By Dave Cook
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of www.goeags.com
GREELEY, CO. — It didn’t take long for Cooper Kupp to overcome more than 50 years of Big Sky Conference football history. But it took an eternity – 60 minutes to be exact — for the Eagles to put away the opportunistic Bears.
Jordan Dascalo made a 44-yard field goal with no time remaining on a day in which Kupp became the league’s all-time leader in receptions and reception yards, lifting Eastern Washington past Northern Colorado 43-41 Saturday at Nottingham Field.
The Eagles rallied from deficits five times, and needed a nine-play, 49-yard drive that took 1:19 off the clock to set-up Dascalo’s game-winning kick.
That came after UNC scored with 1:23 to play on a three-play drive following a successful onside kick.
Normally EWU’s punter, Dascalo had to take on kicking duties recently as an injury replacement.
“It was one of those hard-fought games on the road,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “At different times they felt in control, and then we felt in control up 12. But give them credit – they made plays.
Ultimately it took us to go down and make a big field goal by Dascalo. When he hit it there was never a doubt – he drilled it. Give him credit, he hasn’t kicked a lot of those. He does in practice, but he hasn’t been our field goal kicker. But he keeps getting better and better. He just hasn’t kicked much in the past.”
Kupp finished with school records of 20 catches and 275 yards, and also scored three touchdowns. That brought his career totals to 281 receptions, 4,338 yards and 52 touchdowns.
A pair of second quarter grabs broke the previous league receptions record of 268 held by Kasey Dunn of Idaho (1988-91). A 19-yard reception during a last-minute touchdown drive in the second quarter surpassed the previous league record of 4,140 yards held by EWU’s Eric Kimble (2002-05).
Kupp has played only 35 games in his career, and now finds himself within striking distance of several FCS records, including the touchdown record. He now has 52 TD receptions in his career, just six behind the record of 58.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 5-2 on the season with a five-game winning streak, but the first three wins came by a total of just 14 points. The Eagles followed that with a convincing 45-28 win at Idaho State, in which EWU played its most complete game of the season. It’s no surprise that the 17-point winning margin was its largest of the year. Eastern is 4-0 in the Big Sky.
* Northern Colorado is 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the league. The Bears were coming off a 56-27 home romp past UC Davis in a game UNC led 42-3 at halftime. The other conference victory for the Bears was against Sacramento State one game earlier when they won 27-20 by kicking two field goals, returning two fumbles for scores and having a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD. Their setbacks have come against Southern Utah (30-3) and Weber State (38-17).
What it Means . . .
* With their 16th victory since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, the Eagles remained on top of the Big Sky standings with the victory. Eastern is 31-3 in their last 34 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011. Eastern has won 21 of its last 22 league games, and until an Oct. 25, 2014, loss at Northern Arizona, EWU had won 14 in a row.
What’s Next . . .
* The Eagles return to Roos Field to face Weber State on Halloween Night, and play three of their last four regular season games at Roos Field where they are 33-5 all-time on the red turf with an 18-game regular season winning streak.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern’s quick-strike offense was at its best when it trailed. The Eagles trailed 7-0, 14-12, 21-19, 28-26 and 41-40, and each time responded with scoring drives. The quickest came after EWU fell behind 14-12, and the Eagles put together an impressive six-play, 67-yard drive to score on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jordan West to Cooper Kupp. West had two rushes for 27 yards on the drive, plus completed a pair of 19-yard passes to Kupp and another of 17 yards to Kendrick Bourne. The other three drives were 14-60-4:28, 6-75-2:17 and 16-74-6:15, before the game-winning nine-play, 49-yard drive that took 1:19 off the clock.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Jordan West had 469 yards of total offense, completing 38-of-59 passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 41 yards.
* Junior Jalen Moore made the first start of his career and finished with 128 yards rushing on 23 attempts. Playing in just his fourth game of the season after missing three full games with an ankle sprain, he was replacing starter Jabari Wilson, who had the same injury and did not make the trip.
* Junior Kendrick Bourne added six catches for 60 yards, and Terence Grady had four for 44.
* Sophomore linebacker Jake Gall led the Eagles in tackles for the second-straight game, finishing with eight and a fumble recovery. Senior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora added seven stops.
Key Stats . . .
* Northern Colorado had a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, breaking some long EWU streaks in the process. Not including a pair of blocked punts, Eastern had gone 124 punt returns without allowing at TD. Shortly after that, a streak of 296 kickoff returns without allowing a TD was broken. The last time EWU allowed a punt return for a TD was in 2009 by Montana’s Marc Mariani, and the last time an opponent scored on a kickoff return was by Villanova’s Angelo Babbaro on the opening kickoff in the semifinals of the 2010 FCS Playoffs.
Turning Point . . .
* Besides the obvious last-second drive, Eastern stopped Northern Colorado on a two-point conversion attempt with 1:23 left, meaning a field goal would win it for the Eagles. Prior to that, EWU took a 12-point fourth quarter lead that they needed every bit of to keep the game close in the final minutes. After taking a 33-28 lead early in the fourth quarter, a sack by Jay-Tee Tiuli and Miquiyah Zamora forced a UNC punt on a three-and-out. The Eagles responded with a 12-play, 63-yard drive that took 4:36 off the clock, including a gutsy fourth-and-five call from midfield. Cooper Kupp came up with a 10-yard touchdown grab on that play, then scored on a catch from 22 yards out to put the Eagles up 40-28 with 5:23 to play.
Team Highlights . . .
* After Eastern punted to open the second half, the Bears drove 87 yards on 11 plays before committing its first turnover of the game at the EWU 2-yard line. The fumble was recovered by Eastern’s Jake Gall.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Cooper Kupp now has 52 touchdown catches in his career, ranking second in FCS history – two ahead of the legendary Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley (1981-84) and six ahead of the former school and Big Sky Conference records of 46 set by Eric Kimble (2002-05). Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award in 2013 given to the top freshman in FCS. The FCS career record is 58 set by New Hampshire’s David Ball (2003-06) and also ranking second is Terrell Hudgins (2006-09) with 52. Kupp has played just 35 games while all the others in the top five have played at least 41. In fact, Kupp is the only player in the top 26 in FCS history with less than 36 games played.
* On FCS career leaders lists, Kupp is 14th with 281 receptions and fourth with 4,338 yards. The FCS records for receptions and yards are held by Elon’s Terrell Hudgins (2006-09), who had 395 catches for 5,250 yards and 52 touchdowns in 45 games. Hudgins is No. 2 in TD catches, and the record is 58 held by David Ball of New Hampshire (2003-06).
* With his 20 catches, Kupp broke the previous record of 17 set by Aaron Boyce versus Montana on Oct. 6, 2007. His 275 yards was the fourth time he has had at least 200, and broke the previous school record of 264 set by Jason Anderson versus Montana on Sept. 17, 1994.
Notables . . .
* Since Northern Colorado became a member of the Big Sky Conference in 2006, Eastern has won all eight meetings. Four of EWU’s wins over UNC since 2007 have come by 10 points or less, including one possession wins in 2015, 2014 and in 2010. Last year’s 26-18 home victory was a fight to the end for the Eagles, who needed an interception by Victor Gamboa in EWU territory with 2:02 left to stop a potential game-tying drive. Even more dramatic was a 35-28 EWU victory in 2010 — the last time to two teams faced each other in Greeley. Northern Colorado had a seven-point lead and the ball with inside of eight minutes left, but Eastern scored twice in the final 3:08 to pull out the win. An interception at the EWU 21-yard line clinched the victory for the Eagles, who would go on to win the national championship.
* Starting kicker Tyler McNannay (hip flexor) missed his fourth-straight game, and starting running back Jabari Wilson (ankle) and wide receiver Nic Sblendorio (shoulder) did not make the trip. Starting offensive tackle Cassidy Curtis (foot) returned to his home state to play sparingly after missing the last five games. The Eagles played without several key backups against the Bears — linebacker Alek Kacmarcik (hamstring), defensive lineman Kaleb Levao (knee), running back Malcolm Williams (hamstring) and linebacker Kurt Calhoun.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On UNC: “I give Northern Colorado a ton of credit. We knew they would be a tough team and that’s the way it turned out. I thought before the game that special teams made me nervous because they have some special skill players back there. That became a factor. We have to get better in that regard.”
On Dascalo’s Kick: “It’s like a 340-yard drive down the middle when your down a stroke on the golf course late in a round. That’s what kicking is too. It’s all between the ears. For him to go out there and hit it like he would at practice with no pressure. That takes a lot of guts.”
On Cooper Kupp: “He means so much in how he leads, how he handles things and treats teammates. More than just the receiver he is, he’s just incredible in how he carries himself and the person and teammate he is. That’s Cooper Kupp in a nutshell. He has all the tools as not just a football player, but as a human. We’re just lucky and enjoying every day we get to spend with him. It’s something special.”
On Small Different Between Victory & Defeat: “You can’t let the band aid of winning make you think everything is alright. Regardless of the end result, we have to attack the next week the same way. We have to grade and be critical, but also be positive about all the things that are good and bad during the other 59 minutes and 55 seconds. You have to stay as even keel as you can and keep grinding the next week.”
On Upcoming Home Stretch: “It definitely helps to be at home, but these road games have tested us. Playing five of seven on the road, and traveling on back-to-back weeks has been good for us. There’s no question we’ll get that home field energy. It should have its advantages. But at same time, we still have to play a Weber State team who is playing well. Then Northern Arizona, at Montana and Portland State – my goodness it doesn’t get any easier. It’s going to be a grind. All we have to focus on now is Halloween against Weber State.”