Shaq Hill has felt the pain.
Saturday was all about the gain: almost 200 yards and a 49-31 win over Northern Colorado that Hill fashioned with one big play after another.
It was enough to put last year to rest, the season Hill lost because of a meniscus injury and two resulting surgeries.
“I’m finally getting my feet back,” the senior wide receiver said after a career day at Roos Field.
On the ground and through the air, Hill was the go-to Eagle as Northern Colorado opted to pay an inordinate amount of attention to Cooper Kupp.
Big mistake. Hill caught seven balls for 153 yards and a school-record four touchdowns – all in the second half.
Two of them were sublime.
The first came just after halftime. With Eastern trailing 17-14, quarterback Gage Gubrud fired toward Hill in the right side of the end zone. Hill looked beyond the field for some help on the way to a remarkable over-the-shoulder catch.
“It (the ball) was in kind of a blind spot, but I used the Jumbotron to figure out where it was, and Gage put it in a perfect spot,” Hill said. “I just came down with it.”
The game was still in doubt early in the fourth quarter. On second-and-10 from the Northern Colorado 42, Gubrud found Hill 30 yards downfield. The 180-pound Hill did the rest, dragging three Bears across the goal line to restore a double-digit lead.
“I just wasn’t going to go down – no way,” said Hill, whose first half was spent running the ball on sweeps and reverses.
At halftime, Hill was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 41 yards yet didn’t have a single catch.
Things changed in the second half as the Bears clamped down on Kupp, who had a career-high 276 receiving yards in the Eagles’ 43-41 win last year in Greeley, Colorado.
This time, Kupp was limited to five catches for 59 yards, but Kendrick Bourne had five catches for 62 and Nic Sblendorio had four for 50 yards.
Another beneficiary was running back Sam McPherson, who found a way to a game-high eight receptions for 68 yards.
“Coop makes it tough on a defense,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “Ultimately, when you do decide to do that to him the rest of our offense can make it really tough on another team.
“We’ve seen both sides of it where an opponent is not going to let No. 10 beat them, and then others who know there are too many other guys. We are ready to adjust to either game plan, and our team did a really good job of adjusting to that, especially in the second half.”
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