BOZEMAN – Eastern Washington is finding its comfort zone, which should make the rest of the Big Sky Conference very uncomfortable.
“Settling in,” coach Beau Baldwin called it Saturday afternoon, the slow-but-sure dominance his third-ranked Eagles displayed in a 41-17 win at Montana State.
When it was over, the Eagles had perhaps their most complete win of the season: a school-record passing performance from quarterback Gage Gubrud, a resounding 5-0 turnover margin and a shutout in the second half.
The latter has been a given for the Eagles, who’ve led just two games at halftime yet are 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Sky going into next week’s home game against Montana.
“It’s not by accident we’re playing well in the second half – we began to build that months ago,” Baldwin said. “It’s a combination of the work ethic year around, and that builds you both physically and mentally.”
“Our players are ready to make adjustments at halftime and find different things to attack in the second half. It takes a lot of grind to get to that point as a football team,” Baldwin said.
There was plenty of grinding in the first half, as a nothing-left to lose MSU team (2-6 overall, 0-5 Big Sky) scored a pair of way-too-easy touchdowns while the Eastern offense was moving erratically and dodging a flurry of yellow flags.
Penalties – 12 for 105 yards – afflicted the Eagles all afternoon, but that was their only shortcoming in a game that was even more one-sided than the final score.
Gubrud had another stellar game, a take-what-they-give-you effort that seemed quiet enough until the final stats were compiled: 37-for-51 for a school-record 520 yards and four touchdowns, along with the mobility and pocket presence to extend plays.
“It feels great as far as the quietness of the yards that we put up, because teams make us be patient,” Gubrud said.
Case in point: Early in the second half, Eastern led 24-17 but faced second-and-17 at midfield after a holding penalty. Unfazed, Gubrud hit Antoine Custer Jr. for 10 yards, then Cooper Kupp for 10 more.
Three more completions set up Gubrud’s one-yard touchdown toss to freshman tight end Jayce Gilder and gave the Eagles their first two-score lead of the game.
The score was still 31-17 and the game up for grabs early in the fourth quarter – until Gubrud and Kupp combined for the clincher.
Overcoming second-and-20 and third-and-9 – the product of another holding penalty – Gubrud rolled right and threw downfield as Kupp was closely covered.
But few balls are 50-50 when Kupp is involved, and he twisted and leaped to come down with a 40-yard gain.
Kupp finished with a game-high 13 catches for 154 yards – 56 yards more than the entire MSU receiving corps.
“There a lot of reasons Cooper Kupp is such a big deal,” said Gubrud, who’s becoming a pretty big deal himself.
Besides the passing record, the redshirt sophomore from McMinnville, Oregon, had 538 yards of total offense – just off the school-record 551 he had in the season-opening win at Washington State.
Gubrud now has six of the top 11 performance in school history in his first seven starts.
But even as he walked off the field, Gubrud was already self-critiquing. Recalling a first-half interception that was nullified by an MSU encroachment penalty, Gubrud said, “I got lucky on that one. I just have to improve my decision-making and staying patient.”
Meanwhile, the EWU defense pitched a shutout after trailing 17-14 early in the second quarter. The effort started with pressure up front and ended five times with turnovers.
For defensive line coach Eti Ena, it was a matter of “catching up to the speed of it and the looks they were giving us, but the guys settled in.”
Eastern held MSU to 349 yards, and had a 421-152 advantage after the first quarter.
Weber State 37, Southern Utah 36: Jadrian Clark threw a 60-yard pass to Darryl Denby with 31 seconds to play to preserve the Wildcats’ (5-2, 4-0 Big Sky) unbeaten conference record with a win over the Thunderbirds (3-4, 2-3) in Cedar City, Utah. Clark’s game-winning throw capped a fourth-quarter rally that brought the Wildcats back from a 23-point deficit.
Earlier, Stefan Cantwell ran for a 10-yard touchdown and Clark threw an 11-yard score to Andrew Vollert to close the Southern Utah lead to 36-30 with 2:21 remaining.
Clark had 436 yards and four touchdowns on 31-of-52 passing. Haini Moimoi had 126 yards receiving and Denby 90 yards and a score. Jacob DeMaio’s 91-yard punt in the first quarter set a new school record.
Southern Utah’s Patrick Tyler threw for two touchdowns in the first half and ran for another to help the Thunderbirds to a 23-6 halftime lead.
Tyler had 239 yards and two scores passing and two rushing TDs.
North Dakota 28, Idaho State 21: Keaton Studsrud threw two touchdown passes and ran for another to help the Fighting Hawks (6-2, 5-0 Big Sky) get past a Bengals (2-5, 1-3) upset bid in Pocatello. Studsrud completed 12 of 20 attempts for 173 yards. John Santiago had 101 yards on 18 carries and Brady Oliveira finished with 46 yards on 16 carries.
Tanner Gueller went 26 of 49 for 220 yards and three touchdowns and added 32 yards rushing for the Bengals.
Northern Arizona 45, Montana 34: Blake Kemp threw touchdown passes to four different receivers in the first half and Corbin Jountti ran for two in the second and the Lumberjacks (4-4, 3-2 Big Sky) defeated the Grizzlies (5-2, 2-2) in Flagstaff, Arizona. Kemp, who was 11 of 19 for 200 yards in the first half, connected with William Morehand for 74 yards and Delshawn McClellon for 10 on the first two possessions for the Lumberjacks. In the second it was Kendyl Taylor for 19 yards and Jake Thomas for 3 as the Lumberjacks opened a 28-20 lead.
Jountti had TD runs of 1 and 13 yards in the third quarter as NAU pushed the lead to 45-20.
Brady Gustafson, who was 34 of 59 for 394 yards, had two of his four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for the Grizzlies. James Homan and Justin Calhoun combined for 17 catches and each had 133 yards and a touchdown.
Joe Logan ran for 114 yards for Northern Arizona and Morehand had five receptions for a career-high 125.
Northern Colorado 27, Sacramento State 19: Jamie Falloon kicked field goals of 27 and 42 yards to give the Bears (4-3, 2-2 Big Sky) just enough cushion to hold off the Hornets (1-7, 1-4) in Greeley, Colorado.
The Hornets drove to Northern Colorado’s 10 with 11 seconds remaining in the game. Bryan Stansbury sacked Nate Ketteringham on fourth down to stop Sacramento State and secure the victory.
Northern Colorado’s Ellis Onic II started the scoring when he slipped down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game.
Sacramento State came back to lead 10-7 at the break.
Cal Poly 21, UC Davis 16: Dano Graves passed for just 44 yards but ran in two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the third quarter, to help lift the Mustangs (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) to a win over the Aggies (2-6, 1-4) in San Luis Obispo, California.
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