Nov. 1, 2008
Halloween was a day earlier, but Eastern Washington University's football team continued to be haunted on its home field.
The Eagles had 363 passing yards and 23 first downs, but had three turnovers, were 0-for-6 on third down and had minus 31 yards rushing in a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State Saturday (Nov. 1) in EWU's 82nd Annual Homecoming Game.
It was the eighth time in the last nine meetings in the new millennium that the home team has lost in the Eastern-Sac State game. Although Eastern leads the all-time series 14-3, all four Sac State victories have come at Woodward Field since 2000. The Hornets knocked off EWU 25-22 that season, then won 48-41 in 2002 and 21-20 in 2006.
On Saturday, Eastern missed a pair of field goals in the first half and quarterback Matt Nichols was intercepted late in the half in the Sac State end zone. The result was Eastern being unable to improve upon a slim, 7-6 advantage it took into halftime.
"I was a little frustrated with our lack of execution in certain areas," said EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. "Obviously, every point counts. Not getting some of the points in the first half hurt us."
Early in the second half, a fumble on one of the five times Nichols was sacked led to the go-ahead score for Sac State. Eastern scored in the fourth quarter to pull within two, but came up empty on its last two possessions.
None of Eastern's 23 first downs came on third down as EWU was 0-of-6 on third down and 0-of-1 on fourth down. Nichols had his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season -- and 11th of his 32-game career -- as he completed 29-of-43 passes for 363 yards with one touchdown.
But Nichols had a pair of interceptions to go along with his fumble as EWU finished with three turnovers in the game.
"Again, we were sloppy," said Baldwin. "I give them credit. They made plays that we didn't. We need to find a way to play better."
Sac State had just one miscue and out-gained Eastern in total offense 365-332. The Hornets rushed for 154 yards -- 185 more than the Eagles, who finished with a negative 31 yards.
"They're a good defense, especially up front," Baldwin said. "They make it a challenge every week for teams to run the ball. If you aren't executing and aren't making a lot of plays through the air, they can be a tough team to play. They really don't give up a lot of rushing yards to anyone. So they force you into throwing it and you have to execute in your passing game against a team like Sacramento State."
Losing the turnover battle was a key, said Baldwin. In EWU's last win -- a 34-17 victory at Montana State on Oct. 18 -- the Eagles had just one turnover compared to four for the Bobcats.
"That's going to be the case almost week-in and week-out, no matter what," explained Baldwin. "I don't care how many yards they have or how many yards you have, whatever it might be. You've got to do a good job and do everything you can to win the turnover battle. That ends up being a telling factor in almost every college football game."
The Eagles entered Saturday's game well-rested and perhaps even healed from a rash of injuries that occurred in late September and early October. But Eastern fell to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky Conference, while the Hornets improved to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the Big Sky.
Brynsen Brown had 11 catches for 114 yards for the Eagles -- both career highs for the junior wide receiver. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nichols in the fourth quarter.
Eastern freshman redshirt cornerback Taiwan Jones finished with 15 tackles, two passes broken up and blocked a Sac State extra point attempt in the first quarter. Freshman redshirt Zach Johnson added nine tackles, senior cornerback Ryan Kelley had an interception and sophomore Tyler Jolley blocked a Sac State field goal attempt.
"We've got to fight back," added Baldwin, whose team plays at Northern Colorado on Nov. 8. "It's all of us in this together. We've got to find a way to prepare to go on the road next week against a Northern Colorado team that has played a lot of good football. Every team in this conference is very capable every week."