Eastern Washington scores 21 unanswered points twice to surge past Bears in 85th Homecoming Game
The winless Bears wouldn’t go away quietly.
But a second-quarter burst and another in the second half made the difference for Eastern Washington University as it pulled away for a 48-27 victory over Northern Colorado in a Big Sky Conference football game Saturday (Oct. 15) at Roos Field in EWU’s 85th annual Homecoming Game in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,742.
The Eagles scored 21-straight points in the second quarter to take a 24-10 lead at halftime, then had another 21-point outburst later in the second half to surge ahead. The Eagles finished with 522 yards of total offense as they improved to 3-4 overall and 3-2 in the Big Sky, while the Bears fell to 0-7 overall and 0-5 in the league.
“It was a great team win -- we found a way to get a lead and then hold it,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I was really proud of the way we came out in the second half too. A couple of games ago against Weber State we had a nice halftime lead but it got close at the end, which will happen. That’s football. But this game we were able to sustain a good solid lead, which was nice.”
With an even 400 yards, senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had his second-best passing effort of his career to lead the Eagles to their third-straight victory. He finished with three touchdowns through the air and one on the ground.
Junior wide receiver Greg Herd had career highs for catches and yards with 11 receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown. His performance eclipsed a seven-catch, 112-yard effort against NAU a week earlier.
Mitchell completed 28-of-39 passes en route to his sixth career 300-yard passing game, including his fourth this season. His career-high for passing yards was 456 in EWU’s season-opener this year against Washington when he completed 39-of-69 passes. His performance against the Bears was the 17th in school history of 400 yards or more.
“Our team is doing a great job,” said Baldwin. “Lots of guys are stepping up with some of the injuries we’ve had. And two weeks in a row Bo Levi has just played incredibly solid football. And that’s huge for us.”
Junior Nicholas Edwards added five catches for 81 yards, and sophomore Ashton Clark had career highs for catches (six) and yards (74). He also had a 31-yard punt return in the second quarter to set-up an Eastern touchdown. It was the longest punt return for EWU since Tony Davis returned a punt 60 yards for a score in EWU’s 2006 season-opener at Oregon State (Aug. 31, 2006). The longest since then was a 25-yarder by Davis in 2009.
Clark was making just the second start of his career and was buried on the depth chart when the season began. However, he has found an increased role with All-American Brandon Kaufman and Tyler Hart lost for the season with injuries.
“It’s guys stepping up and good practice habits,” explained Baldwin of his team in general overcoming adversity this season. “It’s younger guys stepping into roles, and if someone’s down, they’re ready to go. They prepared like that even before the injuries happened. Weeks and months ago they prepared to be ready in case their number was called, and you see when they are called they’re ready to step up.”
True freshman Quincy Forte added 170 all-purpose yards, finishing with a team-high 50 yards rushing, 69 receiving and 51 on kickoff returns. Herd added a 29-yard rush and finished with 188 total yards. Clark had 108.
Defensively, linebacker J.C. Agen, safety Matt Johnson and defensive end Paul Ena all had six tackles to lead the Eagles. Ena also had the seventh fumble recovery in his career to move into third in school history, and four of his tackles were for losses, including 1 1/2 sacks.
“They were flying around and making plays,” Baldwin said of the defense. “They forced a couple more turnovers which I love to see. We had an interception to seal it at the end by Allen Brown, and we had T.J.’s earlier in the game -- it’s just great to see that.”
With a pair of field goals and six extra points – his second-straight game of scoring 12 points -- Mike Jarrett broke Eastern’s record for extra points and extra points attempted. Now with 125-of-131 in his career, he broke the previous records of 120 and 126 set by Troy Griggs (1999-01). Jarrett also moved into fifth in school history for career scoring -- second in all-time at EWU for kick scoring – with a current total of 206 points.
Eastern won the turnover battle 3-0, giving the Eagles a 16-0 record in the last three seasons when they have won the turnover battle. Eastern went into the game with six players lost for the season with injuries, but the Eagles have overcome that, Baldwin said.
“When you have injuries other guys have to step up and they’ve been doing that,” he praised. “They’ve been playing really smart football, especially the last two weeks. I love it when we can go turnover free.”
Eastern trailed early 7-3, but scored the next 21 points on a 19-yard pass from Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards, a 1-yard TD run by Mitchell and an 8-yard run by true freshman Quincy Forte. The Eagles had a 266-163 advantage in offense at halftime and led 24-10.
Northern Colorado twice cut the lead to seven in the third quarter, but EWU surged ahead again. Herd caught a 12-yard TD pass from Mitchell before T.J. Lee intercepted a pass that EWU turned into a 42-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Edwards.
After Anthony Larry forced a fumble on a sack that was recovered by teammate Paul Ena, Eastern cashed in once again. A 4-yard TD run by Mario Brown gave EWU a 48-20 lead with 12:04 remaining.
“You get in different types of ball games,” Baldwin said of the game that featured a combined 947 yards of total offense. “Some become a little more high scoring and in some different things happen. The keys are if you can win the turnover battle and if you can execute in the red zone on both sides of the ball. If you do that you’re going to give yourself a chance to win and our guys were able to do that.”
Eastern improved to 10-1 on the red Sprinturf surface at “The Inferno” in a Homecoming game with the slogan “Greatest Show on Turf.” Eastern is now 50-32-3 in the previous 85 Homecoming games, and have won its last three games this season after opening the year with four-straight setbacks.
Saturday’s game was also the 200th in the collegiate coaching career of Baldwin, who started his coaching career as quarterbacks coach at Central Washington in 1994. He is in his 18th season as a coach, including nine as an assistant at Central (1994-2002), four as an assistant at Eastern (2003-2006), one as head coach at CWU (2007) and the last four as head coach at EWU (2008-2011). He is now 121-78-1 in the previous 199 games, highlighted by a NAIA title with Central in 1995 and a NCAA Division I title with Eastern in 2011.
The Bears, who had 425 yards of offense versus EWU, were coming off a 14-0 home loss to Sacramento State last in rainy, windy and cold Greeley, Colo. The Bears managed just 72 yards of total offense as the game featured 13 punts and 10 fumbles (four lost). Sac State, however, had only 177 yards, and only had one pass, and that was wiped out by a pass interference call. It was 37 degrees with 23-mile per hour winds at Nottingham Field.
The Bears had to defend 43 passes against the Eagles, who were coming off a 36-28 victory at Northern Arizona. Mitchell passed for 356 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for a score to earn Big Sky Conference co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Since Northern Colorado became a member of the Big Sky Conference in 2006, Eastern has won all six meetings by a collective 181-78 score (an average score of 30-13). Included was a 16-0 shutout the last time to two teams played at Roos Field on Sept. 19, 2009. The Eagles recovered three fumbles and had an interception in Eastern’s first shutout at the stadium since 1983. Eastern held the Bears to a 0-of-4 performance on fourth down, 4-of-14 on third down and had four sacks.