Calm and Cool Eagles are Masters of the Nailbiter

Eastern has won 11 games since 2010 when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, and the last two when behind in the third quarter

By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information

Winning in a blowout fashion takes talent, but winning in a close game takes heart.

There is something about close football games that makes Eastern Washington University’s high-powered offense and defense become downright lethal.

Comebacks have become so commonplace for the Eagles that the scoreboard might as well be taken down for the first three quarters. Offensive Coordinator Aaron Best said that they feel like a team of destiny. Even when they’re down, the victory feels like it’s theirs for the taking.

Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin has one word to explain his team’s late-game success, which includes 11 victories since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. In the last two, Eastern trailed in the third.

“We just respond -- that’s our word,” Baldwin explained. “We talk about it all the time -- respond, respond, respond. We don’t jerk react to things. We don’t panic, we don’t think. We just think in terms of responding. You always have to be ready to respond.”

Quarterback Kyle Padron wouldn’t mind blowing out a few more teams, but also enjoys playing in close games.

“It’s the way we are I guess -- we play close games,” he said. “We find a way to win those games, which is pretty huge in the playoffs. You need a lot of character and a lot of drive. You can’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. It shows a lot about our team to win those close games.”

Some people say that teams who win a lot of close games are living dangerously or that they’re getting lucky, but if luck and danger brings Eastern another championship than maybe it’s just a skill?

There probably isn’t a better example than the memorable comeback versus Delaware in the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship Game. Down 19-0 it seemed like all hopes had disappeared until the offense woke up and scored three touchdowns in the final 16:48. The defense was just as impressive, coming up with stop after stop to help achieve and preserve the comeback.

Getting a chance to have a comeback in the biggest game takes a complete season and playoff run full of resiliency. The motto for Baldwin and his team has been, “Find a way,” and they sure have been finding ways.

Last weekend against the Wagner Seahawks in a second-round game of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, EWU once again showed their toughness and resiliency to come out with a 29-19 victory. The score doesn’t tell the story of the challenges the Eagles needed to overcome, including an interception that turned into a touchdown and a fumbled kickoff return that led to a field goal and a 19-14 Seahawk lead in the third quarter.

Padron, who led Eastern on TD drives of 80 and 75 yards in the first half, directed EWU on scoring marches of 75 and 73 in the second half. Eastern lost the turnover battle 3-0, but out-gained Wagner 411-296 in total offense.

“I’m probably most proud of the fact that we weathered a much early storm. When I say early, I mean early in the third quarter,” said Baldwin. “It was a type of storm in terms of things not going right. A lot of times you are on the wrong end of the ballgame because of it. Our defense showed resiliency.

“The biggest difference was our red zone defense -- we had a blocked field goal early and then we were able to hold them to field goals rather than touchdowns,” Baldwin continued. “They did what they do. I set my mind to the fact that we were going to win the turnover battle, but instead we lost it 3-0. Our guys were able to weather that storm. You don’t win too many games when you lose the turnover battle 3-0.”

Of the 10 victories the Eagles have so far this year, six have come with spectacular second-half comebacks.

In the home opener versus Montana, the Eagles used a fortunate bounce on an onside kick to score two touchdowns in the final 2:19 and stun the Grizzlies with an incredible comeback.

Against Montana State, Eastern Washington blocked a punt for a touchdown and intercepted a pass for a touchdown within 59 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter to turn a four-point deficit into a 10-point advantage.

On Oct. 20 against Sacramento State, the Eagles trailed 14-13 before scoring 10-straight points to take the lead for good.

On Senior Day versus UC Davis, the Eagles were out-scored 22-0 in the second quarter and rallied from a 25-14 deficit to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. The Eagles then blocked a field goal in the final minute to preserve a 31-28 victory.

In its final game of the regular season, EWU again worked second-half magic to defeat Portland State in the rain and claim a part of the Big Sky Championship. It took 380 passing yards, including a monumental 94-yard drive engineered by Padron, and pair of second-half interceptions by linebacker Zach Johnson to complete the comeback and seal the victory.

 
 

EAGLE NAILBITERS

In all, Eastern has won six games this season when trailing in the third quarter (Montana, Montana State, Sacramento State, UC Davis, Portland State, Wagner). Since 2010, Eastern has won 11 games when they’ve trailed or been tied in the fourth quarter, including three this season (Montana, Montana State, UC Davis), two last season and six in the 2010 national title season. On the other side of the coin, the Eagles are only seven points from an unbeaten season, having last-possession chances to pull out wins in both of their losses. Here is a list of Eastern’s nail-biting victories since 2010.

 

Dec. 1, 2012 – EWU 29, Wagner 19: Eastern trailed by five heading into the final play of the third quarter before winning 29-19.

Nov. 17, 2012 – EWU 41, Portland State 34: Eastern rallied from season-high deficits of 13 (first half) and 12 points (second half).

Nov. 10, 2012 – EWU 31, UC Davis 28: The Eagles trailed by 11 at halftime and four entering the final quarter, but rallied to beat UC Davis 31-28. Vernon Adams scored the go-ahead points with 8:13 left in the game, then David Gaylord blocked a field goal with 41 ticks of the clock remaining to preserve EWU’s victory.

Oct. 20, 2012 – EWU 31, Sacramento State 28: Responding with touchdowns the first three times Sacramento State scored, Eastern scored 10-straight points to rally from a 14-13 deficit in the third quarter. The game ended with Sacramento State at the Eastern 45-yard line.

Oct. 13, 2012 – EWU 27, Montana State 24: In the victory over the second-ranked Bobcats, the sixth-ranked Eagles trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter before scoring two non-offensive touchdowns within a span of 59 seconds. The Eagles blocked a punt (Dylan Zylstra) and recovered it for a touchdown (Evan Day), then returned an interception for a score (Jordan Tonani).

Sept. 29, 2012 – EWU 32, Montana 26: Eastern scored two touchdowns in the final 2:19 as the No. 7 Eagles rallied for a 32-26 victory over the 21st-ranked Montana Grizzlies. A recovery by Shaquille Hill on an onside kick that was disrupted by Brandon Kaufman led to EWU’s game-winning score.

Nov. 12, 2011 – EWU 53, Cal Poly 51 (3 overtimes): A touchdown pass by wide receiver Greg Herd sparked Eastern to scores on four consecutive plays (two touchdowns and two conversions) in the second and third overtimes as the Eagles prevailed. Eastern sent the game into overtime with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to knot the score with 1:51 to play.

Oct. 22, 2011 – EWU 42, Sacramento State 35 (overtime): Eastern rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat the Hornets in overtime. The Eagles tied it with 55 seconds remaining on a nine-play, 68-yard touchdown drive, then scored in OT to take the lead. Eastern won when it held Sac State on fourth down at the EWU 3-yard line. The victory kept EWU perfect in 11 tries versus the Hornets in Sacramento.

Jan. 7, 2011 – EWU 20, Delaware 19: Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw three touchdown passes – two to Brandon Kaufman and one to Nicholas Edwards -- in the final 16:48 to rally the Eagles to victory in the NCAA Division I Championship Game and earn the game’s Most Outstanding Player honor. He completed 29-of-43 passes for 302 yards, and directed EWU on scoring drives of 80, 89 and 63 yards. Delaware turned the ball over deep in Eastern territory in its own failed comeback attempt in the final seconds.

Dec. 11, 2010 – EWU 38, North Dakota State 31 (overtime): After struggling with five turnovers in the second half during a snowstorm, the Eagles put together a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, had entered that drive with just 38 yards passing. Tyler Hart gathered in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell on the first play of overtime, then linebacker J.C. Sherritt forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Zach Johnson to end the game with NDSU at the Eastern 1-yard line.

Nov. 13, 2010 – EWU 31, Southern Utah 24: Eastern was out-gained in total offense 484-366, and was shredded for 434 passing yards. But Eastern survived to win thanks to a pair of scoring plays of at least 62 yards, two huge touchdown catches by Brandon Kaufman, two interceptions in the last six minutes by Jesse Hoffman and a 4-1 advantage in the turnover department. Kaufman scored the winning points with 3:39 to play.

Oct. 23, 2010 – EWU 28, Sacramento State 24: Eastern fell behind 24-21 mid-way through the fourth quarter. But the Eagles responded with a key defensive stop that was highlighted by a third down sack by sophomore defensive end Paul Ena.  A 26-yard Sac State punt and 35-yard EWU scoring drive followed, and was capped by a Brandon Kaufman 6-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell with 33 seconds to play.

Oct. 16, 2010 – EWU 35, Northern Colorado 28: Eastern knotted the score at 28 with 3:08 left in the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, then scored again with 41 seconds left on a 24-yard run by Taiwan Jones. That came after a sack by Colorado native Jerry Ceja that was recovered by senior Tyler Jolley and returned to the UNC 39-yard line.

Sept. 18, 2010 – EWU 36, Montana 27: Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett. Eastern then added a fumble return for a touchdown by Renard Williams after a sack and forced fumble by Jerry Ceja on the game’s final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game against the 12-time defending league champions.

 
 
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