Four turnovers spell doom for fourth-ranked Eagles on Homecoming


Photo by Karissa Berg

EWU facing off against NAU during the homecoming game on Nov. 7.

By Brandon Cline, Sports Editor

One turnover turned into two, two turnovers turned into three, and when three turnovers quickly turned into four late in the fourth quarter, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks had all but spoiled fourth-ranked Eastern Washington’s Homecoming Weekend, defeating the Eagles, 52-30.

“It was one of those games where we didn’t take care of the ball like we needed to,” said head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team had lost just three fumbles in five Big Sky conference games before losing three against the Lumberjacks.

The first turnover came in the first quarter, with the Eagles driving deep in Lumberjack territory. One play after running for 15 yards, running back Jalen Moore fumbled the ball at the Lumberjacks’ eight-yard line, ending an eight-play, 52-yard drive.

The Eagle defense stood strong following the turnover, forcing a quick punt against a Northern Arizona offense that had scored 115 points in its last two games. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp mishandled the punt, though, after trying to field the ball on a bounce. The Lumberjacks came out with the ball at the bottom of the pile, giving them tremendous field position at the Eagles’ 20-yard line.

“I wanted to keep the ball from rolling too far,” said Kupp. “I messed up and it cost the team. My job as the punt returner is to make sure we possess the ball, first and foremost, and I didn’t do that.”

The Lumberjacks cashed in on the great field position two minutes later, with running back Casey Jahn scoring a touchdown from four yards out, giving Northern Arizona a 7-0 first quarter lead.

Following a quick Eagles drive that lasted just five plays and gained 19 yards, the Lumberjacks followed up their five-play, 22-yard touchdown drive with a 22-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that took 10:23 off the clock. On that drive, Northern Arizona was 5-6 on third down conversions and converted their lone fourth down attempt.

“When they are converting on third-and-long, as a defense that can be a struggle and tough because you’ve done so well on first and second down,” Baldwin said. “You say, ‘We’ve got them where we want them.’ But give credit to them – they made some plays and dialed some things up, and they executed.”

The Lumberjacks came into the game converting just 33.6 percent, 36-107, of their third down conversions, but converted 68.4 percent, 13-19, against the Eagles.

The Eagles’ high-powered offense could not find their rhythm over the course of the game, failing to score on back-to-back drives. Yet the Eagles still found themselves within striking distance towards the end of the third quarter, down, 24-14, and driving in Lumberjacks territory.

On fourth-and-one at Northern Arizona’s 37-yard line, quarterback Jordan West’s pass was deflected and intercepted by Marcus Alford, who rumbled 70 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.

The ensuing kickoff did the Eagles in for good, when wide receiver Simba Webster fielded the kick at the goal line, returning it to the Eagles’ 20 before fumbling the ball, with the Lumberjacks recovering yet another loose ball. Running back Corbin Jountti rushed the ball three times following the turnover, scoring from two yards out to give NAU a commanding 38-14 lead.

“They out-coached us and outplayed us, and that’s how I always feel when we are on the end of games like this,” Baldwin said. “The margin for error in this conference and at this level is razor thin. So if you get into situations where a team is playing a cleaner ballgame – which they did – that’s going to make it really tough to overcome.”

West finished the day 20-38 passing, throwing for 244 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. Redshirt freshman quarterback Reilly Hennessey relieved West in the fourth quarter, going 8-13 for 123 passing yards and scrambling for a touchdown run.

Starting running back Jabari Wilson made his return after missing a string of games, carrying the ball 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne led the Eagles receiving corps with nine catches for 154 yards, while Kupp finished with nine catches as well, gaining 98 yards and catching a touchdown pass in the second quarter.

Defensively, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Gall continued to wreak havoc, recording 2.5 sacks and being credited with eight tackles for the third straight game. Linebacker Miquiyah Zamora finished with nine tackles and a forced fumble, which defensive lineman Matthew Sommer fell on, the only turnover the Eagles forced in the game.

For the Lumberjacks, quarterback Case Cookus continued to burn defenses, completing 22 of his 28 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown pass. “I was impressed before we played them and I’m impressed after seeing him in person. He hasn’t played all year like a freshman. He is playing the quarterback position like a junior or senior. That’s what’s most impressive to me,” Baldwin said.

The Eagles dropped to 5-1 conference, trailing the Southern Utah Thunderbirds by one game in the conference standings with two games left to be played in the regular season. The Thunderbirds and Lumberjacks, who sit at 4-2 in conference play, face each other in the final game of the season.

What’s Next: The Eagles travel to Missoula, Montana for a game against the Montana Grizzlies, who are coming off an improbable overtime win against the Idaho State Bengals. The Grizzlies sit at 4-2 in conference play, and need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. on Nov. 14 and the game will air regionally on Root Sports.