Mitchell passes for 356 yards and accounts for four touchdowns as Eagles win for fourth-straight time in Flagstaff in another high-scoring affair
Finally, the Eastern Washington University football team won the turnover battle – and has a win to show for it.
The Eagles forced four Northern Arizona turnovers and senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell passed for three touchdowns and rushed for another as EWU defeated NAU 36-28 Saturday (Oct. 8) in a Big Sky Conference game at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.
It was the second win in a row for the 2-4 Eagles, while the Lumberjacks fell to 2-3. Eastern, which trailed 14-3 in the game, is now 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference and NAU is 1-2. Eastern won versus NAU for the fourth-straight time in Flagstaff – at an altitude of 7,000 feet.
“It’s a hard place to play and we got down a little bit early,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Our defense made some huge, huge plays in terms of turnovers, and our offense made some big plays scoring points. Ultimately we found a way to win against a very good NAU team.”
For the first time this season, Eastern won the turnover battle, 4-0, including a pair of fumbles recovered and an interception in the fourth quarter. The Eagles are now 15-0 in the last three seasons when they have won the turnover battle.
The biggest turnover of the game came with 2:35 to play when free safety Jeff Minnerly intercepted a pass in the EWU end zone to squelch a NAU threat. Minnerly, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles, recorded his first interception of the season and the fourth of his career.
“We made some key stops – Jeff’s pick down there was huge,” said Baldwin. “But there were other turnovers we created that were a major factor in this game. That’s what we’ve been preaching. If you start to get some injuries and get thin in spots, you have to find other ways to manufacture points and change field position. And our players did a great job of that against NAU.”
Mitchell passed for 356 yards – accounting for all but 34 of Eastern’s total of 390 yards of offense. He completed 27-of-40 passes, and his TD rush was the first of his Eastern career. He has now had 50 touchdown passes in his career to move into a tie with Bill Diedrick (1965-67, 1969) for fourth in school history. It was the fifth 300-yard passing game of his career, and his third this season.
“He made a lot of plays for us, but I’m just really happy about the team effort,” said Baldwin. “It’s tough to overcome the amount of guys we’ve lost – we have a lot of young players in the lineup who haven’t played a lot. But they are stepping up and finding a way. These last two wins have had some familiarity from last year – it feels very similar. Just one at a time though – we are excited about next week and playing Northern Colorado.”
Junior Greg Herd caught seven passes for 112 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell that gave EWU a 26-21 lead in the third quarter. Nicholas Edwards added five grabs for 88 yards and Ashton Clark had three for 76 yards and a TD.
Senior Mike Jarrett kicked field goals of 27, 47 and 37 yards for the Eagles, and made all three of his extra point attempts. He has now scored 194 points in his career, moving him into seventh in school history (third among kickers). He has now made 119-of-125 extra points, one behind the record for both makes and attempts held by Troy Griggs (120-of-126 from 1999-2001). Jarrett has now made 25-of-40 field goals in his career, including 10-of-11 this season.
In addition, punter Jake Miller had six punts for a 41.2 average, including two downed inside the NAU 20-yard line. His game-best 53-yarder helped pin NAU back at its own 17 with just 38 seconds to play. Six plays later, Eastern ended the game with a combined sack Jerry Ceja and Renard Williams.
“Two weeks in a row he’s had a huge punt at the end of the game at crunch time,” said Baldwin of Miller. “And Mike Jarrett keeps banging them through – those points he gave us were big.”
Defensively, four Eagles had double figures in tackles, including Matt Johnson with 11, T.J. Lee with 11 and Ronnie Hamlin with 10. Ceja finished with three sacks and Williams had one.
Johnson had a forced fumble in the first half, giving him seven in his career to move into sole possession of the school record. Junior defensive end Paul Ena recovered the fumble, giving him six in his career to move into fourth all-time at EWU.
Eastern trailed 21-20 at halftime, as the Eagles out-gained the Lumberjacks in total offense 267-226. Eastern scored on touchdown drives of 75 and 69 yards, and had field goals after drives of 70 and 49 yards. Northern Arizona took advantage of a huge kickoff and punt return advantage in the first half to score on TD drives of just 44, 48 and 52 yards. The Lumberjacks had kickoff returns of 56 and 51 yards, as well as a punt return of 12 yards, to set-up its three scores.
Besides two field goals by Jarrett, Eastern score on touchdowns passes by Mitchell of 17 yards to hold older brother Cory Mitchell and a 51-yard TD to Clark. It was the first college TD connection for the Mitchell brothers, and was the second career TD grab for Clark. Cory Mitchell and Clark are helping replace All-America receiver Brandon Kaufman, who suffered a broken left metacarpal in his left hand on Sept. 24 and is planning to apply for a medical redshirt.
Both teams traded possessions in the third quarter until Mitchell hit Herd perfectly in stride for a 61-yard strike with 3:01 left in the quarter. Just before the quarter ended, NAU made a 46-yard field goal, but it was wiped out by a false start penalty. The 51-yarder that followed was missed – Northern Arizona’s second missed field goal attempt of the game.
After Eastern punted, freshman redshirt Evan Day forced a fumble that was recovered by Hamlin at the NAU 8-yard line. Mitchell scored from 8 yards out to give EWU a 33-21 advantage with 14:23 to play.
After Northern Arizona scored a TD, the Lumberjacks fumbled an Eagle punt that was recovered by Bo Schuetzle at the NAU 38-yard line. Jarrett nailed his 37-yarder, giving EWU a 36-28 lead with 7:51 left.
The Lumberjacks had a bye last week, and hadn’t played since beating Idaho State 20-3 on Sept. 24. Eastern was coming off a 27-21 home victory over Weber State, giving EWU its first win after the defending NCAA Division I Champions began the season with four-straight losses.
In the previous five meetings in Flagstaff, both teams scored points by the bunches – and this year’s meeting was no different. In the previous five matchups at the Walkup Skydome, the two teams had scored 386 points – an average of more than 77 per game. Eastern had won the previous three meetings in Flagstaff, including a season-ending 49-45 triumph that catapulted EWU into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
Eastern now leads the all-time series against NAU 19-10, including a 9-6 mark in Flagstaff. The Eagles have won the last four meetings at the Walkup Skydome, averaging nearly 45 points per game (49-45 in 2009, 52-24 in 2007 and 42-14 in 2005).