Sept. 30, 2006
An Eastern Washington interception at the end of the first helped ignite a 21-point second-half effort by Sacramento State as the Hornets snapped a 19-game road losing streak with a 21-20 victory over the Eagles in a Big Sky Conference football game Saturday (Sept. 30) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The Hornets scored the last two times they had the ball to rally from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. Both teams are now 1-1 in the league. Eastern, which had three turnovers, fell to 1-4 on the season and 0-2 at home heading into next Saturday's home date with Montana at 2:05 p.m. at Woodward Field.
"We just lost a game by one point when we were ahead by thirteen," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "It doesn't feel good and I'm not happy about it. We had too many turnovers on offense."
Sac State, which had lost 59-14 at Montana a week earlier, is now 1-3 after snapping an eight-game losing streak dating back to last year. The Hornets hadn't won at all since defeating Azusa Pacific on Oct. 8, 2005. The last Big Sky win for the Hornets came on Oct. 1, 2005, when they beat Northern Arizona 38-24.
Until Saturday, the Hornets lost all 18 road games under fourth-year head coach Steve Mooshagian. Their overall road loss streak was snapped at 19 games, with the last road victory coming at Eastern on Oct. 26, 2002, by a 48-41 score.
The turning point in the game came late in the first half with the Eagles ahead 10-0. The Eagles drove 95 yards to the Hornet 2-yard line, but Eagle freshman redshirt Matt Nichols was intercepted with 18 seconds by Sac State's Cyrus Mulitalo.
"We turned the ball over on the 2-yard-line and we turned the ball over a few other times. If we don't improve in that area that will come and bite us in the butt," said Wulff. "It bit us in the butt today."
Nichols, making just the fourth start in his young career, also had interceptions in two of Eastern's last three possessions. He was 21-of-42 for 329 yards and one touchdown, and his last interception came with 1:05 left after Sac State took the lead for the first time in the game.
Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense, but had just 67 yards in its last three possessions. Sac State had just 351 yards, but 171 of those came on scoring drives of 95 and 81 yards in the fourth quarter.
"Today's loss was a reflection of many things that went wrong," said Wulff. "Turnovers, miscues on defense, bad play on offense. Very seldom is it just one play that loses a game."
Eastern took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Brett Bergstrom, who was last week's Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. Eastern increased the lead to 10-0 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Nichols to freshman redshirt Aaron Boyce. That capped a six-play, 77-yard drive.
Held to 76 yards of offense in the first half, Sac State had 275 yards in the second half alone. The Hornets scored on an 80-yard drive to open the second half before Eastern took command again with a pair of scores.
The first, a 22-yard field goal by Bergstrom, capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive. Bergstrom is now 8-of-8 on the season kicking field goals with a long of 53 a week earlier against Montana State.
Toke Kefu, who finished with 98 yards rushing on 28 carries, scored with 14:54 left in the game. That 10-play, 72-yard drive made the score 20-7.
After a trade of interceptions, Sac State responded with a touchdown drive that took 8:35 off the clock. After an Eastern punt, the Hornets drove 81 yards on just seven plays for the winning score.
"In the first half they were sticking with the shotgun and we had chances to make plays on defense," said Wulff. "But in the second half they started running more option plays and that caught us off guard."
"We had to play better defense down the stretch and we didn't," he added. "That's the bottom line. We need better offense so the defense doesn't have to stay on the field as long."
Linebacker David Eneberg, last week's Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week, led the Eagles with nine tackles. Senior cornerback DeNique Ford had an interception and Greg Peach and Gregor Smith each broke-up a pass.
"We can't make mistakes if we want to win games," said Wulff. "We need to get back to basics for our game next week against Montana."