Montana State uses early lead and big plays to snap a seven-game losing skid versus the Eagles
Too much McGhee and not enough Jones.
Montana State redshirt freshman quarterback Denarius McGhee passed for 283 yards and the No. 17 Bobcats used big plays to hand the ninth-ranked Eagles a 30-7 loss Saturday (Sept. 25) at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.
Eastern All-America running back Taiwan Jones was limited to 65 rushing yards in the first half and 63 in the game as he missed most of the second half with a hip contusion. He finished with a total of just 93 all-purpose yards after entering the game averaging 287.3 to lead the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, and 151.7 rushing yards to rank fourth.
Montana State had a 439-392 advantage in total offense, but also scored touchdowns on an interception return and a fake field goal.
“They outplayed us in all three facets of the game -- I give them credit and tip my hat to them for that,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Today we didn’t get it done at all. There are no excuses -- they just came out and played better football today.”
The Bobcats snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Eagles -- including the last three in Bozeman -- dating back to a 25-14 MSU victory in 2002. Eastern still leads the series 25-9, and has won 16 of the last 20 meetings. Since 1990, EWU’s only losses to the Bobcats before this season came in 1997 (17-7 in Bozeman), 2001 (48-38 in Spokane) and 2002 (25-14 in Bozeman).
“Their offense has improved from last year,” said Baldwin. “Some of their weapons and players they had last year have gotten better, and their quarterback gives them a new dimension. They did a good job of executing too.”
Eastern managed only 110 yards rushing as junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 24-of-49 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Sophomore Brandon Kaufman caught a team-high six passes for 83 yards.
Senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, had a team-high 11 tackles for the Eagles.
It was obvious Eastern missed the contributions of Jones, a Walter Payton Award candidate who had a career-high 221 rushing yards and 305 total all-purpose yards a week earlier in a 36-27 victory over Montana.
“He’s one of the best players in this conference and when he is not going it’s going to hurt you,” explained Baldwin.
“He was just unable to go, and he’ll play with just about anything. But that’s part of football and we have to find a way as a team and as an offense to just execute better. We were executing from the 20 to 20 but weren’t able to get points. That’s disheartening.”
Eastern, now 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky, entered the game ranked ninth in The Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. It was Eastern’s highest ranking since finishing the 2007 season ranked eighth.
Montana State improved to 3-1 overall in winning its league opener, and was ranked 17th. Montana slipped from sixth to 14th after falling to the Eagles, and was No. 1 two weeks earlier.
The Eagles fell behind 13-0 to the Bobcats, much in the same fashion as they did a week earlier in falling behind 14-0 to Montana before defeating the Grizzlies 36-27.
After Eastern came up empty with a missed field goal on its opening drive, the Bobcats marched 80 yards in 11 plays, then followed with a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by nose tackle Zach Minter.
A 9-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards pulled Eastern to within six, but Montana scored the next 10 points -- including a 4-yard touchdown on a fake field goal attempt -- to take a 23-7 lead early in the third quarter.
After another missed Eastern field goal late in the third quarter, the Bobcats scored on its next possession on a fourth down play to take a 30-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Eastern was coming off a successful debut against Montana on its new red synthetic Sprinturf surface on Sept. 18 in Cheney, Wash., in the first game at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett, then added a fumble return for a touchdown on the final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game.
Eastern was unable to avoid a letdown after the huge win over the Grizzlies. Baldwin was an assistant coach in 2005 when Eastern followed a 34-20 road victory over Montana with a 28-23 home loss to Weber State.