Eastern Washington running back Quincy Forte is the first to admit it: He’s taking his game to a higher level because he’s riding the shoulders of his teammates.
That includes his offensive line, quarterback Vernon Adams and especially the big stable of backs that has paved the way for Forte run like a thoroughbred in December.
With 392 yards in two FCS playoff games, Forte has given the Eagles what they haven’t had since Taiwan Jones in 2010: a feature back. But you won’t hear that from either Forte or head coach Beau Baldwin.
“We work as a team,” Forte said. “Coach Baldwin talks about that a lot, those young guys getting a lot of carries early in the year, that’s helped us a lot.”
It’s also helped Forte, who still felt a little sore on Tuesday, three days after running for 190 yards on 24 carries in a quarterfinal win over Jacksonville State.
That effort – seven days after going off for 202 yards against South Dakota State – puts Forte at 1,131 for the season on only 165 carries, for a 6.9-yard average.
To put that in perspective, Walter Payton finalist Terrance West of Towson will bring a 6.3-yard average into Saturday’s semifinal at Roos Field.
But then West has carried the ball 364 times. And that’s the whole point.
“I’d be sore all season if I had to carry it 25 times every game,” said Forte, a junior from Fairfield, Calif., who didn’t suit up for the season opener at Oregon State because of a hamstring injury.
Early in the season, the load fell on redshirt freshmen Jabari Wilson and Jalen Moore – until injuries put them on the sideline. They and Forte each got double-digit carries against Western Oregon, but the running game was stymied in losses at Toledo and Sam Houston State.
Forte and veteran Mario Brown carried much of the load in midseason wins over Weber State, North Dakota and Southern Utah, but no clear leader emerged as Forte refined his running style.
“He’s just so fast,” Eagles running backs coach Kiel McDonald said. “We’re just trying to slow him down, and make him understand that it’s a team game, to let the hole develop and when you see it, to use all the gifts that God gave you.”
In other words, being more patient.
“He’s running more patiently, and he’s seeing things,” Baldwin said. “He’s so fast and so explosive, but maybe wasn’t as patient in the first part of his run, but now he’s exploding.”
Of all his backs, Baldwin said that the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Forte offers the best combination of power and speed. The first was on display in a workmanlike, 10-carry, 70-yard effort at Montana. A week later, he got 119 yards and two touchdowns on six carries at Idaho State.
Forte, who lines up as a receiver when the Eagles go to an empty backfield, also is the team’s fifth-leading receiver with 17 catches for 211 yards and four TDs.
Forte credits McDonald for his “finally” running between the tackles gap, “and not just bouncing everything outside, using my patience and using my vision.”
Then came the showdown against Montana State on Nov. 9. In its most efficient performance of the year, the Eastern offense amassed 591 yards in 48 plays, for a Big Sky Conference-record 12.3 yards per play. Brown rushed for 123 yards in 15 carries and two scores in a 54-29 Eagles romp that all but decided the Big Sky title.
It didn’t hurt that in the same game, Adams was 18 for 20 for 347 yards.
“It’s a combination of things,” Baldwin said. “Our offensive line is continuing to get better as the year has gone, and there’s the threat of our passing game.”
With the Eagles a game away from playing for the FCS title, the 21-year-old Forte is taking nothing for granted.
“It feels good to finally be the guy, but everyone’s worked hard as a team to get me there,” Forte said.