Sept. 23, 2006
Bozeman, Mont. -
On a day when several Eagles made the first starts of their careers, it was the coming out party of kicker Brett Bergstrom, the defense and a quartet of freshmen redshirts in the passing game that led Eastern Washington to a 19-10 victory over Montana State in the Big Sky Conference football opener Saturday (Sept. 23) at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.
Bergstrom, a senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to this season, kicked four field goals, including three in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime. Eastern's defense held Montana to 235 yards of offense and Eastern redshirt freshmen Matt Nichols, Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown added several big plays in the second half.
The victory was Eastern's first of the season in four tries, and the fourth-straight for the Eagles over the Bobcats. Montana State fell to 1-3 with its third-straight loss.
"You never want to be 0-3, but you also have to look at who we played," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We played a couple of good teams and then didn't play well last week. But our kids responded and came back and showed the character we have in our program."
The Eagles finished with 301 yards of total offense and MSU had 235. Eastern converted on 7-of-15 third downs compared to just 4-of-11 for MSU.
"Montana State did some things on defense they haven't shown all year long," said Wulff. "We did a great job of adapting on the run and adjusting our game plan. That's not an easy thing to do."
Eastern dominated time of possession 37:10 to 22:50. At one point the Eagles had a 31:55-15:36 advantage.
"We did a good job stopping the run for the most part and got them in predictable situations," said Wulff. "When you can do that it's tough on the other team. I think our coaches did a great job this week. They got our players going.
A former Eastern wide receiver and defensive end, the strong-legged Bergstrom had specialized in kickoffs before edging out fellow senior Sheldon Weddle for this year's placekicking chores. He kicked field goals of 21, 53, 39 and 30 yards versus the Bobcats, with his 53-yarder ranking as the fourth-longest in school history.
So far this season, Bergstrom has made all six of his field goal attempts and all three of the extra points he's kicked.
"He's a veteran player and has a strong leg," said Wulff. "We really feel like we have a player that can help us win games. And he did today."
Nichols, making just the third start of his career, completed 11-of-19 passes for 176 yards in the best game of his young career. Davis (six catches, 89 yards), Boyce (two catches, 49 yards) and Brown (two catches, 38 yards) were on the receiving end of several big plays as Nichols completed 10 of his last 14 passes in the final three quarters.
"They are getting better and they need to," said Wulff. "We need that consistency of catching the ball and not dropping balls."
Eastern struck first, forcing a MSU fumble on the first offensive play of the game. Bergstrom made a 21-yard field goal just 4:50 into the first quarter to give EWU a 3-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Eastern took over at its own 1-yard line after a MSU punt. Eastern drove 63 yards on 10 plays -- including a 35-yard pass reception by Davis -- to set-up a 53-yard field goal attempt by Bergstrom. It barely cleared the crossbar as he earned a spot in Eastern's record book .The record is 57 set by Eric Stein at MSU in 1987.
Eastern put together another short drive late in the first half, moving the ball 41 yards on 12 plays. Bergstrom's 39-yard field goal on the final play of the half gave Eastern a 9-0 advantage at intermission.
In the second half, Montana State capitalized on an EWU interception to score 4:16 into the second half and pull within 9-7. But the Eagles responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Toke Kefu. Kefu, who finished with 93 rushing yards on 24 carries, did not play in the first three games because the Eagles had planned to redshirt him.
After a MSU field goal, Eastern regained its nine-point lead and closed out the scoring with a 30-yard field goal by Bergstrom. That kick came after the Eagles drove 52 yards on 12 plays, taking 6:14 off the clock.
Besides the big boot by Bergstrom, punter Ryan Donckers had a big boot of his own. He had a 66-yard punt in the first quarter that equals the fourth-longest in school history. It was three yards behind his previous career-high and school-record 69-yard punt he had against the Bobcats in Bozeman on Nov. 13, 2004.
The Eagles had a shake-up in its starting lineup, with five players make their starting debuts at Eagles. Some were because of injuries but others were designed to improve Eastern at various positions.
Those five players included Brown, offensive tackle Julian Stewart, wide receiver Shane Eller, nose tackle Josh Jacobson and linebacker Makai Borden. In addition, Davis started at the tailback position but quickly gave way to Kefu.
"Our players responded to the changes and executed well," added Wulff. "This is a little bit different team than we've had in the past. We did some good things and found a way to win."