It was a win well worthy of a second celebration – especially when the first one proved a bit premature.
And Eastern Washington University’s football team and fans made the most of both opportunities following Saturday’s wildly successful inauguration of the new red turf in newly renamed Roos Field.
With a record crowd of 11,702 looking on, the 18th-ranked Eagles overcame an early two-touchdown deficit – and several wasted opportunities – to upset sixth-ranked Montana 36-27 in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
Eastern’s Taiwan Jones was dazzling once again, rushing for a career-high 221 yards and a touchdown. Matt Johnson picked off two passes, broke up another and recovered a fumble. And Eagles placekicker Mike Jarrett drilled a nervy 31-yard field goal that broke a tie and gave EWU (2-1) a 30-26 lead with just four seconds left.
But following the ensuing kickoff and wild return – which featured several desperation laterals and seemed to end with Montana benignly recovering its own fumble with no time left on the clock – the Grizzlies were awarded a final play after Eastern players and fans stormed the field before time had expired and were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
UM, which fell to 1-2 for the first time since 1992, used their extra play to attempt a Hail Mary pass from its own 40-yard line. But Grizzly quarterback Justin Roper was flushed from the pocket and stripped of the ball by tackle Tyler Jolley and tackle Renard Williams picked it up and rambled 34 yards for the game’s final score.
That set off a second celebration.
And it the middle of it, Jolley sobbed uncontrollably while hugging any teammate or fan within his reach.
“I don’t have words, I can’t speak right now,” said the fifth-year senior defensive tackle out of East Valley High School, who had never been a part of an EWU win over Montana. “I can’t even come close to describing how emotional this is.”
What made the win even sweeter was the fact that Eastern – which wore all-red uniforms to christen its new playing field – gave up two early touchdowns and was trailing 14-0 less than seven minutes into the game, but came back to outscore Montana 22-6 in the second half and beat the Grizzlies in Cheney for the first time since 1991.
And the did it by driving 56 yards in 12 plays to set up Jarrett’s game-winning kick in answer to Brody McKnight’s 22-yard field goal that had tied the game with 1 minute, 29 seconds left.
That last drive was calmly directed by Eastern quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who threw for 234 yards on the night and connected with wide receiver Brandon Kaufman on a 32-yard first-quarter pass the gave the Eagles their first touchdown.
But the first-year transfer from Southern Methodist University quickly gave all the credit to Jones, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior, who finished with 305 all-purpose yards and also broke a big third-down run on Eastern’s final drive.
“I’d love to say, ‘Hey, I led us down there win the game,’” Mitchell said. “But look at who had the ball in his hands most, and who made the plays. It was third-and-10, and he got hit behind the line of scrimmage but broke the tackle and ran for the first down. That’s exactly what we needed, and Taiwan gives that to you.
“He’s at a different level. I had an amazing running back in high school, and I had an amazing running back at SMU, but neither one of them compare to Taiwan – his speed, his vision and his overall want for the ball.”
Beau Baldwin, Eastern’s third-year head coach also heaped praise on Jones, who spoke to his teammates at halftime and vowed, according to Mitchell, to “leave everything on the field and nothing in my tank” in the second half.
“He comes up big in big game, that’s just the type of player he is,” Baldwin said of Jones, whose 27 carries were a career high by nine. “And at the same time, he’s an amazing teammate. He cares about teammates and team more than anything else.
“He never ceases to amaze me. You put him in the spotlight, and he’s just one of those guys who has it.”
Jones’ big night overshadowed a splendid effort by Eastern’s defense, which limited UM to 390 yards, allowed the Grizzlies only three third-down conversions on 15 attempts and came up with six turnovers, including four fumble recoveries.
“I can’t even explain the feeling,” said Johnson. “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t thinking about this game that last couple of game, so it just feels amazing. And I’m so happy for all the seniors. They deserve this victory.
Jones labeled the win, “incredible.”
“I’ve never felt this way before,” he said. “It was a great team victory – special teams, offense, defense, every one stepped up. I didn’t want my seniors to go out without getting a victory against Montana,
“I just wanted to go out and get it done – especially for Michael Roos.”