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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eastern Washington gives up large lead, misses last-second field goal in loss to Idaho State 42-41

Eastern Washington cornerback Cage Schenck tackle an Idaho State receiver during Saturday’s Big Sky Conference game in Pocatello, Idaho.  (Courtesy of EWU Athletics)
From staff reports

From staff reports

POCATELLO, Idaho – Add this one to the crazy games Eastern Washington has played at Holt Arena.

After the Eagles drove into field-goal range in the final minute, Soren McKee’s 38-yard attempt sailed wide right, and Idaho State held on for a 42-41 comeback victory over the Eagles in Big Sky play.

It was the Bengals’ first victory over Eastern Washington since 2005.

“(That is) one last play we didn’t make,” EWU coach Aaron Best said in a postgame radio interview, referring to the missed kick. “But there was a lot of stuff before that we could’ve done (better).”

The loss spoiled a record day for EWU junior Efton Chism III, who caught 13 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, both career bests. He had both scores in the first half as the Eagles built a 35-7 lead.

Redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas returned after missing Eastern’s last game and completed 33 of 47 passes for a season-high 407 yards and three touchdowns, including one to Miles Williams, the redshirt freshman’s first with the Eagles.

But in the second half, an offensive surge by Idaho State (2-4, 2-1 Big Sky) and a series of unfortunate events drained the 21st-ranked Eagles (2-4, 1-2) of their lead.

After closing out the half with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 35-14, the Bengals opened the second half by missing a field goal and throwing an interception to redshirt sophomore Armani Orange, his second of the game and his career.

That led to a pair of McKee field goals from 32 and 30 yards, which boosted Eastern’s lead to 41-14 with 1:48 to go in the third quarter.

From there, Idaho State scored four consecutive touchdowns, dismantling Eastern’s advantage.

“So many opportunities (when) we could have stopped and thwarted the momentum,” Best said. “We just didn’t grasp it. We didn’t stop it.”

Aaron Blancas’ 25-yard touchdown catch allowed Idaho State to cut the deficit to 41-35 with 2:23 to go. The Bengals attempted an onside kick, which was recovered by the Eagles, but a penalty gave the Bengals another chance. The second time, they successfully recovered the onside kick.

Driving into Eastern’s red zone, the Bengals converted on a fourth-and-9 with a 16-yard pass and catch from Jordan Cooke to Christian Fredericksen that gave ISU a first down at the 1-yard line. Eastern’s defense put up little fight as the Bengals rushed in for the tying touchdown and go-ahead extra point with 52 seconds left.

The Eagles received the ensuing kickoff and drove into Idaho State territory. With 8 seconds left – and without any timeouts – Visperas connected with junior Nolan Ulm along the sidelines for a 21-yard gain that got the Eagles into field-goal territory. Ulm finished with 71 yards on five receptions.

ISU used one of its final two timeouts to ice McKee, who on his initial follow-through made the field goal. But on the next play, when it counted, his kick went wide.

Eastern’s 41 points were the fewest it had scored in the past eight games against Idaho State. Dating to Eastern’s loss to ISU in 2005 – a span of 13 games – it was the sixth time that both teams scored at least 28 points. In their most recent meeting, during the 2020-21 season, Eastern overcame an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Idaho State 46-42 in Pocatello.

It was a costly loss for the Eagles, who play three of their last five regular-season games at home but almost certainly would not reach the 24-team playoff field with one more loss. They host Weber State on Saturday in Cheney.

Idaho State used two quarterbacks. Cooke finished with 389 passing yards while completing 25 of 39 attempts. Hunter Hays completed 13 of 16 passes for 134 yards. ISU’s Chedon James caught 15 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown.

The Bengals outgained the Eagles 572-553, gaining just 49 yards on the ground, the fewest allowed by the Eagles this year.

Eastern rushed for 150 yards, including 69 on six carries by quarterback Michael Wortham, who also scored his fourth touchdown of the season. Running backs Justice Jackson and Tuna Altahir combined for 55 yards on 20 carries.

Both teams were penalized nine times, including one against EWU on the opening kickoff, which negated Wortham’s would-be TD return.