Eastern advances with 41-17 win over SDSU
Eastern Washington's Quincy Forte found plenty of big holes last Saturday as he rushed for a career-high 202 yards and a touchdown as the Eagles ran past South Dakota State 41-17 in a second-round FCS playoff game at Roos Field. The Eagles host Jacksonville State University this Saturday at 1 p.m.
First they took down a Pac-12 team in a monumental upset to open the season.
Then they beat the clock – and Portland State – to maintain a rare undefeated finish in Big Sky play to win a conference championship.
Last Saturday the Eastern Washington University Eagles took on both Mother Nature's chill and Zach Zenner, one of the best running backs in the Football Championship Subdivision and came out victorious, 41-17 over South Dakota State in a second-round playoff game at Roos Field.
A hearty crowd of 6,127 braved 12-degree temperatures, the coldest ever conditions in program history, to cheer No. 3 Eastern on past the Missouri Valley Conference Jackrabbits and into a quarterfinal game this Saturday at Roos in a 1 p.m. game against the Alabama-based and 20th ranked Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
"We have been playing especially well in the third quarter, and today we played well in the fourth when it was still a ball game," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. "I thought we stepped up and played some cold weather playoff type of football."
Quarterback Vernon Adams quietly piled up a five-touchdown game and 244 passing yards, Quincy Forte churned out a career-high 202 yards and the Ronnie Hamlin-led defense stuffed the FCS's leading rusher as the Eagles improved their record to 11-2 and won for the ninth straight time.
Eastern broke out of a sluggish first half in which they went to the warmth of the locker room tied 14-14 with SDSU by scoring twice in 3 minutes, 54 seconds. Two big fourth down plays, one on each side of the ball, fueled the explosion.
After the first EWU drive of the second half fizzled, and a second appeared to be, redshirt freshman Cooper Kupp bailed the Eagles out. Facing a fourth-and-six at the SDSU 29, Kupp reached down to snag a low pass that turned into a 17-yard gain to the 12.
That set up a 3-yard pass to tight end Zach Wemberly with 8:40 remaining in the third and Eastern led 21-14.
On their next series, the fourth-down gamble didn't go at all well for the Jackrabbits who went for a fake punt on their own 43, but it was sniffed out by Anthony Larry who dropped punter Ethan Sawyer for a 9-yard loss.
"We checked out of it, not everybody was on the same page," SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. "It was a huge play in the game but there were a lot of big plays." Given superb field position on the Jackrabbits' 34, it took Adams just 1:50 to cover the turf with a 15-yard pass to Kupp and it was quickly 27-14 after Kevin Miller's extra point was blocked.
SDSU marched 63 yards on their next possession moving the ball to the EWU 10 threatening to get back in it, but quarterback Austin Sumner fired a pair of incompletions and the 'Jacks had to settle for a 27-yard Justin Syrovatka field goal with 27 seconds remaining in the third, closing it to 27-17.
But the big-play Eastern offense struck quickly in the opening seconds of the final quarter when Adams found Cory Mitchell along the left sideline for a 69-yard catch and run, capping a three-play, 70-yard drive that came just 43 seconds after the field goal and Eastern was up 34-17.
Adams had conservative passing numbers – he was 12-for-22 – but his 244 yards came in big chunks. Eastern finished with 504 yards of offense, 287 on the ground.
The brutally cold day potentially offered many opportunities to turn the ball over, but it took until the fourth quarter for it to affect the game. Eastern got its first turnover when Todd Raynes popped the ball loose after an SDSU completion.
T.J. Lee III recovered but the drive that began at Eastern's 40 stalled when Demitrius Bronson lost the ball at the SDSU 8.
The Jackrabbits had the ball five plays before they lost it again when receiver Jason Schneider had the ball stripped by EWU's Albert Havili and recovered by Alan Brown.
Forte capped the possession with a 20-yard scoring run with 3:06 to play and would surpass the 200-yard barrier with his 7-yard run with 1:34 remaining. His performance was the best by an Eagle since Taiwan Jones had 230 versus North Dakota State in the 2010 FCS playoffs.
After Eastern's first two possessions netted just 52 total yards, Zack Gehring tied the game at 7-7 on a 22-yard pass with 2:12 left in the first quarter, capping a two-play, 51- yard drive.
SDSU went three and out in their next possession and it took just three plays and 52 seconds for Eastern to score again, this time an Adams to Kupp connection over the middle for 40 yards and Eastern led 14-7 just 14 seconds into the second quarter. Kupp finished with just four catches, but two were for scores in his 90-yard afternoon.
Now with 81 receptions, Kupp tied the FCS record for receptions by a freshman set by Sean Price of Appalachian State in 2012.
Zenner's TD knotted it with 1:40 to go in the half as he completed his day at the break after suffering further injury to an already questionable ankle.
The Jackrabbits, who were playing their fourth straight road game, finished 9-5 on the season.
Their workhorse back, Zenner, whose 71 yards took him over 2,000 on the year, scored once, but was well short of the 249 he rolled up in the Jackrabbits' 26-7 opening-round playoff win at Northern Arizona.
Zenner got to meet the game's leading tackler, Eastern's Hamlin, a number of times as the EWU linebacker had 13 total stops. "I don't know how many times I ran into 38, the guy with the long hair," Zenner said in the postgame. While the pre-med major remembered Hamiln's look, the jersey number – 39 – escaped him.
South Dakota, which won earlier with the run, turned to the pass Saturday with Sumner going 26-of-40 for 315 yards and a touchdown.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.