Eagles take their time to tame Bengals
Eastern’s 28-3 run breaks open close game and Idaho State upset bid
Some big plays by special teams and another drive-stopping interception were the turning points Eastern Washington needed to finally shake the Idaho State Bengals last Saturday in the Eagles’ 55-34 Big Sky Conference football win at Holt Arena.
Trailing the Bengals (1-5 Big Sky, 3-6 all games) 24-17 after Luke Austin’s 49-yard touchdown catch from Justin Arias with 5 minutes, 5 seconds to play in the first half, a Shaquille Hill 80-yard kickoff return helped ignite a 31-3 run for third-ranked Eastern (5-0, 7-2) which won for the fifth straight game.
“Our players found a way and got into maybe more of a shootout than we thought we would,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “We still found a way to respond, and that’s what I said to the players.
Eastern’s win maintained the relevance of Saturday’s Roos Field first-place showdown with Montana State (5-0, 7-2) with kickoff scheduled for 12:10 p.m. at the sold out game.
While Hill’s return to the ISU 20 didn’t net points, it set up a Vernon Adams to Qunicy Forte 4-yard pass that tied the game at 24-24 with 4:25 to play in the first half.
After the Bengals next drive ended in just five plays, Ashton Clark’s punt return for 30 yards gave the Eagles solid field position to start what would be a 5-play, 60 yard drive culminated by an Adams pass for 35 yard to Cooper Kupp in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 1:44 remaining for 31-24 lead that Eastern would not relinquish.
“We were certainly explosive and our players made plays,” Baldwin said. “We got more out of our running game, which was huge.”
ISU took advantage of an Adams interception on Eastern’s first possession of the second half and converted that into a Brandon Garcia 37-yard field goal that trimmed the lead to 31-27 just 2:10 into the third. Eastern took just 1:50 to go 75 yards to answer, the big play a 44-yard pass from Adams to Hill at the 11 minute mark.
The Bengals would drive to the Eagles’ 25 on their next possession but linebacker Ronnie Hamlin’s diving interception snubbed ISU at the 17. One play later Forte raced 83 yards for the touchdown that gave Eastern a 45-27 with 8:33 to play in the third, the last of his three scores on the day.
Eastern, which racked up a school-record 743 yards of total offense - 432 through the air plus 311 on the ground - slowed things down from here on. A Kevin Miller 42-yard field goal with 1:58 to play in the third pushed the Eastern lead to 48-27, but more importantly carved over five minutes off the clock.
Eastern’s offensive explosion broke the previous record of 740 set in 1997 against Rocky Mountain College.
The Bengals took it to a two-possession game with an Xavier Finny touchdown run that trimmed it to 48-34 with 10:45 to play but Kupp’s second touchdown, a tip-toeing right sideline play for 54-yards ended scoring just 1:12 later.
Eastern opened scoring on Forte’s first touchdown 3:09 into the game and Miller added a 26-yard field goal to push the Eagles’ lead to 10-0. ISU answered to tie at 10-10 before a Clark catch for 28 put Eastern ahead 17-10 in the seesaw shootout.
Adams, 26-of-44, passed for 432 yards and five touchdowns, giving him 35 for the season. Kupp, a redshirt freshman, had eight catches for 205 yards and a pair of scores. Forte’s three scores came from 119 rushing yards.
Tempering the win was the loss starting safety Tevin McDonald with a broken left fibula in the third quarter. “It saddens me to see that happen,” Baldwin said. “He’s a tough-minded young man and he’ll fight back from it. I still expect him to play for us at some point this year.”
Defensively, Cody McCarthy led the Eagles with 11 tackles while Hamlin had 10.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.