The Eastern secondary has been taking its “next man up” motto to extremes this year, and it paid off again in Saturday’s playoff win against South Dakota State.
This time it was the cornerbacks’ turn. All-American T.J. Lee III went down briefly, then Ronald Baines was lost for the game with a concussion suffered in the second quarter.
With the Eagles leading 14-7 and South Dakota State facing third-and-1 at the Eastern 44, Baines read the bubble screen for what it was, shed a block and tackled receiver Reggie Gandy for a 4-yard loss.
“I had to make that play,” said Baines, who suffered a concussion on the play.
No problem: backups Bo Schuetzle and Frank Cange stepped in, with Schuetzle making five tackles and a near pick-6 in the third quarter and the Eagles leading 27-14.
“It was so close,” said Schuetzle of a third-down pass to SDSU receiver Jason Schneider deep in Eagles territory. “I saw the route quickly and I jumped it, but I just couldn’t get two hands on it,” Schuetzle said.
Lee and safety Todd Raynes combined on a bigger play early in the fourth quarter. With Eastern leading 34-17, Jackrabbits receiver Trevor Tiefenthaler caught a 12-yard pass to the Eastern 40, but Lee and Raynes stripped the ball, all but putting the game away with 13 minutes left.
Raynes, who along with Allen Brown was out for three weeks after suffering a hamstring injury at Montana, “has been playing really good ball the last few weeks, very into film study with his assignments,” safeties coach Jeff Schmedding said.
Raynes finished with seven total tackles, second behind linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who had 13.
“They’ve been rotating all year, so it’s good this time to be able to depend on them,” Lee said.
Faking themselves out
Trailing 21-14 in the third quarter, the Jackrabbits opted for a fake punt from their own 43-yard line.
Trouble was, Eastern was still in its regular defense, mainly because Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said he thought “that was a spot where they might go for it.”
The Jackrabbits tried to check out of the fake, but not all of their players got the message, leaving punter Ethan Sawyer holding the ball; Eagles defensive end Anthony Larry rushed in and threw Sawyer for a 9-yard loss, and four plays later, Vernon Adams found Cooper Kupp for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
“I was proud of our guys for being disciplined on that play,” Baldwin said.
Off the field, Eastern did its best to cope with the weather. The marching band was out in force, but couldn’t play its instruments because of the cold.
“Our valves stuck and our pads were coming off when we pushed the buttons down,” said Josh Lindberg, a tenor saxophone player from Kennewick.
The band resorted to cheering at the game, and playing a halftime show at Reese Court, which doubled as a warming shelter in the second half.
The school had hoped to show the game on the Reese Court videoboard, but technical problems intervened, athletic director Bill Chaves said.