Eastern Washington proved it was the best Football Championship Subdivision team in the country in 2010 when it won a series of close, physical games en route the program’s first national title.
Weber State, one of the subdivision’s best 6-5 teams that season, was a worthy adversary.
For about three quarters, anyway.
The 16th-ranked Eagles turned three interceptions into touchdowns and erased a second-half deficit to down the Wildcats 35-24 in a Week 5 win at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.
Weber State, which featured senior quarterback and one-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year Cameron Higgins, finished the year with five losses, including two to big schools (Boston College and Texas Tech) and two-score losses to Big Sky co-champions EWU and Montana State (24-10).
But EWU was without the league’s top player in yard-churning running back Taiwan Jones when the Eagles traveled to Ogden, Utah.
Jones was nursing an injury that kept him out of most of the second half in a 30-7 loss at Montana State the previous week.
The Eagles’ senior-heavy defense stepped up, though, and first-year EWU quarterback and SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell had his best game of the season to that point (337 passing yards, four touchdowns).
EWU’s Darriell Beaumonte, a redshirt junior running back starting his first game, had two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
“I remember all the pressure because Taiwan was out, our all-world running back,” said Beaumonte, who now works in juvenile rehabilitation in Snoqualmie, Washington. “Weber was a good team, but we kept finding ways to win that game.”
EWU (465 total yards) and Weber State (459) nearly matched each other in offensive production, but the Eagles limited Weber State to 6 of 16 in third-down situations. The Wildcats scored in half of their red-zone tries (2 for 4).
Weber State offensive coordinator Matt Hammer remembers a never-quit EWU defense.
“EWU’s front four could get home,” said Hammer, who recently began his second stint at Weber State. “They didn’t have to bring pressure. Their corners were good in Cover 2. They bent, didn’t break and were resilient as hell in the red zone.
“Looking back, it’s a little discouraging. You play a team that (won that the national title) that close and know you beat yourself. But EWU’s good players made those plays. (Pullman graduate and linebacker J.C. Sherritt) was everywhere.”
Sherritt, Tyler Washburn and Matt Johnson each had key interceptions for EWU, which trailed 17-14 midway through the third quarter when Higgins connected with Mike Phillips on a 65-yard touchdown.
EWU answered by scoring the game’s next three touchdowns. Weber State didn’t reach the end zone again until the final two minutes when the game was out of reach.
Beaumonte caught a short screen pass late in the third quarter that turned into an athletic, 16-yard touchdown reception that gave EWU a lead it didn’t relinquish
“I thought I was going to be knocked out of bounds, but I ended just tight-roping the sideline and getting in,” Beaumonte said. “I remember being very tired that day because I was also our special teams guy, so I’d go from running back to kickoff team.”
EWU receiver Ashton Gant, another Pullman High product, had 110 yards and two touchdown receptions. Freshman running back Mario Brown scored on a 5-yard reception.
“(EWU) capitalized on those turnovers,” Hammer said. “Looking back, I wonder if beating them changes our season. Do we win the league for the second year in a row?”
Weber State won three in a row and three of its last four Big Sky games, including 30-21 against seventh-ranked Montana.
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