Late, go-ahead touchdown drives involving quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and his trusty, 6-foot-5 target – short-time NFL receiver Brandon Kaufman – were almost regular during Eastern Washington’s national championship season a decade ago.
The Eagles’ Week 10 – a wet, near-freezing afternoon at Roos Field – had one of those thrilling endings.
Mitchell, now the Canadian Football League’s most successful and highest-paid quarterback, hit Kaufman with a 22-yard strike with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give fifth-ranked EWU a 31-24 win over upset-minded Southern Utah.
EWU, which improved to 8-2 after the nonconference win – the Thunderbirds (6-5) joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012 – was inconsistent and resilient on offense.
Senior cornerback Jesse Hoffman was perhaps the biggest late-game hero.
The score was tied at 24 at the 6:01 mark in the fourth quarter when Hoffman intercepted efficient Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (434 yards, two touchdowns), setting up the Eagles’ go-ahead touchdown drive.
After EWU took a 31-24 lead, Southern Utah tried to answer in the final minutes, but Hoffman intercepted Sorensen again to seal the win.
Hoffman, a Seattle native, also boosted EWU on special teams, scoring on a 82-yard kick return in the third quarter to give EWU a 24-17 lead.
Southern Utah, which saw its five-game winning streak snapped and at-large playoff hopes dashed, outgained EWU 484 yards to 366.
“It definitely seemed like they converted every third down,” said EWU linebacker J.C. Sherritt, now a defensive coordinator at Cal Poly.
“We knew they were a great team, and great offense, from watching film, but our plan was to keep chopping wood and trying to confuse them.
“It took us 3½ quarters, but it finally paid off when we were able to pressure them into a couple of bad throws.”
EWU star running back Taiwan Jones – now a 10-year NFL veteran with the Buffalo Bills – got off to a fast start. Jones ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He finished with 25 carries for 158 yards.
Mitchell completed 21 of 34 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, both to Kaufman, who hauled in nine passes for 129 yards.
“They are never afraid of the situation and that moment,” then-EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said after the game. “They seem to keep attacking. And whenever there is that time when it seems a little bleak and things aren’t going right, they find a way to flush everything else that happened and come back and make plays late.”
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