PULLMAN – No, this wasn’t the biggest win in Eastern Washington football history. Then again, none of these Eagles were around when the program won a national title in 2010.
“Personally, I’ve got to say this is number one,” safety Zach Bruce said as he walked off the field following the Eagles’ 45-42 stunner over Washington State.
“They’re a good team, but we don’t really look at it like were the underdog in any way,” said Bruce, a University High product.
The oddsmakers said differently – by 23 ½ points, to be exact. But they underestimated the Eagles’ resilience following a disappointing 6-5 season. Their epic win at Martin Stadium was part redemption and part renaissance, a credit to coach Beau Baldwin’s ability to mold his offense around his players, not the other way around.
But besides the heroics of first-time quarterback Gage Gubrud and All-American receiver Cooper Kupp, Baldwin and his staff got surprising performances from almost every guy in the lineup.
There was wide receiver Shaq Hill, who missed almost all of 2015 with an ACL injury, but caught seven balls for 119 yards. And Kendrick Bourne, perennially the No. 2 receiver behind Kupp, who had another seven grabs for 87 more.
A new offensive line held its own and allowed the playmakers to make one astounding play after another. Redshirt freshman left tackle Tristen Taylor – Gubrud’s blind-side protector, said “We just put in a lot of hard work, and it was worth it.”
More surprising to the experts – and many Eagle fans – the defense showed itself unwilling to get pushed around against WSU quarterback Luke Falk. The final ledger was 418 yards for WSU, but Baldwin praised the defense for “situational” successes, especially in the first and third quarters.
Two early stops set the tone. Two more in the third quarter kept the Eagles with a vital two-score cushion going into the fourth quarter.
“After that first drive, we just got a good feeling for this (WSU) offense,” said roverback Cole Karstetter, whose last time on the Martin Stadium turf came in pickup games when older brother Jared caught balls for the Cougs.
“But we came out and played pretty good coverage – this is just unbelievable,” Karstetter said.
Not so unbelievable if you listen to the guys up front.
“Power rush,” EWU defensive end Keenan Williams explained succinctly after the game. “And get in his (Falk’s face).”
The Eagles did that only sporadically, but usually when it mattered most. Like just before halftime, as Falk was scrambling in the shadow of his own goal post.
The pocket collapsed, Falk let fly and safety Mitch Fettig intercepted for Eastern’s only takeaway of the game. Six plays later, Jordan Dascalo hit a 48-yard field goal to trim the WSU lead to 28-24 at intermission.
By game’s end, no one was happier than Dascalo, who punted for the Cougs in 2014 before transferring to Eastern last year. On this night, Dascalo handled punts, kickoffs and the field goal that proved to be the difference in the game.
When it was over, Dascalo was dancing on the Martin Stadium turf. No hard feelings, only joy.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Dascalo said. “I just thank God for bringing me to this point … it means a lot, and I’m just so thankful.”
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