Defense comes through with shutout in second half to help Eagles begin defense of back-to-back-to-back league titles
Eastern's passing game was prolific again with Jordan West breaking a school record with 491 passing yards and Cooper Kupp breaking the all-time school and league records for career touchdown receptions. But the defense came through when it mattered most.
Trailing 20-7 at halftime, the 11th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team dominated Sacramento State in the third quarter and rallied for a 28-20 victory Saturday (Sept. 26) at Hornet Stadium in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams
Eastern's defense pitched a shutout in the second half, and the Eagles out-gained the Hornets 278-18 in the decisive third quarter. EWU has never lost at Sac State in 12 tries.
"Our team did a great job of attacking that second half," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "But, we can learn from going on the road and how we start. We need to stay more consistent throughout the game."
Eastern came to Sacramento with the top passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision behind the play of National Player of the Week Jordan West. In successive weeks, the junior quarterback has led EWU to a school record for passing yards (526 versus Northern Iowa), broke a 23-year record for passing efficiency (313.5 versus Montana State) and then broke a 21-year old record for passing yardage by completing 29-of-47 passes with three touchdowns.
Two of the touchdown catches were by Kupp, who now has 47 TD receptions in his career to break the previous EWU and Big Sky records of 46 set by Eric Kimble from 2002-05.
"The record he broke was by a student-athlete who had an amazing career here at Eastern, and it was a pleasure to coach Eric Kimble," said Baldwin, who was offensive coordinator at EWU from 2003-06. "It was an incredible record that was going to be very hard to break. But Eric would be the first to say he would like no other person to break a record like that because Cooper works for everything he achieves. He has amazing ability, but to break a record like that is because of what he does every day to make himself a better player. But no matter how good a football player Cooper is, he's an even better person and teammate."
Eastern continues to be riddled with injuries, but without a game next week, the Eagles have lots of time to heal before playing again on Oct. 10 at home versus Cal Poly. Seven total starters, including kicker Tyler McNannay (hip flexor) missed the Sac State game, plus a trio of starters were lost in the first half against Sac State because of injuries.
Won-Lost Records . . .
Eastern is now 2-2 and 1-0 in the league as EWU seeks its fourth-straight Big Sky title and ninth overall. The Hornets, now 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the league, are coached by former Eastern assistant Jody Sears, who faced the Eagles as head coach at Weber State in 2012 and 2013. He took over at Sacramento State in 2014, and the Hornets were 7-5 overall to match the highest win total in the school's NCAA Division I era.
What it Means . . .
The Eagles have now won their league opener in nine of the last 10 seasons (2006-15), with the lone hiccup coming in 2011 when EWU lost to Montana and Montana State to open its Big Sky schedule. Eastern is now 17-12 in Big Sky openers dating back to 1987 when EWU joined the league. Sac State is 4-16 in BSC openers. The Eagles are 28-3 in their last 30 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011.
What's Next . . .
The Eagles get a much-needed week off prior to playing Cal Poly on Oct. 10 on Hall of Fame Day and Cancer Awareness Day at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is 1:05 p.m. in a game televised regionally by SWX.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern's defense gave up 291 yards of offense and 20 points in the first half, but held the Hornets to just one first down and 18 yards in the decisive third quarter. The first four possessions of the second half for Sac State included a pair of three-and-outs, and a muffed punt that was recovered by Eastern's Alek Kacmarcik.
Top Performers . . .
Junior quarterback Jordan West, who leads FCS in passing efficiency, had his second-straight 400-yard passing performance, finishing with a school-record 491 yards. The previous record was 486 set by Todd Bernett in 1994 versus Montana. Junior Kendrick Bourne finished with seven catches for a career-high 204 yards. Eastern has now had 11 200-yard performances all-time, and three of them have come this season (two earlier this season by Cooper Kupp with 246 against Oregon and 201 versus Montana State). Kupp, the leading receiver in FCS, finished with 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Jabari Wilson, after suffering a concussion a week earlier in a 188-yard rushing effort against Montana State, finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Senior Miles Weatheroy had 10 tackles for the Eagles, and junior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora had nine. D'Londo Tucker had an interception and Nzuzi Webster broke-up two passes. Jay-Tee Tiuli had four tackles with a sack.
Key Stats . . .
The Eagles finished with 594 yards of total offense, compared to 359 for the Hornets. In the second half alone, Eastern had a 361-68 advantage.
Turning Point . . .
* Backed up at their own 2-yard line early and trailing by 13 points in the third quarter, Eastern needed a big play and Jordan West and Kendrick Bourne provided it. Eastern had an electric 98-yard pass play from West to Bourne that that started a 21-0 scoring run for the Eagles. But the long pass wasn't a school record. Jason Anderson caught a 99-yard TD from Todd Bernett on Sept. 17, 1994, for a school, Big Sky and FCS record that can never be broken – just tied.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern continued its mastery in Sacramento where EWU is a perfect 13-0 dating back to 1980. Eastern leads the all-time series 18-4, but haven't met since 2012 when the then top-ranked Eagles survived for a 31-28 home win. The last time the two teams played in Sacramento was in 2011, and EWU rallied from 15 points down to force overtime and win 42-35. Current Eastern wide receivers coach Nicholas Edwards caught 11 passes for 192 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Touchdown receptions in the first and third quarters for junior Cooper Kupp were the 46th and 47th receiving touchdown of his career to break the school and Big Sky Conference career records and move into sixth in FCS history. The previous record of 46 was held by Eric Kimble (2002-05), and Kupp is now just three touchdown catches from ranking third in FCS history with three players, including the legendary Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley (1981-84). Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award in 2013 given to the top freshman in FCS. The FCS career record is 58 set by New Hampshire's David Ball (2003-06). Kupp, a two-time All-America wide receiver, entered the game leading FCS in receptions (36), receptions per game (12.0), yards (626), yards per game (208.7), touchdown catches (8) and all-purpose yards per game (212.7).
* Eastern had its first scoreless quarter in over a year in the second quarter when the Eagles were 0-of-2 on third down and had its two possessions end on a punt and interception. The Hornets scored 10 points in the quarter and had 140 yards.
Notables . . .
* In seven of the last eight meetings, the game has been decided by eight points or less with an average margin of 4.7 points in those seven games. Sac State has won two of them, including games in which they held the Eagles to 13 and 20 points.
* After a scoreless second quarter, Eastern had its streak of scoring snapped at 61-straight quarters – a streak that dated 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 had scored in every quarter of every game in the last two seasons (67 of 68 quarters total) entering the Sac State game.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On First Half: "We were being out-coached and out-played. I didn't think there was a single aspect of the game we were doing better, and I tip my hat to Sac State. I learned a lot about our players tonight and their ability to respond when things weren't going great. That says a lot about a team."
On Road Win: "I also learned some ways we have to grow when you go on the road and to start faster. Most of it is positive, because like I've said, half of the teams in the country lose every Saturday. I'm never going to be upset about a road win, especially one where you're down by two scores at halftime and find a way to get it done."
On Defense in Third Quarter After Opening Half With Fumble: "It was huge. There was just a look in their eye after that play happened. You knew, no matter how much we would fight to come back, there would be some things that go wrong – you just don't want it to happen on your first offensive play. There was a great look in their eye even after it happened. That's when I saw that we were growing – our defense stormed the field like it didn't matter. And that was the approach they took. The offense did a good job of that too. They came to the bench and we said, 'that one is gone and that one doesn't matter – we just have to move on to the next series.'"
On West's Passing Yards Record: "It's a tribute to Coach (Zak) Hill and what he's done to coach and develop those quarterbacks. It's also a tribute to Jordan and what he's done to work hard and take on this tough challenge. It's something we believe in – we're going to work hard to have great quarterback play. It doesn't matter who it is – we expect great things out of our quarterbacks. We've worked hard to get to this point."
On Bye: "This bye, probably compared to other years, we need it as much as I can ever remember. And we need to keep growing from it too. The schedule is going to get tougher. Obviously, Cal Poly at home in two weeks is going to be as tough as can be. Then we have two-straight on the road. We have a lot of tough things ahead of us, so we need this bye to grow and get healthy. We need a lot of growth if we are going to do great things and be where we need to be at the end of the year."