Good defense was its own reward Saturday afternoon at Roos Field.
Eastern Washington cruised to a 43-14 non-conference win over Western Oregon thanks partly to a big first quarter by the offense, but mostly by a defense that felt it had plenty to prove even after one of the biggest wins in school history.
Unlike the 49-46 victory last week at Oregon State, this one didn’t go down to the wire. Instead, the Eagle defenders went wire to wire, holding the Wolves to only 44 yards at halftime and barely relaxing their grip in the second half.
“We had a lot to prove,” defensive tackle Will Katoa said after a cold, rainy game witnessed by 6,349 fans.
“We weren’t going to give up a another 46 points, we were all about stopping the run, and we wanted to send a message that our defense isn’t going to give up 46 points to anybody,” Katoa said.
While Vernon Adams threw four touchdown passes in the first quarter alone, the Eastern defenders swarmed the run and smothered the passing lanes. In one quarter of work, Eastern led 29-0 on the scoreboard while outgaining the Division II Wolves 254 yards to 1.
“That becomes infectious … to the entire team,” head coach Beau Baldwin said.
Tougher challenges await, including a cross-country flight next week to Toledo, which is coming off two respectable losses to Florida (24-6 last week) and Missouri (38-23 earlier on Saturday).
For now, though, the Eagles celebrated a curious milestone.
“I can’t remember the last time we were 2-0 around here,” Baldwin said. That’s because the Eagles’ last 2-0 start came in 2007, when Baldwin coached for one year at Central Washington. The last previous 2-0 start came in 2001, two years before Baldwin joined the Eagle staff as an assistant coach.
The 2-0 start was beyond doubt after the first quarter, but soon the Eagle offense began to stall, coming up empty on all three of its possessions in the second quarter.
Adams was intercepted early in the second quarter thanks to a tipped ball at the Western Oregon 34. Another drive ended with a dropped pass, and the last drive was killed by a holding penalty.
Adams took the blame.
“I was just getting greedy,” he said of his two interceptions. “I just have to take what the defense gives me.”
On this day, that included 18 completions in 24 attempts for 298 yards and five touchdowns.
Baldwin lamented the mistakes. “Before you knew it it was halftime and he had a goose egg in the second quarter,” Baldwin said. “But you’re going to have quarters like that.”
Not so for the defense, which conceded just 43 yards in the second quarter. “We knew we had a lot to prove,” linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said. We definitely had a chip on our shoulder.”
Perhaps the chip was a bit too big at times. A pair of roughing-the-passer penalties helped Western Oregon move 54 yards to the Eastern 12 early in the second quarter, but the drive ended with an end-zone interception by Eastern safety Allen Brown.
“We were trying to pitch a shutout today,” Brown said. For a while, it looked as if the Eagles would get it.
On their first series, the Eagles converted two third downs, the second in spectacular fashion as Adams found Cooper Kupp on a deep post pattern. Kupp did the rest, cutting left down the sideline, breaking a tackle at the 10 and tip-toeing into the end zone for a 63-yard TD less than three minutes into the game.
Western’s first possession was a disaster for the visitors. A foul on the kickoff return put the Wolves on their own 14; two plays later, Eastern cornerback T.J. Lee III stripped the ball from Western Oregon quarterback Ryan Bergman and recovered the ball at the 20-yard line.
Two plays after that, Adams hit tight end Zack Gehring along at the back of the end zone for a 4-yard score. A high snap on the ensuing extra point was no problem for Adams, who corralled the ball and found tight end Terry Jackson II for the two-point conversion and a 15-0 lead barely six minutes into the game.
On the next series, Adams hit Clark at the 30 and Clark did the rest, pivoting sharply to the right after the catch and dashing to the 15. On the next play, Adams found Cory Mitchell for a 15-yard touchdown with 5:35 still remaining in the first quarter.
After another Western Oregon punt, Adams capped a six-play, 78-yard drive with his fourth TD throw, a 48-yard touchdown pass to Shaquille Hill, who finished with a team high 117 yards on eight catches.
Running back Quincy Forte, who missed the Oregon State game with an injured hamstring, finished with a game-high 99 yards on 13 carries.
Western Oregon finished with 217 yards total offense, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.