FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After he praised his players, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin took most of the blame for the Eagles’ stunning 28-27 loss to Northern Arizona on Saturday.
“That loss is on me,” Baldwin said during the emotional moments following one of the most bizarre endings in recent Eastern football history.
The seminal moment: with Eastern leading 27-22, the Lumberjacks out of timeouts and just 51 seconds left, Baldwin and his offense faced fourth-and-3 ½ at the NAU 23.
“We were in between running, passing or kicking a field goal,” said Baldwin, who passed on the first option even after watching running back Quincy Forte go off for 219 yards in his first game in five weeks.
Baldwin also passed on the third option – and a possible 8-point lead – even though kicker Tyler McNannay had hit two field goals earlier, albeit from 25 and 29 yards.
That left Mr. In-Between, an all-or-nothing pass by redshirt sophomore Jordan West, even though West was mired in his worst game (16 for 34 for 171 yards) since he took over two weeks ago for injured All-American Vernon Adams Jr.
Looking all the way at receiver Cooper Kupp, West was off target and Northern Arizona took over on downs.
“I still don’t like my call … I need to be better,” said Baldwin, who lamented other missed chances in a game that was a nail-biter from start to finish.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles leading 24-22 with 8 minutes to play, Forte dashed 67 yards on the first play of the series. On first and goal from the 8, Forte gained 3 yards, then another 4.
But on third and goal at the 1, West fumbled the snap, falling on the ball at the two and forcing another tough call. But the offense stayed on the field – until Eastern was whistled for a false start.
McNannay hit a 29-yard field goal with 5:42 to play, but the Eagles had missed a golden opportunity to take a two-score lead.
Yet another big day for EWU special teams unit
Lost in defeat was one of the biggest special teams plays of the year, a 41-yard punt return by Kupp that led to the Eagles’ first score of the game.
During the week, Eastern special teams coach Jeff Schmedding “did a good job of drawing up some things of giving me some extra time back there to make something happen,” Kupp said. With NAU punting from its own 5, Kupp caught the ball at the Lumberjack 46, “and the guys did a great job blocking.” Kupp said.
Kupp returned the ball to the 5 and tight end Zach Wimberly scored on the next play on a pass from West.
Meanwhile, the Eagles failed to block a punt – something they’d accomplished in the three previous games – but also averaged 44.2 yards on six punts – five by Jake Miller and one by McNannay.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.