Eagles thump Thunderbirds on 87th annual Homecoming Game

True freshmen Samson Ebukam returns and interception for a touchdown.

True freshmen Samson Ebukam returns and interception for a touchdown.

By Galen Rock, Sports Editor

True freshmen Samson Ebukam returns and interception for a touchdown.
True freshmen Samson Ebukam returns and interception for a touchdown.

After a hard fought win in North Dakota, the Eagles were in for a great homecoming, and boy, did they get one.

In front of 10,135 raucous fans, the seventh largest crowd at Roos Field, the Eagles put together one of their most complete games of the season leading to a 34-10 thumping of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, the team that knocked them from their No. 1 ranking a year ago.

The Eagle defense was the story of the game on a pristine night for football. Eastern was able to hold the Thunderbirds to a paltry 4 of 13 on third down. Much of that had to do with the constant pressure the Eastern front four were applying on Southern Utah junior quarterback Aaron Cantu.

Last year, senior Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorenson threw for nearly 400 yards in a close contest the Eagles would eventually lose. That was not the case on homecoming night. EWU held the Thunderbird passing game in check, limiting them to 225 passing yards.

“Our defense is growing every week, we have a lot of young guys and you can just see them flying around and getting better and better with every game, you’re able to pick each other up,” said Baldwin after the game. “Coach Graham and the staff did an awesome job with the plan and they went out and executed it.”

Senior wide receiver Fatu Moala, who had a career game against the Eagles last year, was largely invisible, catching six balls for 58 yards. The longest pass the EWU defense gave up was a 26 yard completion late in the third quarter.

There is an old football adage that pressure causes turnovers. It was no more evident than during this game. EWU was able to capitalize on the mistakes pressure created.

After an early turnover from the offense, true freshman defensive end Samson Ebukam was able to pick off a pass and take it to the endzone for a touchdown. The play was made by Ebukam, but junior defensive lineman Dylan Zylstra should also get some credit for applying the pressure.

It was the second defensive touchdown in as many weeks, a trend Baldwin could get used to. “[The pick six] was huge,” said Baldwin. “Anytime you’re able to score on defense it’s pretty heavy that that team wins the game. So to get a pick six early is big and to go up early was big. A great play by the young man.”

The next Southern Utah mistake came in the second quarter. After pressure forced Cantu out of the pocket, junior safety and UCLA transfer Tevin McDonald intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of Southern Utah’s Moala and into the waiting arms of McDonald.

Senior defensive back Ronald Baines also put together an impressive performance. Baines routinely made play after play on the ball, a skill not many corners possess. On a crucial play in the third quarter with the game still well in doubt, Cantu tested Baines up the far sideline.

Baines and the Thunderbirds’ receiver both went up for the ball, simultaneously. But it was Baines strength that won out and the official made the correct call. It was the final interception of the night for the Eagles and it put the exclamation point on an impressive defensive outing.

Vernon Adams and the offense had a great game as well, although they lacked the continuity fans have become accustomed too. Early turnovers looked like they could be the story of the game for the offense.

But EWU calmly went no-huddle and got their best playmakers involved. “I loved our energy, although a few drives got stopped and we needed to do a better job finishing, our effort and attitude and the tempo, we were playing at were awesome,” said Baldwin.

Freshman receiver Cooper Kupp had a magical night. Kupp reeled in 11 catches for 168 yards and his weekly touchdown, bringing his season total to nine. Kupp is currently on the Jerry Rice Award watch list, an award given out annually to the top freshman in the country. The Eastern offense was also able to run the ball effectively gaining 191 yards on 35 carries.

Eastern is now 3-0 in the Big Sky and are on the road to Missoula, Mont. to face hated rival the Montana Grizzlies on Oct. 26.