September 15, 2007

Eastern Holds Off UC Davis 41-31

Sept. 15, 2007

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Eastern Washington University had 478 yards of offense and two interceptions that led to second-half touchdowns to defeat UC Davis 41-31 Saturday (Sept. 15) in a non-conference collegiate football game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

The two teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense as UC Davis finished with 517. However, a third-quarter interception by sophomore Kevin Hatch and a fourth-quarter interception by freshman redshirt Lonnie Hosley turned out to be the biggest plays of the game for the Eagles as they survived for their second win in as many tries this season. The Aggies fell to 1-2.

"It was a good win -- this is a good football team we beat," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "Our kids played hard throughout and made a lot of big plays."

Eastern trailed early 14-6, but roared back behind three rushing touchdowns by junior Dale Morris. Morris had 85 yards rushing on 17 carries, and Alexis Alexander added 122 yards and a touchdown, also on 17 carries.

Eastern's 226 rushing yards equaled the most for the Eagles since Oct. 8, 2005, when Eastern had 261. That game also marked the only touchdown until Saturday for Morris, who has been plagued ever since with knee and foot injuries.

"They have one of the toughest defenses in the country," said Wulff of the Aggies. "They are always ranked in the top five in America in run defense. But we kept slugging at them and slugging at them and got some good runs on them. I thought our offensive line did a good job considering the scheme that they run and their commitment to stop the run."

"It was a tough game," he added. "I'm really proud of our kids. We were down early and fought back. We put ourselves ahead and we stayed ahead."

Eastern also had a good day through the air as sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols completed 25-of-42 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Nichols was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week two weeks ago when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western. He has yet to throw an interception in 68 attempts this season after throwing for a school-record 17 interceptions a year ago.

Fellow sophomores Aaron Boyce (9-107), Brynsen Brown (7-82) and Tony Davis (5-35) combined for 21 receptions for 224 yards. Brown and senior tight end Tom McAndrews each had touchdown grabs from Nichols.

"For the most part he did a really nice job," Wulff said of his quarterback. "He threw the ball with some accuracy. He missed some throws but that is going to happen."

"I was really surprised -- on offense we really struggled at times, to be quite honest," added Wulff. "But when we had opportunities to make plays we made them. I think that's a good sign and was impressive. We have to build upon this. Taking that week off made us a little rusty at times. Hopefully we come back this week and get better."

Saturday's game was second and final non-conference tune-up for Eastern before Big Sky Conference play begins for the Eagles on Sept. 22 at Idaho State. Eastern opened its season on Aug. 31 with a convincing and efficient 52-13 win over NAIA foe Montana-Western.

UC Davis, meanwhile, knocked off Portland State and new head coach Jerry Glanville 26-17 in PSU's home opener last Saturday (Sept. 8). The Vikings had entered the game ranked 18th in FCS and the previous week were 13th before losing their opener at nationally-ranked McNeese State. Portland State was picked to finish second in the Big Sky behind Montana, while the Eagles were selected fifth.

Eastern held UC Davis running back Joe Trombetta to just 63 rushing yards after he entered the game ranked 10th nationally with an average of 141.0 per game. An 88-yard touchdown run on a reverse accounted for more than half of UC Davis' 129 rushing yards.

Tim Plough passed for 388 yards and two touchdowns, completing 38-of-58 passes. However, he had two key interceptions in the second half which Eastern turned into touchdowns. Those were also the only two turnovers in the game.

The first EWU interception was by sophomore free safety Kevin Hatch -- already his third of the season -- and led to a 32-yard scoring strike from Nichols to Brown with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

The second came in the fourth quarter when UC Davis trailed by just 10 and had a first-and-goal at the Eastern 2-yard line. Two plays later, Hosley intercepted at the 2 and ran it back 15 yards. Helped by a 57-yard rush by Alexander on their next possession, Morris scored on a 3-yard run to give Eastern a 41-24 lead with 3:51 remaining in the game.

"The kids stepped up," said Wulff. "You think about it, they have first and goal at the 2. But we had two stops and then the interception. It was a great stand for our defense. That should go a long way."

Senior safety Bryan Jarrett led the defense with nine tackles, and linebacker Jared Kuhl had eight. Greg Peach had 1 1/2 sacks and five total tackles.

Terry Mixon, who joined the Eastern program the previous week, had five tackles in his Eagle debut. The two-time junior college All-America safety left Washington State in early September and became admitted and enrolled at EWU, and cleared to play one day before the UC Davis game.

"He did well with the limited plays he received," Wulff said. "But that's how it is going to have to work for him right now. We'll try to get him a little more each game and get him ready. He's not in great shape but he's getting there. And he has to learn the system a little bit. Obviously he will be a great benefit for us."

Already with two wins this season, Eastern can match its win total from a year ago next Saturday (Sept. 22 ) at Idaho State, which begins at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.

Idaho State is coached by John Zamberlin, a former NFL linebacker who spent three seasons as Eastern's defensive line coach from 1992-94. Eastern won the Big Sky Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs his first year at EWU, and were a collective 18-14 in his three seasons as an Eagle. Zamberlin spent the previous 10 seasons at Central Washington, compiling a 63-41 record there that included a 21-14 upset of EWU in the 2006 season. Former Eastern offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin took Zamberlin's place at Central.

This year, the Bengals are 1-1, having defeated Southern Oregon 37-11 and losing to Oregon State 61-10. A year ago, Idaho State was 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Big Sky, and were drubbed 40-6 by Eastern on Nov. 11, 2006.

If recent meetings at Holt Arena are any indication, this week's game could be a high-scoring, nail-biting thriller. Eastern was edged there 34-30 two years ago and lost 55-52 in double overtime in 2003. Eastern won 48-45 in 2001 in Pocatello.

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