Eastern scores 35 first-half points against Hornets to help EWU improve to a perfect 10-0 in Sacramento
Hornet Stadium is definitely a home-away-from-home for the Eastern Washington University football team.
The 19th-ranked Eagles scored 35 first-half points and went on to hold-off Sacramento State 56-30 Saturday (Sept. 26) in sweltering heat at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, Calif. The Eagles are now a perfect 10-0 against the Hornets in Sacramento, and avenged a 15-13 home setback to the Hornets last season.
"We started hot that first half and built a lead," said Eagle head coach Beau Baldwin. "We found ourselves reeling (in the third quarter), but we snapped back out of it which was great. I'm really proud of our team -- it's never easy winning on the road. To come down here and win is huge."
Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones rushed for four touchdowns and had 190 yards on just 15 carries to help EWU finish with 537 yards of offense. His yardage total was the 29th-most in school history, and the best by an Eagle since Dezmon Cole had 199 versus Weber State on Oct. 23, 2004.
Coupled with 69 yards on kickoff returns and a pass reception for 20 yards, Jones finished with 279 all-purpose yards. Quarterback Matt Nichols was 18-of-28 for 255 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for another. The 56 points EWU scored were the most since beating Cal State Northridge 63-35 on Oct. 27, 2001.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who was last week's Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week, led the EWU defense with 14 tackles. The Big Sky's leading tackler and ranked ninth nationally entering the game, Sherritt had 2 1/2 tackles for loss and added a forced fumble and fumble recovery. A week after forcing four first-half turnovers in a 19-0 win over Northern Colorado, the Eagles scored a pair of touchdowns after a pair of Hornet turnovers in the first 30 minutes of the game.
Eastern, which was ranked 19th in this week's Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, is now 3-1 overall, but most importantly, is 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference for the first time since 2004. The Hornets were idle last week and are 0-3.
Eastern led 35-9 at halftime and each team scored 21 points after intermission.
"We didn't play a full 60 minutes -- we had some hiccups," admitted Baldwin. "But you are going to have that because Sacramento State is a great team and I believe they will win a lot of games in this conference. So it's not going to be easy for 60 minutes, but we found a way."
It was 97 degrees at kickoff at 6:05 p.m., with a near-record high of 100 degrees earlier in the day. There was no wind, as the high recorded "gust" for the day was six miles per hour.
Eastern next plays at winless Idaho State on Oct. 3 before returning home to face defending Big Sky co-champion Weber State on Oct. 10 for Hall of Fame Day at EWU. The Bengals lost to Central Washington 33-22 on Sept. 26 to fall to 0-4 on the season.
The Eagles scored the first three times they had the ball on touchdown drives of 88, 81 and 70 yards. Jones scored on runs of 3 and 37 yards, and Nichols had a 3-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Overbay. That gave EWU a 21-3 lead, and 239 yards of offense in just 24 plays.
After the Hornets used a long kickoff return to set-up a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-9, Eastern took advantage of a Sac State turnover on a muffed punt that was recovered by Sherritt. A 1-yard sneak by Nichols gave EWU a 28-9 advantage with 3:09 left in the half.
After a Sac State punt, Eastern drove 72 yards on seven plays and scored again on a 7-yard run by Jones. That gave Eastern a 35-9 lead at intermission, with 324 total yards offense, with Jones rushing for 101 yards on 10 carries and scoring three times. Nichols was 13-of-21 for 200 yards and accounted for EWU's other two scores.
Sac State scored the first two times it had the ball in the second half to pull within 35-23. But the Eagles responded with a quick, four-play, 78-yard TD drive that took just 1:29 off the clock as Tyler Hart scored from 18 yards out. Moments later, Matt Johnson returned an interception 33 yards to give EWU a 49-23 cushion.
Jones added his fourth touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard run.
Nichols is now 593 passing yards and 666 yards of total offense from setting school career records in those categories. For the second-straight year he is on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award presented by the Sports Network to the top player in the FCS.
This year's meeting was a far cry from last season when Sacramento State upset Eastern 15-13 at Woodward Field. The Eagles had 363 passing yards and 23 first downs, but had three turnovers, were 0-for-6 on third down and had minus 31 yards rushing. In the last 10 meetings between EWU and Sac State, the home team has won only once (EWU 45-10 in 2004).