October 16, 2010

No. 12 Eagles Score Twice in the Last 3:08 to Beat Bears 35-28

Taiwan Jones scores three times and Colorado Native Jerry Ceja forces fumble on a sack that leads to winning score with 41 seconds to play in EWU win over Northern Colorado

The great escape II.

A week after struggling to a 21-14 home win over Northern Arizona, 12th-ranked Eastern Washington University scored twice in the final 3:08 for a 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado Saturday (Oct. 16) in a Big Sky Conference football game at Nottingham Field in Greeley, Colo.

Eastern knotted the score at 28 with 3:08 left in the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, then scored again with 41 seconds left on a 24-yard run by Taiwan Jones, who finished with 168 yards rushing and three scores. That came after a sack by Colorado native Jerry Ceja that was recovered by senior Tyler Jolley and returned to the UNC 39-yard line.

“We have a veteran group on defense and some leaders on defense, and they made a few plays in the stretch run that obviously helped us,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who knew the Eagles pulled a rabbit out of their hat for the second-straight week.

“It was one of those games where we just sputtered quite a bit in the second half. We talked about it and it didn’t matter -- we couldn’t change that. All we could control is what we did in the last seven or eight minutes. Our team found a way and my hat is off to the players for that.”

Jones, a Walter Payton Award candidate, had nearly half of his yards on a 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. It was the ninth 100-yard game of his career and he now has nine plays of 70-yards or more as an Eagle. As an Eastern cornerback as a freshman in 2008, Jones returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in versus Northern Colorado in Greeley.

“Taiwan played his best game probably since the Montana game,” said Baldwin of Jones, who missed one game after suffering a pelvic contusion nearly a month ago at Montana State. “I don’t question Taiwan’s heart -- he’s one of the toughest players we have pound-for-pound. He was just getting past an injury that made it hard for him to even function the past couple of weeks. And he’s still fighting through that. I love the kid and love the way he works, and he made a strong effort to practice every day. We felt like it was important that he got a lot of reps in practice.”

Eastern had just 16 first downs and 381 yards of total offense, and had a nearly 14-minute deficit in time of possession. Both teams had two turnovers, and UNC finished with 362 yards of offense while running 20 more plays than Eastern (76-56). Eastern had only 28 yards of offense in the third quarter.”

“We’re just a little sporadic right now - we have to find that consistency,” said Baldwin. “That’s on all of us. We’re still searching for our identity on offense and at times we have done a good job this season -- even at times today. It was a strange game for a number of reasons. I was really disappointed in how we operated in the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. The first half was kind of a strange half.”

The Eagles, who host a challenging Sacramento State team for Homecoming at Roos Field on Oct. 23, are now 5-2 overall and 4-1 in the league. The Eagles were ranked 12th in this week’s Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, up one spot from last week.

Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt, who has led the EWU’s defensive charge with 80 tackles thus far this season, had 14 or those tackles, a sack and a victory-sealing interception in the final seconds versus UNC. Junior linebacker Zach Johnson added 13 tackles, and also had an interception.

Eastern junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had been very accurate in his last two outings, completing 69 percent of his passes (43-of-62) with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an average of 312.5 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 181.61. He was 16-of-25 for 172 yards against the Bears, with many of those completions and yards coming in EWU’s game-tying drive.

Northern Colorado was coming off a 42-7 loss at Sacramento State, and had been out-scored 117-21 in its last three outings, including games against nationally-ranked juggernauts Michigan State (45-7) and Montana (30-7). The Bears are 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the league, and won their first two home games of the season versus Adams State (54-0) and Idaho State (35-21), and suffered a four-overtime loss on the road at Weber State (50-47).

A year ago, Eastern knocked off UNC 16-0 in Cheney last season to improve to 4-0 against the Bears since they joined the Big Sky Conference in 2006. Saturday’s game was Eastern’s first opponent this year not ranked in their respective division at one point this year.

The Bears took an early 14-7 lead on drives of 52 and 73 yards, with Eastern’s lone score coming on a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Jesse Hoffman. Hoffman rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman for EWU in a 34-0 win at Northern Colorado in 2006.

A 38-yard pass play from Mitchell to Colorado native Brandon Kaufman helped set-up a 1-yard TD run by Jones to knot the score at 14, and on EWU’s next offensive play, Jones turned an inside handoff into a 73-yard scoring run with 10:26 to play in the second quarter.

But Eastern wouldn’t score again until 3:08 remained in the game. Kaufman, who led the Eagles with five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, scored the game-tying TD on a 4-yard pass from Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Northern Colorado scored on two short drives of 36 and 47 yards, the first coming after a fumbled kickoff return to open the second half. The Bears took a 28-21 lead with 12:07 remaining in the game.

Having already played the top four picks in the league’s preseason predictions besides itself, all six of EWU’s opponents thus far have been nationally ranked in their respective divisions. But the narrow home victory over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 showed that the Eagles still have a ways to go to become a contender for the Big Sky title and for the school’s fifth berth in the FCS Playoffs in the seven seasons.

 

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