In a game that often is all about momentum, Eastern Washington went out and seized it Saturday afternoon.
That, plus some senior leadership, is a big reason the Eagles are cruising into their third FCS semifinal appearance in four years.
On Saturday, they were one in the same. With the upset in its grasp on two occasions, Jacksonville State had the momentum wrenched away by clutch seniors Ashton Clark and Bo Schuetzle.
Late in the third quarter with the Eagles leading 28-24, Clark muffed a punt at his own 16-yard line as two Gamecocks were bearing down. Fortunately for Clark and the Eagles, the first JSU player’s momentum carried him past the play as Clark lunged for the ball.
But the second Gamecock “dove for it a little sooner than I did, and he kind of had it in his hands at the start.”
But at the finish, it was Clark who had the ball.
“As soon as I dove to the ground I grabbed it away – luckily,” said Clark, who also finished with a game-high 181 receiving yards.
With one bullet dodged, the Eagles faced another early in the fourth quarter. Albert Havili’s pick-6 had given the Eagles some breathing room, but their 35-24 lead was looking precarious as JSU had first-and-10 at the Eastern 28.
Finally, on fourth-and-5 at the 23, the Gamecocks rolled the dice and disdained the field goal with 7:19 to play. JSU quarterback Max Shortell fired into the side of the end zone toward go-to receiver Josh Barge, but Schuetzle saw the play coming.
“I read the play,” Schuetzle said. “(From watching film) they ran that in the red zone pretty often, and as soon as the receiver’s hands went up I went up.”
Barge appeared to have the ball for a touchdown, “but as we were going up, I ripped it out; I just kind of muscled it,” said Schuetzle, who clinched the game a few minutes later with a pick at the EWU 20.
Coach Beau Baldwin appreciated the effort. “The bottom line is you are doing everything you can to win so you get to a point where you are in this position. I am proud of our players for that,” Baldwin said.
Tickets for the general public will go on sale today at 10 a.m. for Eastern’s FCS semifinal game Saturday against Towson. Links and information are available at http://goeags.com/ticket/13playoffs. They may be purchased through TicketsWest outlets, via www.ticketswest.com and 1-800-325-SEAT. Prices range from $30 for premium seating to $20 for end-zone and east-side seating.
Free tickets for Eastern students will be available for pickup at the EWU Bookstore Customer Service Desk starting at 10 a.m. today. To claim a student ticket, students must present a valid EWU student identification card. The limit is one ticket per I.D. card and the owner of the I.D. card is the only person allowed to pick up the ticket.