By Dave Cook
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of www.goeags.com
CHENEY, WA. — This year, November wasn’t kind to the Eastern Washington University football team.
In a game that featured four lead changes in the first 33 minutes, the Eagles couldn’t stop Portland State on third down in the second half and lost 34-31 to the Vikings at Roos Field Saturday (Nov. 21) in a Big Sky Conference showdown for the “Dam Cup.”
Eastern pulled within 34-31 with 5:48 left on a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown by senior Todd Raynes, but the Vikings were able to run out the clock to improve to 8-2 on the season.
The Vikings should advance to the FCS Playoffs and will find out who they play when pairings are announced tomorrow morning.
“It was a hard-fought game and went back and forth,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who had directed the Eagles to the NCAA Football Championship Playoffs in four out of the last five seasons. “Through the year, they and Southern Utah have been the top two teams in this conference and they showed why. They have a lot of different things they can do well on offense, defense and special teams. They were able to make a few more plays than us at the end of the day.”
A 78-yard touchdown reception by junior Cooper Kupp in the second quarter was his 113th catch of the season to break the Big Sky Conference record of 112 set by Idaho State’s Rodrick Rumble in 2011.
He had eight catches for 136 yards in the game, giving him season totals of 114 catches (ninth in FCS history) for 1,646 yards and 19 TDs.
Kupp also moved into second in FCS career history with 4,764 career yards and fourth in receptions with 311. He remains second in FCS history in touchdown receptions with 56, just two behind the record.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern finished its season 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference, and ended with a three-game losing streak in November. The Eagles had their six-game winning streak and 5-0 league start stopped Nov. 7 in a rare home loss, falling 52-30 to surging Northern Arizona. Eastern then lost 57-16 at Montana last week to Eastern into a second-place tie in the Big Sky with three other teams.
* With an 8-3 record on the season, the Vikings are 5-0 against nationally-ranked FCS teams this season. They are also 2-0 against Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including a season-opening 24-7 win at 7-3 Washington State.
Portland State’s 66-7 blowout of North Texas was the largest victory margin by an FCS program over an FBS program in NCAA history. The Vikings, who haven’t defeated EWU since a 2011 win at Roos Field, have won six of their last seven games, including victories traditional powerhouses Montana and Montana State.
What it Means . . .
* Southern Utah wrapped up the Big Sky title with a 49-41 victory over Northern Arizona, giving the Thunderbirds the outright title with a 7-1 mark. Montana and Portland State both finished 6-2 and are playoff bound, while Eastern, NAU, North Dakota and Weber State all finished 5-3.
What’s Next . . .
* The Eagles open the 2016 season at Washington State on Sept. 3, 2016, which entered its game Nov. 21 versus Colorado with a 7-3 record.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Vikings were 13-of-17 on third down, including all eight in the second half. Eastern led 17-13 at halftime, but Portland State scored twice in the third quarter to take a 27-17 lead thanks to third down conversions. The Vikings converted six-straight in the period, including two third-and-goal situations that resulted in touchdowns. The Vikings also converted on third-and-25 after converting in the first half when facing third downs of 10, 11 and 13 yards. In the final 5:48, PSU converted two more third downs to run out the clock.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Cooper Kupp had his 23rd performance in 39 career games with at least 100 receiving yards, finishing with eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. His 78-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter was the longest play of his career, and 27th play of his career of at least 40 yards.
* Junior Jabari Wilson rushed for 85 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown.
* Junior Kendrick Bourne caught five passes for 46 yards, and had a 63-yard touchdown run in the first quarter on a reverse.
* Redshirt freshman Reilly Hennessey made his second career start and complete 17-of-27 for 215 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
* Senior rover Todd Raynes concluded his Eastern career with 12 tackles, a sack, one other tackle for loss and a fumble recovery he returned 35 yards for a score.
* Junior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora, junior safety Zach Bruce and senior safety Miles Weatheroy all had nine tackles.
Key Stats . . .
* Portland State finished with 397 yards and the Eagles had 390. However, the Eagles were just 7-of-12 on third down and fumbled the ball on its lone fourth-down attempt of the game.
* Eastern, which had 10 turnovers in its last two games, had four turnovers against the Vikings leading to 13 PSU points. Eastern scored seven points off three PSU turnovers.
Turning Point . . .
* The Vikings led 20-17 in the third quarter when Eastern’s Keenan Williams forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Samson Ebukam at the EWU 37-yard line. But Eastern gave the ball back just two plays later on an interception, and the Vikings followed with a 79-yard scoring drive to take a 27-17 advantage late in the quarter.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern said goodbye to some of the most successful players in school history on “Senior Day” on Nov. 21 versus Portland State at Roos Field. The 14 Eagle seniors made their final regular season appearance at “The Inferno” and were a part of three Big Sky Conference championships and a trio of playoff berths. Eastern has won 27 of 32 Big Sky Conference games and 40 games overall in the last four years. The list includes former running back and linebacker Jordan Talley, a Portland native who had to skip his senior season because of health concerns after suffering several concussions.
• Despite the loss, the Eagles finished with the school’s 18th winning season in the last 20 years (1996-2015). That includes a current string of nine-straight (2007-15) and another stretch of seven straight (1999-2005), feats that hadn’t been accomplished since the Red Reese era when Eastern had a string of 11-straight winning seasons from 1931-1941.
* The Eagles are now 34-7 all-time on the red turf at “The Inferno,” but had its 19-game regular season winning streak snapped at Roos Field on Nov. 7, 2015, versus Northern Arizona. Eastern’s last regular season loss came in the final home game of the 2011 season against Portland State (43-26). Three of the losses have come the past three seasons in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs — a 45-42 loss to Sam Houston State in 2012 when EWU rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit to nearly pull off an improbable comeback, a 35-31 semifinal loss to Towson in 2013 and a 59-46 loss to Illinois State in the quarterfinals in 2014. Eastern is 26-4 in the regular season at “The Inferno” and 8-3 in the FCS Playoffs. The first loss EWU suffered on the red turf was a 36-21 loss to Montana State on Sept. 24, 2011 after an unbeaten debut season during EWU’s national championship season in 2010.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Two-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp increased his season catch total to 114, ranking ninth in FCS history and breaking the Big Sky record of 112 in 2011 by Idaho State’s Rodrick Rumble. With 4,764 career yards, he moved into second in FCS history ahead of the 4,693 the immortal Jerry Rice had for Mississippi Valley from 1981-84 (the record is 5,250). With 311 career grabs, he moved into fourth in FCS history (No. 3 has 317, No. 2 has 332 and the record is 395). He had 19 touchdown receptions for the season and 56 in his career. The junior is only two TD receptions in his career behind the FCS record of 58 set by New Hampshire’s David Ball from 2003-06. Kupp also finished just two TDs from his own Big Sky single season record of 21 set in 2013.
* Senior offensive tackle Clay DeBord started his 51st game as an Eagle, eclipsing the previous record of 50 held by Ronnie Hamlin. DeBord has started every game he has played — 51 of a possible 54 games the past four seasons. He missed one game each in 2012 and 2013 because of ankle injuries, and had a consecutive starting streak of 24 games snapped against Cal Poly on Oct. 10, 2015, when he missed the game with a concussion.
* Senior tight end JakeWithnell broke the school record for games played, and has now played in 54 of a possible 54 games as an Eagle. He broke the record set last year of 53 games by Ronnie Hamlin (2011-14). Withnell recently joined four other Eagles on the Academic All-District 8 team as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). An accounting major with a 3.91 grade point average, the 2011 graduate of South Salem (Ore.) High School will be honored for the fourth time on the Big Sky All-Academic team at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Notables . . .
* With a Roos Field crowd of 8,649 versus Northern Arizona, Eastern has now had 15-consecutive sell-out crowds at “The Inferno” and 27 all-time in stadium history.
* The NCAA Division I Football Championship bracket will be announced on Sunday, November 22 at 8 a.m. Pacific time on ESPNU. The field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large teams selected by the NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee. The top eight teams in the 24-team bracket for the championship are seeded and receive first-round byes. Team pairings are determined by geographical proximity. Teams from the same conference will not be paired for first round games or for second round games when both teams are playing their first games of the championship (except for teams from the same conference that did not play against each other during the regular season; such teams may play each other in the first and second round). Eight first round games will be conducted on Saturday, November 28 on the campus of one of the competing institutions, and the winners will advance to the second round. The second round also features eight games on Saturday, December 5 on the campus of one of the competing teams. Second round winners meet in the quarterfinals on December 11 or 12 on the campus of one of the competing institutions with the winners advancing to the semifinal games on December 18 or 19 also on campus. The winners will play in the 2016 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, January 9 at 11 a.m. Central Time.
* As a result of its victory over EWU, Portland State won “The Dam Cup,” which is in its sixth year of existence this fall. Previously, the trophy was presented to the school which accumulated the most points among competitions that included football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer. Portland State has won three of the five titles, but EWU is the defending champion after winning in the 2014-15 school year. The expansion of the Big Sky Conference has resulted in EWU not playing PSU consistently in all sports, and not always with equitable home games. However, each school has two regional rivals they play annually in football, so making The Dam Cup a football-only trophy made logical sense.
* Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum played for Eastern under legendary head coach Dick Zornes, and graduated from EWU in 1987. He redshirted in 1982 and was on the roster in 1983 but didn’t letter for the Eagles after coming from Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Wash. His nickname has stuck too — in the ’82 football media guide he was listed as “Barney” and the style of football played in PSU in 2015 is called “Barnyball.” On his coaching staff at PSU is former Eagle assistant coach Malik Roberson, who is currently PSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Roberson was at EWU from 2000-01 (student assistant) and again from 2002-07 (defensive line coach) under Paul Wulff. Former Eastern defensive end Jason Belford is PSU’s defensive line coach. He played for the Eagles from 2005-08 and received his degree in 2008.
* Despite the loss, the Eagles have won five of the last seven games versus Portland State, but still trails in the all-time series 20-17-1. Eastern is 9-9 against the Vikings in Portland, including victories in 2010 (50-17) and 2002 (27-24) at Hillsboro Stadium. Eastern is 7-12-1 at home against them and 1-0 in neutral site games. The road team has won 11 of the last 18 meetings, not including a 2009 neutral site game in Seattle. The longest winning streak by either team was by Portland State in the first four games of the series from 1968-71, and Eastern was unable to match that in 2015. The teams have played every year since 1990 when PSU was a member of NCAA Division II. The Vikings became a member of the Big Sky in 1996, and EWU leads the series 11-9 since then.
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On Seniors: “It’s a special group. You get used to going to the playoffs and winning titles, so it’s hard to finish with some losses at the end of the year knowing all the work they’ve put in. When you focus on these seniors, you would have a hard time finding many senior classes who had a better run of four years. They did a lot of things to change the landscape of what Eastern Washington football is and what our game-day atmosphere is like. They were a part of three-straight Big Sky titles and winning some playoff games along the way. It was a special group not only what they did on the field, but the culture they instilled here. They had a serious impact on our younger players – you can reflect back on what these players did and how they did it.”
On Cooper Kupp: “What an amazing year, huh? What he accomplished was an indication of how hard he competed. He was going just as hard Tuesday at practice. He’s a special individual, and I don’t throw out the word special very often. But he is one special individual and one special player.”
On 2015 Season: “It was an interesting year. I think we showed a lot of resiliency. We came into the year with a newness at quarterback that wasn’t something we necessarily would happen a year ago at this time. Jordan (West) ran with that and I thought did really well. We had a lot of youth on defense that kept getting better and better as the year went on. We saw some things that were good, but we also saw some things we have to look harder at in January, February and March with what we were doing. There were times we weren’t as on point as we need to be. To do that it takes that grind in the off-season. We have to hit a reset button on how important each week and each play are.”