In this game, necessity was the mother of prevention.
With Eastern Washington running out of safeties and the coaches running out of options for a big game against Montana State, they turned this week to All-American cornerback T.J. Lee III.
Four days later, Lee turned into a free safety – a position he’d never played – and finished with a game-high 14 tackles and the game’s only interception in Eastern’s 54-29 win over the Bobcats on Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney.
Lee made the switch after the Eagles lost starting safety Tevin McDonald to a broken fibula last week at Idaho State. That came on top of injuries the previous week to Allen Brown and Todd Raynes.
“It’s really not that easy,” Lee said after the game. “It took a lot of hard work with the coaches and it took me staying in there in the film room, getting brain dead and then coming back the next day and doing it again.”
By Saturday, Lee said, “I just had to come out and play.”
Lee wasn’t the only one. Another corner, Miles Weatheroy, moved to strong safety,while field cornerback Ronald Baines moved to boundary corner and backup Bo Schuetzle moved up to the starting role at field cornerback.
If that sounds confusing, it wasn’t to the Eagles involved.
“It was really smooth because it was pretty much all corners out there,” said Schuetzle, who said everyone was on the same page – even if the names had changed.
It also didn’t hurt that “T.J. is just a natural at whatever he does,” Schuetzle said.
Playing against two-time Big Sky Offensive MVP Denarius McGhee and a punishing Bobcats’ ground game, the Eagle gave up 151 yards rushing and 270 total yards by halftime. By game’s end, the Bobcats had 504 total yards, but got only 55 on the ground in the second half.
The Eagles’ new-look secondary did its part; Weatheroy added eight tackles and Baines had seven.
Schuetzle had five more, including one of the game’s biggest. With MSU trailing 47-29 miday through the fourth quarter and facing fourth-and-8 at the Eastern 35, Schuetzle tackled receiver Tanner Broderick two yards short of the first-down marker.
“We’d seen that play on film over and over,” Schuetzle said. “I finally saw it and I got the break on it.”