Amid the pandemonium at Roos Field on Saturday afternoon, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin tried his best to bring Eagle Nation back to earth.
No such luck. Several players called it the best win they’ve ever experienced at Eastern, and nearly all of them were bounding rather than walking off the field.
Eastern had just capped an improbable comeback with a 42-41 Big Sky Conference overtime win over Cal Poly. As Baldwin faced the media, players and fans were still roaring their approval long after the Eagles had seemingly conjured a win out of the winds at Roos Field.
“We still have a long way to go this year, and we’re finding that out more and more,” Baldwin cautioned after his 70th win at Eastern. “That’s OK as long as we are willing to keep learning and growing. I thought we did that in the second half, but we have to learn and grow more when we are in these situations.” Baldwin said.
There were plenty of those on Saturday. Down by 15 with barely five minutes to play and still trailing by eight in the final minute, the seventh-ranked Eagles surmounted every obstacle. They survived to get to overtime, then won when Cal Poly rolled the dice and went for two after its overtime touchdown.
When Mustang running back Kory Garcia fumbled the ball out of bounds on the conversion attempt he goal line, players and fans engulfed the field to celebrate what earlier seemed so improbable.
For three quarters, the offense was inconsistent while the defense was consistent only in its inability to stop the Cal Poly triple-option.
With the winds sabotaging Jordan West’s deep throws, the Eagles managed just 201 yards of total offense after three quarters. Five of their first seven drives ended with punts, while West was 14 for 19, but for only 90 yards.
“The wind, I’m not going to make that excuse,” said West, who went out and fashioned two long drives to bring the Eagles back from the brink.
Trailing 35-20, the Eagles got back in the game when running Jabari Wilson scored on a 5-yard run to make it an 8-point game with 5:11 to play. That was nice, but the Eagles still needed a stop from a defense that had given up over 500 yards to that point against the triple option.
Urged on by a sellout crowd of 10,352, the Eagles forced the biggest three-and-out of the season so far, holding the Mustangs to four yards and forcing a pount that set Eastern up on its 46-yard-line.
West and the offense did the rest. Four passes to Kendrick Bourne got the Eagles to the 16, where West fired a strike to a wide-open Nic Sblendorio.
It didn’t hurt that Cal Poly (2-4 overall, 1-2 in the Big Sky) began to lose discipline, getting whistled for a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty on fourth down. It happened again on the two-point conversion: West was intercepted, but the Mustangs were called for holding.
Given a second chance, West found tight end Terry Jackson II alone on the left side of the end zone to force overtime. Once there, he hit Bourne again on the right flat, and Bourne did the rest for a 25-yard score.
Bourne did something else, getting whistled for excessive celebration. The penalty set Poly up at the 12-yard line, and the Mustangs scored four plays later to set up the all-or-nothing two-point conversion try.
That too left Baldwin in a philosophical mood as his team improved to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky.
“We know we are going to continue to have tough football games, and we have to keep grinding to find ways to get better during the week,” Baldwin said. “We are a team that has the ability to win any game on our schedule, but if we’re a little off and we don’t bring our A game, we will struggle to beat anybody left on our schedule too. “
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