If there were one word to describe Eastern Washington’s football team tonight, resilient would be it. What else could you call a team that was out-rushed (PSU – 193 net yards, EWU – 71), out-gained in total yards (PSU – 603, EWU – 528), was continually kept off-balance by a gritty Portland State Viking offense all night long and win 42-41?
Portland State came into the game with a solid game plan. Balanced play calling mixed with an assortment of trick plays kept the Eagles defense on their heels throughout the game. On defense, the Vikings collapsed the pocket often enough forcing Eagles’ quarterback, Vernon Adams into multiple scrambles, two interceptions and five sacks, one of which was an 11-yard loss.
It didn’t start out that way. Each team punted on their first possessions of the game. In fact, EWU forced three straight PSU punts to open the game. The Eagles took their second possession 81 yards in 7 plays for the early 7-0 lead. That drive took only 1:25. A seemingly routine Eastern start to the game, right? Wrong.
Portland State fought back to take a 21-7 lead going into halftime. The Vikings would outgain the Eagles 267-146 in total yards for the half, running 45 plays to the Eagles’ 31. By halftime, PSU had 14 first downs, 132 yards rushing and 135 yards passing. For their part, EWU would end the half with three punts, a fumble and an interception. PSU’s balance staked them to a 21-7 halftime lead.
As great teams are wont to do, they make adjust. Eastern certainly made some adjustments after halftime as they came out on fire, scoring on two of their first three second half possessions. Portland State started the half with a punt and an interception.
The Vikings had the ball to start the fourth quarter with the game tied at 21. Portland State reverted back to what had helped them get their lead in the first place: balance. An 11-play, 75 yard methodical drive put PSU up, 28-21. Forcing a Vernon Adams interception on defense, the Vikings took over on the EWU 46, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A big 33-yard pass to 6’6″ junior wide receiver, Victor Dean, put the PSU ball at the EWU 13. It seemed as though Portland State was on its way to a huge 14-point lead.
A critical offensive pass interference forced the Vikings back to the 28. The resulting field goal attempt, a 45-yarder, would go wide right, leaving the score at 28-21 for PSU. Even a 10-point lead against the #3-ranked Eagles in the fourth quarter could have changed the mindset for the rest of the game.
Then again, I did say this EWU team was resilient didn’t I? Eastern responded to that missed field goal with a 9-play, 72 yard touchdown drive that took only 2:51 off the clock.
After an exchange of punts by the two teams, Portland State would put together a 3-play, 52-yard drive for a 35-28 lead. The next four possessions by the teams were unmemorable: punt, interception, fumble, punt. What happened next, however, was quite memorable.
Just over two minutes left to go in the game, three touchdowns would be scored. THREE IN TWO MINUTES!!
EWU: 4 plays, 48 yards in 38 seconds to tie the game at 35. PSU: 6 plays, 84 yards in 37 seconds to take the lead.
The point-after was missed by PSU’s Marcus Kinsella. With that miss, you could feel hope rising at Roos Field. Every time Portland State would take the lead in this game, Eastern would crawl back to tie and stay in the game. That PAT miss gave the Eagles that sliver of hope to win it in regulation, if only…
A 25-yard pass to Cooper Kupp. A 34-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne. And finally, a 15-yard pass to freshman Kupp for the Eastern Washington touchdown. EWU kicker Kevin Miller had no trouble with his PAT and Eastern Washington finally had the lead again, 42-41. A valiant 5-play, 59-yard last-ditch drive by the Vikings would end on their own 41 to end the game.
“It was one of those deals where our guys just had to settle down a little bit offensively. I knew they (PSU) were a good team. They’ve won six games. They probably should have beat Cal in the Pac-12. It’s a good team with a lot of talent. But, our guys didn’t panic”, Coach Beau Baldwin said. On being Big Sky champs, “It’s awesome. We’ve never been undefeated in this conference. I just attribute it to the assistant coaches, the players, administration, equipment, trainers – there’s a lot of people a part of it. I’m happy for everyone involved.”
Currently ranked #3 in the FCS Coaches Poll, the Eagles could be one of the top four seeds in the FCS playoffs. The Selection Show is tomorrow morning with the top four seeds announced after 8 am PT with the rest of the pairings announced starting at 8:30 am PT, according to EWU Athletics. EWU will have next weekend off. That will be plenty of time to recover from the grinding of this win.
The rest of the FCS knows how good Eastern Washington can be. After this win, they know just how resilient they can be too.
Records Set (via Eastern Washington Athletics)
- Vernon Adams: broke school season records for passing yards (was 4,009) and total offense (was 4,224). Conference record for single season TD passes broken as well (was 42).
- Cooper Kupp: broke Marshall’s Randy Moss’ record for consecutive games with a TD with his 12th TD.
- Ronnie Hamlin: moved into eighth place in school history on the total tackles list with 14 on the night. It was his 14th game with 10 or more tackles.