41-34 victory over Vikings earns Eagles home playoff game
Home for the holidays.
That’s where the Eastern Eagles will be as long as they keep winning football games.
After twice rallying from double-digit deficits, Eastern (7-1, Big Sky, 9-2) took the lead for good in what has become typical dramatic fashion to score a 41-34 Big Sky Conference victory over Portland State (2-6, 3-8) last Saturday at soggy Jeld-Wen Field.
Quarterback Kyle Padron directed the winning eight-play, 94-yard drive to break a 34-34 tie with 1:25 to play, scoring on a 1-yard run. Padron was 5-of-5 for 73 yards on the drive.
Coupled with Cal Poly’s 42-34 win over Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and the Eagles’ earlier 27-24 win in Bozeman, Eastern earned the automatic berth in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Their Sunday selection as the FCS’s No. 2 seed has earned Eastern home games at Roos Field all through the playoffs – as long as they win – with a first-round game set for 3:05 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 versus the winner of this Saturday’s Wagner-Colgate play-in game.
“When you win a Big Sky title it’s special and you feel good about it,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “Now we’ll move on to our second season so to speak.”
The defending FCS champion North Dakota State Bison were the No. 1 seed in the bracket that will ultimately decide the two teams that will meet in the title game, Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas. Eastern won the 2010 title there.
“I’m so proud of our players for finding a way again to get it done against a tough Portland State team,” Baldwin said. “It was a battle, but we found a way.”
Such as recovering from a wobbly start where the Vikings’ D.J. Adams scored touchdowns in two of the first three PSU drives to lead 13-0 after the first quarter.
Padron was one of three Eagles who scored twice in the game, joining Demitrius Bronson and Nicholas Edwards.
His first came when he scored Eastern’s initial points as he dove into the end zone with 6:03 to play in the second quarter cutting the margin to 13-7. Kaufman had a one-handed catch on a ball that was tipped by a PSU defender to help set-up the score.
Bronson got his first score to rally Eastern into the lead 14-13 with 1 minute 12 seconds to play in the first half.
Padron took over for starting QB, Vernon Adams and also went 26 of 38 for 381 yards, a pair of TDs and no interceptions. Adams was 4 of 7 for 82 yards.
Nine of those completions were to All-American Brandon Kaufman, who, despite never scoring in the game, had numerous big highlight reel catches for a total of 161 yards. One catch came after he kicked a ball into the air and it came down as he lay flat on his back.
One possession later, McDonagh engineered a 78-yard touchdown drive, and knotted the score at 34 with the two-point conversion. The true freshman QB was 23-44 for 186 yards.
Both Greg Herd (7-108) and Edwards (4-77 and two TDs) shook off cold starts to have exemplary second halves.
Two other key receptions – on the defensive side of the ball – came from linebacker Zach Johnson. His pick with 12:01 to play would set up Edwards’ second touchdown that upped Eastern’s lead to 34-26. Then, with the help of Jerry Caja’s slap on the arm of Viks’ quarterback Kieran McDonagh, Johnson was able to intercept his pass that ended the final PSU drive at the EWU 48.
The Vikings put the stop – temporarily at least – to Eastern’s first-half momentum forcing the Eagles into consecutive punting situations while scoring touchdowns on their two possessions to lead 26-14.
Kaufman’s circus catch was the key play in the ensuing drive, taking the ball down to the Vikings’ 1 and setting up Bronson’s second TD with 3:34 to play in the third. The pass was tipped by a PSU defender but the ball bounced off Kaufman’s leg and then into his arms as he fell to the ground.
Eastern took back the lead 27-26 on Edwards’ first touchdown, a diving 36-yard catch with just 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Following Edwards' second score with 8:30 remaining, McDonagh engineered a 78-yard touchdown drive, and knotted the score at 34 with the two-point conversion. The true freshman QB was 23-44 for 186 yards.
PSU took their initial lead following a Daniel Johnson fumble as Adams scored from 4 yards out. Eastern’s second possession ended in a punt but the snap sailed over Jimmy Pavel’s head. He was observant enough to chase down the ball and then fling a desperation pass out of the end zone for an incompletion as opposed to a safety. PSU’s Adams made it 13-0 on his 1-yard run less than 6 minutes later.
Eastern’s ground game, which emerged recently, was completely stymied by the PSU defensive line and the wet conditions, held to zero net yards while the Vikings had 199. Eastern held a slim 463-424 edge in total yards.
Ronnie Hamiln and Grant Williams each had eight tackles.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.