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Eastern Washington’s Isaiah Perez blocks field goal in fourth quarter, Eagles hold on to beat UC Davis

Eastern Washington's Michael Wortham reacts during a game against the UC Davis Aggies on Saturday in Davis, Calif.  (Courtesy EWU Athletics)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Perez blocked a 31-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, and Eastern Washington’s offense was able to run out the rest of the clock as the Eagles won their Big Sky opener 27-24 over No. 15 UC Davis on Saturday in Davis, California.

It was the Eagles’ second straight win over a ranked opponent and improved their record to 2-2 on the season (1-0 in Big Sky play). They are now 11-0 all-time against the Aggies (2-2).

“It was not clean,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said in a postgame radio interview. “But against good teams it’s probably not going to be that clean.”

For the first time this season, Eastern won the turnover battle, and for the second week in a row senior cornerback Marlon Jones Jr. returned an interception for a touchdown. It was his eighth-career interception.

Behind that 38-yard touchdown and a four-yard scoring run by junior Justice Jackson, Eastern built a 17-3 lead before the Aggies rode junior Lan Larison to get back into the game. The Aggies’ running back carried 22 times for 255 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

After a 6-yard touchdown catch by Josh Gale tied the game at 17 and then a Soren McKee field goal gave Eastern the lead again, 20-17, the Aggies leaped ahead 24-20 in the third quarter when Miles Hastings found Trent Tompkins for a 4-yard touchdown.

But that drive was a costly one, as just a couple plays before they scored the Aggies lost Larison to a knee injury.

Eastern answered that with a 91-yard drive but failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal play, giving the ball back to the Aggies.

But after forcing the Aggies to punt, the Eagles again advanced into the red zone, and two minutes into the fourth quarter Michael Wortham’s 10-yard score again gave the Eagles the lead, 27-24.

Two possessions later, the Aggies embarked on their longest drive of the game: a 13-play, 66-yard drive into the Eagles’ red zone, consuming 7 minutes and 3 seconds of clock.

With 3:20 left, Hunter Ridley lined up to kick a field goal that would have tied the game, but the Othello graduate Perez got a hand on it, and redshirt freshman Drew Carter cradled the loose ball for the recovery.

On the next drive, facing third-and-4, redshirt sophomore quarterback Kekoa Visperas ran for seven yards, and with the Aggies out of timeouts the Eagles were able to run out the clock from there.

Visperas played a clean game, completing 21 of 30 passes for 205 yards. For the first time this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass – but he also didn’t throw an interception. He also had 33 rushing yards.

Jackson finished with a team-high 62 yards on 13 carries, and redshirt sophomore Tuna Altahir added 23 yards on nine carries. Senior Tre Mason led the Eagles with 63 receiving yards on four catches; Efton Chism III had four grabs for 41 yards.

The Eagles were outgained 435 to 316, but the turnovers – Jones’ interception, another by Brock Harrison and then a fumble recovery by Kentrell Williams Jr. – helped them overcome the deficit.

Senior Ben Allen led the Eagles with nine tackles, and as a team they had seven tackles for loss. They played about half the game without the safety Williams, who left with a lower leg injury.

Eastern Washington will host No. 7 Idaho (3-1) – the Eagles’ third consecutive ranked opponent – next Saturday in Cheney.