September 24, 2011

No. 21 Eastern Loses First Game at The Inferno in 36-21 Setback to Fourth-Ranked Bobcats

Eagles are still winless heading into home game next Saturday versus Weber State, as MSU has 129-56 advantage in offense in the fourth quarter

The magic carpet wasn’t magic at all. In fact, for the Eagle offensive line, it was downright unlucky.

Fourth-ranked Montana State out-gained No. 21 Eastern Washington University 129-56 in the fourth quarter and defeated the still winless Eagles 36-21 Saturday (Sept. 24) in a Big Sky Conference showdown at sold-out Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. It was MSU’s first victory in Cheney since 1990.

A crowd of 10,422 was on hand, which was the fifth-most in the 45-year history of the stadium, and the most in a game that did not involve Montana. A record 3,682 Eastern students attended the ninth game on the new red Sprinturf surface at “The Inferno,” where Eastern was a perfect 8-0 before Saturday’s loss.

“I think we just need to go back and watch film,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We were just a hair off on a few things that might be the difference.  We have to watch film, we have to study it. I think there are some things that we have done better in the last two weeks and we just have to keep progressing. It is a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time it’s part of the game. When you’re in these situations you have to find ways to dig deep and battle back.”

Eastern was behind by just five points early in the fourth quarter, but the Bobcats put together a pair of time-consuming drives to spoil Eastern’s comeback hopes. Eastern played much of the game without All-America center Chris Powers (knee), who is the fifth Eastern starting offensive lineman to miss action already this year because of injuries. Converted tight end Patrick Mealey took his place, as MSU finished with five sacks and three more quarterback hurries.

“We will just keep fighting,” Baldwin vowed. “The guys that are in there will keep fighting and we’ll keep figuring it out.  That was the challenge out there at center. We’ve had four guys injured now who were our four centers coming into the season, so that’s a challenge. But I give a lot of credit to Mealey.  He stepped in this week and took over something that is not easy to do and then plays most of this game.  The guys that are in there will keep fighting and keep finding ways to put our team in a good position.”

Montana State improved to 3-1 on the season while the Eagles lost their fourth-straight game – one versus a Pac-12 Conference member and three versus nationally-ranked NCAA Football Championship Subdivision foes (South Dakota, Montana, MSU).

A year ago, both teams finished 7-1 in the Big Sky, but the Bobcats earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs with a 30-7 win over the Eagles on Sept. 25, 2010. Eastern, however, won every game after that to win the NCAA Division I title.

But Eastern hasn’t won since, and will enter next Saturday’s (Oct. 1) home game against Weber State 0-4 with seven games left to play.

“They’re a good football team,” said Baldwin. “I said that I thought their defensive tackles were really impressive to me and made their defense go. I knew it would be a challenge.”

Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who entered the game ranked third in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 359.7 yards per game, passed for 263 yards. He completed 18-of-29 passes with one interception and one touchdown, while junior receiver Brandon Kaufman caught six passes for 140 yards and his first touchdown of the season.

Eastern’s running game was impressive behind the play of true freshmen Jordan Talley and Quincy Forte. Talley, who had 114 yards a week earlier against Montana, had 108 and two touchdowns versus the Bobcats in the first start of his Eastern career. Forte added 31 rushing yards and caught two passes for 45 more yards, including a 48-yarder that set-up an Eagle touchdown.

Eastern finished with 108 rushing yards, but MSU finished with 266. The Eagles ended the game with 371 yards of total offense, compared to 416 for MSU – the first time in four games this season the Eagles have had less than their opponent.

Although both teams had two turnovers, Eastern was just 3-of-10 on third downs while the Bobcats were 11-of-18. Montana State converted three on a drive in the fourth quarter when a 12-play, 78-yard scoring drive took 4:11 off the clock and gave MSU a 33-21 lead. Jason Cunningham, who kicked field goals of 55, 55, 31 and 32 yards in the first three quarters, capped the scoring for MSU with a 43-yarder with 2:36 remaining.

“They executed really well early on and on third down. We got in a situation where we settled in and got some stops, and we were just a drive or two too short from getting over the hump and taking a lead.  And it can be a different game if you find a way to play with a lead.”

Senior safety Matt Johnson led the Eagles defensively with nine tackles, a forced fumble and the 17th interception in his career. He is now tied for the school record for forced fumbles along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97). He is now tied for second in school history with Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) and Kurt Schulz (1988-91), and is just one behind the school record of 18 held by Mike Richter (1971-75).

Playing the Bobcats at Roos Field was expected to be will be an added bonus for EWU. Eastern was a perfect 8-0 on the new red Sprinturf surface at “The Inferno” last season, including three playoff victories. The Eagles were 9-1 all-time versus MSU in Cheney (2-2 all-time in Spokane), and had not lost to Montana State in the last seven times they have met at Roos Field, dating back to a 28-25 double-overtime victory by the Bobcats in 1990. 

The Bobcats scored on their first possession of the game with a 90-yard drive, but Eastern responded with a 66-yard drive of its own that took only three plays. Kaufman gathering in a 56-yard pass from Mitchell before scoring on a 10-yard reception.

Talley had a 33-yard run on Eastern’s next possession, but the Eagles missed a 44-yard field goal that could have given Eastern a lead. After Cunningham nailed a 55-yarder, Eastern used a 48-yard catch and run Forte to set-up a go-ahead 6-yard touchdown run by Talley. Eastern’s 14-10 lead was its first advantage since leading Washington 10-7 on Sept. 3 in the first and second quarters.

But Montana State scored the last 10 points of the first half – including another 55-yard field goal by Cunningham – and led at halftime 20-14. Montana State had 216 yards of offense in the first half, compared to 220 for the Eagles.

Two more Cunningham field goals of 31 and 32 yards gave the Bobcats at 26-14 lead with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But Eastern, thanks to a 45-yard connection from Mitchell to Kaufman, crept closer with Talley’s 7-yard TD run with 14:22 left in the game that cut the score to 26-21.

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