EWU clinches tie for top spot
Kupp’s touchdowns are record setters as Eagles roll over Cal Poly Mustangs 35-22
When Eastern Washington’s high-powered offense met Cal Poly’s swift defense there was concern that they might present real problems for the Eagles in last Saturday’s Big Sky Conference football game.
The Mustangs did live up to that reputation, for a while at least, but in the end the Eagles found a way to both counter, scoring five straight times on the way to a 35-22 victory at Alex Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“They’ve given up only 10 points per game lately, so points have not been easy no matter who they’ve played,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “We were able to click and get going.”
The win, Eastern’s seventh straight, improved their record to a perfect 7-0 in conference play, 9-2 overall, and clinched at least a share of a third Big Sky title for the third-ranked Eagles in the last four seasons. They will try to keep that unblemished conference mark intact when they meet Portland State (3-4, 6-5) on Senior Day/Military Appreciation Day at Roos Field at 2:45 p.m. The game, a likely sellout, can be seen on ROOT.
On their opening possession Cal Poly (4-3, 5-6) ground out a 12-play drive that sliced 5 minutes, 47 seconds off the clock. But it ground to a halt at the 5 and the Mustangs settled for a 22-yard Bobby Zalud field goal.
Eastern’s first two possessions used just nine plays and gained only 17 yards and the Eagles were shutout in the opening quarter for the first time this season.
The third time Eastern had the ball things certainly didn’t start well, either.
Starting from their own 4, quarterback Vernon Adams directed a 9-play, 96-yard drive capped by Qunicy Forte’s 37-yard touchdown run with 9:22 left in the second quarter to take a lead they would never lose.
Cooper Kupp followed with a touchdown that expanded Eastern’s lead to 14-3 with 1:14 to play in the half. It was a play that ended with Kupp and his defenders rolling into the Cal Poly band that had assembled just outside the end zone for a halftime show.
More notable was the 32-yard touchdown was Kupp’s 15th of the season and tied the FCS record for most consecutive games with a TD catch with 11. Kupp shares the record with Randy Moss from Marshall in 1996, Cal Poly’s Ramses Barden in 2008 and EWU’s Brandon Kaufman in 2010.
Eastern had only 27 yards in the first 15 minutes, but out-gained the Mustangs 198-69 in the second quarter. For the game the Eagles out-gained Cal Poly 486-437.
Early in the third quarter, Kupp followed with his second touchdown, a 24-yard grab that gave Eastern a 21-3 lead. Kupp not only gave Eastern a 21-3 lead, but it made him the FCS record holder for receiving yards by a freshman with 1,231.
“He’s always making huge plays – it’s constant,” Baldwin said of Kupp, who was named The Sports Network’s Freshman of the Week.
After his second touchdown of the day, Adams took a hard hit and left the game with a shoulder stinger (pinched nerve). He was replaced by senior Anthony Vitto and the Eagles kept it rolling.
After a shanked punt went out of bounds at the EWU 30, Vitto directed the Eagles on a brief 5-play, 70-yard drive ending with a pass that Shaquille Hill raced 54 yards to make it 28-3 with 7:19 remaining in the third.
A Ronald Baines interception set up the final Eastern score, Mario Brown’s 34-yard run with 3:37 to play in the third. A 43-yard Kupp catch on third and 8 kept the brief drive alive that took just 1:34 off the clock.
With a number of Eastern defensive starters pulled from the game, Cal Poly got on a roll and finished out the game scoring the contest’s final three touchdowns.
But an Eastern recovery of an onside kick burned all but the final 52 seconds of the game.
Before exiting, Adams completed 14-of-21 for 224 yards. Vitto hit on 14-of-21 passes for 127 yards and a TD in the second straight week in relief for Adams, who is expected to be fine for the PSU game.
“When he has the opportunities like this, he’s making the most of them,” Baldwin said of Vitto.
Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin led the Eagles with 10 tackles while Bo Schuetzle had the first two interceptions of his career.
“Our defense got better as it went along,” Baldwin said. “Coach (John) Graham, his staff and his players did an outstanding job.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.