Eagles score three times on three plays in overtime, then hold on two-point conversion to win for eighth time in the last two years when trailing in the fourth quarter
Leave it to the Eastern Washington University football team to find its way to a heart-stopping victory.
A touchdown pass by wide receiver Greg Herd sparked Eastern Washington to scores on three plays in the second and third overtimes as the Eagles prevailed 53-51 over future Big Sky Conference member Cal Poly Saturday (Nov. 12) in a non-league football game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“It’s unreal,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin after his Eagles won for the eighth time in the last two years after trailing in the fourth quarter. “I’m so proud of our players and they guts they have.”
Coming on what appeared to be a reverse, Herd’s 25-yard TD toss to fellow wide receiver Nicholas Edwards helped send the game into a third overtime. Bo Levi Mitchell passed 25 yards to Herd on the very next play for the go-ahead score to begin the third OT, then Mitchell scrambled his way into the end zone for the all-important two-point conversion.
Cal Poly scored on the next possession, but Alden Gibbs broke up a pass on the two-point conversion to preserve Eastern’s victory. A trade of field goals – including a school-record 15th on the season by Eagle Mike Jarrett – opened the overtime.
Eastern sent the game into overtime with a 10-play, 80-yard drive to score with 1:51 to play on a 22-yard pass play from Mitchell to his older brother Cory Mitchell, who finished the game with a career-high seven catches for 132 yards.
“They didn’t give in and they didn’t give up,” said Baldwin. “They came down here and played this just like it was the biggest game of their lives. I’m proud of our players – we were playing a very good Cal Poly team who was 4-0 at home coming into this game. It was a challenge for us and our players stepped up.”
Eastern couldn’t stop Cal Poly from running the ball and the Mustangs couldn’t stop the Eagle passing game. The Mustangs rushed for 405 yards on 95 carries and scored three-straight touchdowns late in the game to rally from a 28-14 deficit.
Eastern, which passed for 461 yards in the game, converted 8-of-10 third downs in building a 28-14 lead in the third quarter. But three-straight empty possessions helped the Mustangs rally with scoring drives of 71, 80 and 77 yards.
Eliminated from contention to defend the NCAA Division I title it won last season, Eastern ends the year Nov. 19 at Idaho State. The Bengals are coached by former Eagle head coach Mike Kramer.
Coming off a bye week, Eastern improved to 5-5 overall and enter next week’s finale 4-3 in the Big Sky. The Eagles lost 43-26 at home to Portland State in its most recent action on Oct. 29, as 16 Eagle seniors were honored in pre-game introductions in EWU’s final home game at Roos Field.
Eastern kept alive its chances of having a 14th winning season in the last 16 years (1996-2011). That includes seven straight winning seasons (1999-2005), a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the Red Reese era when Eastern had a string of 11-straight winning seasons from 1931-1941. Also, from 1999-2010, 11 out of 12 seasons have concluded with a victory in the team’s final game of the regular season, and the Eagles have now won 13 of its last 14 regular season games in November.
“I thought how we competed down here was going to reveal a lot about who we are after coming off a bye week and two weeks after we were eliminated from the contention for the postseason,” said Baldwin. “I wanted to see how we would compete in a game that was, quote-unquote, meaningless as far as postseason play, but still meaningful.”
Mitchell, the leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 352.9 passing yards per game, completed 34-of-50 passes for 436 yards and five touchdowns. He now has nine 300-yard performances in his 25-game EWU career, including seven this season alone.
Junior Nicholas Edwards continued his assault on Eastern’s single season pass receptions record by catching 10 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Edwards has 83 catches this season, and is just four away from the record of 87 set by Eric Kimble in 2005. Edwards entered Saturday’s game ranked fifth in FCS in receptions per game (8.1) and fourth in receiving yards per game (112.0).
Six Eagles had double figures in tackles, as Cal Poly had 107 total offensive plays compared to 73 for the Eagles. The Mustangs finished with 501 yards of total offense while the Eagles finished with 546.
Linebacker Grant Williams finished with a career-high 19 tackles, and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin had a career-high 16. Linebacker Tyler Washburn had 12, and Anthony Larry, Charles Moetului and Allen Brown each had 10.
An impressive 15-of-17 kicking field goals this season, Jarrett tied the school record for field goals of 15 also owned by a quartet of players -- Brett Bergstrom (2006), Josh Atwood (1997), Alex Lacson (1991) and Jason Cromer (1990). Jarrett is currently fifth in school history for career scoring -- second all-time at EWU for kick scoring – with a current total of 227 points. The kick scoring record is currently 231 held by Troy Griggs (1999-01).
Eastern started the game with two text book touchdown drives, in which the Eagles converted all four of its third down conversion attempts. The first score came on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that took 5:22 off the clock, and was capped by a 12-yard scoring run by Talley. On that drive, Mitchell completed five of seven passes for 54 yards, and Jordan Talley had 39 yards rushing and receiving.
After a missed Cal Poly field goal, Mitchell had a 43-yard completion to Ashton Clark to set-up his 30-yard scoring strike to Quincy Forte. That drive covered 80 yards on just six plays and took 2:54 off the clock.
After Cal Poly scored, Eastern took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter with yet another 80-yard drive, this time on nine plays and taking 4:52 off the clock. Mitchell passed 15 yards to Edwards for the score.
After leading 21-14 at halftime, Eastern’s Tyler Washburn recovered a fumble that the Eagles turned into a six-play, 44-yard TD drive. After a 35-yard completion from Mitchell to his older brother Cory Mitchell, Clark scored on a 2-yard reception.
But Eastern had two punts and an interception on its next three possessions to allow the Mustangs to rally.
The Mustangs have some rather impressive history themselves, having participated in the playoffs in 2005 and 2008. They are currently 5-5, and were ranked 26th in both The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 Poll and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll before falling 24-17 to UC Davis on Nov. 5. That loss ended a four-game winning streak for Cal Poly, which one game earlier knocked off 17th-ranked South Dakota 27-24 -- a team the Eagles lost to 30-17 on Sept. 10.
The Mustangs, who are coached by former Portland State head coach Tim Walsh, will join the Big Sky Conference as a football-only member in 2012. Cal Poly fell to Montana 37-23 in Missoula on Sept. 10 in its only other meeting against a current Big Sky member this season.