Despite 42 second-half points, first-half failures doom Eags
Trailing 35-0 at halftime to Sam Houston State, the Eagles could have easily packed it in for the rest of the game and gone through the motions. It would have almost been understandable considering the way things had gone for EWU in the first 30 minutes, allowing 285 rushing yards to the Bearkats and faltering in seemingly every facet.
Instead, the Eagles came out of the halftime tunnel guns blazing, scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions and closing the once 35-point gap to three points. Unfortunately for EWU, there just was not enough time for a record comeback, and the Sam Houston State Bearkats prevailed 45-42, advancing to their second straight Football Championship Subdivision title game. The Bearkats will take on North Dakota State in a rematch of last year’s championship game on Jan. 5, 2013.
“We’re not into moral victories, no matter who we’re playing,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said, “But I was just really, really, really proud of our guys.”
Baldwin said that this defeat is most painful for the seniors. “It hurts to lose but it hurts even more because they’ve meant so much to this program,” he said.
Redshirt freshman Vernon Adams, inserted into the game on EWU’s seventh offensive possession in place of Kyle Padron, tied a school record by throwing six touchdown passes. All six came in the second half in a span on seven drives, a dizzying flurry of points that was in stark contrast to the shutout pitched by the Bearkats in the first half. Baldwin said that what Adams was able to accomplish was extremely impressive but not shocking. “To see him out there doing it was awesome to see, but also not shocking at all,” Baldwin said, “because we have high expectations and I know how great of a quarterback he is.”
Adams finished the game 14-of-26 for 364 yards while throwing two interceptions as well as the six touchdown passes. One interception came in the first half, while the other came during the only possession of the second half in which the Eagles’ offense did not score a touchdown.
All-American wide receiver Brandon Kaufman caught three of Adams’ six touchdown passes, and in the process because the all-time single-season leader for receiving yards in FCS history. Kaufman’s first touchdown reception, a 22-yard strike that closed the gap to 35-14, gave Kaufman 1,714 receiving yards on the 2012 season, surpassing the previous record of 1,712 previously held by Eddie Conti of Delaware in 1998. Kaufman finished with nine receptions for 215 yards and the aforementioned three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 93 receptions, 1,850 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played with,” Adams said of Kaufman.
In three playoff games this year, Kaufman played the best football of his career, catching 28 passes for 600 yards and six touchdowns. Future NFL hall-of-famer Randy Moss owns the record for most receiving yards in a single postseason with 636, set during Marshall’s 1996 championship season. Moss set the record in four games, while Kaufman achieved his yardage total in just three.
The Bearkats, utilizing a triple-option attack, ran for a staggering 459 yards and four touchdowns on 65 attempts. Junior running back Tim Flanders was responsible for 231 of those yards, including a five-yard carry on third-and-3 with less than a minute left that iced the game for Sam Houston State.
One week after throwing six touchdowns in a 51-35 victory over Illinois State in the FCS quarterfinals, Padron was replaced by Adams after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown and not being able to generate any points on his first six offensive drives. A redshirt junior, Padron will be back with the Eagles next year as a senior and battling with Adams for the starting position.
Junior wide receiver Ashton Clark was the second-leading Eagles receiver, catching five passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Senior Greg Herd, playing in his last game as an Eagle, caught four passes for 88 yards and one score.
Defensively, senior linebacker Zach Johnson led the Eagles with 12 tackles and one tackle for loss. Defensive end Jakob Pugsley recorded EWU’s only sack of the game—it was just the sixth time an opponent has sacked a Sam Houston State QB this season.
This loss marks the first time that the Eagles have lost a playoff game on the red turf. They are now 5-1 in playoff games and 17-3 all-time at The Inferno.
Had EWU been able to complete the improbable comeback, it would have tied the FCS all-time record for largest come-from-behind victory, set by Nevada in 1999 when they rallied from a 49-14 deficit in the third quarter to defeat Weber State 55-49.