When Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin needed the best from his football team, they responded, just like they have done all season long.
Leading 22-19 with 11:29 remaining, the Eagles looked for a time-consuming touchdown drive to generate a two-possession lead and put their second-round playoff game vs. Wagner on ice. Quarterback Kyle Padron, who started for the first time since a Sept. 8 24-20 loss at Washington State, led the offense on a 15-play drive that took nearly seven and a half minutes off the clock, culminating in a two-yard touchdown run by Demitrius Bronson. It was Bronson’s second score of the game.
“He just said, ‘Let’s go score,’” said Padron of his head coach. “It wasn’t anything magical—that’s just how coach Baldwin is.”
Wagner, winners of nine straight games coming into the game at Roos Field on Dec. 1, were forced to resort to throwing the ball to try to catch up and score quickly, but ended up turning the ball over on consecutive possessions, allowing the Eagles to take a knee and finish with a 29-19 victory.
EWU, now 10-2 on the season, will host Illinois State on Saturday Dec. 8 at 3 PM in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals. The No. 15 Redbirds took down No. 6 Appalachian State on Dec. 1 in a 38-37 overtime victory to advance.
Padron completed eight of his 10 attempts on the drive, including four third down conversion throws. He finished with 26 completions on 36 attempts for 327 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I’m extremely happy for him,” Baldwin said. “He deserves it. He’s just great people.
“I’ve had respect for him like no other player I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some players that I’d had a ton of respect for.”
After opening the season as the starting quarterback, Padron was replaced by redshirt freshman Vernon Adams, who started the team’s final 10 regular season games. The Eagles won nine of those games, with both quarterbacks received substantial playing time. Baldwin said there was not any one main factor that influenced his position to go with Padron as the starting quarterback vs. Wagner.
Padron was notified “about halfway during the week” that he would be the starter vs. Wagner. Baldwin did not say who would start at quarterback on Dec. 8 vs. Illinois State.
“Whether it’s me or Vern or whoever is out there, our job is to get the ball to these guys [the receivers] and let them do work and get the yards after the catch,” Padron said. “They make our job a little bit easier.”
Padron got the ball to junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman 10 times for 174 yards, giving Kaufman 1,444 receiving yards on the season, just nine yards short of the single-season record of 1,453 held by Eric Kimble and set during the 2004 season. Kaufman’s 174 receiving yards were the second-most he has had in a single game in his career, while his 10 catches tied a career-high.
“We knew that the middle of the field would be open more,” Kaufman said. “They tried to stop the run and they’re real big-bodied in the middle so we knew there would be some holes in the middle of the field.”
Baldwin said Kaufman plays his best when it means the most. “Like a lot of our guys—and you’ve seen it over the years—in those crunch time moments he just has it—he has it,” Baldwin said. “The lights are on and it’s time to make a huge play. He will make it time in and time out.”
Wagner head coach Walt Hameline was similarly impressed with Kaufman’s performance. “Coming in we knew all of them were good receivers, but he is a heck of a receiver,” Hameline said. “He just made plays and it comes down to that in a game when you look back.
“Players have to make plays and he made a ton of them.”
Defensively the Eagles were spurred by undersized defensive end Jerry Ceja, who sacked Seahawks senior quarterback Nick Boscher twice and added three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries, as well as a blocked field goal attempt. Linebacker Zach Johnson led the team in tackles with 11 and added two tackles for loss.
Wagner managed to convert just five of their 14 third-down attempts, which helped led to field goal tries instead of touchdowns. “Probably the biggest difference in this game was our red-zone defense,” Baldwin said. Wagner scored on four of their five red-zone chances, but those four scores went for only 16 points. The Eagles scored at a lesser rate in the red-zone—three for five—but their three scores were touchdowns. The Seahawks kicked field goals of 46, 21, 29 and 32 yards, and had another attempt blocked from 41 yards.
EWU’s upcoming opponent, the Illinois State Redbirds, improved their record to 9-3 after defeating Appalachian State 38-37 behind quarterback Matt Brown and his career-high tying five passing touchdowns. The win was their sixth in six tries on the road this season.