By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
NORFOLK, VA. — Kyle Padron wasn't expecting to spend a good chunk of the 2012 college football season on the Eastern Washington bench when he transferred in the off-season from SMU.
But the junior quarterback fired six touchdown passes, including game-breaking strikes of 47 and 17 and 76 yards to All-American receiver Brandon Kaufman in the second half to lift the second-seeded Eagles to a 51-35 quarterfinal victory against Illinois State at Roos Field in Cheney, WA.
Eastern Washington (11-2), the 2010 national champion, will host 2011 runner-up Sam Houston State either next Friday, or Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals.
Sam Houston State knocked off Montana State for the second straight year in the quarterfinals, 34-16, on Friday night.
Padron (18-0f-32, 317 yards passing, one interception) followed the patch of 2011 Payton Award winner Bo Levi Mitchell, who left SMU for EWU when Padron beat him out after an injury.
Padron also left SMU when he was replaced following an injury, but his road at Eastern Washington hasn't been as smooth as Mitchell's.
After starting the year at quarterback and leading the Eagles to a season-opening victory at Football Bowl Subdivision member Idaho and a near-miss against Washington State, Padron was replaced for much of the season by dual-threat redshirt freshman Vernon Adams.
But Padron has reemerged in time to lead the Eagles to some late-season success.
After Padron found Kaufman (nine catches, 191 yards) deep for a touchdown on the Eagles' second possession of the second half, an interception by Ronnie Hamlin off Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown (27-of-47 for 372 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) was returned to the 17 to put EWU in scoring territory again.
A play later, Padron made a perfect throw to the back of the end zone and Kaufman hauled it in to give the Eagles a 21-point, 38-17 lead.
Illinois State (9-4) rallied late in the third period for a 26-yard field goal by Nick Aussieker and a 22-yard TD connection from Brown to Lechein Neblett (six catches, 101 yards) to cut it to 38-27.
Brown capped a six-play, 64-yard drive with a 13-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown and hit tight end James O'Shaughnessy for a two-point conversion as the Redbirds stormed back to within 38-35 with 13:55 left in the fourth period.
On a third and nine play, with Illinois State on the verge of stealing even more momentum, Padron caught ISU in man-to-man coverage on a blitz and lofted a ball along the sideline to Kaufman.
The 6-foot-5 receiver came down with it and ran away from the Redbird secondary for a 76-yard scoring play.
The extra point clanked off the left upright to leave the score at 44-35 in the Eagles' favor.
EWU caught Illinois State in another blitz on a 47-yard scamper by running back Quincy Forte (seven carries, 116 yards) to set up a scoring throw from Padron to Ashton Clark for 10 yards on third and goal to stretch the lead back to 51-35 midway through the fourth quarter.
Illinois State piled up 520 yards of total offense, compared to 478 for Eastern Washington, but the Redbirds lost the turnover battle, 3-2, and gave up 209 yards on returns.
It was a challenging game for the defenses and the kickoff coverage teams early as EWU and ISU combined for 34 points in the first 17 minutes of play.
Illinois State drove 74 yards in 10 plays after taking the opening kickoff and coverted it into Aussieker's 23-yard field goal for an early 3-0 lead four minutes into the contest.
But Eastern Washington struck back for a 44-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Padron to Javel to put the Eagles in front 7-3 at the 8:45 mark of the first period.
Four minutes later, it was Matt Brown's turn to strike and his 40-yard bomb to Tyrone Walker (nine catches, 148 yards) pushed the Redbirds back in front, 10-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman speedster Shaquille Hill made a blunder of monumental proportions, break free for a 93-yard kickoff return.
The problem was it should have been a 94-yard return and six points for the Eagles. But Hill released the ball before he crossed the goal line and after a video review, the ball was placed on the one.
Illinois State stuffed two runs and Padron threw high on a third-down pass to make EWU settle for Jimmy Pavel's 20-yard field goal to tie the score.
Josh Burch went 72 yards for the Redbirds on the next kickoff to set up Darrelynn Dunn's three-yard scoring burst and Illinois State was back on top 17-10. Dunn finished with 98 yards rushing on 24 carries.
But Eastern Washington got another big return from Cory Mitchell — the younger brother of Bo Levi Mitchell — for 67 yards to the ISU 21 on a squibbed kick and the Eagles were in business again.
Demitrius Bronson crashed over from the one to end that possession and Eastern Washington was tied again at 17.
With the clock winding down at the end of the first half, Padron made a play fake that freed up tight end Zach Gehring for a touchdown on a one-yard pass with 10 seconds left to give the Eagles the 24-17 advantage at the break, despite an 18-12 disadvantage in time of possession.
ISU finished with a 9 1/2-minute edge in clock time, but couldn't turned that into a victory.