First win of season, 55-50

EWU defeats Montana State in a shootout on the Inferno


Photo by Karissa Berg

Eagles run onto Roos Field before the game against Montana State University on Sept. 18.

By Brandon Cline, Sports Editor

After starting the season with two road losses the fifteenth-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles returned to The Inferno, where their offense caught fire in a 55-50 win over the eleventh-ranked Montana State Bobcats.

The Eagles jumped out to a lead as big as 21 points in the first half, and maintained a double digit lead until a 21 yard touchdown pass from MSU’s Dakota Prukop pulled the Bobcats within five points.

After a missed field goal by EWU’s Tyler McNannay with 33 seconds left, Montana State had a chance to win the game, taking over at their own 20 yard line. Three plays into the drive, redshirt freshman Nzuzi Webster intercepted a pass from Prukop at EWU’s 45 yard line, sealing EWU’s first win of the 2015 campaign.

“The first win is usually the hardest, so it feels good,” said head coach Beau Baldwin.

The two teams combined for 1,385 yards of total offense, 410 of which came through the air via EWU quarterback Jordan West, who was named the National Offensive Player of the Week for the FCS. West was incredibly efficient, completing 21 of 24 passes, averaging 17.1 yards per attempt and passing for six touchdowns.

West gave credit to the running game for opening up the offense, notably Jabari Wilson, who rushed 17 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns. “He was huge. He was running so hard and every time he would break one off I would go and talk to him and keep telling him ‘hey man, you’re running like I’ve never seen you run before,’ and it was incredible,” said West.

The 257 rushing yards were nearly twice as many as the Eagles gained in the first two games combined, rushing for 111 yards against the Oregon Ducks and just 26 yards against the Northern Iowa Panthers. “It opens everything up. When you get the run going, that gets the defense coming down and opens passes up. It was big,” said West.

It was another day at the office for wide receiver Cooper Kupp, catching 12 passes for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns. In ten quarters of action this year, Kupp has 36 catches, 626 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, all of which lead the FCS, and all but the 36 receptions lead Division I football—Western Michigan’s Daniel Braverman has 40 receptions.

“I’m just having fun. One of the biggest things is that we have receivers on this team that can make plays,” said Kupp. “You don’t see anyone on our team being double-teamed, because if the defensive coordinator wants to take a player and have him double a certain guy, there’s three other receivers on the field that can make you pay for that. It’s awesome having a core of receivers that can make it real hard on the defense to guard everyone.”

Three other Eagle receivers caught touchdowns from West, including Nic Sblendorio, who had three catches go for 120 yards, including a 78 yard reception that went for a touchdown. Kendrick Bourne caught his fourth touchdown of the season, which is tied for fifth most in the FCS. Tight end Zach Wimberly had the other touchdown catch, corralling a pass from the one yard line to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.

While the Eagles defense gave up 50 points, they also had several big fourth down stops that killed Montana State drives. On fourth and two from their own 33 yard line on the first possession of the game, Miquiyah Zamora and Nzuzi Webster stuffed Bobcats running back Chad Newell for a gain of just one. The stop gave the Eagles offense great field position, which they cashed in on two plays later on a 31 yard touchdown run from Wilson.

The Eagles defense came up big on Montana State’s second drive as well, denying Newell again, this time with the ball inside EWU’s 10 yard line. And just like the previous drive, the Eagles offense found the end zone, giving them a two possession lead halfway through the first quarter.

Montana State managed to stay within striking distance throughout the rest of the game, thanks in large part to Prukop. The quarterback was 29-46 for 353 passing yards and four touchdowns, but what he did with his legs was even more impressive. He rushed 28 times for 196 yards and a touchdown, with many of those rushes coming from scrambles where he evaded pressure and found something out of nothing.

“You want to be fortunate to hold onto a big lead against Montana State, but it’s going to be a game of flows. That’s true especially against a quarterback like Prukop – he’s going to will himself back into the game. That’s what he was doing at the end of the game and it was a battle down to the end,” said Baldwin.

What’s Next: The Eagles hit the road again next week, traveling to Sacramento, Calif. to take on the Sacramento State Hornets on September 26. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.