Albert Havili is a freshman, but there’s nothing wide-eyed about him.
In fact, it was Havili who saw the whites of Jacksonville State’s Max Shortell’s eyes before he made one of the biggest plays of the season Saturday night.
“It all happened so fast,” Havili said.
With the Eagles clinging to a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter, JSU faced third-and-5 at the Eagles’ 27-yard line, poised to take the lead after sacking Vernon Adams on fourth down at the other end of the field.
But Havili, a true freshman linebacker from Federal Way, Wash., had done his homework, dropping into coverage and recognizing the pattern from watching film.
“Pre-snap, I just looked at the quarterback’s eyes, and he looked straight at the number two receiver,” Havili said.
He saw what was coming, intercepted the ball at Eastern’s 23 and took it 77 yards the other way to give the Eagles their first and only two-score lead of the game.
“Honestly, I had no idea what happened until I crossed the goal line, and when I did, it really sunk in,” said Havili, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder who said he scored despite getting “gassed” at the end of his run.
All agreed that the play changed the complexion of the game.
“We were there, within a touchdown and we had a chance to score and take the lead, so that was a big blow,” JSU coach Bill Clark said.
The Eagles’ reaction was exhuberant, even an hour later.
“That’s freshman power right there,” said true freshman Samson Ebukam, who had a game-changing pick-6 of his own this year against Southern Utah.
Adams wasn’t surprised. “I knew it was coming one of these days,” Adams said. “In practice he does it all the time, and he deserves it.”
Big numbers on the football field…
The Eagles broke several records Saturday, including the Big Sky Conference season scoring record. The Eagles now have 561 points, surpassing the 537 set by Montana in 2009.
Eastern also broke the conference team passing record, reaching 4,853 yards to beat Weber State’s mark of 4,540 set in 2008.
With 324 passing yards against JSU, Adams reached 4,600 for the season to beat the Big Sky record of 4,477 set by Cameron Higgins of Weber State in 2008. Adams also moved into third place in FCS single-season history with 5,112 yards, trailing Steve McNair of Alcorn (5,799 in 1994) and Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion (5,546 in 2012).
… but small numbers sitting in the stands
At this rate, the Eagles will draw about 2,500 fans for next week’s semifinal against Towson.
Saturday’s game was witnessed by only 4,277 fans, easily the smallest Eastern crowd this season, and weather wasn’t an excuse.
A week ago, with temperatures 25 degrees cooler, the Eagles drew 6,127 against South Dakota State.
That in itself was a sharp decline from the 9,522 for the Portland State game on Nov. 23, and the 10,223 who watched the Eagles play Montana State on Nov. 9.
The biggest reason for the decline: finals week is over and most students have departed for the holidays.