Eagles break the will of the red hot South Dakota State Jackrabbits, advance to quarterfinals

Eagles break the will of the red hot South Dakota State Jackrabbits, advance to quarterfinals

By Galen Rock, Sports Editor

By Galen Rock

Yet another lopsided third quarter sparks the Eagles to a 41-17 victory over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the second round of the FCS playoffs at chilly Roos Field in Cheney on Dec. 7.

“I first want to congratulate South Dakota State, we knew they’d be a tough opponent and they proved to be just that. I’m proud of my guys,” said EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. “We’ve just found a way to do a really good job at playing a full 60 minutes, and especially playing well in the third quarter and today, into the fourth quarter as well, when it was still a ballgame.”

After getting off to a slow start, which included two early punts and a zero percent third down conversion rate, Walter Payton award finalist Vernon Adams, assisted by the rest of the offense, came alive in the third quarter.

Tied at 14 apiece at the half, the highest scoring team in school history got back to their offensive identity, running the football and hitting big plays in the passing game. EWU freshman receiver Cooper Kupp, who is now the FCS all-time leader in touchdowns for a freshman, hauled in four catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns, including a 15 yard score that put Eastern up by two possessions. It was also Adams’ fourth touchdown on the night.

It was Adams fifth touchdown, however, that broke the game open. With 14:44 left in the game, Adams gathered himself and launched a rocket to EWU junior receiver Cory Mitchell, who eluded a defender and waltzed in for the 69 yard score. Essentially, ending any hope the Jackrabbits had.

Adams and the receivers played brilliantly in this game, especially in the second half. But it was the offensive line and the tandem of junior running backs, Quincy Forte and Mario Brown who caught the headlines.

Forte, who previously had only rushed for 123 yards in game, came to life, rushing for 203 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. The offense, as a unit, rushed for 287 yards.

Brown also rushed for 52 yards on nine carries. The offensive line, along with opening running lanes all night, only allowed one sack against one of the countries most talented fronts in South Dakota State.

“The [running game] helped a lot. I started off really slow. We went into the locker-room and we knew what we had to do,” said Adams after the game. “Let’s run the ball a little more. Let’s make them stop our [rushing attack] and it just looked good. The [offensive line] was getting push, Quincy [Forte] was running amazing and so was [Brown].”

Running the football and having a balanced attack is always an offense’s goal, more so in frigid, below freezing temperatures, which Roos Field provided.

“We stepped up and played some real cold weather, playoff football,” said Baldwin. “As a team we get looked at a certain way because, maybe we put up a lot of yards passing or this, that and the other. But we were able to grind it out, win the turnover battle and run the football.”

Defensively, the Eagles were disciplined and the gameplan was clear: Stop All-American runner Zach Zenner. The Eagles did just that, limiting Zenner to only 73 yards on 21 carries and 3.4 yards per rush. Although he struggled, Zenner still went over the 2,000 yard mark for the second straight year. A feat only one other FCS player has accomplished.

“They did some things, switching guys around. They have some big boys upfront,” said Zenner after the game.

However, the Jackrabbits countered the EWU gameplan with an effective passing game. SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner passed for 315 yards and touchdown. Jackrabbit receiver Taylor Tiefenthaler had a season high in catches, reeling in 11 catches for 139 yards.

The Eagles advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. They will face the winner of McNeese State and Jacksonville State. The game will take place at Roos field on either Dec. 13 or 14, and will air on ESPN2 and ESPN3.