Eastern Rallies From 35-0 Hole, But Sam Houston State Holds On for 45-42 Semifinal Win
Brandon Kaufman breaks FCS record as Eagles score 28 unanswered points in the second half and pull within three in the fourth quarter
It would have been the mother of all Eagle comebacks.
Eastern Washington University rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit to pull within three points in the fourth quarter, but Sam Houston State was able to hold off the Eagles for a 45-42 win at Roos Field Saturday (Dec. 15) in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
After falling behind 35-0 in a disastrous first half, the Eagles scored 28-straight points behind backup quarterback Vernon Adams to get back into the game. But the Bearkats put the game away with 10 fourth-quarter points and a pair of first downs in the last possession of the game.
The loss spoiled a record-breaking performance by EWU wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, who broke the FCS record for single season receiving yards. He finished the season with 1,850 yards (93 receptions and 16 TD) to break the record of 1,712 previously held by Eddie Conti of Delaware in 1998.
Kaufman finished with nine catches for a career-high 215 yards and three touchdowns, with his yardage ranking fifth in school history. Adams, who relieved starter Kyle Padron late in the first half, finished the game 14-of-26 for 364 yards and equaled the school record Padron set a week earlier in a 51-35 victory over Illinois State with six touchdown passes.
In November and beyond, Eastern is now 13-1 since 2010, and 22-4 since 2007. The Eagles, who have won 11 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, lost for the first time in eight games at home this season, and are now 17-3 at the Inferno since 2010.
“It was obviously a tale of two halves when you look at the game,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “When you get down to four teams in the country, you are going to end up in a good ball game. My hat goes off to Sam Houston. They played a very good football game.
“We are not into any moral victories no matter who we are playing,” he continued. “I told our guys in the locker room I was really, really proud of our guys to be where we were at 35-0, and to not just fight back with what you saw on the field, but to fight back with their attitude in the locker room, and their attitude coming out of halftime and to stay together. That allowed us to have an opportunity to still have a shot to win a game when no one expected us to. I am very proud of that.”
Junior Ashton Clark added five catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, and senior Greg Herd had four grabs for 88 yards and a touchdown. Padron was 8-of-16 for 117 yards and was sacked four times.
Defensively, senior Zach Johnson led the Eagles with 12 tackles, giving him 324 in his career to rank seventh in school history. Juniors Allen Brown and Ronnie Hamlin each had nine stops.
Eastern finished with 523 yards of total offense and Sam Houston State had 503. Eastern’s total included 481 passing yards while the Bearkats had 459 of their yards on the ground. In the second half, Eastern had a 360-250 advantage.
The Bearkats punched its ticket to a repeat trip to Texas to play for the NCAA Division I title against North Dakota State. The championship game is Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, at 10 a.m. Pacific time on ESPN2. Eastern played and won in the game in 2010; Sam Houston State played and lost in last year’s title tilt to NDSU.
Second-seeded Eastern, which was ranked fourth in the final regular season Sports Network Top-25 poll, finished the season 11-3. The Eagles, who had won five games in a row, defeated Wagner 29-19 in the second round on Dec. 1 and Illinois State 51-35 in the quarterfinals on Dec. 8.
The Bearkats improved to 11-3, and ended the regular season ranked fifth and were unseeded in the playoffs. But they knocked off Big Sky foes Cal Poly (18-16) and Montana State (34-16) in consecutive weeks to open the playoffs. A year ago, the Bearkats eliminated MSU in the quarterfinals (49-13) and Montana in the semifinals (31-28).
Both teams have advanced to the national championship game in the past two years, with EWU defeating Delaware 20-19 for the 2010 title and Sam Houston State falling to North Dakota State 17-16 in 2011.
This week’s EWU-SHSU meeting is only the beginning, as the two teams announced last June that they will start a home-and-home series beginning in the 2013 campaign. Eastern will travel to Huntsville, Texas, to play Sam Houston State on Sept. 28, 2013. The Bearkats will then play in Cheney at Roos Field on Sept. 13, 2014. The only previous meeting between the Eagles and Bearkats came in the quarterfinals of the playoffs in 2014 when Sam Houston State rallied from a 34-14 fourth-quarter deficit to win 35-34 on the game’s final play.
A year ago, Eastern won six of its last seven games, and narrowly missed the playoffs with a 6-5 record. Meanwhile, Sam Houston State rolled to 14 consecutive football victories and its first outright Southland Conference football title. The Bearkats were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and advanced to the championship game in Frisco, Texas, located just 200 miles from their campus.
A year earlier, Eastern finished the 2010 season with 11-straight wins, including a 20-19 victory over Delaware in the title tilt in Frisco. Sam Houston, meanwhile, was 6-5 in its first season under head coach Willie Fritz.
Eastern is now 11-8 in nine playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012), and had their six-game playoff streak snapped by SHSU. The Bearkats have now made six appearances in the playoffs (1986, 1991, 2001, 2004, 2011, 2012).
Sam Houston State will return to the national championship game for the second straight season. The Bearkats will play North Dakota State for the second straight season in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff of the national championship game is at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
This will mark the fourth time in FCS history that the same teams have met in the championship game in consecutive years. Youngstown State and Marshall played in 1991 and 1992. Montana and Marshall played in 1995 and 1996. Youngstown State played Marshall in three consecutive title games from 1991-93.
Sam Houston State will make its second appearance in the national championship game. The Bearkats fell to North Dakota State 17-6 in last season’s championship game.
Sam Houston State improved to 2-1 all-time in semifinal games. The Bearkats lost at Montana in 2004 34-13, and beat Montana at home in 2011, 31-28.
The Bearkats will enter the national championship on a three-game winning streak and with an 11-3 overall record.
Eastern Washington dropped to 1-2 in semifinal games. The Eagles lost to Youngstown State in 1997 at Joe Albi Stadium, and beat Villanova in 2010 in Cheney.
The loss snapped Eastern Washington’s 13-game winning streak in games played on or after Nov. 1. EWU had not lost after that date since a first-round playoff loss to Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference on Nov. 28, 2009. EWU is now 22-4 in games played on or after Nov. 1 since 2007.
Eastern Washington dropped to 17-3 all-time on the red turf and had its seven-game home winning streak halted. EWU had been 5-0 on the red turf in playoff games.
Sam Houston State moved to 5-0 against Big Sky teams in the playoffs the last two seasons. Sam Houston State beat Montana State and Montana in the 2011 playoffs at home. The Bearkats beat Cal Poly in this year’s second round at home, beat Montana State on the road in the quarterfinals, and Eastern Washington in Cheney in the semifinals.
Sam Houston State will represent the Southland Conference in the championship, marking the eighth time a team from the Southland has played for the championship. Southland teams have played for the Division I title in 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 2002 and 2011. Former member Louisiana-Monroe is the only Southland team to win a title (43-42 over Marshall in 1997).
Brian Bell’s 72-yard touchdown run with 12:56 remaining in the second quarter was the longest touchdown run of his career, and the longest for Sam Houston State in the 2012 season.
Sam Houston State junior running back Tim Flanders rushed for 116 yards in the first half and finished the game with 31. Flanders has 25 100-yard games in his career, a school record. He has a school-record 10 100-yard games this season. Flanders moved into third on the Southland’s all-time rushing yardage list with 4,181 yards.
Eastern Washington’s Jakob Pugsley sacked Sam Houston State’s Brian Bell in the third quarter. It was the first time Bell has been sacked in nine games. Bell was last sacked on Oct. 6 against Stephen F. Austin. It marked just the sixth time an opponent has sacked a Sam Houston QB this season.
Sam Houston State kicker Miguel Antonio tied his career-long with a 42-yard FG with 5:33 remaining to put Sam Houston ahead 45-35.
Sam Houston State senior cornerback Dax Swanson intercepted his 14th career pass with 5:20 left in the game. He became the school’s all-time leader in interceptions. The previous record was 13 set by Ronnie Choate (1955-59).
Eastern Washington’s Brandon Kaufman became the all-time FCS single-season leader in receiving yards. He set the record on a 22-yard in the third quarter. Kaufman, who had a career-high 215 yards, finished the season with 1,850 yards. The previous record was 1,714 by Delaware’s Eddie Conti in 1998. This was Kaufman’s 11th 100-yard receiving game this season, and the 19th of his career.
Kaufman had three receiving touchdowns, the sixth time this season he caught multiple TDs in a game this season.
Kaufman hiked his career catch total to 221. He ranks 8th in Big Sky history. Kaufman is one shy of the EWU all-time record set by Aaron Boyce (2006-09).
Brian Bell’s 72-yard touchdown run longest TD run of his career, and Sam Houston’s longest TD run. 12:56 in the second quarter. Bell had not rushed for more than 69 yards in a game this season. First two touchdown run game since Stephen F. Austin.
EWU freshman QB Vernon Adams tied a school record with six touchdown passes. Junior Kyle Padron threw six TDs last week in a quarterfinal win over Illinois State.
Adams’ six touchdowns tied the FCS playoff record. Northern Iowa’s Mike Smith had six in a 1987 game and Gordon Clemente of Grambling had six in a 1989 game. Also, Taylor Heincke of Old Dominion had six in a second-round game against Coastal Carolina in 2012.
Kaufman finished the season with 93 catches, tied for fifth all-time in Big Sky single-season history.
Eastern Washington was on the verge of tying the FCS all-time record for largest comeback. Nevada rallied from a 35-point second-half deficit to beat Weber State 55-49 on Nov. 2, 1999. Weber State led 49-14 with 12:16 left in the third quarter.
EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY QUOTES
Head Coach Beau Baldwin
Opening Statement: “It was obviously a tale of two halves when you look at the game. When you get down to four teams in the country, you are going to end up in a good ball game. Last night you saw a great ballgame, and today you saw a great ballgame. My hat goes off to Sam Houston. They played a very good football game. We are not into any moral victories no matter who we are playing. I told our guys in the locker room I was really, really proud of our guys to be where we were at 35-0, and to not just fight back with what you saw on the field, but to fight back with their attitude in the locker room, and their attitude coming out of halftime and to stay together. That allowed us to have an opportunity to still have a shot to win a game when no one expected us to. I am very proud of that. I am hurting right now for the seniors. It hurts to lose, but this one hurts even more because they meant so much to this program. The seniors were the group here in 2009 playing on a grass field. When you think about it, those seniors paved the way towards this. They were playing on a grass field and an older scoreboard. When you see them, what they have gone through and how much they have put into this to help take us to the point where we are right now, you feel for them because it’s hard, and they care so much. They have nothing to hang their heads about. They are an incredible group, and we will keep moving forward. I had a blast this season, an absolute blast.”
On Halftime Message: “More than anything, (I told them) take it one play at a time. I know that is cliché, but it’s true. If you read the scoreboard it can look too overwhelming, but if you focus on a play and a drive (it’s manageable). We said if we could get a score, and then another score, we can creep back into this game. We have been there before, just not quite that deep in terms of points. Obviously we still believed, and that showed up (in the game) because it showed with our guys. They (the players) did believe, and they took each play one at a time. They knew we would have to make some quick scores. It created an onside kick situation which allowed us to score a third touchdown in the third quarter, which obviously was big. We went down in the fourth quarter down two touchdowns instead of three. That’s a big difference. It was not a magical speech by any stretch -- these guys do not need that. They just needed to be reminded that it’s a 60 minute game -- which they know. They need to take it one play at a time and lay it on the line for the next 30 minutes -- which they did. They should hold their heads up high. It hurts right now I know, but they have nothing to hang their heads about in that regard.”
On 35-0 Deficit: “This was probably as tough a comeback (in Eastern’s history). It was definitely one which took a lot of guts. The comeback didn’t shock me, and I mean that as a compliment to the group of young men in the locker room. It did not shock me that we got back into it because I have seen them (play). I see how they respond, I see how they carry themselves, and I see how there is no figure pointing. There is no stress (on the field). They just know that it is going to start happening. If you come up a little short, you come up a little short, but at least you know you laid it out there, and you put it on the line. Only one team in the country does not have the feeling we have right now. It is tough to be that one team in the country. Once you get past the feeling of this, you can reflect on a year of hard work, and feel very proud about a lot of things we have done on this football team. We are very hungry to come back and to keep working. It is fun, and it’s exciting.”
On Team Expectations: “This team exceeded my expectations in terms on how they handled things, how they carried themselves, and how much I had fun with them on a day-to-day basis. We do not wear our rings around from two years ago because it’s bigger than that. So yes, this team exceeded my expectations just in terms of day-to-day enjoyment I got to spend with this group. One of the hardest things is that you are not going to be back on the football field Monday or Tuesday with the guys. Our goals were, and they will be next year, to take games one at a time. Big Sky is first, but we are still going to think in terms of winning the whole thing. We always will. If you are not thinking that way, then why are you doing it? That’s my approach, and that’s my opinion. I know these guys would say the same. Yes, they exceeded my expectations on how we carried ourselves, and what we were, but we were in this thing with the idea that we would win the whole thing. It’s hard when you don’t because you put so much time and work into it.”
On Vernon Adams: “It’s extremely impressive, but not shocking. I talked to the group of quarterbacks the other day, and it’s a special group with Anthony Vitto in that mix too. They are a special group that is always ready, but always supportive of whoever is out there. You’ve seen that with Kyle and Vernon all year long. It did not shock me at all to see Vernon go in there (and do so well). We joked about it last year when he was on the scout team. He is one of those guys that would count down the shot clock in his head when he was young when he was shooting baskets. He visualized big moments. He does that in practice. He puts himself in those moments, and he gets excited about those moments. It was awesome to see him out there doing it, but it was not shocking at all. We have high expectations, and I know how great a quarterback he is. You are going to go through freshman highs and lows, and that’s okay. You are going to go through highs and lows as a sophomore or junior. It happens at the (quarterback) position. I know what he has there, and he knows it too. He is confident, and when he is called upon he is ready to do it. It was exciting. Like I said, it was one of those games it is hard. No matter what team ends up on the losing end, it’s a hard one. We have been on the winning end of those too, but today we were just a few short.”
On Halftime Change: “You’ve seen it
in other games where you can get a feel for what kind of defense
they are playing, what is going to put more stress on them,
and what is not going to put stress on them. Obviously, Kyle has
played an amazing three straight games going back to Portland
State, Wagner and Illinois State. Vernon has been right there in
his corner just being supportive. Some of the things they were
giving us, Kyle was able to take advantage of that with a bunch of
his strengths. Today they were putting one more up in the box which
is an aggressive style. It can also be dangerous for them if we are
able to make that one free hitter sometimes miss. You saw that with
Vernon. That’s one of his biggest qualities-- his ability to
extend the play when it is not originally there. If that one guy
does not make the play, it is a scary thing for a defense to deal
with. Not just his running, but his scrambling to open people up.
There were some situations that presented what Vernon did well, and
that put some heat on them. It is still a team effort. In the past,
Vernon was saying he was with whatever we were doing, and Kyle was
that way today. When I said Vernon is going to give us a spark,
Kyle’s comment to me was ‘whatever it takes to win
coach’. That is the reason why it has worked (having two
quarterbacks), and it’s the reason why we are here. I am so
lucky to have two great quarterbacks.”
On Quarterback Switch: “It’s not an exact science. It’s tough to just say it’s going to be two series, two series. Sometimes it can be a spark deal. There were a few things they were doing that we felt like we might be able to put a bind in them here and get them a little tense if they are trying to bring pressure. They missed that sack and that could be something that could really put a stress on them. You felt it there in the second quarter -- it felt like we needed a spark. We did not know at the time that Vernon was going to stay in the entire game. We could use something at that moment. He came in and was able to do that-- even in the first half. I know the numbers were not great for Vernon in the first half, but you saw a couple times where it had them a reeling a little bit because he was able to break a couple runs on them and get out of some things. That can get their defensive coordinator and their guys thinking they need to do some things a little bit differently because we are facing a little different of a quarterback here.”
On Sam Houston’s Offense: “The just operated really well. They have averaged 41 points a game all year. They are a great offense -- I give them credit. They have great players, they run their system really well, and they do what they do really well. You saw it a week ago in Bozeman. You’ve seen it last year in the playoffs. They came up one game short. They are a great team. They did not do anything that surprised me. They did what they did all year in terms of point total and production.”
Earlier Play Miscues: “Any points you score in the first half or anything that was different in the first half, might also change how they call things in the second half if it was not the score that it was. I do not get caught up too much in that because there is nothing you can do about it anyway. I want to correct each miscue in terms of moving forward, and if we missed something here we will watch film on it. In terms of irking me, I just don’t get that way. I want to try and learn from it, and try to move forward. Hopefully you are able to correct that the next time you are in certain situations. You are going to have things go wrong. A lot of that is presented by those other team. I’m sure they are talking about all the things that went wrong for them when we scored as many points as we did in the second half, but a lot of that was created from our guys. It’s two great football teams, and it’s going to be a lot of punches thrown back and forth.”
Freshman Quarterback Vernon Adams
On Not Playing Consistently: “Coach Mac (Kiel McDonald), the running back coach, pulled me aside earlier in the week. He saw me slacking off, and he told me to keep preparing like I was the starter, and any time could be my time. That’s what I did all week. Our offensive line, receivers, running backs, tight ends and everybody did an amazing job. I am so blessed to be one of four teams playing in December.”
On Memory of this game: “(I will remember) the scoreboard. We are all going to come back as a team for winter ball in January, and we are going to work hard. The main thing on our minds is going to be the scoreboard. We are going to remember how this feels. We are going to come back next year and do what we have to do.”
On Kaufman: “I tell everyone that asks me, ‘Brandon is the best player I have ever played with.’ He was the best receiver. He is so great. I am so blessed to get this opportunity to play with him, and to throw for him. It was a great season between all of us -- the receivers, the running backs, everybody. It was a team thing, and we are a family.”
Junior Wide Receiver Brandon Kaufman
On Great Plays: “Once it was playoff time, I wanted to give everything back to this team. I give everything to this team. I tell myself every time I am on the field that I am not going to go down-- I am going to keep fighting. My team did a great job opening me up, and giving me opportunities for me to do that for them. The second half Vernon came in, and he put the balls where they needed to be. Our offensive line gave us time. I can only do one part of it -- it’s 10 other guys doing what they need to do to make it happen. Without them, this is not even a conversation. I give it all to them. They did phenomenal in the second half.”
On Memory of this Game: “(I am going to remember) hugging Nick (Nicholas Edwards) and Greg (Herd) at the end of the game – and hugging Will Post and Evan Cook. I told them how proud I am for the way they committed to this program and how they left everything out on the field tonight. It hurt real bad saying goodbye to Nick and Greg tonight, and that is definitely the main memory.”
On Close Game Hurting Worse: “I’m not quite sure. We did have a chance at the end. You can’t blame anyone for it. It doesn’t make it easier because we did not really see ourselves in that situation to begin with. It does show other people the type of team we are, the type of people we are, and the fire we have -- but it still hurts just as bad.”
SAM HOUSTON STATE QUOTES
Head Coach Willie Fritz
Opening Statement: “I want to give a ton of credit to Coach Baldwin, his staff and the players. Most teams would have folded when they were down 35-0 at halftime and kicking off to us to begin the second half. Those guys really did a sensational job in the second half. We got a little stagnant and a little too conservative. We had a couple big drives offensively to get us going again. We had a big interception there late in the ball game. They have a great stable of wide receivers, they were outstanding. You would throw the ball up and they would go and get it. They’re a very impressive team and they deserve a lot of credit. At the end of the game we needed to finish and run the clock out by getting a first down. This run has a lot of meaning and I’m very happy to get out of here with a victory and go play a fine North Dakota State team again in the Championship game. We were 1-2 at the beginning of the season and I don’t think a lot of people thought we would get back to this point. However, we have a whole bunch of people who believe and continue to keep working hard. We are back where we wanted to go.”
On first half running game: “We were clicking on all cylinders offensively and playing really well defensively. When teams don’t have a very long time to work against the triple option sometimes it’s tough to defend. When you work on it the speed comes at them pretty quick and they have to adjust to it. They had us contained a few times, we just got out on the perimeter and outran them a few times. I thought it was a good job by coach Ruse play-calling and changing up and throwing the ball a bit. We kind of quit doing that in the beginning of the second half and became one-dimensional. We had a drive where I told him we needed to open it up again and we got rolling again.”
On Miguel Antonio’s field goal: “Miguel has had a great year for us and once again he comes through. I think he’s a top kicker in the country. He did a great job with kickoffs even though we didn’t cover them very well. He’s 18-of-22 so he has had an excellent year. That was a big kick and he drilled it.”
On road experience: “I don’t know how much it helped us but we are certainly used to traveling. We have played in hostile environments. They got loud there at the end of the game -- in the fourth quarter they were very excited in the stands and you could hear them. Our guys just came through when they needed to make some plays. We have some clutch performers. Tim [Flanders] had an unbelievable run. They had it played too. We would have run one more play and we would have been able to take the clock down to about 14 or 15 seconds, but obviously getting the first down was big.”
On time off prior to preparation for National Championship: “We are going to take a deep breath and relax a bit. We have been going as a coaching staff since mid-July working seven days a week and up to 80-90 hours a week. This will be good to take a little bit of time off. We are going to come back on the 26th with our players and start getting into practice on the 27th.”
On momentum in second half: “We probably should have been more aggressive offensively the first couple series we had the ball. They did a really nice job playing field position. They covered their kicks well. We didn’t have very good field position and we wanted to try and get a couple first downs but we weren’t quite getting them. We got a little conservative maybe a little too early.”
On preparation for EWU QB Vernon Adams: “He didn’t play much in the playoffs but we get all the tapes. So we saw him play quite a bit early and knew what he was capable of doing. They ran it with him a little less than I thought they were going to. They ran it a little bit when he first got into the ball game and then he started chucking it around and did a good job.”
On EWU WR Brandon Kaufman: “He was outstanding. He’s a great player.”
Junior RB Timothy Flanders
On having game-clinching first down run: “I knew we had another down at the same time. But it was third-and-three and I just wanted to get the first down and get the game over with.”
On offensive adjustments made in second half: “We just had to keep our mindset. We came out the second half with the ball and we weren’t as fast as we were in the first half. When we were on the sideline we had a big offensive meeting telling each other that we just have to keep our head focused on the game and not worry about anything else.”
On road experience paying off: “It did pay off. But we had a great group of seniors that helped lead the team. Everybody pitched in this game.”
On overcoming offensive linemen injuries: “I think one thing that helped us was that we have had more offensive linemen that have been playing all year. So when those two went down, like coach always says it’s the next man up, and they did a very good job.”
On celebrating win prior to preparation for National Championship: “Especially with us playing North Dakota State again, I’ll probably have a countdown ready for it as soon as I get back.”
Senior Safety Robert Shaw
On Eastern’s offensive adjustments: “Like coach Fritz said, they have a good receiving core. I say great, probably one of best we’ve seen all year. We knew they were going to make plays, but we had to overcome adversity and make bigger plays. Dax [Swanson] was able to get an interception late, but they were still able to score. The offense took over after that and we appreciated that.”
On road experience paying off: “We were able to come out here and not worry about the fans or not having enough fans. We just rely on each other to make big plays and come out with the win.”
On celebrating win prior to preparation for National Championship: “Probably about a week. Then we’ll start worrying about North Dakota State. Once we get home we’ll celebrate as a team and after that it should be all done with. Then we’ll start focusing on the national championship.”
On getting back to National Championship: “It feels great. But it won’t feel that good until we get the job done in the championship.”
On Dax Swanson’s interception late in the game: “Well Dax was an All-American last year and he’s known for getting interceptions. That was a big play and we expected him to come down with it. He bobbled it, but he was able to come down with it.”