No. 17 Eagles Gear-Up for Red Turf Debut With 35-32 Victory

Jones scores three times as FCS Eastern Washington holds-off NCAA Division II powerhouse Central Washington in ‘Showdown on the Sound’

Junior running back Taiwan Jones scored three touchdowns and had 235 all-purpose yards as Eastern Washington University held-off its former rival Central Washington 35-32 Saturday (Sept. 11) in the second edition of the “Showdown on the Sound” at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash.

Jones, a Walter Payton Award candidate, finished the game with 14 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 63 yards and a 46-yard score and had 83 yards in returns. He had a career-best 322 yards a week earlier in his 2010 debut, and now has eight games in his career with at least 200 all-purpose yards and 25 plays of at least 32 yards.

Eastern sealed the win with back-to-back pass break-ups by seniors Dante Calcote and Tyler Jolley. The latter play came on fourth down with just 52 seconds left and the Wildcats at their own 36-yard line.

“I love the fact we were still able to find a way to finish the game on defense,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I would have liked to see us operate a little better on offense at the end of the game. I felt like there were was a play here and a play there that could have given us a three-score lead, but we couldn’t quite get there.

“That’s a credit to Central -- they didn’t stop fighting,” he added. “If we didn’t find a way to make that play they were going to win. When we’re up 10 or 12 -- whatever it might be -- there were a few little things that were still a little sloppy. We have to clean that up.”

Eastern is now 1-1, having lost its opener to Nevada 49-24 on Sept. 2. Central, meanwhile, is 2-1, losing its opener to Minnesota Duluth 35-10 and then rebounding for a 24-14 Great Northwest Athletic Conference victory over Dixie State.

Eastern was ranked 17th in this week’s The Sports Network/Fathead.com NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, dropping from 13th in the preseason poll. Central was ranked fifth in the NCAA Division II preseason poll, slipped to 13th after its loss to fifth-ranked Minnesota Duluth and was ranked 12th this week.

Next up for the Eagles is its home opener at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) in Cheney, Wash., against Big Sky Conference rival Montana. Kickoff is 4:05 p .m. Pacific time in the debut of Eastern’s new red Sprinturf surface.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 16-of-27 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, but had an interception returned 66 yards for a touchdown by the Wildcats. Sophomore Brandon Kaufman caught four passes for 56 yards, including a diving 31-yard scoring reception late in the third quarter. Ashton Gant added five catches for 41 yards.

Buck Buchanan Award Candidate J.C. Sherritt, who led FCS in tackles a year ago with 170, had 11 stops for Eastern. Artise Gauldin, a sophomore from Kent, Wash., near Seattle, was making his first career start at Eastern at cornerback. He had a sack, forced a fumble and finished with nine tackles, as did junior safety Matt Johnson.

Eastern was out-gained in total offense 352-311, but won the turnover battle. Eastern had two interceptions and recovered a fumble, while the Eagles on offense had an interception and fumble.

“We have to continue to get into better rhythm,” said Baldwin of his offense. “We were able to hit a couple of big plays -- Kaufman had a huge catch. But in a game like this, you have to find a way to finish and try to get up by three scores.”

Eastern used big plays to start the first and second quarters to open a 14-9 lead over the Wildcats. Tyler Washburn returned an interception 55 yards just 52 seconds into the game. On the first play of the second quarter on an Eastern punt, Gauldin forced a fumble that was recovered by EWU snapper Jake Potter at the CWU 12-yard line. Jones scored on a 1-yard run with 14:39 left in the quarter.

After Eastern fell behind 16-14, Jones scored on a 46-yard catch and run from Mitchell to give Eastern the lead with 7:06 remaining in the first half. He scored again early in the third quarter to give EWU as 28-16 advantage.

But the Wildcats stayed close, using a safety and a touchdown on its ensuing possession to pull within 28-25 with 5:04 left in the quarter. Eastern regained a 35-25 lead on a touchdown pass from Mitchell to Kaufman, then appeared to have put the game away with a fumble return for a touchdown by Jerry Ceja late in the game. But there were offsetting penalties on the play, and Central took advantage and scored with 2:21 left to cut the Eagle lead to 35-32.

Eastern was forced to punt on its next possession -- thanks to a dropped pass on third down that would have given EWU a first down -- allowing Central one last drive. The Wildcats picked up a first down, but the drive stalled after that. A near-interception on a third-down pass break-up by Calcote was followed by a break-up by defensive tackle Jolley to clinch the EWU victory.

“We have to get better in a lot of situations,” added Baldwin. “To their credit they made plays too -- I give them a lot of credit. They showed a lot of heart in terms of never feeling that they were down.”

Last season, Eastern defeated Portland State 47-10 on Oct. 31 at Qwest in the inaugural “Showdown on the Sound.” Central annually plays its “Battle in Seattle” at Qwest, and will take on Western Oregon there on Oct. 16.

Eastern is now 34-30-4 against Central Washington in a series that started in 1921. Central, ranked third in last year’s final NCAA Division II poll, beat Eastern 21-14 the last time the schools met in 2006. The two schools were long-time rivals in the Evergreen Conference and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), but Eastern left in the late 1970s to eventually become a member of NCAA Division I and the Big Sky Conference.

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