Top-ranked Eagles survive Sac State again
Eastern needs last-minute defensive effort to edge Hornets 31-28 in Homecoming game
Despite the efforts of Grant Williams (18) and Jordan Tonani (34), Sac State’s T.J. Knowles catches a touchdown pass with 3:05 to play that cut the score to 31-28. The Eagles had to make one final defensive stand as time ran out to preserve the win and their perfect 5-0 Big Sky Conference record.
The last time Eastern Washington University had Sacramento State in town as guests it took a heroic last-minute rally to secure a win that helped pave the way to the 2010 NCAA Division 1 national championship.
Last Saturday it took a defensive effort in the final minute for the No. 1-ranked Eagles to collect yet another nail-biting 31-28 Big Sky Conference football victory over the Hornets on a blustery Homecoming Day game at Roos Field. The victory, before 8,714 windblown fans, improved the Eagles’ conference record to 5-0 and 6-1 overall and kept Eastern on track once again for postseason play.
The Eagles visit Southern Utah Saturday with a noon kickoff at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City.
Allen Brown’s knockdown of a Mason Magleby pass to Shane Harrison near the goal line as time ran out preserved the victory. In 2010 Brandon Kaufman scored the winning touchdown with 33 seconds to play for a 28-24 win in which Eastern led at one point 21-0.
Besides the usual dangerous aspect of their having won four of their last six games in Cheney, Sac State (3-2, 5-3) had a three-game winning streak on the line.
Eastern led most of the game – by 10 on two different occasions and as late as the 11:22 mark of the fourth quarter on Kaufman’s 52-yard TD catch from Kyle Padron – but the Hornets, as they often do, made it interesting.
“A lot of times when you have a game like that against a great opponent it’s going to come down to the wire,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said.
Baldwin threw a quirk into his offense Saturday by tossing a two-quarterback offense at the Hornets. Vernon Adams started the game, tossing a pair of touchdowns, both to Greg Herd. Padron came on in relief, this time by design and not because of the cramping that had crimped Adams’ style in previous games.
“They both bring something different to our offense that puts such a bind on the opposing defense,” Baldwin said. “For some reason my gut said this is going to work.”
The third and longest of Jimmy Pavel’s field goals – this one from 47-yards out with 2:20 remaining in the third - gave Eastern a 24-14 lead.
But the Hornets’ Ezekiel Graham scored on a 17-yard run 1:05 into the fourth quarter to trim it to 24-21. It took just 2:28 for the Kaufman TD that pushed it back to a 31-21 game.
Taking advantage of a partially-blocked Jake Miller punt that traveled just eight yards, Sac State got the ball back with 6:12 to play at the Eastern 33. An early Garrett Safron completion for 15 yards to De Andre Carter moved the ball to midfield.
The rest of the drive was a combination of Safron scrambles and short completions as Sac State drove to the Eagles’ 6 where relief QB Magleby hit T.J. Knowles on a crossing route catch to trim it back to 31-28 with 3:05 to go.
Eastern got the ball back with 2:59 remaining and crafted a time consuming dive that didn’t result in points, but did cost Sac State all their timeouts. Miller’s punt pinned the Hornets on their own 10 with just 21 seconds to play.
A Jerry Ceja sack of Magleby appeared to cost the Hornets another seven yards but he was whistled for a facemask giving the visitors the ball on the 25. Magleby connected with Morris Norrise for 30 yards on a leaping catch at the Eastern 45. He threw two more long bombs incomplete and out of bounds before his one last-gasp Hail Mary as time expired.
Pavel’s first field goal, a 24-yarder, gave Eastern a 3-0 lead at the 9:43 mark of the first. De ‘jon Coleman’s 1-yard run gave Sac State a 7-3 lead with 3:19 to go in the first quarter.
Adams’ first touchdown toss to Herd followed at the 12:09 mark of the second quarter. But it was the scramble as the redshirt freshman evaded at least three tackles zig-zagging his way across the backfield that really impressed. That bought time until he finally found Herd open in the right side of the endzone.
“I was just trying to make a play, I just kept my feet going,” Adams said.
And if Adams bought time on that play, he earned redemption on his third-quarter scoring toss to Herd. In his previous possession, Adams had a tipped ball fall into the hands of Mark Williams for an interception that led to a Norrise touchdown catch, giving Sac State a 14-13 lead with 9:43 remaining in the third.
A Shaq Hill 30-yard kickoff return and two long passed to Herd, the final one 26 yards for a score, gave Eastern back the lead for good just 1 minute, 38 seconds later.
“Man it felt so good, I got down on myself and once again my brother Kyle (Padron) comes up to me and says keep your head up,” Adams said. “I came back with a screen, and saw Greg.”
On the day the two Eastern quarterbacks combined for 342 yard passing with Adams going 17 for 21, the two TDs and one interception. Padron, the junior Southern Methodist University transfer who started the Eagles’ first two games, but lost the job to Adams, was 9-16 and a touchdown.
“It was fun to run and sling it around a little bit,” Padron said. “The Big Sky Conference apparently is nothing but nail-biters.”
Herd had nine catches for 109 yards and Kaufman added in another six catches for 106 after being held to just one grab for 9 yards against Montana State. Eastern managed just 112 net rushing yards with a Padron scramble for 21 the longest of the day for the Eagles.
Gfrant Williams, subbing for the injured Zach Johnson at linebacker, led the Eagles with 12 total tackles including a team-leading four solos.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.