Four Eastern Washington turnovers, including two on back-to-back plays, helps Northern Arizona roll to upset win at The Inferno
On a day when teams ranked second, third, fifth, seventh and 10th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings lost, fourth-ranked Eastern Washington University followed suit.
With missed opportunities plaguing Eastern’s offense through the first 34 minutes of the game and turnovers finishing it off, the Eagles were defeated 52-30 by Northern Arizona in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Nov. 7) at Roos Field to drop out of first place in the league standings.
The Lumberjacks scored 21 points off four Eagle turnovers and finished with 384 yards of offense. Northern Arizona had four scoring drives of 54 yards or longer, and converted 13-of-19 third downs. Eastern finished with 438 yards of offense, but converted only 5-of-12 third downs, 1-of-4 fourth downs and was stopped twice in the red zone.
“There is such a fine line between winning and losing, especially this year,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who saw his team’s eight-game conference winning streak end. “You can’t afford missed details and the little things because there are some great teams in this conference. And if you do, you find yourself on the wrong end.”
The loss ended EWU’s six-game winning streak this season and came in its 89th Annual Homecoming game. Eastern has won 22 of its last 24 league games, but both losses have come at the hands of the Lumberjacks, including a 28-27 loss at NAU in 2014.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 6-3 on the season, suffering their first defeat since falling 38-35 at Northern Iowa on Sept. 12. Now 5-1 in the Big Sky, Eastern dropped out of a first-place tie with Southern Utah, which is now 6-0. The loss also snapped EWU’s 19-game regular season home winning streak and a 19-game regular season winning streak in November. The Eagles are now 34-6 all-time on the red turf at “The Inferno,” including a 26-3 record in the regular season.
* Playing for its postseason life, NAU is now 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the league. The Lumberjacks have lost on the road at Arizona, Montana and UC Davis, but did pick-up a season-opening road win at Stephen F. Austin.
What it Means . . .
* The Lumberjacks continued their hot stretch, and has now scored 167 points in their last three games. Northern Arizona had scored 115 points in victories over Weber State (52-36) and Northern Colorado (63-21). Their combined winning margin of 58 points against those two teams – both at home -- is rather impressive considering EWU beat the same two foes the previous two weeks by a margin of only three points (43-41 over the Bears and 14-13 over Weber State).
What’s Next . . .
*.Eastern travels to Missoula, Mont., to play the 17th-ranked University of Montana on Nov. 14 in a key battle among playoff competitors. The Grizzlies beat Idaho State 33-27 in overtime, winning after a bad snap on a potential game-winning field goal by ISU was returned for a touchdown by the Grizzlies.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles had four turnovers – their most in their last 26 games – leading to 21 Northern Arizona points. Eastern had a muffed punt, a fumbled kickoff, a fumble in the red zone and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by the Lumberjacks. The last time EWU had four turnovers was on Nov. 23, 2013, in a 42-41 Eagle win to end the regular season.
Top Performers . . .
* Redshirt freshman cornerback Nzuzi Webster led Eastern’s defense with 10 tackles.
* Junior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora and junior safety Zach Bruce each had nine tackles. Zamora had a forced fumble on a sack and had two other tackles for loss.
* Sophomore Jake Gall had eight tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks. It was his fourth-straight game with at least eight stops.
* Junior Kendrick Bourne had the fifth 100-yard receiving performance in his career, finishing with nine catches for 154 yards.
* Junior Cooper Kupp hit the 100-catch mark on the season, finishing with nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. He also had his 18th touchdown of the season and 55th of his career.
* Sophomore Terence Grady had his best day as an Eagle, catching five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.
* Junior Jordan West completed 20-of-38 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns with one interception. Redshirt freshman Reilly Hennessey replaced him in the fourth quarter and completed 8-of-13 passes for 123 yards, and added a 4-yard touchdown run.
Key Stats . . .
* In the first 34 minutes of the game, Eastern’s offense had scored only seven points despite 244 yards of offense. After entering the game ranked eighth in the FCS with a 91 percent success rate, the Eagles were just 1-of-3 in the red zone with a fumble and a missed field goal. Eastern also failed on fourth down early in the third quarter, leading to a NAU touchdown drive and putting EWU down 21-7.
Turning Point . . .
* Trailing 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, Northern Arizona took advantage of back-to-back Eastern turnovers and scored a pair of touchdowns in a 1:16 span. Eastern faced a fourth-and-1 in NAU territory, but a tipped pass was intercepted by NAU’s Marcus Alford and returned 70 yards for a touchdown. Eastern fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, leading to a 25-yard drive to give NAU a 38-14 lead with 12:48 to play.
Team Highlights . . .
* With a Roos Field crowd of 9,214 versus Northern Arizona, Eastern has now had 14-consecutive sell-out crowds at “The Inferno” and 26 all-time in stadium history. The crowd was the 17th-most in stadium history, which is in its 49th season of existence in 2015.
* Down 21-7 in the third quarter, a fumble on a sack by Miquiyah Zamora was recovered by Mathew Sommer in NAU territory and ignited the Eagle offense. An 11-yard touchdown pass from Jordan West to Terence Grady with 7:51 left in the third capped a five-play, 44-yard drive.
Milestones & Records . . .
* With a touchdown grab against Northern Arizona increasing his season total to 18 and his career mark to 55, junior wide receiver Cooper Kupp is nearing NCAA Football Championship Division history. He is just 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 own Big Sky single season record of 21 set in 2013, and is only four catches from the school record of 104 established last year (the league record is 114).
* On other FCS career leaders lists, Kupp is ninth with 297 receptions and fourth with 4,510 yards. The FCS records for receptions and yards are held by Elon’s Terrell Hudgins (2006-09), who had 395 catches for 5,250 yards and 52 touchdowns in 45 games. Hudgins is now No. 3 in TD catches, and the record is 58 held by David Ball of New Hampshire (2003-06).
* Despite the loss, Eastern leads the all-time series against NAU 19-12, including an 8-4 mark in Cheney.
Notables . . .
* Eastern is now 53-33-3 in 89 Homecoming contests and had its streak of six-straight wins come to an end. Eastern hadn’t lost since a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State in 2008. Until the NAU game, EWU had never lost a Homecoming game on the red turf at “The Inferno,” which was installed in 2010.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
“I give NAU a lot of credit – they were the better team today. They out-coached us and out-played us, and that’s how I always feel when we are on the end of games like this. 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. There are some things we did that were somewhat uncharacteristic. They led us to be in a tough spot, especially when you talk about turnover margin and finishing in the red zone when the opportunities are there.”
“There are certain things we have to keep working on and getting better in terms of timing and what we are doing. We have to come back and respond. We all are used to a lot of wins in a row and a lot of other stuff, so it becomes that shock feeling. But I’ve known for awhile that with this year’s team we are going to be in a lot of tough games. If we’re a little off and a little sloppy, and another team is executing better, no matter who it is in this conference you can’t always overcome some of that. We’ve been able to overcome some things and today we weren’t able to.”
“This is a resilient bunch – these guys are going to be resilient, our coaches are going to be resilient and I’m going to be resilient. We’re going to come back fighting – we’re still 5-1 in the conference and in control of a lot of things. It still is a very hard place to be. We have to approach the Missoula game with that mindset.”
“If you’re working toward being a great offense, you should feel like it doesn’t matter what the other team does. It’s about us executing and knowing there are always opportunities, and those are the steps we need to continue to make as an offense in my opinion.”
“It was one of those games where we didn’t take care of the ball like we needed to. We’ve been down plenty in our career here, and even this year. Our offense has felt the same as we always have, that we are going to go down and score and have a chance to win. I don’t know if we were ever pressing, I think we just have to do a better job taking care of the football.”
“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. 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.”
On Cookus: “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.”