Late Eagle rally falls short in contest against Pac-12 Palouse neighbor
By PAUL DELANEY
On a picture perfect day against a Pac-12 team a pass in the final seconds fails to connect in the right hands and Eastern Washington University has a win against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe slip away.
So you say you've heard this story before? Well, you have.
For a second straight year the Eagles saw a comeback fall short, this time last Saturday in Pullman's Martin Stadium in a 24-20 non conference loss to Washington State when Kyle Padron's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete in the east end zone. The play allowed the Cougars (1-1) to earn their first win in the so-called Mike Leach era while the Eagles (1-1) lost another heartbreaker to a big school.
It was just over a year ago when Bo Levi Mitchell's pass to Brandon Kaufman for a potential game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds to play was picked off in the end zone by Desmond Trufant. That preserved a 30-27 escape by the University of Washington at Husky Stadium in a game Eastern dominated with a 504-250 edge in total offense.
And much like it did last year in Seattle, Eastern held an edge over WSU in total offense too, having the edge 469-355 in the first game played between the two schools since a 73-0 win over Eastern in 1908.
“The guys fought back and the guys competed, and that's what I like to see,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “Obviously there are a lot of things we have to clean up. We have to play a lot better.”
In front of 33,598 – the first opening day sellout in Pullman in 60 years at a stadium that saw the debut of a new $80 million press box and luxury donor seating – Eastern had three devastating miscues that not only served Wazzu their winning points, but later took a key extra point off the board for the Eagles.
The Eagles and Cougars battled to a 14-14 tie just 3:14 into the second quarter. Eastern scored to tie the game 7-7 on a spectacular 93-yard catch and run by Brandon Kaufman with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter. Kaufman's bolt down the right sideline in front of the Cougar bench came just 27 seconds after Isiah Myers scored to give WSU the 7-0 lead.
Then Jordan Talley's 5-yard touchdown run with 11:46 remaining in the half knotted the score again after Carl Winston's short run gave the Cougars a 14-7 lead.
But a pair of Padron interceptions helped the Cougars score 10 straight points, breaking both the tie and some of the momentum the Eagles had earned by playing tenacious defense.
“Turnovers are always a key,” Baldwin said. “We were able to get a couple back in the second half.”
The first interception came from Cyrus Coen with 8:27 to go in the half. Ten seconds, and a single play later, Myers scored his second touchdown for the Cougars, a leaping acrobatic grab giving WSU a 21-14 lead.
Then, after Eastern punter Jake Miller pinned the Cougars back on their own five – and Eastern's defense shoved them back further to the one – it looked like the Eagles would get one more opportunity to close the gap with 1:23 to play in the half.
WSU punter Michael Bowlin's booming 69-yard kick drove Ashton Clark back to his own 30, however his 10-yard return set Eastern up at their own 40. However Eastern's offense sputtered and stumbled with an incompletion, a sack and fumble recovery by Eastern's Daniel Johnson, all setting the stage for a Deone Bucannon interception with 30 seconds to go in the half.
The Cougars would start at their own 32 but two plays later WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel connected with Gabe Marks for a pass play to the EWU 43 with just two seconds to play. WSU tossed out all conventional wisdom and lined up for a 60-yard Andrew Furney field goal that he watched sail straight and true, just clearing the crossbar as time expired and the Cougars suddenly had a 10-point lead and a healthy portion of confidence.
On WSU's second possession of the half the Cougars had a chance had a chance to possibly seal it but Furney's foot pushed his mere mortal 40-yard field goal try wide right.
The three possessions that followed produced the outcomes the Cougars, and their fans, have gotten so used to over the years. Following a punt, T.J. Lee III reached out to intercept a Connor Halliday pass. Halliday came into the game at the start of the fourth quarter for Tuel who injured his right leg.
Eastern went nowhere with the turnover, giving the ball back to the Cougars on their own 46 with 7:17 to play. A pair of Halliday passes helped drive WSU to the two where from out of a goalline scrum, Zach Johnson stripped the ball from Teondray Caldwell and Allen Brown recovered.
Twelve plays, 99 yards and 3:25 later, Kaufman's second catch of the day closed the gap to 24-20. But that's where it stayed when Jimmy Pavel's PAT was blocked by Kalafitoni Pole.
Following a 46-second 3-down Cougar possession, Eastern got the ball back at its own 16, used two fourth-down conversions and marched to the WSU 32 for the final play, a high heave from Padron that fell to the turf as time expired.
“I just trusted that they were going to come down with it,” Padron said. “Obviously it's kind of a jackpot type of deal but I had all the confidence in the world in those guys.”
Padron was slowed by a twisted ankle suffered early in the game, but completed 26-of-54 passes for 379 yards and two touchdowns. Kaufman had five catches for 142 yards, while Talley added 71 yards on the ground in 14 carries.
The Eagles shutout the Cougs in the second half. Linebacker Cody McCarthy led Eastern with 11 tackles, and senior linebacker Zach Johnson had eight and forced a fumble. Safety Allen Brown had seven tackles and fumble recovery while Lee had six tackles and an interception.
Eastern, currently ranked No. 10 in the FCS Top-25 College Football Poll, has a welcome bye this week before traveling to Ogden, Utah for their Sept. 22 conference opening game against Weber State. They return home Sept. 29 to meet the Montana Grizzlies at Roos Field.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.