Despite a school-record 526 passing yards, Eagles fall to Panthers of the Missouri Valley Football Conference
Penalties, injuries and poor field position conspired against the Eastern Washington University football team at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Saturday (Sept. 12).
The seventh-ranked Eagles rallied from a 21-14 deficit to take the lead, but 14th-ranked Northern Iowa scored 17-unanswered points in the fourth quarter thanks to its passing game and a late interception and went on to defeat Eastern 38-35 in a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision showdown.
With three EWU starters already missing the game because of injuries, two more were felled against the Panthers. Add that to 159 yards of penalties and a more than 10-yard average difference in punting, and the Eagles couldn’t capitalize on a 526-yard passing performance that broke the school record.
“We have to clean up a lot of things,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “There are a lot of little things in all areas – from a coaching aspect, from a playing aspect and from a discipline aspect. I don’t think there was a lack of effort, but there are certain areas we have to own the fact that we have to be a lot sharper. We have to know that everything matters all week and everything matters when we go on the road. I give Northern Iowa credit – they did a great job.”
Eastern quarterbacks Jordan West and Reilly Hennessey combined to complete 37-of-47 passes for four touchdowns, helping the Eagles overcome a running game that managed just 26 yards on 25 carries.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp had another splendid performance with nine catches for 179 yards and touchdown catches of 18 and 73 yards. However, he suffered a hip pointer and couldn’t play in the second half.
Saturday’s game began the 40th season of football at the UNI-Dome, where the Panthers are now 197-50-1 all-time – including six wins over the Eagles.
Won-Lost Records . . .
Eastern is winless in two outings and the Panthers are 1-1. The Eagles of the Big Sky Conference were ranked seventh in last week’s STATS Top 25 poll, while the Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference were 14th. Northern Iowa was coming off a 31-7 loss at Iowa State in its opener, while EWU fell to seventh-ranked Oregon 61-42.
What It Means . . .
With a great tradition in the FCS Playoffs for both schools, the game might mean a lot down the road when postseason berths and seedings are handed out. Eastern has the second-most victories in FCS since 2010 with 52, and has appeared 11 times in the FCS Playoffs. UNI has won 38 times since 2010, but in the decade before that (2000-09) had the third-most FCS victories with 89 (EWU had 67). The Panthers have made 17 playoff appearances, and have won all six previous meetings versus the Eagles – all at the UNI-Dome.
What’s Next . . .
The Eagles next play their home opener on Sept. 19 at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time versus Montana State, which is ranked 11th in this week’s STATS Top 25 poll. The Eagle-Bobcat match-up is a non-conference game between the two teams picked to win the Big Sky title – Eastern by the media and MSU by the coaches. The fan “Red Out Day” game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised by ROOT Sports.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern had 102 more penalty yards than the Panthers (159-57) and had a 33.8 punting average compared to 44.0 for UNI.
* Eastern’s offensive line, already playing without starting right tackle Cassidy Curtis, lost his replacement as well. Jerrod Jones made the first start of his Eagle career, but left the game with a knee injury and All-America guard Aaron Neary had to move to that position.
Top Performers . . .
* Besides the nine catches for 179 yards by junior Cooper Kupp, sophomore Nic Sblendorio had a career high with 10 catches for 158 yards. Junior quarterback Jordan West completed 24-of-29 passes for 349 yards, while Reilly Hennessey came in to start the second half. Hennessey finished 13-of-18 for 177 yards and a touchdown before departing the game with an ankle injury. Junior Kendrick Bourne added eight grabs for 84 yards and two TDs. Defensively, Alek Kacmarcik made the first start of his career and finished with five tackles with a pair of sacks. Linebacker Miquiyah Zamora and Miles Weatheroy each had seven tackles, and Mitch Fettig had six stops with a pass broken up.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern’s defense held UNI to just 10 yards and scoreless in the first quarter and to only 83 yards and no points in the third quarter. The Eagles held UNI scoreless in their first four possessions of the second half – including a trio of three-and-outs – but the Panthers changed quarterbacks and had 153 yards in the final quarter. Sawyer Kollmorgen was 10-of-13 for 103 yards and a touchdown during the team’s 17-point onslaught. Prior to that, UNI had just 91 passing yards, but did finish the game with 266 rushing.
Turning Point . . .
* The lone turnover of the game was a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown by the Panthers with 5:19 to play after they had taken a 31-28 lead. Eastern responded with a five-play, 77-yard drive, but UNI picked up a pair of first downs on the ensuing possession to run out the clock.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern’s first scoring drive of day was officially 12 plays for 81 yards, but because of penalties, Jordan West had 96 yards on 8-of-9 passing. Cooper Kupp caught five passes for 46 yards, including an 18-yard TD.
* Eastern now has a streak of scoring in 56-straight quarters dating back to August 30, 2014. Aside from a scoreless fourth quarter in a 41-9 blowout win against Montana Western on Aug. 30, 2014, Eastern has scored in every quarter of every game in the last two seasons (63 of 64 quarters total).
Milestones & Records . . .
* Two-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp had the 41st and 42nd touchdown catches in his career, helping him move into 11th in FCS history and second all-time in school and Big Sky Conference history behind the records of 46 held by Eric Kimble (2002-05). He is now just one touchdown catch from the 43 of Southern Utah’s Tysson Poots (2007-10). The FCS record is 58 set by New Hampshire’s David Ball (2003-06). Kupp now has 221 career catches to move into a third-place tie in school history with Brandon Kaufman (2009-12). Kupp has 3,547 yards to remain third in school history, 184 yards from second (Brandon Kaufman, 3,731, 2009-12). Kimble owns the Big Sky record for career TD catches and is sixth all-time in FCS history. Kimble also holds EWU career records for receptions (253, second all-time in Big Sky history and 17th in FCS history) and yards (4,140, Big Sky record and ninth in FCS history).
Notables . . .
* True freshman defensive end Keenan Williams and redshirt freshman linebacker Alek Kacmarcik made the first starts of their careers against the Panthers. Williams, a hometown product and 2015 graduate of Cheney, Wash., High School, graduated early and was able to participate in spring practices for EWU. Kacmarcik was last year’s Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year and is a 2014 graduate of Woodinville, Wash., High School.
* The Eagle-Panther matchup was EWU’s 54th all-time game in a dome, with a current record of 27-27 and a two-game losing streak. Until losing last in the final seconds at Northern Arizona in 2014, Eastern had won nine of its last 10 games in domes. Eastern is 13-4 all-time at Idaho State’s Holt Arena, 9-7 at Northern Arizona’s Walkup Skydome, 4-8 at Idaho’s Kibbie Dome, 0-6 at Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome, 1-0 at North Dakota’s Alerus Center and 0-1 at South Dakota’s DakotaDome. Eastern also lost to Houston in 1992 at the Houston Astrodome.
* Eastern has now lost all six games in the series, with all of the previous five matchups also taking place at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The first meeting came in the 1985 FCS Playoffs when the Eagles lost 17-14, a score matched seven years later in the playoffs in 1992. The Panthers also triumphed 41-38 in the FCS Playoffs in 2005 – the last time the two schools lost. Eastern also fell in the UNI Dome in regular season games in 1989 (47-21) and 1994 (27-17). The two schools are scheduled to meet for the first time in Cheney at Roos Field on Sept. 17, 2015.
* The Eagles are 4-10 all-time versus current members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, including a 4-5 record in the FCS Playoffs and a 0-5 record in non-conference games. Besides six games against Northern Iowa, Eastern also has played three times against Illinois State (1-2) and once against North Dakota State (1-0), Southern Illinois (1-0), South Dakota State (1-0), Youngstown State (0-1), South Dakota (0-1).
* Last season, UNI had the distinction of beating the two teams who played for the FCS title – winner North Dakota State and runner-up Illinois State – on its way to a record of 9-5 and final FCS ranking of 10th. Eastern was 11-3 and finished ranked fourth. Both EWU and UNI had their seasons ended by the Redbirds – the Eagles in the quarterfinals and the Panthers one round earlier.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On Penalties: “We have to clean up our technique and any other reasons we are getting penalties. Or playing smarter – whatever it might be, we have to do it. Everything we do in practice carries over. Those are things we have to examine as coaches and players, and be humbled to the fact we can’t make any excuses for anything. (Improvement) will come during the week – it isn’t on Saturday and that has to be our mindset as we attack next week.”
On UNI Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen & Passing Ability: “We knew that coming in – he had played already and we saw him. He was more of a thrower and Bailey was more of a runner. You make adjustments, but it didn’t catch us off-guard. Our guys were geared up to play either of them coming into this game.”
On Injuries: “(Suffering injuries) doesn’t matter. We have plenty of guys who can go out there and play. Different players stepped up and operated, but we just have to do it at higher level – especially on the road against an opponent who year-in and year-out knows how to win at home.”
On 0-2 Start: “We have to own up to what we are right now. We have to own the fact that it is going to take even that much more. We are in a little bit of a hole at the beginning of the year – nobody wanted to be in it. But every one of us have to figure out what are the little things we have to do to fight our way out of it. But it’s not about the next eight or nine weeks, but what are we going to do tonight and tomorrow in terms of prep for next week. It’s little steps at a time.”