Eastern builds 24-7 halftime lead behind solid defense and opportunistic offense, then holds on for a 27-21 victory over Weber State
Apparently, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Overcoming a rash of injuries and the loss of an assistant coach this week, the Eastern Washington University football team notched its first victory of the season by holding off Weber State 27-21 Saturday (Oct. 1) in a Big Sky Conference game at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
With wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (broken metatarsal in his left hand) and cornerback Alden Gibbs the latest to be sidelined because of injuries, Eastern overcame all of that to take a 24-7 halftime lead. Weber State rallied, but Eastern sealed it when Charles Moetului forced a fumble with 21 seconds left that was recovered by teammate Anthony Larry after the Wildcats had driven to the EWU 17-yard line.
The Eagles are now 1-4 on the season while the Wildcats fell to 2-3. In league play, EWU is now 1-2 while Weber State lost for the first time in three games.
“So many guys stepped up,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who announced on Friday that running backs coach Chris Hansen was no longer on the staff. “Not just out here today but during the week – obviously we have a lot of stuff going on. Our players came together with a lot of new faces playing, and they just kept going. They earned this victory during the week by not hanging their heads and by not having a bad attitude. They just came out with a great attitude all week and that’s what ends up earning you a victory like this.”
Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, playing behind a patchwork offensive line that has only one player who has started all five Eastern games this season, completed 76 percent of his passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked twice – both on the same possession in the second half – and was intercepted twice. He was 13-of-16 for 209 yards in the first half alone.
“Bo played a great football game,” praised Baldwin. “Of course, there is going to be a play or two he’ll want back like there always is for every quarterback who has ever played that position. But he played a great football game and both the offense and defense got us a lead and that’s huge.”
With All-America wide receiver Brandon Kaufman sidelined, Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd picked up the slack by combining for 13 catches for 207 yards and all three touchdowns the Eagles scored. Edwards caught 10 for 115 yards and Herd had 92 yards on three grabs.
“Even without Brandon Kauffman we had Greg Herd and Nick Edwards both stepping up,” said Baldwin. “Nick and Greg have been doing it all year but they took it to another level today.”
Eastern finished with a 377-359 advantage in total offense, and was 11-of-15 on third down compared to 7-of-15 for the Wildcats. Eastern’s defense recorded four sacks, with five different players having a hand in them. Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin had 11 tackles and a pass broken up to lead the way. Larry finished with six tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and the fumble recovery.
Senior Jeremy Chaten, who replaced Gibbs at cornerback, had three tackles and a broke up a pass. Eastern also learned this past week that linebacker Zach Johnson was lost for the season with a knee injury, and sophomore J.C. Agen and true freshman Cody McCarthy responded with eight and seven tackles, respectively.
“Credit goes to (defensive coordinator) coach Graham, the whole defensive staff and then the players on defense,” said Baldwin. “Again, we had some new faces out there on both sides of the ball and our players were just out there just competing. If someone is down then someone else has to step up and that’s what we saw out there. Guys are just stepping up and it was a great game plan, and ultimately, we got the last stop to preserve the win.”
The Eagles, who only had two leads this season entering the Weber State game, jumped out to a 24-7 lead at halftime. The Eagles scored the first time they had the ball with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, then scored again later in the quarter on a six-play, 80-yard drive.
Edwards scored the first touchdown on a 22-yard catch from Mitchell, and Herd gathered in a 51-yard TD. Mike Jarrett added a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter before Edwards caught another TD pass from Mitchell. That score was from five yards out after Eastern took over with 3:10 left before intermission and drove 69 yards on seven plays.
Eastern had a commanding 267-99 advantage in total offense in the first half, and converted on 7-of-8 third downs in the first 30 minutes.
“When you can play with a lead you’re in a better position,” added Baldwin. “I was proud of the way our guys stuck with it and the balance we had. And we executed on a few crucial third downs too.”
Weber State pulled within 24-14 in the third quarter, then failed on a fourth-down play on a combined tackle by Larry and J.C. Agen. Eastern took advantage, driving 24 yards on eight plays to take a 27-14 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Jarrett.
But Weber came right back to score on a drive early in the fourth quarter, then spoiled a potential EWU score with an interception in the end zone. Eastern gave up a 51-yard pass on a fourth-and-23 play with less than a minute left in the game to the EWU 17-yard line, but Eastern saved the day with the fumble recovery – Weber State’s only turnover of the day.