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Vernon Adams sets Big Sky TD record, Eastern Washington holds off Idaho State

QB shakes off foot injury to lead way past Bengals

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 4, 2014

His face wincing with each step, Vernon Adams Jr. stepped into the pocket one more time Saturday afternoon. This time it was a bit friendlier, formed as it was by a semicircle of media types who wanted to hear from Adams exactly what it felt like to win another football game for Eastern Washington. “It felt like a boxing match,” the Eagles quarterback said after a 56-53 split decision over Idaho State that was decided, ultimately, by Adams’ skill and courage. Hampered since the first half by a sprained foot, Adams led the Eagles (5-1) on seven touchdown drives that netted 617 yards of total offense – but saved the best for last on a sunny day in front of 11,256 fans at Roos Field. Twice in the fourth quarter, the Bengals closed to within a score of second-ranked EWU, and twice Adams and the offense responded. Leading 49-45 with 13:49 to play, they converted four third downs before Adams and receiver Cooper Kupp connected on their third score of the afternoon, a 35-yarder that extended the lead to 56-45. That was the 99th TD pass of Adams’ career, a Big Sky Conference record. “He was playing through a lot of pain,” coach Beau Baldwin said. “It was one of those deals where he was battling through that, and didn’t have all his stuff in the second half movement-wise. “He still was finding ways to get first downs,” Baldwin said of Adams. Idaho State, which gained 614 yards on the day, cut the lead to 56-53 with 3:52 to play, but never got the ball again. He could barely walk, but Adams summoned up one more run, a four-yarder that, combined with an ISU penalty, moved Eastern to the ISU 42. There the drive stalled, and Eastern faced fourth-and-2 at the 34 with 1:45 to play – a situation eerily similar the playoff loss last year to Towson. “They were running a lot of man when it got down to (third-and-short), so we thought we could get some crossers in that route with our speed and athleticism,” Baldwin said. “We were in a tough spot, but you have to play to win right there, and we thought that was the right call.” It was: Adams found Shaq Hill on a crossing route that gained 12 yards and a game-clinching first down to win a game most figured wouldn’t be that close. Playing their first home game in five weeks, the Eagles twice fell behind by a score in a first quarter that featured a staggering 497 yards of total offense. By the time it ended, the Eagles led 21-14 thanks to two Adams-to-Kupp TD passes and an Adams 30-yard dash, his longest scoring run as a collegian. Eastern was cruising late in the second quarter, riding two straight defensive stops and leading 35-17 after Dylan Zylstra recovered a blocked punt in the end zone 4:35 before halftime. But the Bengals moved 74 yards on four plays, scoring when a wide-open Madison Mangum hauled in a 34-yard pass from Justin Arias. Four plays later, facing third-and-13 from his own 30, Adams threw an interception on the left sideline, and ISU took full advantage. Converting a third down for only the second time in seven chances, Arias found Mangum for a 9-yard score with 1:01 left to cut the deficit to 35-31. That was Arias’ fourth TD pass of the half, tying his personal record – and he still had a half to go. But the Eagles got two big stops in the third quarter, including an interception by Jordan Tonani, while Eastern padded the lead to 49-31. “It gave us a little cushion,” Baldwin said. “Obviously, we made some mistakes on both sides of the ball, and they made plays so they were able to get back in the game, but how we started the third quarter was huge for us.”
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