Oct. 6, 2007
Missoula, Mont. -
Sometimes, yards and records aren't enough as Eastern Washington University found out Saturday (Oct. 6) against the top-ranked team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,226 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont.
The Eagles had 565 yards of offense while holding Montana to 289, but the Grizzlies kicked a 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds to play to pull-out a 24-23 Big Sky Conference over EWU.
Eastern scored on four-straight possessions spanning the second and third quarters to take a 20-14 lead. But Eastern managed just a field goal after that to fall to 1-2 in the conference and 3-2 overall. Montana finished out a five-game homestand to open the 2007 season 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the league.
"We played hard and we did a lot of good things," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "But we did enough things poorly to shoot ourselves in the foot. When you come here and lose by one, you're never happy about that."
Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards. His yardage total was the third-most in school history, just 35 yards from the school record of 486 set by Todd Bernett against Montana in 1994.
Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. The record is 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions.
Boyce finished with 232 receiving yards to rank third in school history. The record is 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Eastern's defense played superbly this time around, but a blown coverage resulted in Montana converting on fourth-and-10 on its game-winning drive. Just moments earlier, with 2:20 to play, Eastern's Felipe Macias kicked a 39-yard field goal -- his third of the day -- to give Eastern a short-lived 23-21 lead.
However, Eastern had two turnovers in the game that led to 14 Montana points. Eastern also finished with 14 penalties for 127 yards.
"Our defense played a great game," said Wulff. "Offensively we did too. We really controlled the game from the second quarter on. But we shot ourselves in the foot too many darn times. You can't win games on the road like this playing like that."
Shane Eller, filling in for the injured Tony Davis, added eight catches for 77 yards and Brynsen Brown caught six for 94 yards and a touchdown. Dale Morris was the team's leading rusher with 49 yards. Greg Peach led Eastern's defense with nine tackles and a sack.
Montana entered the game leading FCS in scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game. The Grizzlies were sixth in total defense, surrendering only 261.8 yards per contest. Meanwhile, Eastern's offense entered the game fifth in FCS in total offense (470.0 per game) and 14th in scoring (37.0).
After a slow start, Eastern caught fire near the end of halftime to trail just 14-10 at intermission. Through the first 20 minutes, Eastern's longest drive in its first four possessions was 20 yards, and two of them were for negative yards. Penalties were Eastern's biggest undoing, with 10 for 94 yards in the first half alone.
Trailing 7-0, the Eagles used a 45-yard pass from Nichols to Brown to help drive to the Montana 4-yard line. But personal foul and holding penalties -- two of the four penalties that were called on Eastern on the drive -- resulted in a missed 42-yard field goal by Macias.
The Eagles forced a punt on Montana's next possession, but Eller fumbled on the punt return and Montana took over at the EWU 37. Four plays later, the Grizzlies scored to take a 14-0 lead.
Eastern totally abandoned the run on its next possession and drove 80 yards on just eight plays. Nichols was 7-of-8 on the drive for 80 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to Brown.
Eastern's pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by EWU's Nicholas Ramos at the Montana 30-yard line with just 25 seconds to go in the half. But another penalty, Eastern's 10th of the half, resulted in the Eagles having to settle for a 32-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter, pulling EWU to within 14-10.
The Eagles had 229 yards of offense in the first half, but 207 came through the air and just 22 were on the ground. Montana had 153 yards, but 64 of those came on their first drive of the game.
Eastern opened the third quarter with a four-play, 72-yard drive that took just 1:37 off the clock. A 37-yard TD pass to a wide-open Boyce after gave a pump-fake by Nichols gave Eastern a 17-14 lead.
On Eastern's next possession, a 41-yard pass from Nichols to Boyce on a Montana safety blitz was the big play and led to a 42-yard field goal by Macias to give EWU a six-point advantage.
Montana took back the lead on its next possession with a 53-yard touchdown drive. But Eastern came up empty on its next four possessions until Macias made his 39-yarder.
The Eagles shared the 2004 and 2005 Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.