Almost from the opening kickoff Saturday afternoon, Montana was going after Eastern Washington cornerback Jake Hoffman.
Hoffman’s reward: a school-record six pass breakups and a big boost of confidence.
“I don’t know: maybe it’s just because I’m the young guy that they’re coming after me” said Hoffman, a redshirt freshman from North Central High School.
“But I invite that,” said Hoffman, whose third-down breakup set up the Eagles’ second touchdown, a 32-yard catch by Nic Sblendorio.
Hoffman also took the bad with the good, including giving up a 37-touchdown pass in the second quarter that cut Eastern’s lead to 13-10.
“I think I’ve grown mentally, because at the beginning of the year, my head would have been down,” Hoffman said. “But right when I got scored on, everybody said, ‘Don’t even worry about it.’ ”
Hamlin sets record
Predictably, beating Montana for the third straight year meant more to senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin than becoming the leading tackler in school history.
“It was awesome – that’s all I can say,” said Hamlin who got two tackles on Montana’s opening drive to reach 433 and topping the record held since 2010 by J.C. Sherritt.
“We bring it, they bring it – it’s just a great game,” Hamlin said.
And after the game, Montana standout Zach Wagenmann brought it. “Well deserved – and the hair looks great,” Wagenmann said of Hamlin’s trademark long hair.
Hamlin finished with nine total tackles – he now has 440 – but his biggest play was an interception at the EWU 8-yard line that halted the Grizzlies’ opening drive. It was his first pick of the season.
Even after missing two extra points earlier in the game, Eastern kicker Tyler McNannay felt his confidence return late in the game.
Good thing: McNannay was called upon to deliver the deciding play as the Eagles led Montana 33-26 with 34 seconds left and the ball at the Montana 17-yard-line.
As coaches sent the field-goal unit onto the field, “everybody was telling me. ‘you’re going to make this kick,’” said McNannay, who connected on a 34-yarder to give the Eagles a game-clinching 10-point lead.
McNannay said he “felt rushed” on both missed extra points, which he pushed right of the goalposts. “So I just went back to sideline to get my confidence back, and my teammates really helped me.”
Kupp goes all the way
A little practice made for a perfect punt return for Cooper Kupp.
Special teams coach Jeff Schmedding “did a great job of drawing some things up,” said Kupp, who made the work pay off with a 67-yard touchdown return – Eastern’s first since 2006 that wasn’t the result of a blocked punt.
The key to the play? “For once, we got to spend a little extra time on special teams during practice,” said Kupp, who also had eight receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.
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