Matt Nichols and J.C. Sherritt set school records in loss as No. 21 Wildcats handily defeat No. 14 Eagles
Weber State scored three times in the last 1:32 of the first half and went on to defeat Eastern Washington 31-13 in a Big Sky Conference football showdown Saturday (Oct. 10) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The 14th-ranked Eagles were held to 170 yards of total offense in the first three quarters as they fell behind 25-7. But behind the arm of record-breaking quarterback Matt Nichols, the Eagles came to life in the final quarter to finish with 389 yards of offense. Nichols passed for 354, and in the process broke the school record for career passing yards held by the quarterback he replaced, Erik Meyer. Nichols now has 10,315 in his career while Meyer had 10,261 from 2002-05.
But Nichols was intercepted three times and EWU lost a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles inside the Weber 3-yard line. The Eagles also had seven penalties for 68 yards, while Weber State had just one turnover and finished with 419 total yards.
Eastern linebacker J.C. Sherritt had a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown, and finished with a school-record 24 tackles. He broke the previous record of 23 set by Greg Belzer against Portland State on Sept. 12, 1998.
"At times were we were doing well against a great offense," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "And in the second half there was no question in my mind we could move the football. We just had to avoid the mistakes -- the penalties and turnovers -- that ended up stalling out drives."
The loss dropped Eastern out of the Big Sky Conference lead as both the Eagles and Wildcats are now 3-1 in league play. The Eagles, who were trying for their first-ever 4-0 Big Sky start, are 4-2 overall while Weber State is 3-3. Eastern plays next at Montana, which is now 2-0 in the Big Sky and 5-0 overall.
Nichols finished 24-of-39 and had a 19-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Boyce, who finished with five catches for 88 yards. Tony Davis, who spent the previous few days battling the flu, had a team-high six catches for 131 yards, and Nathan Overbay added five catches for 74 yards.
Eastern running back Taiwan Jones was held to 64 yards rushing on 13 carries, and added five catches for 48 yards. Jones also had a 47-yard kickoff return and finished with 153 yards of all-purpose yards.
Despite the solid numbers, Eastern didn't score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Eagles were just 5-of-12 on third down, and 0-of-2 on fourth down.
"Weber State played a little more zone than what they showed on video," said Baldwin. "They did a good job and they have good players. We were establishing a running game at times, but then they would make a big stop and force us into a loss or something like that. They got us out of rhythm early when we were still trying to stay as balanced as we could."
The turning point in the game came late in the second quarter when Weber State kicked a field goal, registered a safety when an Eastern snap on a punt went into the end zone and then scored on a 53-yard drive. In all, Weber State scored 12 points in a span of exactly one minute to take a 22-7 halftime lead.
"Sometimes in football you go through stretches where things change in a hurry," said Baldwin. "We were obviously on the wrong end of that. We have to make sure we're taking care of business. It was a pivotal part of the game and put us in a deep hole going into halftime."
The Wildcats, the league's co-champions last season along with perennial title holder Montana, have now won 10 of their last 15 games overall dating back to 2008, including a pair of slim losses to open the season against FBS foes Wyoming and Colorado State. Until its 26-21 loss to Montana State on Oct. 3, the only losses to NCAA Football Championship Subdivision foes were a playoff game against the Grizzlies last season, and a 33-26 setback to Eastern Washington to end the 2008 regular season that helped give Montana a share of the league title for the 11th-straight season.
Last year, Weber State had entered the game having already clinched at least a share of the Big Sky title and assured itself of the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Football FCS Playoffs. But the loss to EWU, coupled with Montana's victory over Montana State, also gave the Grizzlies a share of the league title. Montana went on to finish as the FCS runner-up after defeating Weber State in the quarterfinals of the playoffs after both schools picked up first-round wins.