Speed bumps, Beau Baldwin calls them – those little obstacles that get in the way of a successful football season.
Halfway through Saturday afternoon’s game with UC Davis, the Eastern Washington coach and his players had to scale a mile-high wall of frustration en route to a 31-28 win at chilly Roos Field.
The fifth-ranked Eagles went into the locker room on Senior Day coming off their worst quarter of the season, 15 minutes of pain that saw the underdog Aggies score 22 unanswered points and take an 11-point lead at halftime.
But every coach has a halftime speech, reserved just for this moment.
“I basically told them the truth, that we were getting our tails kicked,” Baldwin said. “And not just the players. As coaches, too – we were getting outcoached and outplayed.”
And outgained, 229 yards to 28, with no first downs, against a 3-6 team playing only for pride and coach Bob Biggs’ final road game of a 35-year career.
“They were dominating up front and all over the field,” senior defensive end Jerry Ceja said. “Coach made that clear, and we came out with a whole new mindset in the second half.”
The Eagles eventually turned things around, with some key defensive stops, a long touchdown pass from Kyle Padron to Greg Herd, and finally, one of the biggest special-teams plays of the season.
Trailing 31-28 in the final seconds, the Aggies tried to force overtime with a 52-yard field-goal attempt, but defensive end David Gaylord put a big right hand on the ball and the Eagles were finally able to celebrate.
“We sent out lankiest guys to the block side, and got as much penetration as we could,” Gaylord said. “It was a low kick, so we got lucky on that part of it, but our guys on the right side blew up the guards.
“I just closed it out and got my right hand on it.”
Thanks to Southern Utah’s triple-overtime win over Northern Arizona that ended moments earlier, the Eagles have their hands on a possible Big Sky Conference co-championship with four teams now at 6-1. A win at Portland State next week would guarantee at least that much.
Even better for the Eagles (8-2 overall, 6-1 Big Sky), another win would undoubtedly mean a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs that begin two days after Thanksgiving. Brackets will be announced on Nov. 18.
Had the Eagles lost Saturday, Thanksgiving would be spent in the film room, prepping for a first-round game on Nov. 24.
“But the kids were able to respond,” Baldwin said.
With the Eagles trailing 25-14, Baldwin replaced Vernon Adams with Kyle Padron to start the second half. The Eagles drove nine plays and cut the gap on a 45-yard field goal from Jimmy Pavel – his 16th of the season, which equals the school record set last year by Mike Jarrett.
The Aggies responded with a 10-play drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal, as defensive tackle Andru Pulu hurried Aggies quarterback Randy Wright into an incomplete pass.
On the Eagles’ next possession, Padron completed five straight passes, three of them to senior Greg Herd, who finished with a game-high 101 receiving yards on seven catches.
Three plays later, they connected again on a 51-yard touchdown that brought the Eagles to within four points, trailing 28-24 with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
“I got a great outside release, and he put some zip on the ball to give me a chance to make something happen,” Herd said.
Something also had to happen on defense. It did, and after the field goal, the Aggies were held to 90 yards total offense in the last 19 minutes of the game.
“We tried to scratch, claw fight to pull this one out,” defensive tackle Evan Cook said.
So did the Aggies’ defense, which forced two Eastern punts, the second after Adams couldn’t move the team after coming back in for Padron.
But with 9:45 left in the game, the Eagles got the ball back on their 34-yard line.
Adams completed passes of 23 and 24 yards to Brandon Kaufman, then scored his first career rushing TD with a 9-yard run.
Adams bootlegged to his right, faked a pass and dashed past several defenders into the end zone for the eventual winning score.
“He always has pass-run option on that kind of bootleg,” Baldwin said. “It’s one of those things, if it’s not there, he has the option to run.
“He made a good decision.”
EWU 31, UC Davis 28
EWU—Bronson 13 run (Pavel kick)
UCD—FG Stuart 41
EWU—Bronson 1 run (Pavel kick)
UCD—Galindo 72 pass from R.Wright (Martindale pass from R.Wright)
UCD—Turay 1 run (Stuart kick)
UCD—Turay 2 run (Stuart kick)
EWU—FG Pavel 45
UCD—FG Stuart 21
EWU—Herd 51 pass from Padron (Pavel kick)
EWU—Adams 9 run (Pavel kick)
|Time of Possession||37:39||22:21|
RUSHING—UC Davis, Turay 12-58, Silveria 9-48, Nicolis 11-46, Cannon 1-8, R.Wright 3-(minus 14). E. Washington, Bronson 12-63, Adams 5-38, Forte 3-14, Herd 1-10, Team 2-0, Padron 3-(minus 6).
PASSING—UC Davis, R.Wright 24-43-1-289. E. Washington, Adams 9-17-0-142, Padron 10-14-0-100, Herd 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—UC Davis, Galindo 4-113, Sloat 4-28, Benton 3-28, Nicolis 3-19, L.Williams 2-45, Sentance 2-18, Soto 2-14, Martindale 1-9, Davis 1-8, Silveria 1-4, Cannon 1-3. E. Washington, Herd 7-101, Kaufman 5-109, Edwards 3-21, Clark 3-5, Hill 1-6.