Story and photo courtesy of Eastern Washington Athletics
It was the start-to-finish performance the Eastern Washington University football team was looking for. And out-rushing the opponent and getting a forced fumble and recovery on its own interception were a bonus.
Coming up with big drives on offense and big stops on defense, the seventh-ranked Eagles rolled past 16th-ranked Cal Poly 34-17 in a non-conference college football game Saturday (Nov. 3) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “They responded in every way you can talk about from the beginning of the week, to scouting, to how they approached meetings, film and practice. This was not a response to an average football team -- it was a response to a team that was 7-1 coming in here. I couldn’t be happier. The guys deserved this and they worked for this.”
With two regular season games to play, the victory gives an inside track toward a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Eastern improved to 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Sky with the victory, while Cal Poly suffered its second-straight defeat of the season after seven-straight wins overall and five in the league.
“It’s a monster win,” Baldwin continued. “It’s huge. It’s our seventh win of the season in week nine which is big. It was against an opponent that I expect to be in the playoffs. Two teams that potentially have a chance to be in the playoffs went against each other today so it’s a big win.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams led the Eagles with 288 yards passing and 68 on the ground, as the Eagles finished with a season-high 542 as a team. He completed 19-of-29 passes and had three touchdown tosses, and also rushed for 68 yards. Eastern’s scoring drives in the game were of 81, 66, 74, 69, 41 and 83 yards.
Eastern had its second-best rushing effort of the season with 254 yards, with sophomore Quincy Forte finishing with 83 and junior Demitrius Bronson adding 82 and a score.
Senior Nicholas Edwards had a team-leading five catches for 55 yards, with junior Brandon Kaufman adding four for 88 yards and a pair of scores. Senior Greg Herd added four catches for 74 yards and a one-handed TD grab. Junior offensive guard Brandon Murphy also had a key play with a forced fumble the Eagles recovered after EWU’s only turnover of the game on an Adams interception.
Defensively, the Eagles allowed the vaunted Cal Poly triple-option attack to rush for 251 yards and finish with 411 yards total. The Mustangs were at one point in the game 9-of-13 on third down, but converted just one of its last five. The Eagles forced Cal Poly to punt five times, and also had a 3-1 advantage in turnovers forced.
“No, I did not (expect us to match rushing yards with Cal Poly),” admitted Baldwin of the three-yard rushing advantage. “I felt like we could do some things running the football. Our guys knew the plan and they went in there and just executed it. It was nice to play a ballgame like that against a really good opponent.”
Senior defensive end Paul Ena had a team-high nine tackles, and redshirt freshman safety Jordan Tonani and junior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin each had 10. Linebacker Zach Johnson, who has played sparingly this season with a hamstring injury, returned from a five-game absence to finish with seven tackles, a pass broken up and a key third down tackle in the third quarter.
Two other key defensive players – defensive tackle Andru Pulu and linebacker Cody McCarthy – also returned after missing games because of injuries.
“Even when we have some injuries, our defense is great in terms of resiliency in how they play each week,” said Baldwin. “When you get a couple of those starters back, it adds to the overall talent and depth. It was neat to see.”
Eastern scored on its first possession of the game, with Adams leading Eastern on a seven-play, 81-yard drive. Bronson capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
After a Cal Poly field goal, Herd gathered in a pass from Adams along the sideline with one hand and scored from 28 yards out. That capped a seven-play, 66-yard drive and gave EWU a 14-3 lead.
Eastern couldn’t capitalize on a Cal Poly fumble deep in Eastern territory, and the Mustangs came back to pull with14-10 with a 76-yard drive.
But the Eagles responded with two more impressive drives generated by Adams. His 43-yard TD pass to Kaufman capped a quick three-play, 74-yard drive. Eastern took a 24-10 lead at halftime after a 38-yard field goal by Jimmy Pavel, capping a 10-play, 69-yard drive.
In the second half, a big break came for Eastern when Murphy forced a fumble after an interception by Adams. Center Ashton Miller recovered and the Eagles got the ball back at the Cal Poly 41. Four plays later, Adams found Kaufman for a 10-yard TD pass and a 31-10 Eagle lead.
The Mustangs drove to the Eastern one-yard line on the next possession, but Johnson’s stop on third down was followed by a stop on fourth down with cornerback T.J. Lee was able to trip up Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous just shy of the goalline.
Pavel closed the scoring for the Eagles with a 33-yard field goal with 10:15 left in the game, and EWU forced Cal Poly to punt on its next two possessions. The Mustangs scored with 2:26 left, but the Eagles successfully recovered the onside kick.
One week earlier, Eastern lost its No. 1 ranking in FCS after a frustrating 30-27 loss at Southern Utah on Oct. 27, then later that day, the Mustangs were upended at Sacramento State 35-29.