Eagles toppled from top spot
Southern Utah scores last second field goal to upset Eastern 30-27
The near misses and close calls that propelled Eastern Washington to the top of Football Championship Subdivision polls finally went the other way last Saturday in Cedar City, Utah.
Lost opportunities in the red zone, a missed field goal with 2 minutes, 51 seconds to play and a sensational special teams effort were the difference as Eastern fell 30-27 to Southern Utah at Eccles Coliseum. Colton Cook kicked a perfect down-the-middle 36-yard field goal with just 3 seconds remaining - the last of three on the afternoon - to cap the upset.
With the kick, Eastern’s five-game winning streak came to an end as the Eagles fell to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in Big Sky play. Southern Utah improved to 4-5 and 3-3. Eastern dropped from No. 1 to No. 7 in the FCS media poll and to No. 8 in the coaches’ poll.
The Eagles will now face the challenge of regrouping in time to meet No. 16 Cal Poly (5-1, 7-1) in a 1:35 p.m. kickoff at Roos Field during Military and Veterans Appreciation Day this Saturday. The Mustangs also come off a loss, 35-29 at Sacramento State.
For a team that lived on a tightrope all year with two of their five wins coming by six points and two more by just three, Eastern got some of what they had been dishing out.
“Everybody in the Big Sky has been playing close games all year – it’s a tough conference,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “Every team has 63 scholarships and it is hard to win every week. If you are a little off and the other team makes a few more plays, you can be in trouble.”
And that’s where Eastern was under sunny and 60-degree weather in the southeastern Utah high desert.
The hiccups hit in the fourth quarter when Demetrius Bronson fumbled the ball on the SUU 12 with 14:51 remaining and the Eagles leading 27-20, ending a drive that could have resulted in insurance points.
The next trip down the field saw Eastern drive from their own 10 to the SUU 30 where quarterback Kyle Padron found a leaping Nicholas Edwards for an apparent catch and touchdown – until the ball popped out as Edwards hit the ground with 10:14 to play.
Southern Utah would turn their next possession into a touchdown, a 21-yard pass from Brad Sorenson to Fatu Moala to tie the game at 27-27 with 7:01 remaining.
The Eagles responded to go 60 yards to the Thunderbirds’ 20 where one Pardon pass sailed just past Brandon Kaufman’s finger tips and a perfectly placed pass to Shaquille Hill was tipped at the last second by defender LeShaun Sims.
Eastern settled for a 37-yard field goal try from Jimmy Pavel that just skirted the outside of the left goal post. The T-Birds would run a clock-consuming 10-play, 61-yard drive to set up the winning field goal.
“A few times we made some mistakes, especially going in to score,” Baldwin said. “But you have to hand it to them too.”
On a day when Eastern managed only 91 rushing yards, Padron and Vernon Adams , Eastern’s two quarterback attack, combined to pass for 404 yards. Edwards and Ashton Clark each caught a touchdown pass and Pavel booted a pair of field goals as Eastern built a 27-20 lead. Bronson also had a third-quarter 4 yard run to put the Eagles ahead 20-13.
Adams started both halves and finished 11-of-15 for 181 yards while Padron relieved him and was 24-of-35 for 223 yards. Kaufman finished with a career-high of 10 catches and 192 yards. Clark’s 11 catches and 86 yards were also career highs.
“I guess frustration’s the first thing,” Padron said. “We had a chance to win, I made a bonehead throw down there; I should have just taken Kauf (Brandon Kaufman) on the out, got better field position for Pav (Jimmy Pavel) (to kick the field goal).”
Sorensen came close to equaling the Eastern duo of signal callers, passing for 392 yards on 33-of-43 passing with one interception and one touchdown.
McKenzie Murphy’s pick of Sorenson with 4:20 remaining in the third halted an SUU drive on the EWU 16. But the ensuing Eastern drive ended with Bronson’s fumble.
Ronnie Hamlin had 13 tackles to lead the Eastern defense, and T.J. Lee added nine with a sack. Senior Jerry Ceja had his ninth sack of the season.
SUU opened scoring with a special teams’ touchdown when Miles Killebrew broke through to both block a Jake Miller punt and then return it 41 yards for a score with 8:45 left in the first. Edwards’ touchdown with just 2 seconds to play in the first quarter tied it at 7-7.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.