EWU and the new turf hosted their Big Sky bugaboo in the Montana Grizzlies last Saturday night. Coming into the game, EWU had won four previous times in Missoula but just twice in the state of Washington. The 36-27 victory Saturday was the first in Cheney for EWU since 1991 and first overall against the Grizzlies since 2005.
The sold-out stadium featured a crowd of 11,702 as it set a Roos Stadium record. The previous record of 11,583 was set on Oct. 7, 2006, also versus Montana.
How did the Eagles win this game over their nemesis?
At the newly nicknamed "Inferno", EWU rallied from a 14-0 deficit and overcame three turnovers and a 2-of-15 performance on third down to pull out the victory. A 12-play, 56-yard drive resulted in kicker Mike Jarrett's go-ahead 31-yard field goal with four seconds to play to put EWU up 30-27. On the ensuing kickoff, Montana tried several laterals fumbling and recovering, but EWU was called for a penalty to give Montana one untimed down. Defensive end Jerry Ceja's sack and the return by defensive tackle Renard Williams sealed the victory.
"It felt great and I'm so proud of our players," Baldwin said. "It obviously didn't start the way we wanted going down 14-0. We started bad, but our guys are so resilient. We want to get past starting like that because that's two out of three games where we've done that, Nevada was the same way. I am so proud of our guys. They kept fighting back and kept believing."
All-American runningback Taiwan Jones produced 305 all-purpose yards, with a career-high 221 rushing yards, to lead EWU's 503-yard offensive output. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 17-of-37 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice with one resulting in a 53-yard return for a touchdown. Sophomore Brandon Kaufman had five catches for a career-best 119 yards, including a diving 32-yard touchdown grab from Mitchell.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who led all of FCS in tackles a year ago, paced the Eagles with 12 to lead the defensive charge. Strong safety Matt Johnson had two interceptions and eight tackles to add to the Eagle defensive attack. Montana finished with six turnovers ó four fumbles and two interceptions. The Eagles were a turnover machine last year after ranking sixth in FCS in turnover margin a year ago. EWUís defense also held Montana to just a 3-of-15 performance on third down.
EWU improved to 2-1. The Eagles defeated DII Central Washington the prior week to this game and lost their season opener to FBS Nevada.
"It feels amazing," Baldwin said. "And more than anything, I love it for the players. These seniors have never been a part of beating Montana. For these seniors it was huge, and that's who I am most happy for. The players deserve it because they are the ones who came out and made the plays when we needed them. I'm happy for the team."
What does the loss mean to Montana?
With this loss, the Grizzlies fell to 1-2 for the first time since 1992, which was the last time Montana failed to reach the FCS playoffs. Eastern Washington handed Montana its first regular-season two-game losing streak since 2002, and snapped Montana's 15-game winning streak in Big Sky games.
Montana lost at Cal Poly the previous week after blowing out DII Western State to open the season.
The Grizzlies do have five of their final eight games at home with the toughest road contest at Weber State remaining so one would think they will be fine. But this week they will play an improved Sacramento State team that just defeated Weber State.
The biggest concern for the Grizzlies seems to be their defense so this area will need improvement to get back to their usual winning ways.
What is up ahead for Eastern Washington?
This week, the Eagles travel to the other Montana school in Montana State in the hopes of gaining their fifth playoff spot in the last six seasons. After this visit to Bozeman, EWU will travel to Ogden to play Weber State the following week.
The Eagles will later travel to Northern Colorado and Portland State.
Their remaining home games include Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Idaho State within league play. The Eagles also will host the Great Westís Southern Utah.
With the red turf, I believe this will be a home-field advantage much like former Big Sky member Boise State has with its blue turf. We shall see whether the Eagles become almost unbeatable in the coming weeks and years in the Inferno. But after one game, the long losing streak at home against their nemesis is over.
It appears this new carpet is a magical charm so far, but the team that goes with the new turf would likely be good regardless of what kind of playing surface it played on. We shall see whether this ride continues.
CSN WEST GAMES OF THE WEEK
Eastern Washington (2-1, 1-0) @ Montana State (2-1, 0-0), 1:05 p.m. Mountain time
Unlike the rivalry with the other Montana school, this one has been highly in favor of the Eagles. EWU has won the last three meetings in Bozeman, with MSU's last victory coming in 2002. Montana State also has fared poorly on the road ó losing the last seven times these two teams have met at Roos Field, the last victory coming in 1990.
I believe this meeting might be similar in nature, but believe it will be just as close as EWUís game with Montana last week. Montana State is one bad quarter away from being undefeated. The Bobcatsí lone loss was to Washington State 23-22 ó a game MSU led 22-7 going into the final quarter. Three turnovers, all on deflected interceptions, in the fourth quarter caused the Bobcats to leave Pullman with a defeat.
In the Bobcatsí victories, they defeated DII Fort Lewis (Colo.) and Drake easily, 52-10 and 48-21, respectively.
The key components for the Bobcats thus far have been runningback Orenzo Davis (312 rushing yards, 3 TDs) and wide receiver Everett Gilbert (14 receptions, 152 yards, 1 TD). The big scorer has been place kicker Jason Cunningham, who has made 9 of 10 field goals ó missing just a 52-yard attempt at Washington State.
Defensively, linebacker Aleksei Grosulak leads the team in tackles (20), tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (2.0). He also has one of the two teamsí interceptions.
I think this game will come down to turnover margin. The Bobcats are a young, improving team and will need to gain the turnovers to win. The Eagles are more of a veteran team that can withstand turnovers.
I will take the Eagles to win this one by a touchdown. Eastern Washington 34, Montana State 27.
South Dakota (2-1, 0-0) at North Dakota State (2-1, 0-1), 6:07 p.m. Central time
These two former DII North Central Conference rivals meet again for the first time since 2003. NDSU has owned South Dakota in Fargo ó winning all meetings since 1978.
This game matches two teams that own FBS victories (NDSU 6-3 over Kansas, and USD 41-38 over Minnesota). This matchup seems to be whether the USD offense can overcome a stingy NDSU defense. USD has averaged 32 points per game where as NDSU has allowed just more than nine points per game. NDSU has yielded just one touchdown in its first three games.
On the other side, USDís defense has surrendered 30 points per game, and the NDSU offense has scored just under 17 points per game.
NDSU lost its starting quarterback Jose Mohler in its 35-9 triumph over Morgan State last week, but he appears ready to go if called. Backup Brock Jensen was impressive in the second half of the Morgan State game after starting slowly when he replaced Mohler. He threw for 117 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The starter for NDSU will not be named until kickoff. Wide receiver Warren Holloway hauled in two of those Jensen touchdown passes and is averaging 33.7 yards per game while junior runningback D.J. McNorton leads the rushing attack with 118 yards on 37 attempts and one touchdown.
USDís offense is headed by quarterback Dante Warren, who ranks fifth in the FCS in passing efficiency with a 168.3 rating while his leading wide receiver Will Powell is 13th in receiving yards per game (99.6 ypg).
This game is expected to be a near sellout in the Fargodome, and I think the home-field advantage will give the Bison the victory in a closely contested game. I will take NDSU by a field goal. NDSU 26, USD 23.
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CSN WEST NEWS & NOTES
* Idaho Stateís Tavoy Moore amassed a school-record 318 all-purpose yards in the Bengalsí 35-21 loss to Northern Colorado. Moore opened the game by returning a kick 91 yards for a touchdown, and he took a punt return 81 yards for a score in the fourth quarter to get the Bengals to within 28-21. ź
* Montanaís Trumaine Johnson returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown, giving the Grizzlies a 7-0 lead over Eastern Washington to begin the game. It was UMís fifth interception return for a touchdown this season. Montana is just one away from tying the Big Sky single-season record of six set by Northern Arizona in 1985.
* Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins has moved into the top 10 on the Big Skyís all-time list for touchdowns, passing yards and total offense. Higgins threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in last Saturdayís 24-17 loss to Sacramento State. Higgins now ranks fifth on the all-time touchdown passes list with 90, and he needs just seven more to become the all-time leader.
* Portland Stateís 69-0 loss to FBS Oregon was the Vikingsí worst loss in school history.
* Southern Illinois lost to Southeast Missouri State 24-21 last weekend in what was the 76th meeting between these two nonconference foes. The loss by the Salukis snapped a 16-game winning streak over the Redhawks.
* Northern Iowa had three plays of 75 yards or more that went for touchdowns in the Panthersí 22-20 loss to Stephen F. Austin last Saturday. A 99-yard kickoff return, an 83-yard TD pass and a 75-yard TD run were the Panther scores. Each are among the top-scoring plays in the Missouri Valley Football Conference this year.
* South Dakota State (0-2) struggled for a second straight week, falling at home to Illinois State, 24-14, after losing to Delaware the week previous.
* Western Illinoisí Matt Barr broke his own Western Illinois record for most rushing yards by a quarterback when he rushed for 125 yards in the 56-14 victory against Sam Houston State.
* Youngstown State tied school records for points scored in a game (63), touchdowns (nine) extra-point tries and conversions (nine) and rushing touchdowns (eight) in the 63-24 rout of Central Connecticut State.
* UC Davis runningback Josh Reese rushed for a game-high 104 yards on 13 carries, scoring two touchdowns as UC Davis broke into the win column for the first time this season, defeating the San Diego 38-24.
* The Great West was notified by telephone that UC Davis and Cal Poly will join the Big Sky Conference in the sport of football, resulting in a withdrawal from the Great West. Commissioner Ed Grom said that he would talk with Cal Poly and UC Davis officials during the next few weeks to discuss the withdrawal procedure and their remaining time in the GWC until their departure in 2012.
* Defending PFL co-champion Dayton opened its PFL schedule with a 34-28 victory against Morehead State, recording its 69th PFL victory all-time. Meanwhile, Davidson needed a late-game touchdown and extra-point on the road to rally past Campbell, 28-27.