TOLEDO, Ohio - Another fast start gave the Eastern Washington University a fighting chance against its second NCAA Football Bowl Division foe of the 2013 season.
But the 530-377 advantage in total offense by the Rockets and two EWU turnovers helped Toledo subdue the second-ranked Eagles by a 33-21 score Saturday (Sept. 14) at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio.
The Eagles, a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, pulled to within 23-21 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Rockets scored on an 88-yard drive to regain a nine-point advantage. A field goal with 32 seconds left provided the final margin.
"We are definitely going to find some things we can do better, but I'm also proud that we found a way to fight in a game like this too," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "You have to find different games to be in it, and ultimately to win it. We obviously didn't make enough plays that way and they did."
Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams had 164 yards and two touchdowns passing in the first quarter to stake EWU to a 14-6 lead. He finished the game 21-of-41 for 326 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. However, in the second and third quarters, Eastern's offense was stagnant and had a pair of turnovers and punted five times.
"We got a little bit out of rhythm offensively," Baldwin explained. "But you have to give credit to Toledo too – they are a very good football team. There is a reason they played Florida and Missouri really tough – both on the road. Toledo is a very well-coached football team."
Senior wide receiver Ashton Clark had six catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, and finished with his third career performance of at least 100 yards receiving. Freshman redshirt Cooper Kupp added five catches for 70 yards and a score.
Defensively, senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin had 14 tackles to lead the Eagles – the 10th time in his career the Buck Buchanan Award candidate has finished in double figures in tackles. True freshman linebacker Albert Havili added 13 stops, and senior safety Allen Brown had 10.
"We are definitely going to find some things we can do better, but I'm also proud that we found a way to fight in a game like this too," Baldwin said. "You have to find different games to be in it, and ultimately to win it. We obviously didn't make enough plays that way and they did."
Eastern was trying to join a select group of what is believed to be just four FCS teams that have knocked off two FBS teams in the same season. The Eagles are now 2-1, having upset 25th-ranked Oregon State from the Pac-12 Conference 49-46 on Aug. 31 and then scoring 29 first-quarter points in a 43-14 romp over NCAA Division II Western Oregon on Sept. 7.
Toledo is now 1-2 after suffering a 24-6 loss to Florida to open the season and then falling 38-23 to Missouri on Sept. 7. A year ago, UT advanced to its third-straight bowl game, falling to Utah State 41-15 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. The Rockets finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the Western Division of the MAC.
The Eagles scored the first two times they had the ball on drives of 70 and 75 yards and took an early 14-6 lead. Adams passed 23 yards to Ashton Clark for a TD on the first possession of the game, then found Ryan Seto for 22-yard score just 6:48 into the game.
But Toledo scored the first three times it had the ball, and regained a 16-14 advantage in the second quarter. The Eagles had a 161-155 advantage after the first quarter, but in the second period Toledo had 98 yards to just 54 for the Eagles. Eastern also had two turnovers in the quarter.
On its first possession of the third quarter, Eastern had its longest two rushes of the day – 7 yards by Adams and 12 yards by Jalen Moore – but were forced to punt. Later in the quarter, the Rockets took a 23-14 lead on an 81-yard TD pass.
Eastern finally put together a drive late in the third quarter, and pulled within 23-21 on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 19-yard strike from Adams to Kupp. But the Rockets responded with an 88-yard drive of its own, and regained a 30-21 lead.
"Both offenses came out strong, then our defense was playing great – and so was theirs," said Baldwin. "We missed on some opportunities. It was one of those games that had a strange feel to it, but that's football. It's okay to be in those kind of games, but you have to find ways to win them."
After a bye week, Eastern plays at Sam Houston State in a rematch of last year's 45-42 loss in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs on Dec. 15, 2012, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. In that game, Eastern scored 42 second-half points to rally from a 35-0 deficit and nearly pull off the improbable comeback.
The Bearkats have now lost the last two title games in FCS. Currently 2-1 after beating Texas Southern 55-17, trouncing Houston Baptist 74-0 and falling to Texas A&M 65-28, Sam Houston State finished the 2012 season 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the Southland. The Bearkats, ranked fifth in FCS, host Incarnate Word (Sept. 21) before entertaining the Eagles in Huntsville, Texas.
"Our team fought," added Baldwin of the Toledo loss. "We are going to have to keep cleaning up some things and move forward."
Not surprisingly, this was the first-ever meeting between Eastern and Toledo. In fact, it's Eastern's first trip East of the Mississippi River since 2007 and only its fourth game ever in the Eastern time zone.
Since the early 1980's when it began the move to become a member of FCS (in 1984), Eastern is now 9-21 all-time versus FBS teams. A 20-3 win at Idaho to open the 2012 season snapped a 10-game skid, and the victory earlier this season against Oregon State was Eastern's first victory in 10 tries against a current member of the Pac-12.
Eastern was ranked second in this week's Sports Network top-25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. The Eagles and are also second by the coaches for the second-straight week after ranking fourth (Sports Network) and third (coaches) in the preseason polls. North Dakota State remains ranked No. 1.