October 23, 2011

Mitchell-to-Edwards Magic Leads Eagles to 42-35 OT win

Eastern rallies from 28-13 deficit in a flashback from its national championship run, as Eagles keep alive hopes of defending its title

The magic – this time Mitchell-to-Edwards Magic -- is alive and well.

Thanks to a record-setting four touchdown receptions by Nicholas Edwards on passes from Bo Levi Mitchell, Eastern Washington rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Sacramento State 42-35 in overtime in a crucial Big Sky Conference football game Saturday (Oct. 22) at Hornet Stadium. The victory kept EWU perfect in 11 tries versus the Hornets in Sacramento.

“This game came down to the heart of our players,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Our players are scrapping, fighting and finding a way – they are not giving up and getting down on each other. They deserve this – they fought their guts out all the way to the end against a very good team on their home turf.”

In a flashback to last season when Eastern rallied for six victories after trailing in the fourth quarter, Jordan Talley provided the winning points with a 1-yard TD run to open overtime. Eastern held on a fourth-and-goal play from its own 3-yard line to preserve Eastern’s fourth-straight victory and keep alive its hopes of defending its 2010 NCAA Division I championship.

“We just responded,” said Mitchell. “It’s one of those things we had to do last year -- we just had to dig down deep. It’s everything we work for and it’s our playoff game, so go win it. Thankfully we came out and did that.”

Mitchell, who engineered all six of EWU’s comebacks last season, completed 29-of-45 passes for 357 yards and touchdowns of 35, 16, 39 and 22 yards to Edwards.

“Those two were at it again,” said Baldwin. “Bo’s last three games have been unreal and Nick has been consistent all season. And I’m proud of our offensive line that has gone through a lot of changes. We have a lot of players banged and bruised, but we’re still finding ways to put up points and get yards. A lot of credit has to go to them first and foremost. (Offensive line) coach Aaron Best has had to work with a lot of injuries, but we’ve had a lot of players stepping up and that has been fun to see.”

Edwards, who finished with 11 catches for a career-high 192 receiving yards, tied a school record with his four TD receptions. Jamie Buenzli had four touchdowns versus Nevada on Sept. 12, 1987, and Joe Pierce had four against Central Washington on Sept. 13, 2003. His catches equaled the 11th-most in school history and his yards ranks eighth.

 “When you have on your team Jerry Rice, I mean Nick Edwards, it’s hard not to get him the ball,” joked Mitchell. “He works hard and puts in the effort and time. He deserves everything he gets and deserves the credit for this win. The plays he made tonight were just ridiculous.”

“The offensive line did a great job and gave me time against a really good defense,” added Mitchell, who was sacked just twice. “They know how to bring pressure.”

True freshman Quincy Forte added 87 yards rushing on just 11 carries in the first start of his career as EWU finished with 456 yards of total offense. Greg Herd added seven catches for 81 yards for the Eagles.

Another true freshman, linebacker Cody McCarthy, led the Eagles with a career-high 12 tackles. Junior safety Jeff Minnerly added nine and sophomore Ronnie Hamlin chipped in seven.

The Hornets played the game without injured quarterback Jeff Fleming, but still managed to run for 312 yards and pass for another 232 for a total of 545 versus the injury-decimated Eagles. With cornerback T.J. Lee (ankle) and strong safety Matt Johnson (shoulder) missing the game because of injuries, the Eagles have now had 11 starters miss action because of injuries, including seven on offense and four on defense. A total of seven have been lost for the season, including Johnson.

With All-America defensive tackle Renard Williams sitting out after suffering an early-game injury, the Hornets scored the first time they had the ball in each half to take command at 28-13 in the third quarter. Sac State converted its first four fourth down plays against the Eagles after entering the game just 6-of-12.

The Hornets were playing only their second game of the season at home, and are now 3-4 overall and have a 2-3 league mark. Eastern has won its last four games after a 0-4 start, and is now 4-2 in the league and 4-4 overall.

The lone home game for the Hornets was a 42-28 victory on Sept. 24 over Montana, a team that defeated Eastern one week earlier 17-14 in Missoula. The game versus the Eagles starts a stretch of four home games in five weeks for Sac State, which has been ranked as high as 12th this season after the Hornets upset Oregon State 29-28 on Sept. 3.

“We’re thin and we’ve lost a lot of starters, and we lost another All-American tonight mid-way through the first half,” added Baldwin. “But our team deserves everything they get – they worked their tails off. They came on the road and won in a tough environment.”

The Eagles fell behind early 14-0 as Sacramento State scored the first two times it had the ball. The Eagles did put together a four-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 35-yard touchdown toss from Mitchell to Edwards.

Field goals of 28 and 41 yards by Mike Jarrett – who is now 14-of-16 for the year – helped EWU cut the lead to 14-13 at halftime. The Eagles were out-gained in total offense 248-232 in the first half, including 143 rushing yards by the Hornets.

Sac State opened the second half with a pair of touchdowns with drives of 73 and 67 yards. Eastern stalled on its first two possessions of the second half, but put together a 14-play, 74-yard drive to cut the lead to 28-20 with 11:10 to play.

After a second-straight three-and-out by the Eagle defense, Eastern took possession at its own 41. Two plays later, the Eagles scored on a 39-pass from Mitchell to Edwards, and the Eagles knotted the game with a two-point conversion from Mitchell to Herd.

Sac State responded with a 10-play, 70-yard drive to pull ahead with 2:44 left. But Eastern, thanks to a converted fourth-and-five play, responded with their own 68-yard TD drive, capped by a 22-yard diving catch by Edwards for a touchdown with 55 ticks remaining.

The Hornets weren’t finished, however, and Sam McCowan’s 43-yard run set-up a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Jason Diniz. In overtime, Eastern needed 10 plays to get into the end zone, then Sac State appeared to be on its way to score with a 15-yard run on the first play. But three Hornet plays yielded seven yards before the game ended on fourth down incompletion from the Eagle 3-yard line.

Hornet Stadium has definitely been a home-away-from-home for the Eastern football team. Actually, home-field advantage hasn’t meant much for either team in the past 12 years of the series. The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 against the Hornets in Sacramento, and lead the all-time series 16-4, including last year’s 28-24 victory in Cheney.

But even stranger than being perfect in Sacramento is the fact that in the previous 12 meetings between EWU and Sac State, the home team had won only twice (EWU 45-10 in 2004 and 28-24 in 2010). Eastern is 6-0 in Sacramento and 2-4 in Cheney in those 12 meetings.

 
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