Overcoming an abysmal second quarter in which the offense and defense were as cold as the 30 degree gametime temperature, the Eagles clinched a perfect 5-0 regular season home record as they defeated UC Davis 31-28 at Roos Field on Nov. 10.
Redshirt junior David Gaylord sealed the victory on senior night by blocking a 52-yard field goal with 41 seconds left.
The No. 5 ranked Eagles moved to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Sky Conference. Their win, paired with an in-conference loss by previously unscathed Northern Arizona to Southern Utah, places EWU in a four-way tie for first place in the conference with Northern Arizona, Cal Poly and Montana State.
Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams and the offense started hot, scoring touchdowns on their first and third possessions of the game and taking a 14-3 lead with 3:46 remaining in the first quarter. Demitrius Bronson scored on rushes of 13 yards and one yard, and the Eagles had outgained the Aggies 156-41 in total yardage. UC Davis punted for the third time in their first four possessions, and it looked like the Eagles were poised to put the game away early. However, that turned out to be anything but the case.
The Aggies scored touchdowns on their next three possessions, moving the ball at will against a tired Eagles defense that was not helped by their struggling counterparts on offense. UC Davis quarterback Randy Wright found a wide open Corey Galindo behind the Eagles’ defense for the Aggies’ first touchdown of the game, a 72-yard strike, that made it 14-11 after a successful two-point conversion. After an Eagles’ three-and-out, the Aggies marched down the field on a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive led by sophomore fullback Dalton Turay, who rushed for a one-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 and carried the ball five times on the drive.
Following a five-play, 15-yard drive that kept the defense on the sidelines for only one minute and 40 seconds, the Eagles punted yet again and the Aggies embarked on their most impressive drive of the night. Starting at their own 21-yard line with 5:56 remaining in the first half, the Aggies used up all but eight seconds of clock on a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, demoralizing the Eagles defense and the home crowd. Turay was once again the recipient of a goal line handoff, and he plowed into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line to give UC Davis an 11-point lead as the two teams went to halftime.
In the locker room at halftime, the Eagles were presented by the cold hard facts from coach Beau Baldwin.
“He just presented us with the truth,” quarterback Kyle Padron said. “We were getting hit in the mouth and, you know, we had to respond to it. I think we did. We came out very competitive in the second half. It was just a good way to send these seniors off.
Padron was inserted at quarterback to start the second half in place of Vernon Adams to help spark the offense, and the move paid off. Padron led the Eagles on consecutive scoring drives, the first culminating in a Jimmy Pavel 45-yard field goal and the second ending with a 51-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Greg Herd, who caught the ball in between two UC Davis defenders and ran 35 yards for the score.
Herd’s touchdown pass pulled the Eagles to within four points of the Aggies, and the offense’s ability to sustain drives allowed the defense to collect their respective breath and impose its will on UC Davis. Backup defensive lineman Jakob Pugsley made his presence felt with a sack and tackle for loss on consecutive plays, and UC Davis punted for the first time since late in the first quarter.
The Eagles then went three-and-out, and coach Baldwin re-inserted Adams into the game. Baldwin said it was valuable for Adams to sit on the sideline for a few drives and watch the game from a different perspective.
“Sometimes, as a young quarterback especially, when you get to watch the game from the sidelines you can start to see things that you didn’t see early on,” Baldwin said. “Vernon came back in with some energy. I am just trying to listen to my gut.”
Baldwin added, “It’s not always right, but if I don’t go with my gut what am I going to listen to?”
Baldwin’s move did not immediately pay off, as Adams could only lead the offense on a four-play, 16-yard drive before being forced to punt. The invigorated defense, which held the Aggies to only three second half points, forced a punt and allowed Adams another chance to take the lead.
Starting at their own 34-yard line, the Eagles offense moved quickly down the field, requiring only 92 seconds on five plays to score the go-ahead touchdown, a nifty nine yard scramble from Adams, showcasing his athleticism and agility. Surprisingly, the score was Adams’ first touchdown run of the season. He now has 15 total touchdowns on the season; one on the ground and 14 through the air. The drive featured completions to Brandon Kaufman of 23 and 24 yards, 47 of his 109 receiving yards on the night.
Three plays into UC Davis’ next drive, Wright tried to fit the ball into a tight window but overthrew his intended receiver and was intercepted by Jordan Tonani, filling in at safety for an injured Jeff Minnerly. Tonani said the defense’s improved performance in the second half came down to effort.
“We did some things with their passing game, just little tweaks here and there that helped, but really it was just heart,” Tonani said. “We came out real flat [in the first half]. The coaches didn’t have to say much.”
The Eagles looked to put the game away coming off of the turnover, and Adams hit Herd in stride streaking down the left sideline with a picture-perfect pass. Unfortunately, Herd let the ball get into his body and was unable to make the catch. EWU was forced to punt, and Jimmy Pavel hit a rugby-style punt to perfection, with the ball finally coming to rest at the UC Davis 2-yard line.
With 5:58 remaining and down by three points, the Aggies were able to matriculate the ball down the field to the EWU 34-yard line until Wright threw three straight incompletions, the last with less than a minute left in the game. The Aggies were forced to make a difficult decision: attempt a 52-yard field goal in freezing weather or go for it on fourth-and-long. Aggies’ head coach Bob Biggs chose the former, and kicker Brady Stuart ripped a low, line-drive kick that was batted down by Gaylor and recovered by sack-artist Jerry Ceja.
After the game, Baldwin talked about the importance of getting a win for these seniors and how much they have accomplished for the program.
“Those guys helped pave the way,” Baldwin said. “I joked about the fact that every one of those guys at one time was playing on a grass field. It wasn’t that long ago—a grass field, sometimes sloppy, with a small scoreboard and all this stuff.
“All of a sudden, look where we are.”