Eastern will meet Illinois State after Wagner win
Eagles rally again to stop Seahawks 29-19, face Redbirds in FCS quarterfinals Saturday
Wagner College quarterback Nick Doscher gets pressure from Eastern Washington defenders Andru Pulu, Jerry Ceja (91) and Evan Cook in last Saturday’s 29-19 EWU playoff victory. The Eagles face Illinois State Saturday at Roos Field at 3:05 p.m.
Wagner College prepared well and won some key battles in their second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game last Saturday at Roos Field against Eastern Washington University.
The Seahawks continued their record of not surrendering a turnover, and forced the Eagles into coughing up the ball three times. Losing the turnover battle has spelled problems for Eastern in their two losses this season.
But the visitors from Staten Island, N.Y. were unable to prepare for – or put a finger on – Eastern’s intangible ability to find a different way to win each week. So the Seahawks fell 29-19 as the Eagles rallied from a 19-14 deficit, scoring the game’s final two touchdowns in front of a crowd of 7,039 on a brisk afternoon in Cheney.
The win earned Eastern (10-2) another home playoff game this Saturday at 3:05 p.m. against the Illinois State Redbirds (9-3) from Normal, Ill. in an FCS quarterfinal. ISU used a blocked extra-point to upset Appalachian State 38-37 in overtime in Boone, N.C. and ran their road record to 6-0 this season.
Eastern lost 31-14 in 1987 at Albi Stadium in Spokane in the only other meeting between EWU and ISU.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” head coach Beau Baldwin said. “I’m probably most proud of the fact that we weathered a much early storm,” he said of the third quarter where quarterback Kyle Pardon threw an interception and Shaquille Hill fumbled on a kickoff following a Wagner field goal.
Eastern survived a sputtering offensive performance to begin the third quarter where those turnovers helped the Seahawks (9-4) score on three straight possessions and lead 19-14 with 2 minutes, 59 seconds remaining in the period.
But the Eastern defense gave up just one touchdown and a pair of field goals in those three trips inside the 20-yardline.
“Our defense showed resilience,” Baldwin said. “The biggest difference was our red zone defense -- we had a blocked field goal early and then we were able to hold them to field goals rather than touchdowns.”
That opened the door for the Eagles to stage yet another patented late comeback. And it was orchestrated by the one-two punch of Padron and his favorite target, Brandon Kaufman.
Padron was 26-for-36 for 327 yards with a touchdown and one interception. And Kaufman had what is becoming expected with yet another circus catch among his 10 receptions for 174 yards, but again no TDs.
After David Lopez booted his fourth field goal of the game, a 32-yarder that gave the Seahawks their final lead, Padron quickly marched the Eagles down the field 75 yards as Quincy Forte ran around the left side as time in the quarter expired. Kaufman’s catch for a 2-point conversion gave Eastern a 22-19 lead with 15 minutes to play. Another Kaufman’s catch for 45 yards where he juggled the ball - palming it one-handed - saved the reception and set up the score.
“It definitely should not have been as hard as it was,” Kaufman said of the play. “Kyle put it in a good spot, and I was just looking at the ball, but right at the last second, the defender got his hand in there. I was extremely lucky and fortunate to make a play like that.”
As if Eastern’s defense did not do enough in the third quarter they stepped up even bigger in the fourth where 16 plays netter Wagner just 34 yards.
Following the Eagles’ first stop of the fourth quarter, Padron guided Eastern downfield on a 15-play drive that ate up 7:27 of the clock and resulted in the second touchdown of the game by Demitrius Bronson with 4:02 remaining. That gave Eastern its final margin.
Wagner, which saw it nine-game winning streak come to an end with the loss, saw their next drive cover just 20 yards and end in a turnover on downs. Much of that effort came on some tremendous defensive pressure Eastern unleashed on Seahawks’ quarterback Nick Doscher who was forced to scramble.
A Bronson fumble on the Wagner 15 gave the the ball back to the Seahawks with 1:11 to play. But again the possession ended when a Doscher pass fell incomplete on fourth down on his own 18 with 35 seconds remaining.
Sixth-year senior linebacker Zach Johnson led the defense with 11 tackles and a pass broken up, his junior counterpart, Ronnie Hamlin added another 10 tackles and broke-up a pair of passes.
Eastern out-gained Wagner 411-296 in total offense, breaking a scoreless game, and rallying from a 3-0 deficit scoring twice in the final 8:42 of the half.
Jerry Ceja and Allen Brown combined to block a Lopez field goal try from the 41 that kept the game scoreless with 2:11 left in the first quarter.
Padron connected with Ryan Seto on a 21-yard pass play with 8:42 to go in the half to put the Eagles up 7-3. Another Lopez field goal trimmed it to 7-6 at the 4:23 mark.
Another Kaufman big gainer, this one on a slant over the middle where he shed numerous tackles, turned a third-and-six at EWU’s 41 into a 45-yard gain to the Wagner 14. Six plays later Bronson scored his first touchdown, a 1-yard run with 17 seconds to play in the half. Bronson ended the day with 76 yards.
Wagner’s Dominique Williams came into the game averaging 105 yards per contest but was held to 60 yards, scoring the Seahawk’s only touchdown.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.