The much-anticipated rematch between second-ranked Eastern Washington University and fourth-ranked Sam Houston State turned out to be more of the same for the Bearkats on Saturday (Sept. 28).
Sam Houston State rushed for 450 yards, with Timothy Flanders having his second-straight 200-yard game against the Eagles, and the Bearkats rolled to a 49-34 victory at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas. The start of the game was delayed by 1 1/2 hours because of a severe thunderstorm that rolled through Huntsville just prior to kickoff.
"They did a good job – they have a very good offense," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "They've put up a lot of points on a lot of people. But from our standpoint, it's a whole team issue – offense, defense and special teams. We have to find little things that we need to improve on, and there is plenty. We can say we fought hard, but the bottom line is we have to get better."
"This was the type of game that shows us that," he added.
Sam Houston State had 418 rushing yards a year ago when the Bearkats ended EWU's season at Roos Field in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. In that 45-42 loss on Dec. 15, 2012, Eastern scored 42 second-half points to rally from a 35-0 deficit and nearly pull off the improbable comeback.
Flanders, the all-time leading rusher in the Southland Conference with exactly 5,000 yards, finished with 280 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries for an 8.8 average per rush. Richard Sincere added a 12.2 average per rush and a total of 98 yards on eight carries. As a team, Sam Houston averaged 8.3 per rush and finished with 556 yards overall.
Eastern, meanwhile, finished with 496 yards – 355 through the air and 141 on the ground. In last year's game, the two teams combined for 1,026 yards with each going over the 500-yard mark.
Besides knocking EWU out of the playoffs, Sam Houston State also knocked off Big Sky members Cal Poly and Montana State in the earlier rounds and now has a six-game winning streak over Big Sky foes. Thanks in part to last year's epic battle, no other game in EWU history has matched two higher-ranked FCS teams than this meeting. A collective ranking of five is the next-best.
The Bearkats are now 4-1 this season, while EWU slipped to 2-2. Eastern opens its Big Sky Conference schedule at home next Saturday (Oct. 5) at 4:05 p.m. on Hall of Fame Day at Roos Field.
"We have to get better," Baldwin said. "We are in for a tough Big Sky schedule. We are going to face a Weber State team who I'm sure will play some good football after a tough non-conference schedule."
Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams had 390 yards of total offense for the Eagles, but was sacked twice. He finished the game 19-of-31 for 355 yards and three touchdowns, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. He finished with a net 35 yards on the ground on 11 carries.
Junior Cory Mitchell, who is from Katy, Texas, located just two hours away from Huntsville, led the Eagles with 102 yards on five catches. Ashton Clark had six catches for 93 yards and a TD.
Cornerback T.J. Lee III had 11 total tackles for the Eastern defense, and Allen Brown added 10 with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and pass broken up.
Both teams opened the game with cat-quick, three-play touchdown drives, and EWU trailed 7-6 just 2:18 into the game when its extra point attempt was blocked by the Bearkats. Eastern scored on a 2-yard run by Demitrius Bronson, which followed a 48-yard pass play from Adams to Mitchell.
The Eagles took a 13-7 lead late in the quarter on a five-play, 53-yard drive, capped by a 33-yard TD pass from Adams to Clark. But the Bearkats responded with two-straight scores, and took a 21-13 lead when De'Antrey Loche returned an interception 42 yards for a score.
Eastern pulled to within a point on a five-play, 89-yard drive, capped by a catch and run for a 59-yard TD by Cooper Kupp. But with 3:39 still left in the half, Sam Houston responded with a 70-yard drive and led 28-20 at halftime.
The fireworks continued in the third quarter, as the Bearkats scored the first two times they had the ball and took a 42-27 lead. Eastern scored on a 72-yard drive, with Bronson scoring for the second time with a 3-yard run.
The Bearkats seemingly put the game away with a 74-yard drive in the fourth quarter, but EWU struck back and scored in just four plays. A 62-yard scoring strike from Adams to Quincy Forte pulled EWU to within 49-34 with 5:20 left.
Sam Houston State recovered the onside kick, and ran out the clock to secure the 15-point win.