Eagles come back against Bobcats

Eagles come back against Bobcats

There is a new number one team in the country.

Despite mustering only 211 yards and 13 points on offense, the Eagles were lifted to a 27-24 victory over Montana State thanks to scoring plays from their defense and special teams in the fourth quarter. The Eagles offense came into the game averaging nearly 40 points and 450 yards per conference game.

Coming into the game as the sixth ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, the Eagles moved up to the number one ranking after beating second ranked Montana State. Teams ahead of EWU that also stumbled were first ranked North Dakota State, third ranked Old Dominion and fifth ranked Wofford. Fourth ranked James Madison was victorious in their game versus William & Mary and will take over the number two ranking.

EWU’s win marks the first time the Eagles have started 4-0 in Big Sky Conference play. They improved to 5-1 overall while the Montana State Bobcats fell to 3-1 in Big Sky play and 6-1 overall.

With 12:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth-and-two from their own 29-yard line, the Bobcats were forced to punt. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Zylstra came through the punting formation nearly unblocked and swatted the punt attempt backwards into the endzone. Evan Day, another Eagles redshirt sophomore, beat two Bobcats players to the scoring area and fell on the ball, giving the Eagles a 20-17 advantage.

Two plays after the Eagles kicked off to Montana State following the EWU touchdown, the Bobcats had the ball at their own 20-yard line facing a third-and-four situation. Bobcats quarterback DeNarius McGhee dropped back to pass and was read by Jordan Tonani, a Spokane native. The redshirt freshman safety, starting in place of an injured Jeff Minnerly, intercepted McGhee’s pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 10-point lead.

The two scoring plays occurred just 59 seconds apart. Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin lauded the efforts of the defense and special teams. The two units combined for five sacks, two interceptions, a blocked punt and two touchdowns.

“It was awesome for Dylan Zylstra to make that play and Evan Day to fall on it,” said Baldwin. “And then there was Tonani’s huge interception return. What that does is that the defense never comes off the field and the offense never goes on.”

Fresh off of a four-touchdown performance against North Dakota, Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams was limited to just one touchdown through the air while throwing two interceptions. He completed 12 of his 29 attempts for 140 yards and added only three yards rushing after averaging over 51 yards rushing per game his previous three starts. Adams was able to rush for gains totaling 16 yards but was sacked four times for a combined loss of 13 yards.

Coach Baldwin said this comeback victory was unlike others he has had at EWU.

“It was incredible the way our players found a way to win,” said Baldwin. “It wasn’t like some of the comebacks we’ve had in other games, but this time we just found another way.”

EWU held Montana State to 70 yards rushing on 53 attempts, a paltry 1.3 average per carry. On Sept. 29 the Eagles set a team record by allowing 407 yards rushing in a winning effort versus Montana.

The Eagles had lost two straight games versus Montana State coming into the Oct. 13 matchup. Their last victory, in 2009, came during former Eagles quarterback Matt Nichols’ final season. EWU swept the Montana schools for the first time since 2005.

EWU will now return to Cheney for their homecoming game versus the Sacramento State Hornets on Oct. 20. Sacramento State, winners of their last three games and five out of six, are 5-2 overall. The Hornets lost in a 42-35 overtime shootout last year to the Eagles in Sacramento in a game featuring over 1,000 yards of offense.

The Hornets are highly productive running the ball and stopping the run; they allow just 111.6 rushing yards per game while producing 183.7. This is thanks in large part to their three-headed rushing attack of running backs Ezekiel Graham and AJ Ellis and quarterback Garrett Safron. Safron has thrown for 13 touchdowns this season and has ran for two more.