College Sports Journal
CHENEY, WA. — The feel-good story of Wagner finally came to an end Saturday evening on the Tabasco-colored turf of Roos Field, but not before the Seahawks pushed No. 2 seed Eastern Washington deep into the fourth quarter.
Junior Kyle Padron passed for 327 yards and junior All-American receiver Brandon Kaufman caught 10 passes for 174 yards as the Eagles defeated Wagner 29-19 in a second-round game in the NCAA Division I Football Championships.
Eastern Washington advances to the quarterfinals, and will host Illinois State at "The Inferno" next Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Redbirds defeated Appalachian State 38-37 in overtime earlier Saturday in another second-round game.
Eastern Washington overcame two third-quarter turnovers that cost EWU its hard-earned 14-6 halftime lead.
"Our defense showed resilience," said EWU coach Beau Baldwin. "The biggest difference was our red zone defense. We had a blocked field goal early and then we were able to hold them to field goals rather than touchdowns."
Padron led the Eagles on TD drives of 80 and 75 yards in the first half and scoring marches of 75 and 73 in the second half as EWU snapped the nine-game winning streak of the Seahawks.
With a penchant for pulling out victories, the Eagles will enter the quarterfinals with a 10-2 record.
Of Eastern Washington's seven Big Sky wins this season, six came by a combined margin of 28 points – one by seven points, two six-point wins and a trio by just three points.
On the other side of the coin, the Eagles are only seven points from an unbeaten season, having last-possession chances to pull out wins in both of their losses.
Wagner, coming off a 31-20 win over Colgate in the first round of the playoffs, finished its season 9-4.
"We knew we had to control the football and we said if we could control the ball and get into the fourth quarter and have a shot, we’d feel pretty good about it," Wagner coach Walt Hameline said. "We had some opportunities where we missed a field goal in the first half. And then a couple times (in the second half) we didn’t get it in and had to kick field goals – that made a big difference."
Padron, the SMU transfer, making just his third start of the season and first since EWU’s second game of the season, completed 26-of-36 passes.
Besides Kaufman’s 10 grabs, senior Greg Herd had five catches for 51 yards and senior Nicholas Edwards had five grabs for 48 yards.
Running back Demitrius Bronson added 76 yards rushing and a pair of short touchdown runs.
Senior linebacker Zach Johnson led the defense with 11 tackles and a pass broken up, and junior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin added 10 tackles and broke-up a pair of passes.
EWU lost the turnover battle 3-0, but out-gained Wagner 411-296 in total offense.
"Our guys were able to weather that storm," said Baldwin. "You don’t win too many games when you lose the turnover battle 3-0."
After a scoreless first quarter, Eastern responded after a Wagner field goal by driving 80 yards in nine plays to take the lead at 7-6.
Padron passed 21 yards for a touchdown to sophomore tight end Ryan Seto, his first of the season and second of his career.
Late in the quarter, EWU scored again on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, with Bronson scoring on a 1-yard run.
But the 14-6 halftime lead didn’t hold up for long.
A rare interception by Padron led to a short 18-yard TD drive and pulled the Seahawks to within 14-13.
Padron hadn’t thrown an interception in 121 attempts dating back to Sept. 22 against Weber State.
After an Eagle punt, Wagner kicked a field goal to take a 16-14 lead. Then, after an EWU fumble on the ensuing kickoff, another Seahawk field goal gave them a 19-14 lead with 2:59 left.
But Padron and Kaufman followed with a 75-yard TD march in seven plays, capped by a 3-yard run by Quincy Forte.
The key play was a sensational 47-yard grab by Kaufman, who caught also caught a pass on the two-point conversion to give EWU the lead back at 22-19 entering the final quarter.
Wagner punted on its next drive, then EWU used a time-consuming 15-play, 73-yard drive to make it a two-possession game.
The drive consumed 7:27 as Bronson ended the drive with a 2-yard TD run.
"Wagner is a very disciplined team and a very physical team," said Baldwin. "They just understand exactly who they are and do a great job of it. It was a battle for our guys all night long."