Eagles out-score Bearkats 42-14 after falling behind 21-14 in the first college football game of the season
It was another offensive explosion for the top-ranked Eastern Washington University football team, but it wasn't all to the credit of junior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and senior running back Quincy Forte.
Adams and Forte combined for 454 of Eastern's 624 yards of total offense, and the top-ranked Eagles surged past No. 17 Sam Houston State 56-35 in a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision game dubbed the "FCS Showcase."
Senior receiver Blair Bomber scored the second and third touchdowns of his career, and sophomore tight end Zach Wimberly had a TD on his first career rushing attempt. In addition, sophomore Jordan West had a TD pass on his first career passing attempt, and sophomore Jalen Moore scored the first two touchdowns of his career.
The total points scored the third-most for the Eagles against an FCS opponent, and the most since beating Cal Poly 61-7 in 1994.
"There were some antsy nerves," said Baldwin, whose team fell behind 21-14 before out-scoring Sam Houston State 42-14 the rest of the way. "We were off on little things, but once we settled down it was fun. You saw new faces making plays out there."
Won-Lost Records . . .
The game was the season opener for both teams.
What It Means . . .
The win gives Eastern an excellent start to the season after the match-up of a pair of national FCS powers and playoff hopefuls. Ranked as the No. 1 team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision entering the 2014 season, the Eagles finished third in the final Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll of the 2013 season after losing to Towson 35-31 in the semifinals of the playoffs. Eastern was 12-3 on the season and 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference. Ranked 17th entering the 2014 season, the Bearkats finished 14th in 2013 with a final record of 9-5, having defeated Southern Utah from the Big Sky 51-20 in the first round of the playoffs, then falling 30-29 to Southeastern Louisiana. Sam Houston State's new head coach is K.C. Keeler, who was the head coach at Delaware when Eastern beat the Blue Hens 20-19 for the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship.
What's Next . . .
Eastern remains at home to face Montana Western on Aug. 30 on Youth Football Day at Roos Field. Kickoff is 6:05 p.m. Pacific time versus the Bulldogs, a member of the NAIA and the Frontier Conference. Sam Houston State returns home to play Alabama State on Aug. 30. The Eagles play at Pac-12 foe Washington on Sept. 6 and on the same day the Bearkats play at SEC powerhouse LSU.
Tweet of the Game . . .
Key to the Game . . .
Tied at halftime 21-all, Eastern out-scored the Bearkats 35-14 in the second half. The Eagles had 282 yards of offense in the half and the EWU defense had two sacks and intercepted the Bearkats twice.
Top Performers . . .
* Adams finished 26-of-48 with four touchdown passes, giving him 79 touchdowns in his Eastern career. He has had 13 performances of at least 300 yards in 28 career games. He is now 21-4 as a starter in his Eastern career.
* Forte had the sixth 100-yard rushing game of his career, including his third in EWU's last four games. His 152-yard effort was his third-best output in 40 career games.
* Ebukam, in his first game as a starter, had seven tackles with a pair of sacks.
* Sophomore Miquiyah Zamora nearly doubled his previous career-best output with 11 tackles against Sam Houston State. His previous most was six last season as a freshman.
* Kupp finished with a team-leading seven catches for 62 yards and a TD, and Texas native Cory Mitchell had six grabs for 73 yards.
* Shaq Hill added a four catches for 77 yards, including a non-scoring 56 yarder from Adams. The play was the 12th reception or kickoff return of 40 yards or more in his career, and the 31st pass play of 40+ yards by Adams.
Key Stats . . .
* The crowd of 10,310 was the 17th sellout (crowd of 8,600+) in school history and the fifth in Eastern's last six regular season games.
* The Eagles finished with their ninth-most yards in school history, just one behind the 625 Eastern had against Oregon State in the opener in 2005. A 2-yard loss on a kneel-down on the final play of the EWU-SHSU game kept the Eagles from exceeding that total.
* Eastern finished with exactly 100 offensive plays, and the Bearkats finished with 85 and a total of 542 yards. The two teams combined for 185 plays, 1,166 yards, 60 first downs and 91 points.
Turning Point . . .
After both teams had a pair of seven-point leads and with EWU nursing a 28-21 advantage, Eagle senior safety Tevin McDonald blitzed and deflected a pass up in the air. He then ran under it after it bounced off another player, and his interception gave EWU the ball at the SHSU 20-yard line. Eastern followed with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Wimberly and a 5-yard touchdown pass from West to sophomore Cooper Kupp to give EWU a 42-28 lead with 8:44 left in the game.
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles had only two players on offense (G Aaron Neary, G Thomas Gomez) and three on defense (E Samson Ebukam, NT Matthew Sommer, CB Jake Hoffman) make the first starts of their careers against Sam Houston State. In addition, Roldan Alcobendas made his debut as EWU's kicker. Of those six players, only Hoffman and Alcobendas – both redshirt freshmen – made their collegiate football debuts.
* The Eagles are now 25-4 all-time at "The Inferno," with two of the losses coming the past two seasons in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. One of those was a 45-42 loss too Sam Houston State in 2012 when EWU rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit to nearly pull off an improbable comeback.
* Eastern won for the first time in four tries against Big Sky Conference nemesis Sam Houston State. Last year's 51-20 playoff victory over Southern Utah was SHSU's seventh-straight against BSC teams, including six playoff games since 2011.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Sixth-year senior Ronnie Hamlin began his pursuit of the school record for career tackles. He had six versus SHSU, giving him a current career total of 367 tackles in 41 games (38 as a starter), the Buck Buchanan Award candidate is 32 from Greg Belzer (399 from 1997-00) and 65 away from record holder J.C. Sherritt (432 from 2007-10).
* Kupp has had at least one TD reception in 15 of 16 career games at EWU. In had at least one score in the first 14 games of his career to set a FCS record, but had the streak stopped in a 2013 loss in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. Now with 22 career touchdowns, he had 21 TD catches in 2013 to lead FCS in 2013 as a redshirt freshman. The Jerry Rice Award winner has 100 career catches – a TD for every 4.5 catches so far – and averaged 18.2 yards per catch in 2013 (93-1691).
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
"Our feeling is that no matter what has happened in the first two quarters, whether we up or down, we are going to make those adjustments entering the third quarter and finish in the fourth."
"If you take away a couple big plays, I thought our defense played really well."
"We always have things we can work on in all three facets of the game."
"We trust Jordan, I have no doubt in my mind. I wouldn't change anything if all of sudden if Jordan had to take over the offense."
"We still made enough plays to not let the game get away from us and we were able finish."
"They [Sam Houston] tested us mentally and physically to play that style of ball game."
"We have a lot of film to watch. We know right now we are nowhere near where we truly want to be."
"We knew things weren't going to go perfect, especially in a game one, but I was impressed with our leaders and how they kept responding. I'm proud of the way they came out in the second half."
"They're a great team, even though they have a lot of new faces. Those new faces could play. They could run and they could hit. They played real well."
"I think Tevin's play was probably the biggest play of the game. It just had the feeling of a monster play. The defense showed the offense that they have their back."
"The atmosphere felt completely different. It was great and we feed off that stuff. We felt the ESPN feel to it. This game has a ton of meaning."