That massive target on the back of Eastern Washington University’s defending NCAA Division I championship football team – a target players embraced from the opening day of fall camp – proved too much for the Eagles to handle Saturday afternoon in Vermillion, S.D.
South Dakota, obviously eager to engage the No. 1-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team in the country, punched Eastern in the stomach early and often and delighted a DakotaDome crowd of 8,689 by cruising to a 30-17 upset win.
The Coyotes (1-1), despite losing the total yardage battle 380-369, took advantage of their higher intensity level and a stumbling start by EWU (0-2) to build an early 21-0 lead and never let the Eagles within a touchdown the rest of the way.
Eastern’s running game, much like it did in last Saturday’s 30-27 loss to Washington, produced little in the way of yardage, forcing senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to once again shoulder the lion’s share of his team’s offensive responsibilities.
And while Mitchell managed to shake off his own early struggles to complete 38 of 60 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns, he could not bring the Eagles all the way back.
“It’s disappointing,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said of the unexpected loss. “It’s always disappointing, and I feel like there’s no question we’re capable of a lot more, and that all starts with me.”
Baldwin went on to take much of the blame for his team’s paltry running game, which accounted for a mere 11 yards on 19 carries against USD’s big, physical defensive front.
The Eagles had nothing going early, as USD used the quick feet and dependable arm of senior quarterback Dante Warren to score the game’s first two touchdowns and then added another when Jim Thompson picked off a Mitchell pass and returned it 67 yards to give the Coyotes’ a 21-0 lead with just under 8 minutes left in the first half.
Eastern responded later in the period by marching 72 yards on 14 plays and scoring its first touchdown on a 2-yard pass from Mitchell to Nick Edwards in the final second of the first half. The Eagles added a 21-yard Mike Jarrett field goal early in the third period and later sliced USD’s lead to 24-17 on 27-yard scoring strike from Mitchell to Greg Herd.
But that was as close as they could get as the Coyotes kicked a pair of four-quarter field goals and did a nice job of maintaining possession of the football and using clock down the stretch.
Warren completed 8 of 15 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 59 yards and another score on 16 carries. EWU’s top rusher, on the other hand, was freshman running back Jordan Talley, who carried five times for 23 yards.
Montana 37, Cal Poly 23: Jabin Sambrano and Dan Moore scored two TDs each to carry the Grizzlies (1-1) to a win over the visiting Mustangs (0-2).
Sambrano took the opening kickoff 96 yards for a TD to help Montana (1-1) win its home opener. The Grizzlies, who trailed 17-14 at the half, took the lead, 29-23, late in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Johnson to Kavario Middleton.
Montana State 38, UC Davis 14: Cody Kirk rushed for a career-high 155 yards and two touchdowns, and DeNarius McGhee threw for two scores and ran for a third as the Bobcats (1-1) routed the future Big Sky Conference rival Aggies (0-2) in Bozeman.
The Bobcats amassed 507 yards in total offense in front of a record 18,457 in newly expanded Bobcat Stadium.
Southern Utah 35, Sacramento State 14: Austin Minifee and Deckar Alexander had two touchdowns each and the Thunderbirds (1-1) scored the final 25 points of the game to defeat the Hornets (1-1) in Cedar City, Utah.
Colorado St. 33, N. Colorado 14: Raymond Carter ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Rams (2-0) over the Bears (0-2) in Fort Collins, Colo.
Northern Arizona 58, Fort Lewis 13: Cary Grossart threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns as the Lumberjacks (1-1) barreled past the Skyhawks (1-1) in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Idaho State 44, Western State (Colo.) 7: Rodrick Rumble caught 10 passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns as the Bengals (1-1) defeated the Division II Mountaineers (0-2) in Pocatello to end an 11-game losing streak.