Red, Red and Football All Over

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The field is red.

Get over it.

It’s red. It’s called The Inferno. And it is the home of Eastern Washington University’s Eagles football team at Roos Field. Roos as in Michael Roos, longtime star offensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans.

Eastern Washington plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). They are a perennial powerhouse in the Big Sky Conference and in all FCS. Ranked either #1 or 2 in FCS preseason polls, the Eagles had the privilege of opening the college football season against another powerhouse, Sam Houston State. Not just FCS level football. ALL of college football started in Cheney, WA on Saturday.

The Eagles have lost to the Bearkats each of the last two years. Last year, they lost early in late September. In 2012, the Bearkats came out on top in the semi-finals of the FCS playoffs. To say that this was a revenge game might be an overstatement, considering it was the season opener for both teams. But, those losses weren’t too far from the Eagles minds after their 56-35 win today.

“They kicked our butts last year. We were ready to get after it this year. For us to be able to answer back, we got down 21-14 and gave up a pick-six and two consecutive long touchdowns and still be able to win, that says a lot about the type of character we have,” said Tevin McDonald, senior defensive back.

“It means something. They’ve had our number. It means something nationally (for seeding later),” said Coach Beau Baldwin.

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Despite the pick-six, junior quarterback Vernon Adams went 26-48 for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns. Seven of Adams’ passes found one of his favorite targets from last year, Cooper Kupp (7 receptions, 62 yards, 1 touchdown). Adams also rushed for 76 yards on 12 attempts. The two teams combined for over 1100 yards of total offense. Adding to the not-the-defense’s day department: EWU and SHSU ran 185 offensive plays combined with 60 first downs.

As the college football opener, ESPN was on hand to kick things off. Not ESPN2, ESPNews or ESPNU. It was the mothership itself, ESPN, in town for the first time. Their presence enabled Eastern Washington to have a sell-out crowd on hand in a sea of red – before school has even started and students are back on campus, it was a sell-out. Coach Baldwin added, “That whole red-out deal, I noticed it. We feed off that (energy). We knew we were the one game. That probably caused some of the jitters and near-misses early.”

Red on the field and red in the stands. All that red brought out a variety of comments on Twitter.

Red field

 

No matter how you feel about the red turf, college football is back, baby! And it all started in a little town in Eastern Washington.

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Resiliency Rules the Day for EWU in 42-41 Win

EWU ROTC member holding the flag with other ROTC and military veterans on Military Appreciation Day

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Junior EWU cheerleaders cheering on the Eagles.

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Resilient.

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?

Resilient.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

However…

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…

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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.” 

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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.

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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.

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CadChica Sports

EWU Efficient In 54-29 Win Over MSU

NOTE: Flag thrown on CadChica Sports for forgetfulness. Camera battery left at home. Loss of photography privileges for one game. All photos must be taken with phone or iPad. (Yes, that’s sarcasm. You know darn well #GlassesRef would throw a flag for forgetfulness of this magnitude! ) Photos are not standard CadChica Sports quality.
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If there is one word you could use to describe the Eastern Washington offense today, it would be “efficient”.
Even then, that might not suffice with stats like these:
  • EWU: 8 possessions, 8 touchdowns. 0 turnovers. 0 punts. 0 field goals attempted.
  • Vernon Adams: Passing 16-18/300 yards/4 TDs. Rushing 8/82 yards/1 TD.
  • Quincy Forte: 15 rushes/125 yards/2 DS
  • Cooper Kupp: 8 catches/110 yards
  • Shaquille Hill: 5 catches/172 yards
Efficient, indeed.
Combine that efficiency with a defense that bent but didn’t break and you had all the makings of a 54-29 victory for the Eastern Washington Eagles. Considering the amount shuffling the Eagles had to do in the secondary for this game, it was a complete team effort to earn this win.
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Coach Beau Baldwin said, “The response we had coming out of the locker room at halftime, that was pivotal. Our guys weathered a couple of storms in the 1st half. They didn’t give up huge plays to them. They made them earn everything.”
Early on, it looked as though the bigger Bobcat offensive line would impose their will on the smaller Eagles defense. By halftime, the Bobcats had already rushed 26 times for 151 yards for a 5.8 yard average per carry. Their season average was 4.8 yards coming into the game. Much of that came courtesy of, senior running back, Cody Kirk. Kirk was able to find the open lanes behind that line and breaking through numerous Eagle defenders’ tackles in the process. Kirk had 15 rushes for 88 yards at the half, on par with his season average of 5.8 yards per carry.Bobcats’ senior quarterback, DeNarius McGhee, also found success behind his line going 10-13 for 119 yards passing, as well as 5-37 yards rushing by halftime.
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Depth of the defensive line, Baldwin would say, was a huge asset in stopping the momentum of the Montana State offensive line. The Bobcats came into the game third in the conference in rushing offense. They were eighth in passing offense. Stifle the run and the Eagles could force Montana State to win the game passing. And passing is exactly what they would need as the Eastern Washington offense continued their roll in the third quarter.
Quincy Forte opened the second half scoring with an 16-yard touchdown run to make it 33-21, EWU over MSU. Forte, “We executed real well on the offensive side of the ball. We’re dynamic in the run game and passing game. We executed against one of the best defenses in the FCS.”
After Forte’s touchdown, the Eagles’ defense would exhibit that bend but don’t break attitude on a promising Bobcats drive. A Montana State touchdown would have made it a one-possession game again. But, the defense stepped up, halting MSU at the EWU 30 to force a Rory Perez field goal attempt. Wide left.
The Bobcats would muster one more scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The Eagles would counter with three of their own.A 68-yard touchdown pass from Vernon Adams to Shaquille Hill would make it 40-21 with 3:25 left in the third. A 76-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Hill again followed by an Anthony Vitto 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman, Cooper Kupp, would put this game far out of reach for Montana State.
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Coach Baldwin, “I thought they (shuffled defensive backfield) did great. Holding that team to only one score in the second half, especially when they’re in a mode they have to score. That’s hard.” 
“We’re going to go out to win games. We’re not going out to manage them. We don’t talk in terms of don’t make mistakes. If things don’t work out on a play or a series, we just come back and pick each other up on both sides of the ball”, Baldwin said.
No punts. No turnovers. Not even a field goal attempt. Eastern Washington put a complete game together today over a tough Montana State team. EWU controls their own destiny from here on out. Today’s game prepared them for what they face next: the #’s 1 and 2 ranked Big Sky rushing offenses in Cal Poly (#5 in total offense, #3 in total defense) and Portland State (#2 in total offense, #7 in total defense).
If they’re as efficient as they were today, the Eagles could be looking at another Big Sky Conference championship.
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CadChica Sports

FCS Delivers Upset Specials

They came. They saw. They conquered. 

Who is “they”? 

It’s that other football division. The division formerly known as Division 1-AA, now known as the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). They put on a clinic this week in football around the country.

The first week of the football season is always unpredictable. New coaches, new systems, new personnel. Change fosters the great unknown. But nobody could have predicted this, could they? 

[tweet https://twitter.com/ESPNCFB/status/374065889068347392 align=’center’]

Oh sure, you have your Alabamas and Oregons, both of whom won today, but only one convincingly. *Insert “All I Do Is Win” chorus here*

But, the FCS? Those are the teams you schedule when you want to guarantee a win, right? 

Let’s not ask: Connecticut, Kansas State, South Florida, South Alabama, Iowa State, San Diego State and Oregon State.

Each of those teams lost to a FCS opponent in their first game of the 2013 season. Keep in mind, however, that five of those came at the hands of a FCS team that was ranked in the Top 25 on SportsNetwork.com. They included:

  • #1-North Dakota State (Kansas St)
  • #4-Eastern Washington (Oregon State – FBS preseason rank #25)
  • #11-Towson (Connecticut)
  • #17-Northern Iowa (Iowa State)
  • #21-Eastern Illinois (San Diego State)

Not a bad way to start off the year for the FCS. And no, I am not saying the FCS has “better” teams than FBS. Not even close. But, the experience of watching these games along with Twitter reaction is just part of what makes college football so fun. I collected a few Twitter-highlights from some of the bigger games this week: 

NORTH DAKOTA-KANSAS STATE

Twitter   Search    NDSU[tweet https://twitter.com/GentlemanMashr/status/373656593847443456 align=’center’]

[tweet https://twitter.com/cstriegel/status/373661594154053635 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/DomIzzoWDAY/status/373704922786566144 align=’center’]

Tweet of the Game:

[tweet https://twitter.com/sarolei/status/373659046961610752 align=’center’]

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EASTERN WASHINGTON-OREGON STATE

[tweet https://twitter.com/slmandel/status/373953192909750272 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/SportsWithSimon/status/374037915594027008 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/EWUAthletics/status/374006830420070400 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/MikeSandbo/status/374009509573713920 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/vadamsjr3/status/374063987593191424 align=’center’]

Tweet of the game:

[tweet https://twitter.com/Browntruck1980/status/373991269283790848 align=’center’]

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TOWSON-CONNECTICUT

Twitter   Search   towson  uconn

[tweet https://twitter.com/swindellium/status/373274272854441985 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/KenTaylor_/status/373277949547380737 align=’center’]

Tweet of the game:

[tweet https://twitter.com/JWalker_26/status/373310737231261698 align=’center’}

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NORTHERN IOWA-IOWA STATE

[tweet https://twitter.com/docfever/status/374020682377486336 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/johnpbanister/status/374020371303108609 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/MPutneyCourier/status/374017315932618752 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/scheffler_brian/status/374008136702496769 align=’center’]

Tweet of the game:

[tweet https://twitter.com/johnpbanister/status/374020371303108609 align=’center’]

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FINAL THOUGHT: Just like in March Madness, upsets happen. And just like in the tourney, they happen early.

We haven’t seen a 16-seed upset a 1-seed yet in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. I doubt that we’ll ever see a FCS team upset a #1 ranked FBS team. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a charm to the upsets we’ve seen in the past few days. America loves underdogs. America loves upsets. It’s the David vs Goliath story…in sports. The question in the future will be whether FBS teams (top 25-50) will continue to schedule the top of the heap FCS teams like North Dakota State or Eastern Washington. Football fans who had not seen these teams play before, got an eye-opening introduction to them this week. There are some solid, well-coached teams in FCS (D-1AA) that fans need to see.

And if you haven’t watched FCS-level football before, don’t call yourself a sports fan. *sarcasm font*

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CadChica Sports