While Eastern Washington won the turnover battle against Montana State, an edge in explosive plays more than compensated for the Bobcats in their 23-20 victory Saturday at Roos Field.
Quarterback Matthew McKay was responsible for the first, a 56-yard touchdown run on the Bobcats’ opening drive that contributed to Montana State’s 291-yard rushing output on the day.
The Bobcats’ other two touchdowns were also long ones. With Eastern Washington leading 13-7 in the second quarter, McKay threw to Lance McCutcheon down the left sideline, where he beat Darrien Sampson one-on-one in coverage and then avoided safety Ely Doyle on his way to a 67-yard score.
Montana State’s bursts weren’t over. Early in the fourth quarter, pinned on their own 5-yard line, the Bobcats needed just two plays to score: The first was a 52-yard pass to McCutcheon, and then Ifanse ran 43 yards for a touchdown.
McCutcheon finished with a game-high 150 yards on five receptions; Ifanse had 217 on the ground to boost his Big Sky-leading total to 1,124 rushing yards.
“It’s easy to look at corners and be like, well, be ready for it,” Eagles linebacker Ty Graham said, referring to those one-on-one plays by McCutcheon. “But when you look at a team like this that’s so run-heavy, it’s tough being out on that island every time. I would never point fingers at our corners for explosives whatsoever. That’s the hardest position in football. I think our corners are phenomenal from top down, and I trust them every single day.”
Eastern Washington’s longest play of the game was a 37-yard catch by senior Talolo-Limu Jones, who also had a 22-yard catch. No other Eagles reception went for more than 19, and their longest rush was a 25-yarder by Micah Smith.
Smith starts, Sendelbach sits
Senior safety Anthany Smith made his first start of the season and finished third on the team with 10 tackles, behind junior Cale Lindsay (15) and the senior Graham (11).
Smith played most of the second half against Weber State in his first significant action of the season. He had been recovering from an injury suffered from last spring.
“The energy he brings from his playmaking abilities, he’s just one of the most contagious individuals,” Graham said of Smith. “It’s a blessing to have him back on the field.”
Smith started over sophomore Ely Doyle, though Doyle also played a number of series. The Eagles were without senior linebacker Jack Sendelbach, who was injured against Weber State; Lindsay started in his place.
“He is one of our key players, just overall from a leadership standpoint as well,” Graham said of Sendelbach. “He kind of makes our defense go, so it is a bit of a bite in the butt when we don’t get him. I commend Cale Lindsay, who had a great day today. He really stepped up into that role and he has time and time again proven for our defense to be a ballplayer for us.”
On offense, senior running back Tamarick Pierce carried twice for 11 yards in his first game action this season. He led the team in rushing during the shortened spring 2021 season.
Eagles struggle on third down
The Eagles achieved first downs on just 3 of 13 third downs, their lowest total and percentage of the season. All three of those conversions came in the first quarter, when Eastern’s offense gained 164 of its 314 yards of offense.
Eastern failed to convert on its final nine third downs, though it did convert on 2-of-3 fourth downs, on which it is 12 of 20 this season.
“When you look at 3 of 13 on third down, that’s atrocious,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said. “Even against a highly respected defense, it wasn’t like we were third-and-12 all day long.”
“We did ourselves no favors at times,” Best said, “whether it was a missed block, missed catch, missed read. Eric (was) having to step up earlier than anticipated, (and) it just seemed to be kind of one-off at the moments where we needed it to be a little more dialed in.”
Barriere threw for 214 yards, enough to move into second on the Big Sky’s all-time passing yardage list. He now has 12,265 in his career and needs 352 to break the record of 12,616 held by Matt Nichols, the former Eastern Washington quarterback.
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