It was less about the Eastern Washington University football team collapsing and more about an anonymous backup quarterback coming up clutch when it mattered most.
Sophomore Connor Frazier, called upon in the second half to replace injured starter Peter Athens, isn’t the player anybody at Roos Field would have picked to be the difference-maker Saturday afternoon.
But there Frazier was, making several big plays during Towson’s final two possessions, resulting in back-to-back touchdowns, as the Tigers of Baltimore rallied from a 10-point deficit to finish the Eagles’ season 35-31 in an FCS semifinal.
Frazier finished with a pair of 98s – 98 yards rushing and 98 yards passing.
He served notice of something big to come on Towson’s second-to-last possession. A sack by EWU senior defensive end Anthony Larry, resulting in a 14-yard loss, put the Tigers in a second-and-24 hole at their 47-yard line.
“I was just really upset at myself for not throwing the ball away,” Frazier said of the sack. “I thought I could outrun the guy. But I knew that we just had to focus on the next play, focus on getting the first down.”
Frazier took things into his own hands. He got 8 yards back on a draw the next play. Then he somehow scrambled and got around containment on third down, picking up 15 of the needed 16 yards. On fourth down, he gained 3 yards on a sneak.
Seven plays later, junior running back Terrance West – who went off for 354 yards last week – scored to pull Towson within 31-28 with 5:09 remaining.
When the Eagles couldn’t convert on fourth-and-2 at Towson’s 29, Frazier and the Tigers got one more chance with 1:35 to go.
Frazier completed five passes and rushed four times on the decisive drive, including a 1-yard sneak for the go-ahead touchdown with 17 seconds to go.
As Frazier crossed the goal line, one could hear a collective gasp out of most of the 6,209 in attendance.
“In Eastern football history, our defense usually finishes games,” senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said. “That’s what we’re used to. We came up short.”
They came up short, in fact, for a second straight year. Of course, last year the Eagles found themselves in a 35-0 hole in the semifinals to Sam Houston State before an Eastern rally fell shy, 45-42.
This time, the Eagles not only rallied from a 21-0 deficit, they scored 31 straight points for a 31-21 lead with 11:55 remaining.
“I never thought we’d lose down 21 and up 10,” senior safety Allen Brown said. “He (Frazier) didn’t make any plays through the air He just ran the ball.”
But it was effective – especially since the Eagles had bottled up the talented West, who rushed for 70 of his 115 yards in the first quarter.
“The plays were there to be made,” EWU senior nose tackle Will Katoa said, “but we just didn’t finish. It hurts.”
Despite the fact they believed they should have won, it wasn’t lost on the Eagles (12-3) that they lost to a quality team.
“That’s a good team out there,” senior CB T.J. Lee III said. “Towson ran the ball hard. They’ve got a good offense and they’ve got a good defense.”