Turnovers spark EWU rout of North Dakota


Vernon Adams throws a pass against North Dakota. Oct. 12

By Galen Rock, Sports Editor

After a dominating performance at home on Oct. 7 against the Weber State Wildcats, EWU turned its focus to the North Dakota University Football team, the school without a mascot.

In their first ever trip to the state of North Dakota, EWU was able to make the necessary plays to escape the Alerus Center in Grand Forks,ND, 35-14 to improve to 4-2 on the year, 2-0 in Big Sky conference play.

North Dakota, who came up with a big win against Idaho State last week, played very well and looked like they belonged in the Big Sky. Turnovers, however, doomed the team in the second half.

In the first half, though, the Eastern offense seemed to be a bit out of sync. Vernon Adams missed a couple easy throws and even fumbled the ball a couple times. Although, both fumbles were recovered by EWU. Both teams traded punts to open the game, and EWU looked largely uninterested. Squandering opportunities and poor offensive line play was the story of the first half.

Eastern defensive lineman Evan Day then collected a strip-sack which put Eastern in business at the EWU 40 yard line. The EWU offense, however, failed to capitalize and missed a 44 yard field goal. North Dakota then went on a 12 play, 65 yard field goal drive to go up 3-0. It felt like EWU fans were destined for another underwhelming, close game against an inferior opponent.

“This was a grudge match early on, and you have to weather those storms and find a way to get a lead,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin.

However, in the fourth drive of the game the Eagles found life. After a short punt by North Dakota, which put the ball at midfield, Adams and company got a spark from North Dakota, as well as, the officials. On 3rd and one, Adams scrambled up the left sideline for a 10 yard gain and first down. Then, well after the play was over, North Dakota defensive back Chavon Mackey made a boneheaded play and knocked Adams to the ground, drawing a flag and pushing the ball to the North Dakota 17 yard line.

Five plays later, Adams throws a 5-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Shaquille Hill to go up 7-3 midway through the second quarter. EWU would not relinquish the lead again, as they would score on their next two possessions to push the lead to 21-6.

North Dakota deserves a ton of credit. The team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux kept getting up after being knocked down.

The final haymaker, however, seemed to be too much for a 2-3 team to overcome. Driving to tie the game at 21, EWU linebacker and resident playmaker, Ronnie Hamlin, came up with a thrilling huge pick-six to slam the door closed on North Dakota’s upset bid.

“Whenever you can score on defense and create the turnovers we did, you give yourself a better chance to win,” said Baldwin. “Sooner or later it was going to pay off. We work on it all the time in practice, we stress it and we talk about it. We were able to force turnovers today that maybe have eluded us in the first few weeks.”

This game felt important, from a team psyche perspective. It was their first time traveling to North Dakota and they were facing a team with impressive weapons outside the hashes. Instead of playing down to their competition, the highly criticized EWU defense and more specifically the EWU defensive line, rose up and imposed their will onto the opposing team.

Defensive linemen Day, Anthony Larry and Dylan Zylstra all delivered one of their most impressive outings of the season.

“I’m proud of our players for hanging on in a real battle,” said Baldwin. “You are going to be in different kinds of ballgames – I tell them that all the time. Every year, no matter how good an offense or defense you have, you get into some battles.”

Eastern will be back on the Red Turf next week for their homecoming game against the 5-2 Southern Utah Thunderbirds. The game kicks off at 5:05 p.m. at Roos Field.