POCATELLO, Idaho – Tired of being shoved around, Eastern Washington’s defense is pushing back.
The Eagles went into Saturday’s football game at Idaho State ranking at or near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference in several statistical categories. They came out of it with a 45-28 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score.
In the process, they embraced a “we’re-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” attitude that may set the tone for the last five games of the regular season.
That tone may have been set by Idaho State coach Mike Kramer, who jokingly predicted on a Pocatello radio broadcast before the game that “the first team to eight touchdowns is going to win it.”
Enough, already, said the Eastern defenders, whose dreary stats are more the product of the first three games against the powerful offenses of Oregon, Northern Iowa and Montana State.
They responded with their best game of the year, holding a potent ISU offense to 381 yards and forcing four turnovers, including a couple of game-changers in the second quarter. Defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding’s 4-2-5 scheme was at its best on Saturday, allowing the secondary to be more aggressive and forcing the action instead of letting it come to them.
“I loved that so many people were talking, and our defense was listening that the first team to eight touchdowns was going to win,” coach Beau Baldwin said. “Our defense didn’t think that would be the case and came out and played great football. “
The Eagles (4-2, 3-0 Big Sky) were aggressive from the start, forcing a fumble on the second play from scrimmage. Upon further review, that play was reversed, and ISU enjoyed an early 14-7 lead. Then somebody flipped a switch.
With the Eagles leading 17-14 and ISU backed up on its own 23, the Bengals called for a curl route. Eastern safety Todd Raynes was ready.
“It was the same route we watched on film,” said Raynes, who noted that it also was the same route that led to an interception by linebacker Ketner Kupp on ISU’s previous possession.
Said Raynes, “I saw the quarterback’s eyes, and I thought, ‘Well, he’s not going to throw this ball,’ and when he did, I just stepped in front of it.”
Five seconds later, Eastern had its first two-score lead of the game, 24-14.
The sense of playing downhill was rewarded again late in the half when defensive end Nick Foerstel made perhaps the biggest play of the game. Trailing just 24-21, Idaho State had three minutes till halftime to tie the game or take the lead.
Instead, Foerstel stripped the ball from Sanders and recovered it at the ISU 29. Three plays later, Jordan West threw a 29-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp with three seconds left to give the Eagles a 31-21 lead.
“We were rushing three and Coach said go in,” said Foerstel, noting that fellow end Samson Ebukam was usually drawing two blockers. “So it was basically a one-on-one.”
For Baldwin, that was huge. “Even when it’s a three- or four-score game, you can find three or four plays that made a difference, and that was one of them.”
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