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Eastern Washington University Football

‘Move on to the next game’: Eastern Washington tries to regroup after stunning loss to Idaho State

Eastern Washington safety Kentrell Williams Jr. reacts during a loss to Idaho State on Saturday at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.  (Courtesy EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Eastern Washington’s football team has, by public accounts, flushed last week’s loss to Idaho State.

It’s part of their routine: They get a day to process, and then it’s on to the next opponent.

“We give ourselves 24 hours,” senior EWU defensive tackle Jacob Newsom said. “Move on to the next game.”

Still, if there’s one thing Newsom wanted to do after that 42-41 loss – a game the Eagles led 41-14 with 17 minutes to go – it was to get there and play again.

They get that chance at 4 p.m. Saturday – three hours later than a usual game at Roos Field in Cheney – against Weber State.

“When something goes as sideways as that game, there’s going to be a little bit more urgency to fix it,” Newsom said. “… I think everyone’s pretty wired to go.”

After three quarters that went well for the Eagles, the last one decidedly did not.

Technically, the collapse began late in the third quarter, when the Bengals went 75 yards in two plays for a touchdown that cut EWU’s lead to 41-21.

From there, it wasn’t as if Eastern’s offense went entirely stagnant. Over the Eagles’ next two drives, they ran 15 plays, gained 59 yards and consumed more than 7 minutes . But they also got no points (a punt and then a missed 50-yard field goal).

Meanwhile, the Bengals did nothing but score touchdowns, and – aided by a successful onside kick – they took the lead (42-41) for good with 52 seconds left.

“The last 15 minutes, they just made more plays than we did,” EWU defensive end Brock Harrison said Tuesday during media availability. “It’s not like we were in terrible spots. They were just making plays on the ball. That’s what you saw in the fourth quarter. They were ‘outphysicaling’ us on some of them. We’ve just got to step up and make those plays.”

How well the Eagles are able to flush that loss and focus on the Wildcats will be made tangible on Saturday, but it’s undeniable the loss to the Bengals was costly for the Eagles’ playoff hopes.

At 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Big Sky play, the Eagles likely cannot afford another loss. Weber State is 3-4 overall and 1-3 in conference, but it still boasts a strong defense and has won two straight at Roos Field.

Next week, Eastern plays at Portland State (3-3, 2-1), which is averaging 42 points in three conference games. In November, the Eagles will host Cal Poly (2-5, 0-4) and Northern Arizona (2-5, 2-2) but between those games must travel to Bozeman to play Montana State (5-1, 3-0), which is ranked second in the FCS Stats Perform Top 25 with only a loss to No. 1 South Dakota State.

There’s no guarantee the Eagles win or lose any of those games, of course, but Eastern faces that path with no margin of error should it hope to get back to the FCS playoffs.

“It really stings,” EWU tight end Blake Gobel said of the loss to Idaho State. “It wasn’t fun to go through that, being up the way we were, having control of the first three quarters and letting it slip through our fingers late. But the thing we’re preaching now is, don’t let one loss take away two weeks.”

Instead of dwelling on the loss, the Eagles have been leaning into preparations for Weber State while also highlighting that they did plenty well against the Bengals (2-4, 2-1). Their offense gained a season-high 553 yards. For the third straight game, the Eagles did not commit a turnover.

Their defense forced two turnovers – two interceptions by Armani Orange – and, for the first time all season, it held an opponent under 100 rushing yards (the Bengals had 49).

“Regardless of what happened, we were doing a lot of really good things at a tough place to play against a team that throws the ball well,” EWU coach Aaron Best said Tuesday during media availability. “The hardest thing to do in football when you have a tremendous lead is keep the lead. It’s really hard. It’s a lot easier to play from behind because you have nothing to lose.”

Facing a team that is quite opposite of Idaho State has helped in preparations this week, Best said. Weber State is a run-heavy team while Idaho State is among the Big Sky’s most prolific at passing.

Best also said that after starting a number of games slowly on offense, last week was the first time the Eagles had scored before their opponent this season. They kept scoring, too, with 35 points in the first half.

“I’d love to say start fast, stay fast, end fast,” Best said. “This league is going to test your start, stay and end. It’s not going to be just roll, roll, roll, roll in any game we play, no matter who you are. Teams in this league (are too good).”

For Newsom’s part, he said the upperclassmen took ownership for the loss and said they should have done more to recognize and combat the relaxation that was settling in over the Eagles. The approach this week, then, is simple, he said.

“This is the opponent, and that’s one big thing that I want to preach to the young guys,” Newsom said.

“We don’t have to worry about winning next week or the week after that. All we have to worry about is winning this week, and beating the guy in front of you this week.”