Eastern Washington forced a gaudy 47 turnovers in its run to the Football Championship Subdivision title, a school record that remains untouched.
Many were timely, including Jerry Ceja’s strip of Northern Colorado quarterback Dylan Orms as the Bears attempted a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of a Big Sky Conference thriller in Greeley, Colorado.
Tyler Jolley returned the fumble to Northern Colorado’s 39-yard line with 61 seconds left, setting up star Taiwan Jones’ 24-yard game-winning touchdown in the 12-ranked Eagles’ 35-28 come-from-behind triumph on Oct . 16, 2010.
“I remember I laid a receiver out when they were making that late drive, but a receiver still caught it,” said Matt Johnson, an EWU safety later drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
“But (Ceja) was like Gumby coming off the edge for us on third downs. Stepped up big for us in those situations.”
Ceja, a defensive end, forced the pivotal fumble 63 miles from his hometown of Aurora, Colorado.
EWU receiver Brandon Kaufman, a former high school star in nearby Denver, also had a big game in front of friends and family.
The Eagles trailed 28-21 in the final four minutes before quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell connected with Kaufman (five receptions, 94 yards) on a four-yard touchdown strike to tie the game.
EWU’s offense struggled for the second straight week, but Jones, who had been hampered by injuries, rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, including a 73-yard score.
But Mitchell, like he did in many games in 2010, stepped up late, completing 9 of 11 passes in the fourth quarter and orchestrated the 80-yard drive that tied the game.
The Eagles improved to 5-2 and 4-1 in Big Sky play. Northern Colorado dropped to 2-5 and 1-4 and ultimately finished the season with a 3-8 record.
Zach Johnson – Matt’s twin brother and fellow defensive back – had an interception, Jesse Hoffman had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdowns and J.C. Sherritt totaled a game-high 14 tackles and an interception.
“The whole league was solid that year,” Matt Johnson said. “In a different year we might have lost that game, but that was a special team and never thought we were out of any game.”
Northern Colorado still hasn’t beaten EWU since joining the Big Sky in 2006.
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