No. 9 Eastern Puts Scare in Cougars But Loses 24-20

Eagles pull to within four with 2:17 to play, but EWU’s desperation pass on the game’s final play is batted away to preserve WSU win

It was déjà vu.

For the second-straight year, a pass in the end zone in the final seconds against a Pac-12 Conference opponent didn’t result in an Eagle touchdown, and the Eagles fell to Washington State 24-20 Saturday (Sept. 8) at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

A 12-play, 99 yard drive pulled Eastern to within three with 2:17 to play on the second of two Kyle Padron to Brandon Kaufman touchdown passes on the day. Eastern got the ball back with 1:29 left and converted a pair of fourth-down conversions, but Padron, who finished with 379 yards passing, had his final desperation pass batted away in the end zone.

“We fought back and competed, and that’s what I like to see,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Obviously, there are a lot of things we have to clean up. We need to play a lot better. We put our defense in a couple of tough situations and we have to play with a little bit more rhythm on offense. But there was no lack of effort, lack of heart or lack of competitiveness. We’ll just keep working on the little things.”

A year ago, in a 30-27 loss to Washington in Seattle, a similar pass intended for Kaufman was intercepted by the Huskies with 29 ticks left on the clock.

Saturday’s game essentially came down to Eastern mistakes, and the ninth-ranked Eagles allowed the Cougars to take advantage. Included was a critical blocked extra point after EWU’s final TD. Eastern was at the WSU 32-yard line on the game’s final play, meaning a 49-yard field goal could have tied it and sent the game into overtime.

With the game knotted in the second quarter, Eastern had two costly interceptions that both led to scores and gave WSU a 24-14 lead at halftime.

“Turnovers are always a key,” Baldwin said. “We were able to get a couple back in the second half, but there are a lot of key plays in a game. I credit Coach Leach and his staff. They executed very well a number of times. Even though they weren’t scoring, they were able to control field position. That’s football – sometimes the game comes down to play here or there.”

Eastern out-gained WSU in total offense 469-355. Eventually, the turnover margin ended up tied at two apiece and both teams combined for 18 penalties for 173 yards. Eastern had 10 for 93.

The Eagles, ranked ninth in this week’s Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll, heads into its bye week 1-1. Eastern opened with a 20-3 victory over Idaho Aug. 30, and next plays at Weber State in its league opener on Sept. 22 and its home opener a week later versus rival Montana.

Padron was troubled by a twisted ankle, but managed to complete 26-of-54 passes for 379 yards and two touchdowns. He completed passes to eight different receivers.

For the second time in as many games this season – and for the 10th time in his career – junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman went over 100 yards in receiving. He finished with five catches for 142 yards. Sophomore running Jordan Talley chipped in 71 yards on 14 carries as the Eagles played their second-straight game without starter Demitrius Bronson (hamstring).

Defensively, the Eagles pitched a shutout in the second half. Linebacker Cody McCarthy led Eastern with 11 tackles, and senior linebacker Zach Johnson had eight and forced a fumble. Safety Allen Brown had seven tackles and fumble recovery, and cornerback T.J. Lee had six tackles and an interception.

“They’ve fought for two-straight weeks and put us in a position to win both games,” Baldwin said of his defense. “Last week we were able to do that, and this week we were right there at the wire again. To us there are no moral victories – we go into every game with the expectation to win. Certainly, we are going to have a lot of disappointed players based on the fact we weren’t able to get that done – myself included.”

Eastern sophomore punter Jake Miller, who transferred from WSU, averaged 46.3 yards on seven punts, including a school-record 74-yard punt on his first effort of the day. He broke the previous record of 71 yards set in 2006 by Ryan Donckers.

Padron’s 93-yard TD to Kaufman in the first quarter knotted the score at seven, and it equaled the fourth-longest pass play in school history.

A sell-out crowd of 33,598 witnessed the game, only the third time the two teams have met and the first time since 1908. The Eagles are now 8-21 all-time versus members of the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, with two victories in the last 15 tries – both coming against Idaho.

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