Eastern earns automatic bid to FCS playoffs
EWU quarterback Kyle Padron picked a pretty good day to have his most prolific performance as an Eagle.
Despite an abysmal day running the football that saw the Eagles carry the ball 28 times for zero net yards, Padron was able to complete 26 of his 38 passing attempts for 381 yards and two touchdowns, leading his team to a 41-34 victory over the Portland State Vikings on Nov. 17 and a share of the Big Sky Championship.
Also recognized as Big Sky champions are Montana State and Cal Poly. However, Eastern gained the Big Sky’s automatic bid into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs because of tiebreaker rules.
“It feels great,” said head coach Beau Baldwin. “Big Sky Conference championships are hard to come by and I told our team that. Sometimes you forget how special it is to go out and win a Big Sky title because you are two years removed from a national title.”
The Eagles finished the regular season with a 9-2 overall record and 7-1 in the conference. Baldwin started redshirt freshman Vernon Adams at quarterback for the ninth straight game, but handed the reigns to Padron after the Eagles started the game with three fruitless possessions.
Padron played every offensive snap for the rest of the game, and capped off his night by leading the Eagles on an eight-play, 94-yard scoring drive with 1:25 remaining.
“Kyle was a stud,” Baldwin said of the Southlake, Tex., native. “I knew there was a chance he could play a little more in this game based on certain things they were doing. It’s a unique situation being able to pay guys based on a match-up. It worked out and he played really well. The receivers made plays.”
“We dialed up the right protections to give him time, and when all was said and done, we made enough plays to win,” Baldwin said.
Padron rushed for two touchdowns, along with Eagles running back Demitrius Bronson who rushed for two touchdowns as well. The lack of yardage on the ground was not anything new to the Eagles, who rushed for negative one yards in their 43-26 loss to Portland State a year ago.
The Eagles’ inability to get on the scoreboard early resulted in a 13-0 deficit before the end of the first quarter, but EWU responded with two touchdown drives in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 14-13 lead at the break. EWU received the second-half kickoff and was looking to build upon their one-point halftime lead, but proceeded to punt on their next three possessions.
The Vikings, meanwhile, scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half and again took a double-digit lead, holding a 26-14 advantage with 6:23 remaining in the third quarter. Baldwin noted that the Vikings played a tough game versus the Eagles.
“It was just tough,” said Baldwin. “I give Portland State a lot of credit. We know coming in they could score points, and their defensive front was good too. We tried to establish a running game, but it was a struggle. We just felt like there were some things we could do in the passing game, and we were able to do that.”
The Eagles’ passing game of which Baldwin spoke was most effective when targeting the super-productive trio of Brandon Kaufman, Greg Herd and Nicholas Edwards, who combined for 20 receptions, 346 yards and two touchdowns.
EWU will be awaiting the Football Championship Subdivision selection show on Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m., when the Eagles will find out their playoff fate. The playoff selection show will air on ESPNU.
“We have a pretty strong resume,” Baldwin said. “We were 9-2 in 2010, but one of those was a NCAA Division I win over Central Washington. We are 9-2 this year with all of our wins against Division I teams, including a FBS school. But we don’t control that. We’ll find out our opponent and play that game.”