BOZEMAN – As the fourth quarter began Saturday afternoon at Bobcat Stadium, the fans broke into a chant.
“Rock this House,” the overflow crowd of 19,377 roared with expectation as Montana State carried a seven-point lead into the home stretch against second-ranked Eastern Washington.
Consider it rocked – and shocked, after the Eagles overcame every kind of adversity in claiming a remarkable 52-51 win over the Bobcats.
This one truly wasn’t over until it was over, after Mario Brown plunged in for a touchdown with 27 seconds left and Vernon Adams turned a broken play into one of the biggest two-point conversions in Eastern history.
After he dove into the end zone, Adams jumped into the arms of his overjoyed teammates.
“We definitely weren’t perfect, and they will be saying the same thing,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said after a last-gasp MSU drive ended with a failed Hail Mary into the Eagle end zone
True enough. Another slow start … an offense that wasn’t clicking … a defense that often looked lost … all were in the rear-view mirror as the Eagles focused on the task at hand. Down by 7, 1:55 to play and 75 yards to go.
Five plays later, it was 4th-and-10 near midfield, and Baldwin called time out. “Usually I wouldn’t burn a timeout in that situation, but I didn’t think we were ready in terms of settling down,” Baldwin said.
The crowd was never louder when Adams took the snap, and never quieter than after his 40-yard pass found Kendrick Bourne on the right sideline.
“I was supposed to get outside, I messed up, so I took my inside lead,” explained Bourne, who finished with four catches for 78 yards. “I tried to take it to the house, but the corner caught me.”
Three plays later, Brown scored from the 1 – and the offense stayed on the field. With starting kicker Roldan Alcobendas injured and not wanting to put backup Jake Miller through an overtime kicking duel, Baldwin opted to go for the win – and caught a break when the Bobcats were whistled for an offsides penalty that made Adams’ job that much easier.
“Vernon’s a resilient guy. He’s the ultimate competitor,” Baldwin said.
On this day, so were the Bobcats, who took an early 23-14 lead in a game that threatened to make EWU’s 59-52 loss at Washington look like a tortoise race.
New MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop kept the Eagle defense off balance with his quick feet and quick delivery; at one point his passer rating hit 362.4 after touchdown passes of 32 and 24 yards to Tanner Roderick, and a picture-perfect play-fake pass to Shawn Johnson for 46 more.
Uncharacteristically, the Eagles did most of their damage on the ground. Forte evened the score at 7 with a nifty 76-yard run down the right sideline, and made a nifty fake on a 33-yard score that gave Eastern a brief 14-13 lead.
“Forte was running hard,”said Adams, who completed 25 of 43 passes for 358 yards and two scores. “I just need to come out faster.”
Eastern got back into the game thanks to four defensive stops, including two fumbles forced by safety Tevin McDonald. That gave time for the offense to get untracked; Adams and Cooper Kupp connected on a 29-yard TD pass to cut the deficit to 23-20, and Forte’s 7-yard run put Eastern up 27-23.
MSU retook the momentum with a TD in the final minute of the half, then stretched the lead to 44-30 on Johnson’s 70-yard run with 2:21 left in the third quarter. But Eastern seized the momentum back with two scores in five minutes: Forte’s fourth TD run of the game, a 4-yarder with 1:11 left in the third quarter; and Kupp’s 12-yard grab that tied the game with 11:44 to play.
Just then, the Eastern defense stepped up with a fourth-down stop of Prukop on the EWU 33. Eastern then mounted what looked like a go-ahead drive, but Brown fumbled at the MSU 29 with 5:30 to play.
Prukop marched the Bobcats 75 yards in 13 plays, capping the drive with a 9-yard TD pass to Johnson with 1:55 left.
The Eagles lost two starters to injury: safety Todd Raynes injured his shoulder, while kicker Roldan Alcobendas suffered an ACL injury. … Eastern will play its third straight road game Saturday night at UC Davis.
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