After dying by the big play in the first half, the Eastern Washington defense positively thrived by it in the third quarter against Sam Houston State.
No play was bigger than free safety Tevin McDonald’s strip and pick of Bearkats quarterback Jared Johnson, a play that Eastern coach Beau Baldwin called the most important of the game.
With the Eagles leading 28-21 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, McDonald fulfilled the coaches’ instructions to make a difference on the edge.
Did he ever. Fighting off a cut block 3 seconds into the play, McDonald saw that Johnson still had the ball. “I just got a hand on his arm, the ball bounced off a lineman and came right back to me,” McDonald said.
Five plays later, running back Mario Brown scored on a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles their first double-digit lead of the game.
“Tevin’s play was the biggest of the game, because we still hadn’t played great offensively,” Baldwin said.
“In a sense, they had the offense’s back.”
McDonald’s play was part of a feast-or-famine day for the Eastern defense, which gave up 542 yards – barely short of the 556 they yielded last year at Sam Houston State.
In the first half Saturday, the Eagles forced a trio of three-and-outs, but gave up two big scoring plays – running back Keyshawn Hill’s 79-yard run up the middle and Johnson’s slow-motion glide down the right sideline early in the second quarter that gave the Bearkats a 21-14 lead.
“We have a lot of film to watch. We know right now we are nowhere near where we truly want to be,” Baldwin said.
Let the record show that the first touchdown of the college football season was scored by Eastern receiver Blair Bomber.
With 6:35 left in the first quarter and the Eagles at the SHSU 3-yard line, Bomber cut sharply to the left, shedding the coverage, and caught Vernon Adams’ pass at the back of the zone.
Midway through the third quarter, Bomber did it again, another 3-yard score that put the Eagles ahead for the first time since that 7-0 lead.
“It feels good – this is my first significant playing time since high school,” said Bomber, who also handled punt returns when Cooper Kupp was hampered by a minor ankle injury.
Another senior, punter Jake Miller out of Central Valley High School, averaged 49.3 yards on six punts, including back-to-back kicks of 64 and 53 yards in the first quarter that kept the Bearkats bottled up and helped the Eagles reach intermission with the score tied at 21.
Going the distance
The Eastern offense was seemingly at its best when its field position was the worst it could be.
Six of the Eagles’ eight touchdown drives covered at least 70 yards, including a seven-play, 75-yard march midway through the fourth quarter that pushed the lead to 42-28.
After SHSU responded with a TD with 5:14 left, the Eagles went 75 yards on four plays, highlighted by Shaq Hill’s 56-yard reception to the Bearkat 19-yard line.