Get ready to battle Griz Saturday in Missoula
For a half and then some, last Saturday's Homecoming football game between Eastern Washington and Southern Utah had a certain sense of déjà vu to it.
It seemed eerily familiar to the 2012 contest between the two teams played in Cedar City where missed opportunities eventually cost the Eagles both the game, 30-27, and their No. 1 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision.
In the 2012 game, then redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams struggled in his start and was relieved later by Kyle Padron. But this time Adams found his way, lighting a spark out of potential dud play near the midpoint of the third quarter as Eastern scored a 34-10 victory before a sellout crowd of 10,135 at Roos Field.
Eastern improved to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play and 5-2 overall with the win as they head to Missoula Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff against Montana.
With Eastern leading 14-0 following a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown from true freshman Samson Ebukam with 8 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the first quarter, and Ashton Clark's 12-yard TD catch six minutes later, the appearance of a blowout surfaced.
However, a pair of Adams turnovers in the first quarter – an interception and a fumble on consecutive possessions – stopped their quick start. It took a while to get their swagger back but Adams was the delivery guy.
Eight minutes into the third quarter and with the ball following a Ronald Baines interception, the Eagles led 14-3 over the Thunderbirds (2-2, 5-3). Facing a second-and-three at the SUU 47, the center snap sailed over Adams head. He scrambled after the ball and then improvised a 16-yard gain to the SUU 31. Two plays later he found true freshman Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 5:33 left in the third.
One Thunderbird possession and four Eagle plays later another true freshman, Cooper Kupp thoroughly fooled the SUU secondary and settled under another Adams' pass for a 52-yard catch and run for a touchdown and Eastern had a 27-3 lead at the 2:43 mark. Mario Brown scored the last of three straight EWU touchdowns 1:42 into the fourth quarter on an 11-yard run.
"To get going and score on three possessions in the second half, I was proud of how our players responded from the first half," Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said.
And while Baldwin was unsure if Adams' play was a true spark for the team, he was impressed with the effort of his shifty and athletic quarterback.
"I don't know what it did, it's just another example though of where a play breaks down and something goes wrong, he still has the ability to make something positive out of it," Baldwin said in Monday's coaches show. "That's some God-given talent right there."
Eastern out-gained SUU 486-368 in total offense. They had a big 161-28 edge in yardage in that fast-start first quarter.
Adams completed 25-of-35 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns while Kupp had 11 catches for 168 yards to lead Eastern receivers.
The Eagles won the turnover battle 3-2, all interceptions beginning with Ebukam, followed by a Tevin McDonald pick in the second quarter and ending with Baines.
For a second consecutive week the Eagles got an interception return for a touchdown and Ebukam's moment got a big assist when Dylan Zylstra hurried the throw by SUU quarterback Aaron Cantu.
Junior linebacker Cody McCarthy led the defense with eight tackles while Ronnie Hamlin added seven. Andru Pulu, Matthew Sommer, Anthony Larry and Evan Day made life miserable for Cantu as each registered sacks.
SUU was kept bottled in their own half of the field for most of the game. They got to the Eastern 17 but had to settle for a field goal with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. It was their lone trip past midfield in the first 30 minutes.
The second half wasn't much better with two trips into Eagle territory, the final a 29-yard touchdown play to C.J. Morgan from reserve quarterback Mike Sharp with 45 seconds in the game. The Thunderbirds logged 368 yards in total offense, 225 through the air and 143 on the ground.
After visiting Washington Grizzly Stadium Saturday, the Eagles remain on the road visiting Idaho State Nov. 2 before returning to Roos for a Nov. 9 showdown with Montana State.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.