke the game open during the second quarter with touchdown bursts of 71 and 65 yards.
Jones, whose career high was 221 yards against Montana, ran for 198 yards during the first half and carried the ball just once after halftime.
Jones said a fundamental adjustment helped him average 14 yards per run Saturday.
“In previous weeks I got in the habit of wanting to cut inside too early. My coach told me to be patient with that, and it seemed to work today,” Jones said.
Defensively, Eastern Washington set a tone by holding Portland State (2-6, 1-4) to 2 yards on its first three possessions. By the time the Vikings’ offense started to move, the Eagles had a 21-3 lead.
Portland State threatened to carve into that lead when EWU linebacker Paul Ena made a huge play, throwing the Vikings’ Keitrell Anderson for a 23-yard loss after sniffing out a reverse. Five plays later, Jones bolted 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 28-3 lead.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the game wasn’t Eastern Washington’s 28-10 halftime lead, but how the Eagles responded during the third quarter. The early stages of the second half have been troublesome this season for Eastern, but not against PSU.
The Eagles made a statement during the first 9 minutes of the third quarter, outscoring PSU 17-0 to put the game away. It started with a blocked punt, which T.J. Lee III recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Later, an interception and return of 49 yards by safety Will Edge turned into a 15-yard touchdown reception by Brandon Kaufman, giving the Eagles a 44-10 lead.
“It was time for us to show some pride,” Ena said.
There was so much to like Saturday, Eagles coach Beau Baldwin had a hard time picking what impressed him the most.
“All three units were prepared to make plays today,” Baldwin said.
Weber State 30, Montana 21: Vai Tafuna rushed for 124 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Wildcats over the Grizzlies in Ogden, Utah.
Weber State trailed by eight points at halftime before shutting out Montana in the second half.
Tafuna gave the Wildcats the lead for good when he scored on a 3-yard run with 2:07 left in the third quarter. Bo Bolen ran for a two-point conversion to put Weber State up 27-21.
Montana State 23, Idaho State 20 (OT): Denarius McGhee’s 25-yard TD run in overtime gave the Bobcats a win over the Bengals in Pocatello, Idaho.
Montana State kicker Jason Cunningham had a chance to win the game with 4 seconds left in regulation, but his 41-yard field goal sailed wide right.
Sacramento State 40, Northern Arizona 10: Jeff Fleming threw three TD passes and the Hornets scored 34 unanswered points in the first half en route to a win over the Lumberjacks in Flagstaff, Ariz.