BOZEMAN – A “real game-changer,” Montana State coach Jeff Choate called Eastern defensive end Samson Ebukam in the run-up to Saturday’s game against the Eagles.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, Choate was right.
More than any player on the field, Ebukam dictated the flow of Eastern’s 41-17 win over the Bobcats, especially when it mattered most.
Facing a mobile quarterback in Chris Murray, Ebukam and the EWU defense got off to a slow start; Murray gave MSU an early 14-7 lead on a 70-yard keeper. Not acceptable.
“You have to stop him from getting out of the pocket – you have to pressure him,” said Ebukam, who did that and much more.
First he teamed with Jay Tee-Tiuli on a third-down sack of Murray deep in Bobcat territory late in the first quarter.
Early in the second half, MSU was threatening to retake the lead as Murray scrambled on first-and-10 from the Eagle 26. As Murray ran upfield with the ball tucked in his right arm, Ebukam reached around and ripped the ball out with such force that it flew 10 feet into the air before landing the arms of cornerback D’londo Tucker.
“He played well,” defensive line coach Eti Ena said. “And in the run game, he had to control some of that option stuff and catching up to the speed of the game.”
Ebukam wasn’t finished. On MSU’s next possession – again on third down – he flew toward Murray, whose rushed pass to Gunnar Brekke resulted in a loss after linebacker Miquiyah Zamora made the tackle and forced the punt.
In the fourth quarter, with Eastern leading 31-17 and MSU driving, his diving tackle of Murray on third-and-two all but sealed the deal for the Eagles.
Alcobendas comes full circle
Back on the field where he suffered the biggest injury of his career, Eastern kicker Roldan Alcobendas didn’t look back.
Instead he laid himself out to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return.
Two years ago at Bobcat Stadium, Alcobendas suffered an ACL injury that eventually cost him almost two seasons.
That injury came on a kickoff return – the same situation he faced on Saturday. With the Eagles leading 31-17 in the third quarter, MSU returner Logan Jones turned left and had clear sailing to the end zone.
“I just saw him pop out real quick, so I wanted to make my best effort, “said Alcobendas, who held up Jones long enough for Victor Gamboa to finish the job farther downfield, at the EWU 42.
The effort came at a price, as Alcobendas was slow to get up.
“I landed pretty awkwardly,” but I was fine,” Alcobendas said.
Alcobendas also hit two of three field-goal attempts, including a 48-yarder on the final play of the half to give Eastern a 24-17 lead.
“It just feels good to be back,” Alcobendas said.
Montana game already looming
The Eagle players were still on the field in Bozeman when reporters brought up next week’s game against Montana.
Ebukam didn’t mind.
“I’ve been thinking about that game since last year,” said Ebukam, who played in the Eagles’ disastrous 57-16 loss last year in Missoula.
Already looking ahead to next week’s practices, Ebukam said that “If anybody is goofing off, I’m going to give them a check,” Ebukam said.
Coach Beau Baldwin was more diplomatic.
“We have always respected that program so much and what they have done over the years. And more than anything, let’s just focus on 2016 and what they’ve accomplished,” Baldwin said.
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