Wide receiver Shaquille Hill wouldn’t have been the guy the Eastern Washington University football coaching staff picked as the player most likely to recover an onside kick late in the Eagles’ comeback Saturday.
After all, the freshman redshirt from Stockton, Calif., was filling in for Daniel Johnson, who had been subbing for injured Nick Edwards.
It appeared 6-foot-5 Brandon Kaufman, who touched the ball first, was going to snag the ball. But then it bounced on the red turf at Roos Field, and all of a sudden the 5-10 Hill saw his chance.
“Kaufman hit the ball and it squirted out on the bottom,” Hill said. “It went through a couple of players’ legs and I just spotted it and jumped on it. It was my first time on overload (onside).”
The recovery gave EWU the ball at its 45-yard line with 2 minutes, 19 seconds remaining and the Eagles trailing Montana 26-24.
Five plays later, redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams found wide-open junior receiver Ashton Clark for the winning touchdown in a Big Sky Conference home opener before 10,529.
Well after the game, EWU coach Beau Baldwin still didn’t know who recovered the ball.
“Is he the one who came up with it?” Baldwin asked. “That all happened so fast. Good for Shaq. He hasn’t been on that unit all year. We had to take Nick Edwards out of that unit. He (Hill) had to go in and made a play. That’s awesome. That’s good stuff.”
“It was a fight down there,” Hill said. “They were digging at my eyes and everything. I just tried my hardest to hang on to the ball. That’s all I wanted to do, give my team a chance and we got it.”
Montana coach Mick Delaney believed the game was still in hand before the onside kick.
“Even after the touchdown, we talked on the sideline, we’ll get the ball (and) get one first down and the game is over,” Delaney said. “All of a sudden, we don’t have the ball. So you’re right back almost in a panic mode.”
The Grizzlies wore out the middle of Roos Field. Well, they also ran over the Eagles outside the hash marks, too.
Montana did to the Eagles what Northern Arizona did to the Grizzlies in a conference-opening loss last week. The Grizzlies rushed for 407 yards on 61 attempts, averaging 6.7 per rush.
It’s the most yards yielded by a EWU team since the final game of 1998 when Southern Utah rushed for 535.
When it counted the most, though, the Eagles forced Montana to punt with just less than 6 minutes to play after three straight runs by Jordan Canada netted 1 yard. On EWU’s ensuing series, the Eagles scored to pull within 26-24 with 2:19 to go.
“We’ve got to look at that on film,” Baldwin said. “It’s hard for me to talk about it right now. They executed really well. They have a quarterback that’s very athletic, a couple of running backs who are really good players and the (offensive line) did a really good job. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure some things out and make sure we’re in a better position to stop that.”
Two of the Grizzlies’ sizeable linemen are Ferris products Trevor Poole (6-5, 290, sophomore), the starting left tackle, and Kjelby Oiland (6-4, 295, junior), the starting center.
Canada led Montana with 167 yards on 19 carries and running back Peter Nguyen had 119 on 23 attempts. Quarterback Trent McKinney had 95 on 14 rushes.
Scoreboard a hit
Fans enjoyed the debut of the scoreboard.
“I love it,” said Ed Yarwood, a Spokane resident and season-ticket holder for 10 years who is semiretired. “I was worried it was going to be too small. But I’d say it’s just about right. You can really see everything.”
The video display takes up the center block of the scoreboard package with singular columns on both sides. At the top of those columns the down, distance, yard line and quarter are displayed. At the bottom of each side the timeouts remaining are shown for EWU and the visitor. That function wasn’t working Saturday.
“I loved being able to see the instant replay,” said Pegy Callahan, a Spokane resident and season-ticket holder for two years. “I loved the commercials (advertising) on it.”