Eastern Washington’s hopes of defending its national championship are dashed as Vikings rush for 338 yards compared to minus 1 for Eastern
The Eagles won’t be defending their national title.
For the second-straight game and third time this season, Eastern Washington University was gashed for more than 300 yards rushing as Portland State ran its way to a 43-26 Big Sky Conference football victory Saturday (Oct. 29) on Senior Day at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Viking quarterback Connor Kavanaugh rushed for 154 yards and passed for another 147 and a touchdown for PSU, which finished with 338 yards rushing and 499 total. Portland State scored 21 unanswered points to turn a 20-15 EWU lead into a 36-20 advantage in the third quarter.
Eastern, led by the 440 passing yards of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, rushed for minus one yard as Mitchell was sacked five times. Eastern finished with 439 yards of total offense and lost the turnover battle 3-1.
“We just missed on a few plays and they were able to get after it a bit,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “When you get down it makes you a little more one-dimensional, so that it makes it a little bit easier for them on defense when you lose a little bit of that run-pass threat. They did a good job. It is to their credit -- they have a good team. There is a reason they went into Montana and almost beat them earlier this season. They are building something really good.”
Mitchell completed 20-of-42 passes and had four touchdowns in the loss, including three to Nicholas Edwards and one to Greg Herd. Edwards, last week’s Sports Network National Player of the Week after catching four touchdowns versus Sacramento State, finished with nine catches for 166 yards. Herd had five receptions for 196 yards, which ranks sixth in school history -- just two spots ahead of the 192 Edwards had a week earlier versus Sacramento State.
Safeties Allen Brown and Jeff Minnerly each had 10 tackles for the Eagles, and true freshman middle linebacker Cody McCarthy also had 10.
The Vikings used their pistol offense to score on four-straight possessions in the second quarter and three-straight possessions in the third. The Vikings entered the game ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 270.6 rushing yards per game. Eastern entered ranked 98th of 120 FCS teams in rushing defense, allowing 189.4 per game.
“They are good at what they do,” praised Baldwin. “They have good players and they have a good system. And probably most importantly, the quarterback running the ball is special. He is very special and I have seen that all year. He was injured last year against us in the first series so they played a totally different style, but he is a special player.”
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Eagles, who won the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship. Eastern is now 4-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky, while PSU improved to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in league. A crowd of 9,003 was on hand for EWU’s final home game, as Eastern finishes the season with a record-breaking average of 8,891 in four games. The previous record was set in 2006 when an average of 7,116 attended five home games.
Sixteen Eagle seniors were honored in pre-game introductions as Eastern ends the season with road games at Cal Poly (Nov. 12) and Idaho State (Nov. 19).
“It is a challenge to keep the team motivated, but we have to reset our goals,” said Baldwin. “We have a bye week and it’s not a bad time for a bye. Whether or not we win or lose this game, I think a bye is needed. So it’s one of those things where maybe a bye week will give us a chance to refocus our goals, work on some fundamentals and get ready for Cal Poly.”
The Vikings led at intermission 22-20 in a first half that featured five lead changes and several big plays for both teams. Eastern had 280 yards of total offense compared to 291 for PSU.
Eastern trailed 3-0 early as PSU had four quarterbacks sacks on EWU’s first 12 offensive plays. But Eastern’s next five offensive plays yielded a pair of touchdowns and 159 yards of offense. The Eagles started the barrage with a 96-yard pass play from Mitchell to Herd. Sprung by a key block downfield by Edwards, it was the second-longest pass play in school history, ranking behind the record of 99 on a pass from quarterback Todd Bernett to Jason Anderson against Montana on Sept. 17, 1994.
Two plays later, Mitchell found Edwards down the sideline for a 59-yard TD and a 14-3 Eastern lead on the first play of the second quarter. But PSU regained the lead, lost it on 15-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Edwards, then regained it again with a touchdown with two seconds left.
“We got a little one dimensional,” said Baldwin. “It was a strange first half where all of the sudden momentum would switch back and forth. A couple plays went here or there. To their credit they made more plays than we did today and they were better.”
That TD gave PSU the lead for good as the Vikings scored twice in the third quarter – including once on a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:17 remaining in the third.
But Eastern came right back to score barely over two minutes later on a 65-yard drive, with Edwards catching a 7-yard scoring toss from Mitchell. The two-point conversion failed and EWU trailed 36-26.
Portland State came right back and put the nail in the coffin with a 12-play, 81-yard drive that took 6:20 off the clock. PSU, which had a 37:08 to 22:52 advantage in time of possession in the game, led 43-26 with 11:50 to play.
Eastern turned the ball over on downs on its next two possessions, a week after Mitchell led rallied Eastern to a 42-35 win at Sac State. That win was Eastern’s seventh in the last two years when it trailed in the fourth quarter.
“We have been fighting and scrapping and finding a way,” said Baldwin. “Whether or not it comes down to injuries, it was still a game where we felt if we could have done a few things differently or played with a lead, it might have been a different outcome. It’s been a difficult year in terms of injuries. But at the same time it is not an excuse.”
The Eagles allowed 316 rushing yards in a loss to Montana, 255 in a setback to Montana State and 313 in an overtime win on Oct. 22 at Sacramento State. But injuries have played a major role in that.
Eastern has had 12 starters suffer injuries that have kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. In fact, only one offensive lineman – senior tackle Gabriel Jackson – has started all eight Eastern games, as a total of 10 players have started this season along the offensive line.
Eastern has started 43 different players this season – 23 on offense and 20 on defense – with only five players (Jackson, Mitchell, Edwards, defensive tackle Charles Moetului and defensive end Paul Ena) starting all nine games thus far. A total of 19 players have made starting debuts this season.
Kavanaugh accounted for 301 (154 rushing, 147 passing) of PSU’s total of 499 yards. He broke the Big Sky Conference record for single season rushing yards for a quarterback of 686 held by former Northern Arizona quarterback Lance Kriesien (2007). Kavanaugh now has 807 rushing yards this season and 1,711 in his career. The Big Sky Conference record for career rushing yards by a quarterback is held by Ken Hobart of Idaho (1,826 yards from 1980-83).
Eastern allowed a season-high five sacks versus Montana State,
but the Eagles had allowed only eight in the four games since then.
Eastern entered the game with a total of 20 in eight games (2.5 per