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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Grip on Sports: EWU, Baldwin once again come up just short of the promised land

Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin stands withhis team after falling to Youngstown State during the second half of a FCS football game on Saturday, Dec 17, 2016, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Youngstown State won the game 40-38.  TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin stands withhis team after falling to Youngstown State during the second half of a FCS football game on Saturday, Dec 17, 2016, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Youngstown State won the game 40-38. TYLER TJOMSLAND tylert@spokesman.com (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh ya, wondering if Eastern Washington’s defense was up to the task of getting the Eagles into the FCS title game. We don’t have to wonder anymore. Though, to be fair, a last-second touchdown isn’t the best way to judge. Read on.

••••••••••

• The ball stuck to Ketner Kupp’s shoulder. But the Eastern linebacker was glued to Youngstown State tight end Kevin Rader. And Rader was attached to the ball. That rare and mystifying triangulation of circumstance was the deciding factor in the Penguins’ 40-38 FCS semifinal win Saturday at Roos Field.

It was odd. Really odd. But the right call was made. Eastern, which had led by 11 points heading into the fourth quarter, had found a new way to come up just short of the national title game.

If you are keeping score at home, since its 2010 national title, Eastern has:

• Lost on the road in the semifinals, 45-42, to Sam Houston State in 2012;

• Lost at home in the semifinals, 35-31, to Towson State in 2013, blowing a 10-point late fourth-quarter lead;

• Lost at home in the quarterfinals, 59-46, to Illinois State in 2014;

• Failed to make the playoffs in 2011 and 2015;

• Yesterday’s heartbreaking defeat.

Four chances to get back to the promised land of Frisco, Texas. Four failures. And each time the Eagles have lost shootouts in which their offense has scored, seemingly, enough points to earn wins.

Yet, Saturday’s loss may have hinged on an offensive mistake, not a last-second YSU score.

Though Eastern led by seven at the half, the Penguins marched down the field after intermission, chewing up almost 7 minutes. But they had to settle for a short field goal.

And the Eagles responded with a quick touchdown drive. The lead was 11 and the pressure was on Youngstown State. The Penguins spit the bit, losing four yards on their next possession.

A short punt and a 15-yard facemask penalty gave Eastern the ball at the Youngstown State 40 yard line. With 5 minutes left in the third quarter, the Eagles had a chance to put this one away.

They failed.

After getting as deep as the Youngstown 18, Gage Gubrud, who threw for more yards this season than any FCS quarterback ever, made his second mistake of the game.

He tried to connect with Shaq Hill near the goal line, the ball was tipped and intercepted. Instead of having a chance to make the lead 18 or 14 points, it was still 11 and Youngstown was alive.

• By the way, I was sort of hoping replay would overturn the final catch, not because it would have allowed Eastern to escape with a win, but because it may have caused Youngstown State coach Bo Pellini’s head to fire off into the Cheney night sky.

One of my biggest gripes with replay is the inability of the official in the booth to actually, you know, enforce the rules. If the video had shown conclusively Rader had dropped the ball, the pass would have been incomplete.

But how about Kupp’s obvious pass interference? It would have been ignored. See, no official on the field had thrown a flag. So no pass interference could be called. Even though everyone watching the game at home and the official in the booth saw it. And saw it over and over.

Luckily, for the rule enforcers and makers, Rader held on. At least there was no video to allow any other decision. So the missed penalty had no bearing.

• Speaking of missing obvious things, the Minnesota football players realized how bad their boycott looked and ended it yesterday. They will be back on the practice field prepping for their Holiday Bowl matchup with Washington State. John Blanchette has his thoughts about the proposed boycott and Mike Leach’s response.

•••

WSU: Jacob Thorpe was in Cheney for the Eastern game, so he missed Washington State’s comeback victory over Santa Clara in basketball. The Cougars rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to win 69-68. Correspondent Peter Harriman has the story. … It was a busy day in Pac-12 basketball, with Arizona holding off Texas A&M in Texas, winning 67-63, and California setting a school record in a 81-55 home romp over Cal Poly. … Oregon had little trouble with UNLV in Portland and Utah ran past Prairie View A&M at home. … USC and UCLA remained undefeated. … Arizona State lost a home game last night and coach Bobby Hurley was ejected. … In Pac-12 football news, Washington respects Alabama, but doesn’t want to play a different style vs. the Tide. … John Ross is still mulling his options. … Colorado will have a different person running its defense for the Alamo Bowl. … Even though we weren’t here yesterday, we still want to pass this along

Gonzaga: The Zags are in Tennessee today for a “neutral site” game with the Volunteers. It’s as neutral as the Battle in Seattle is for GU. Jim Meehan has this advance of the contest in Nashville as well as the key matchups. … Around the WCC, BYU missed on its last, best chance for an RPI-building non-conference win, falling 75-73 to Illinois in Chicago. … Pacific fell in overtime at home to Fresno State. … USD also picked up a home win.

EWU: Jim Allen braved the cold in Cheney yesterday to bring you this game story as well as a notebook of key points from the semifinal. … Jacob has a column on the accomplishments of the Eastern seniors. … Josh Horton chips in with this story on Gubrud and his record-breaking season. … Tyler Tjomsland found a way to make his camera work in the cold and has this photo report.

Idaho: The Vandals had little trouble with Northwest Nazarene, winning 87-61 at home. … The Idaho women also won a home game. … Elsewhere in Big Sky basketball, Weber State picked up a big non-conference win over Utah Valley State. … Northern Colorado lost at Denver. … Southern Utah was blown out at home. … Northern Arizona and Montana won on the road. … Sacramento State won at home.

Chiefs: Prince George came to the Arena last night and left with a 2-1 victory over Spokane. Tom Clouse was there as well and has this game story.

Preps: Saturdays this time of year mean wrestling tournaments. And Greg Lee was at one of the best yesterday, covering the Tri-State tournament. … Saturdays also feature basketball action and we can pass along GSL girls and boys roundups as well as roundups from other boys and girls games in the area. … Longtime track coach Linda Lanker was honored by a national organization.

Seahawks: There is no Hawk game today thanks to the Thursday night win over the Rams, but there is news. Not good news either. … How far can Seattle go? It may be up to Pete Carroll. … K.J. Wright is having another special season.

Mariners: The M’s are trying to cultivate power arms. They have found one guy who can really bring it. … Seattle spent a whole heck of a lot of money last season.

•••

• Back on schedule. Can you believe it is only a week until Christmas? Hope you are progressing nicely toward the day. We will be back later this afternoon with our TV Take on the Gonzaga game. Until then …

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