POCATELLO – And now for something completely ordinary – by Eastern Washington’s standards, anyway.
The Eagles crafted a 45-28 win over Idaho State on Saturday the old-fashioned way – with ball-hawking defense, superior special teams and ball control.
Yes, there was that touchdown pass from the wide receiver back to the quarterback, so the Eagles haven’t completely lost their identity as a free-wheeling outfit.
More important, they haven’t lost their hold on first place in the Big Sky Conference. They’re also riding a four-game winning streak, with two of those coming away from Roos Field.
“It’s hard to beat anybody on the road and win at Holt Arena,” said coach Beau Baldwin, whose team is 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference. “It was big for us to play the closest thing we have all year to play a complete game on offense, defense and special teams.”
The big takeaway, besides the four by forced by the Eastern defense? There’s more to winning titles than a high-flying offense. On this day, Eastern was able to protect a 10-point halftime lead with just 168 yards of total offense in the second half.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Cooper Kupp returned a punt for a 76-yard touchdown one play after ISU quarterback Michael Sanders left with a leg injury.
That made it 38-21, a lead that was more than safe against ineffective backup Tanner Gueller. After several punts, Eastern put the game away on Jordan West’s 9-yard TD pass to tight end Terry Jackson II to make it 45-21 with 4:40 to play.
An ISU score in the final minute spoiled the second-half shutout but did nothing to lessen a sense of accomplishment by the Eastern defense.
“It feels great,” said linebacker Jake Gall, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles that also was a personal best. “We really wanted to attack them, that was a big point.”
That seemed like a pipe dream in the first quarter, when the teams combined for 321 yards and crammed a game’s worth of peaks and valleys into the first quarter.
On the second play from scrimmage, Bengals quarterback Michael Sanders appeared to fumble the ball at the ISU 33. Eastern linebacker Jake Gall recovered, but the fumble call was reversed. On the next play, Sanders hit Madison Mangum for 59 yards to the Eastern 2-yard line. The EWU defense stiffened, but on fourth down, Sanders hit Mangum for a 2-yard score.
EWU responded in emphatic fashion. After converting on fourth-and-2 with a pass to Kendrick Bourne at midfield, Eastern use a trick play to perfection.
West handed off the Wilson, who went left and pitched the ball to Kupp on a reverse. As the ISU defense converged, Kupp launched a 24-yard pass to a wide-open West down the right sideline.
On first and 10 at the Eastern 43, Sanders threw a deep ball into double coverage. Eagles safety Mitch Fettig intercepted at the 3, but running back Jabari Wilson fumbled on the next play and Sanders delivered a 4-yard TD strike to Mangum.
Eastern tied the game at 14 with a workmanlike, 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by West’s 9-yard pass to Kupp in the right flat.
Eastern’s defense struck in the second quarter, after the offense settled for Jordan Dascalo’s 38-yard field goal to take the lead for the first time. Two plays later, Eastern safety Todd Raynes stepped in front of an ISU receiver on a short curl route and took the ball 25 yards the other way.
The Bengals (2-5, 1-2) responded with a 12-play, 75-yard TD drive, then forced a punt to give themselves a chance to take the lead with 3 minutes left until halftime. Instead, Eastern defensive end Nick Foerstel knocked the ball loose from Sanders and recovered at the ISU 29.
Three plays later, West hit Kupp for a 29-yard score that gave the Eagles their first two-score lead, 31-21.
“That was huge, even more so because our offense was able to take advantage,” Baldwin said.
Notes: Kupp broke the school record for career receptions and inched closer to the Big Sky Conference all-time mark during Saturday’s game. The junior from Yakima had 14 catches for 161 yards and two scores to move past
Weber State 25, North Dakota 24: Jadrian Clark threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats (4-3, 3-1) to a come-from-behind win over North Dakota (4-3, 2-2) in Ogden, Utah.
Portland State 59, Montana State 42: David Jones rushed for a career-high 285 yards and had three touchdowns, and the Vikings (5-1, 2-1) scored a touchdown on their first eight possessions in a victory over the Bobcats in Portland.
Northern Colorado 56, UC Davis 27: Jacob Knipp ran for three scores and threw for a fourth as the Bears (4-2, 2-2) rolled over the Aggies (1-6, 1-3) in Greeley, Colorado.
Southern Utah 44, Sacramento State 0: Ammon Olsen threw for five touchdowns as the Thunderbirds (4-2, 3-0) blanked the Hornets (1-6, 0-4) in Cedar City, Utah.
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