Eagles Flying High; Defeat SDSU 41-17 - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Eagles Flying High; Defeat SDSU 41-17

by EWU Athletics Media Relations

It wasn’t easy in 12-degree weather, but Walter Payton Award finalist Vernon Adams and running back Quincy Forte found a way.

Adams had five touchdown passes and 244 yards of total offense, and Forte rushed for 202 yards and a score, as the third-seeded and No. 3 ranked Eastern Washington University football team beat 13th-ranked South Dakota State 41-17 Saturday, Dec. 7, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., in the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

“I am proud of our players,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I thought we stepped up and played some cold weather playoff type of football. A lot of times as a team we get looked at in a certain way because maybe we put up a lot of yards passing. We were able to play some tough grind-it out-football. We won the turnover battle, had great second-half defense and we finished running the ball really well, along with scoring with the ball in the air. I am proud of the guys for their fight. They just have to keep getting tougher as they go.”

Eastern will now host a game on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time versus Jacksonville State, which upset sixth-seeded McNeese State 31-10 Saturday in the second round. The game will be televised live on internet-based ESPN3. A year ago, Eastern advanced to the semifinals and won the title in 2010.

Located in Jacksonville, Ala., the Gamecocks are 11-3 overall and pounced Samford 55-14 in the first round on Nov. 30 after receiving an at-large bid to the playoffs. It will be EWU’s first-ever meeting with Jacksonville State, which finished 5-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference under first-year head coach Bill Clark.

Information on tickets for the game at “The Inferno” – where EWU is 23-3 all-time – will be available at: http://goeags.com/ticket/13playoffs. The game will be broadcast live on internet-based ESPN3. 

The Eagles, who capped a perfect 8-0 Big Sky Conference season with a 42-41 win over the Vikings on Nov. 23, are now 11-2 on the season with a nine-game winning streak. Eastern finished the regular season ranked third in The Sports Network FCS Top-25 Poll for the sixth-straight week, and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed.

Forte had the 25th performance in school history with 200 rushing yards or more, and shattered his previous career high of 123 set earlier this season. His performance was the best by an Eagle since Taiwan Jones had 230 versus North Dakota State in the 2010 FCS Playoffs.

Adams had a season-low 12 completions and his second-fewest attempts with 22, but TD passes of 69 and 40 yards helped him to a 217-yard passing game (also second-lowest), to go along with 27 on the ground. He now has 51 touchdown passes this season to move into a tie with Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois for third all-time in FCS history, just five from the record.

Freshman Cooper Kupp had four catches for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He broke the school record with 20 TD catches for the season, (19 shared by Nicholas Edwards, 2011, and Eric Kimble, 2004) and broke the FCS record for most touchdowns by a freshman (Moss with 19 in 1996). He also tied the Big Sky record of 20 TD catches set originally by Ed Bell of Idaho State in 1969.

Now with 81 receptions, Cooper Kupp has tied the FCS record for receptions by a freshman (81, Sean Price, Appalachian State, 2012). He is currently sixth in school history, and is just two from fifth and four from fourth. The school record is 95 set by Nicholas Edwards in 2011.

With a touchdown reception in all 13 of the games he has played in his EWU career, one game earlier he broke the record of 11 consecutive games with a TD catch previously held by Randy Moss from Marshall in 1996 and Cal Poly’s Ramses Barden in 2008.

Eastern finished with 504 yards of offense for EWU’s seventh performance of 500 or more yards. Eastern had 335 of its yards in the second half alone. Now with 526 points this season, EWU broke the school record of 488 set in 2004.The Big Sky record is 537 points set by Montana in 2009.

Defensively, Eastern held SDSU 2,000-yard rusher Zach Zenner to 71 yards and a single touchdown on 21 carries. Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ronnie Hamlin led the Eagles with 13 tackles for the 15th performance of his career of 10 or more tackles. Safety Todd Raynes added seven tackles, a forced fumble and two passes broken up.

South Dakota State scored the first time they had the ball on a 75-yard drive, while EWU had to punt the first two times it had the ball. But the Eagles scored two touchdowns with 2:16 of each other on drives of 51 and 70 yards. They ended on TD passes of yards to Zack Gehring and 40 to Kupp.

The Jackrabbits tied the score with 1:40 before halftime, and held EWU’s offense to just 169 yards of offense in the first half.

Eastern took the lead again for good in the third quarter with an eight-play, 82-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard TD pass from Adams to Zach Wimberly. It was the first TD catch of the season and career for Wimberly, making him the 12th Eagle this season to catch a TD pass.

After SDSU failed on a fake punt inside their own territory, EWU pounced with a quick four-play, 34-yard drive, capped by a 15-yard TD pass to Kupp.

The Jackrabbits converted a fourth-down play that led to a field goal, but EWU countered with a 69-yard TD pass to Cory Mitchell on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Eagles up 34-17.

Eastern closed out its scoring with a 20-yard TD run by Forte with 3:06 left in the game.

Eastern is now 5-0 this season when it wins the turnover battle, and 7-1 when it wins the battle or is tied. South Dakota State entered the game fourth in FCS in turnover margin, with 32 turnovers forced this season and 16 lost.

Eastern entered the SDSU game ranked fourth in FCS in total offense (531.1 per game) and eighth in scoring (40.4).

The Jackrabbits finished 9-5 on the season after finishing 5-3 in a four-way tie for second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference behind two-time defending FCS Champion North Dakota State (8-0).