Big fourth quarter leads Eagles past Bearkats
Eastern knocks off Sam Houston 56-35 in FCS Showcase on ESPN
Eastern Washington's Quincy Forte prepares to fend off Sam Houston's Mikell Everette with a stiff arm. Forte logged 152 yards on 23 carries in the Eagles' 56-35 win last Saturday at Roos Field in the "FCS Showcase" broadcast nationally on ESPN.
The Kat is finally off the Eagles' back.
Using the second of two Blair Bomber touchdown catches to break a 21-all tie, and then a Zach Wimberly run for a score that gave Eastern Washington University a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter, the No. 1-ranked Eagles notched a 56-35 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision win over visiting and 17th-ranked Sam Houston State University last Saturday at Roos Field.
Played before a live audience of 10,310, plus tens of millions more on ESPN in the "FCS Showcase," the Eagles ended a three-game losing streak against the Bearkats. Eastern had lost twice in the playoffs, plus last season's 49-34 defeat in Huntsville, Texas.
"The atmosphere felt completely different," head coach Beau Baldwin said. "We felt the ESPN feel to it. This game had a ton of meaning."
After a high-profile contest like last Saturday's, next up for Eastern is a visit to Roos this Saturday from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Montana Western Bulldogs (1-0) from Dillon, Mont. Kickoff is 6:05 p.m.
In the season-opening game for both teams that seemed to feature little defense on either side, the turning point for Eastern came courtesy of safety Tevin McDonald and defensive end Samson Ebukam. The two teamed for an interception with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Ebukam first deflected a pass from Sam Houston quarterback Jared Johnson and then McDonald followed it up with the interception. That set up Wimberley's score and pushed Eastern's lead to 35-21, providing Eastern the cushion they needed the rest of the way. The Eagles outscored the Bearkats 28-14 in the final quarter.
"I think Tevin's play was probably the biggest play of the game," Baldwin said. "It just had the feeling of a monster play."
If McDonald's pick was a spark, the engine was junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and senior running back Quincy Forte who powered Eastern to its biggest point production in two decades against an FCS opponent. The Eagles routed Cal Poly 61-7 in 1994.
Adams completed 26 of 48 passes with four touchdown tosses while Forte churned out 152 yards rushing. Adams also rushed for 61 yards.
Adams threw 3 yards to a wide-open Bomber with 6:35 remaining in the first quarter for a 7-0 Eastern lead. After SHSU carved out a 14-7 lead on Hill's run and Trenier Orr's 55-yard interception return - scores that came just 17 seconds apart to start the second quarter - Adams' toss for 13 yards to Kendrick Bourne tied the game at 14.
After Johnson picked his way through the right side of the EWU defense for his long 55-yard run and a 21-14 lead with 10:53 remaining in the half, much of the rest of the game belonged to Eastern who scored the next 21 straight.
Sophomore Jalen Moore scored the first two touchdowns of his career on a 34-yard run with 6:33 left in the first half, tying the game at 21. Bomber's second score and Wimberley's touchdown made it 35-21 EWU. The Bearkats' Derreck Edwards 6-yard catch closed it to a one-possession game at 35-28 with 12:21 to play.
But Eastern, with the help of a series of Sam Houston penalties - two of them ill-timed personal fouls - drove to the visitors' 5-yard line. Adams was forced to sit out a play because of a suddenly illegal facemask visor, but on came sophomore quarterback Jordan West who tossed a perfect pass in the corner of the end zone to Cooper Kupp and Eastern regained a two-touchdown lead at 42-28 with 8:44 to play.
"We trust Jordan, I have no doubt in my mind," Baldwin said. "I wouldn't change anything if all of a sudden Jordan had to take over the offense."
SHSU's Shane Young's touchdown at 5:14 again made it a one-possession game, 42-35, but Bourne's 13-yard catch, and Moore's 1-yard run capped a two touchdown game for each player, and secured the win.
Kupp finished with a team-leading seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Cory Mitchell had six for 73 yards.
Sophomore Miquiyah Zamora had a career-best 11 tackles. Isaiah Jenkins had Eastern's other interception late in the fourth quarter. Jake Miller punted six times for an average of 49.3 yards, including a 64-yarder just before the half.
Baldwin found ways to praise his defense, despite their surrendering 542 yards.
"If you take away a couple big plays, I thought our defense played really well," he said.
Those two plays Baldwin was talking about - touchdown runs of 79 yards by Keshawn Hill and Johnson's 55-yard run for a score - accounted for 134 of the 225 yards the Bearkats earned on the ground.
Johnson was 31 for 53 and 317 yards passing. Hill topped Bearkat runners with 133 yards.
The Eagles are now 25-4 all-time at Roos.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.