CHENEY, Wash. — Perhaps Eastern doesn’t know how to dial things down anymore. And doesn’t want to.
Instead, the Eagles dialed it up all afternoon against Montana State, connecting on some of the biggest plays of the season Saturday in a 54-29 rout of the Bobcats at Roos Field.
When it was over, coach Beau Baldwin talked about his players “having the guts to win games – we’re not going to manage them.
“We don’t talk about making mistakes, we talk about letting ’er rip,” said Baldwin after the Eagles celebrated the school’s 500th football win in extraordinary fashion.
The win over the fourth-ranked Bobcats – in front of a sellout crowd of 10,223 – also gives Eastern sole possession of first place in the Big Sky Conference standings with two games left in the regular season.
If Eastern (6-0 Big Sky, 8-2 overall) wins those contests against Cal Poly and Portland State, the road to Frisco may take another detour through Cheney partly because the Eagles took the offensive road less traveled.
At almost every potential turning point in a game that probably decided the Big Sky Conference championship, the third-ranked Eagles refused to play it safe:
- On fourth-and-goal at the MSU 1 late in the first quarter, the Eagles disdained the run up the middle. Instead, quarterback Vernon Adams rolled right, paused and fired a touchdown pass to Jake Withnell.
- Facing third-and-2 at midfield on the opening drive of the second half, Baldwin called for the big play, and Adams delivered a 44-yard strike over the top to Cory Mitchell.
- Leading 40-29 and facing third-and-8 from Eagles’ 32-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Baldwin declined to go to the short game; instead the Eagles connected on the decisive play of the game, Adams’ 76-yard strike to Shaquille Hill in single coverage.
That boldness was born two weeks ago in Missoula, when the Eagles nearly blew a 25-point fourth-quarter lead, partly because of conservative play-calling. “I was mad at myself because of the way I coached at Montana,” Baldwin said.
“It ends up being an attitude that we’re going to go for it,” Baldwin said.
It doesn’t hurt that Adams has the same mentality, completing 18 of 20 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns, and running for 82 yards and a score.
Facing a team he struggled against last year, Adams felt more comfortable in the pocket – especially on the pass to Hill. As the pocket converged, Adams stepped up and threw off-balance but accurately to Hill over the middle.
“I saw the blitz coming, and I knew I couldn’t get scared and just start running around, Adams said. “I stepped up and saw the corner was pressing Shaq, and I knew Shaq was faster and he got it.”
That catch, plus a 68-yard scoring catch late in the third quarter, gave Hill a career-high 172 yards on four catches.
Hill wasn’t the only one with a big day; running back Quincy Forte had a career-high 133 yards rushing along with two touchdowns; Mario Brown rushed for 47 yards on just two carries; and wide receiver Cooper Kupp shrugged off double coverage to catch eight passes for 110 yards and another score.
Early in the second quarter, Kupp also made the highlight catch of the game, a one-handed grab near his ankles while being double-covered on third-and-10 at the MSU 28. The catch kept alive a drive that ended three plays later with a 5-yard run by Adams that put the Eagles ahead 20-14.
Eastern finished with 591 yards of total offense, the 19th-most in school history, and never punted.
MSU quarterback DeNarius McGhee was 31 for 37 for 330 yards, while Bobcats running back Cody Kirk ran 21 times for 100 yards and two scores.