Although still alive for league title, Eastern suffers its second-straight loss as Grizzlies start fast in both halves to bury turnover-prone Eagles
Turnovers and missed opportunities plagued the Eastern Washington University football team once again.
The 10th-ranked Eagles had six turnovers and allowed No. 22 Montana to open leads of 27-3 in the first half and 50-9 in the third quarter in a resounding 57-16 Big Sky Conference loss to the Grizzlies Saturday (Nov. 14) at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont.
The turnover total included two that were returned for scores by Montana. The Grizzlies took a 27-3 lead just 20 minutes into the game, then scored 20 points in the first 7:21 of the second half.
"We felt it get away from us again in terms of mistakes, turnovers and things like that," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "There are just things we have to continue to clean up. We're just not at a point -- and not many teams are – to withstand some of our own mistakes. I give Montana credit – they did a lot of great things and forced some of our mistakes and put themselves in a position to take a lead."
The Eagles have had nine turnovers and have been outscored 109-46 in their last two games. The Eagles still have hopes alive to continue their three-year reign as Big Sky Conference champions, and the Eagles still have hopes to make their fourth-straight appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
"Losing is hard, and it's not easy losing in this fashion when they got after us pretty darn good," added Baldwin. "As a competitor it hurts and it stings. But we have to find a way to bounce back next week – that's all we can do as a program."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The Eagles absorbed their second-straight loss to fall to 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern had its six-game winning streak stopped one week earlier in a rare home loss, falling 52-30 to surging Northern Arizona. Montana is now 6-4 overall and is also 5-2 in the league.
What it Means . . .
* Eastern fell into a second-place tie with the Grizzlies, Northern Arizona and Portland State, which knocked off previously unbeaten Southern Utah 24-17 on Saturday. Southern Utah is now 6-1 and plays Northern Arizona next week. There could potentially be a four-way tie for the league title when the dust clears next week.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern, ranked 10th in last week's STATS FCS Top 25 poll, closes the regular season on Nov. 21 at home versus 15th-ranked Portland State, which beat 18th-ranked SUU 24-23 on Saturday to keep alive EWU's title hopes.
Keys to Game . . .
* In the opening half, Eastern had a pair of turnovers, one on a fourth-down conversion attempt. The Grizzlies scored after both, as well as after another failed fourth-down attempt. The result was a 27-3 hole with 10:03 left in the first half.
Top Performers . . .
* On his way to breaking his own single season school record, junior Cooper Kupp finished with six catches for 118 yards, and also had a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first half. The two-time FCS All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp now has career totals of 37 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns in four games against the Griz, as well as a punt return for a TD and a passing score.
* Sophomore Terence Grady, who had five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown a week ago, had six grabs for 78 yards Saturday.
* Junior Kendrick Bourne had five catches for 80 yards and touchdown reception from Kupp.
* Three Eastern quarterbacks combined to complete 22-of-45 passes for 319 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Redshirt freshman Reilly Hennessey made his first career start and completed 7-of-12 passes for 113 yards in the first half. He was shaken up on a sack in the second quarter and didn't return. Junior Jordan West was 7-of-19 for 119 yards and two interceptions, and redshirt freshman Gage Gubrud made his Eagle debut at quarterback and finished 7-of-13 for 66 yards, a 1-yard touchdown run and an interception.
* Redshirt freshman linebacker Alek Kacmarcik led the Eagles with 11 tackles.
* Senior rover Todd Raynes finished with nine tackles and broke-up a pass, junior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora had eight tackles and a pass broken up, and sophomore Jake Gall added seven stops. True freshman defensive end Keenan Williams also had seven tackles.
Key Stats . . .
* Montana converted five of nine third downs in the first half, plus both of its fourth down conversions. Eastern, meanwhile was just 1-of-7 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth down. Montana led in total yards in the first half 315-303, and had just one turnover to EWU's two. Eastern also had a touchdown pass from Jordan West to Cooper Kupp with two seconds left in the first half nullified by a procedure penalty. In the game, Eastern was just 2-of-15 on third down while Grizzlies converted half of theirs (9-of-18).
* Eastern lost six turnovers and Montana had three – 16 of EWU's 20 losses since 2010 have now come when EWU has lost the turnover battle.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern trailed 20-3 and had the ball early in the second quarter when Reilly Hennessey was sacked by the Grizzlies and fumbled. Herbert Gamboa scooped it up and ran 33 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles also turned the ball over in their own territory three of the first four times they had the ball in the second half, and Montana turned them into 13 points and a 50-9 lead.
Team Highlights . . .
* Already down 2-0 in the turnover department and 27-3 on the scoreboard, Eastern got one back with 6:53 left in the second quarter when Victor Gamboa forced a fumble and recovered it at the EWU 32-yard line. Eastern then marched 68 yards on six plays, capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass from Cooper Kupp to Kendrick Bourne. Bourne also had catches of 13 and 20 yards on the drive from quarterback Jordan West.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Two-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp increased his season catch total to 106, breaking his own school record of 104 set last year. His total ranks 12th in FCS history, and is just six behind the Big Sky record of 112. With 303 career grabs, he moved past the 301 the immortal Jerry Rice had for Mississippi Valley from 1981-84. As a result, Kupp moved into eighth in FCS history (two players are No. 6 with 304 catches, No. 5 has 304 and No. 4 has 310, and the record is 395). He didn't have a touchdown receiving, but has 18 for the season and 55 in his career. The junior is only three TD receptions in his career behind the FCS record of 58 set by New Hampshire's David Ball from 2003-06. Kupp is also just three TDs from his on Big Sky single season record of 21 set in 2013. In addition, he is now just 27 receiving yards from moving into third in FCS history in that category and 65 away from Rice to rank second (the record is 5,250).
* Senior tight end Jake Withnell tied the school record for games played, and has now played in 53 of a possible 53 games as an Eagle. He equaled the record set last year by Ronnie Hamlin (2011-14). Withnell recently joined four other Eagles on the Academic All-District 8 team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). An accounting major with a 3.91 grade point average, the 2011 graduate of South Salem (Ore.) High School will be honored for the fourth time on the Big Sky All-Academic team at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Notables . . .
* Eastern had won the last four meetings, including the first-ever meeting between the two teams in the FCS Playoffs last December in Cheney, Wash. The Grizzlies now hold a 27-15-1 advantage dating back to 1938. Eastern is 5-15-1 in Missoula.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On Blowouts Last Two Weeks: "We have to find ways to snap back out of that. We've had snowballs before and we've been in situations where we've felt it. But it hasn't gone for this long. Those are things we have to look at and work on this next week."
On Plan Using Three Quarterbacks: "I felt good about it in the first half with what we were doing. We had different packages where they were going to be in the game – they were all invested into the week. They were all excited about their roles. I felt it could have been a very successful plan to maximize each of their skills in different spots. But we got down early and Reilly went out and Jordan was in. But it was good for Gage to get some action and some true game reps. He came in and did some good things."
On PSU Game: "It's huge – it's already the playoffs in a sense, and even then nothing is guaranteed if we win. I do know one thing, if we aren't able to earn a win next week we won't be playing again. But if we are able to earn a win we're at the mercy (of the selection committee). The bottom line is we have to find a way to put together a good last football game of the regular season. Whatever happens after that we'll see."
On Week Ahead: "We all hurt right now. We have to find a way to come together and put together a great week. There is nothing else to say right now. They all feel the pain and they feel the hurt. It's a matter of coming back and putting everything we have into next week."