Eagles hold Redhawks to 26 yards of offense in the second half to advance to quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs
Led by the 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns by running back Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington University held Southeast Missouri to no points and 26 total yards in the second half to defeat the Redhawks 37-17 and advance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs Saturday (Dec. 4) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash
The No. 1 ranked and fifth-seeded Eagles out-scored Southeast Missouri 20-0 in the second half to advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. EWU will host North Dakota State next Friday (Dec. 10) or next Saturday (Dec. 11), with the announcement made tomorrow (Dec. 5).
Montana State lost to North Dakota State 42-17 in another second round game on Saturday in Bozeman, Mont. The victory improved Eastern’s record to 10-2 and SEMO finished the season 9-3 after a 2-9 finish a year ago.
Eastern is now 6-7 in eight FCS Playoff appearances, and will be making its fifth trip to the quarterfinals. The Redhawks were making their first appearance in the FCS Playoffs and it was the first meeting between the two schools.
“We’re feeling really good,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I’m just excited for our guys and the fact we were able to find a way to play a really good second half. Both sides of the ball did the job of finishing the fourth quarter strong, which is always what you are looking for as a coach.”
The game was knotted at halftime and SEMO led in total offense at that point, 242-205. In the second half, EWU had a 190-26 advantage. Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt led the Eagles with 10 tackles, and fellow linebacker Tyler Washburn added nine.
“I don’t know if it was the adjustments as much as it was getting used to facing an offense you are not used to seeing,” said Baldwin. “They are not in our league and they run a lot of option -- they bring a lot to the table both in talent and with different run schemes. It just took seeing that a little more and everyone playing assignment football.”
Eastern held 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back Henry Harris to minus one rushing yards in the second half and 108 total with one TD for the game. The game was a match-up of Walter Payton Award candidates -- Harris and Jones. Harris entered the game leading FCS in all-purpose yards (219.8 per game), and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jones was right behind (195.1 per game). Harris was second nationally in rushing (147.9) and had 18 total touchdowns; Jones was fourth in rushing (134.4) and had 14 total TDs.
Jones rushed for 131 of his 168 yards (fourth-best in his career) in the first half, including a 56-yard touchdown run. He also had a 1-yard TD run to open the game’s scoring, and now has 13 100-yard games in 23 career games as a running back. He has 19 plays in his career of at least 50 yards.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell overcame a first-half interception that was returned for a touchdown to pass for 178 yards and a pair of scores. He completed 21-of-34 passes with no interceptions in the second half. Nicholas Edwards equaled his career-high with eight catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
“Offensively we made a couple of mistakes in the first half,” said Baldwin. “But I felt if we could stay mistake-free we could finish drives and score. We were able to do that in the second half.
“We felt pretty good about our rhythm,” he continued. “We were able to convert a couple of key fourth downs and we were running the ball when we needed to. We made the one big mistake with the interception, but other than that I thought Bo played a really smart game in terms of where he went with the football. So I felt very strong about our rhythm, but it’s cold, December football. So it’s not like you are going to be up-and-down like an Arena game. You always feel good when you find ways to get 17 and put three more touchdowns on the board in the second half.”
Following a 9-2 finish in the regular season and co-championship in the Big Sky Conference with a 7-1 mark, the Eagles were rewarded with a No. 1 ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. An hour after that poll was released, the FCS selection committee gave Eastern a No. 5 seed and a first-round bye.
Southeast Missouri was ranked ninth in the final regular season Sports Network poll. The Redhawks were only 2-9 a year ago, but finished the regular season 9-2 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference title with a 7-1 record. The school, located in Cape Girardeau, Mo., lost its season opener 27-10 to Ball State and its final regular season game 29-27 to eighth-ranked Jacksonville State on Nov. 13.