EWU advances to FCS final four


Padron and Kaufman re-write EWU and Big Sky record books

Eagles quarterback Kyle Padron has had his share of prolific passing days, but he has never done before what he did vs. Illinois State on Dec. 8, tying the school record by throwing six touchdown passes in a 51-35 victory in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals at Roos Field.

The feat stunned even his own head coach. “You threw six?” Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin said when notified post-game of the Southern Methodist transfer’s accomplishment. “That’s awesome.”

With the victory, EWU moves on to face Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 1 p.m. The Bearkats defeated co-Big Sky Champion Montana State on Dec. 8 34-16 to earn a berth in the FCS final four.

Three of Padron’s six touchdowns went to Brandon Kaufman, who was a record-breaker in his own right, breaking the EWU and Big Sky records for receiving yards in a single season. Kaufman finished with nine receptions for 191 yards, bringing his season total to 1,635. Padron ended the night with 358 passing yards, completing 19 of his 33 attempts and throwing one interception.

“These two guys were just great in terms of their guts and mental toughness,” Baldwin said of his two record-breaking student-athletes. “Both these guys showed it; when the time needed it, when we needed it the most, [they] stepped up and made those type of plays, took shots in the face, broke tackles—whatever they had to do.”

The Eagles scored a touchdown late in the first half to take a 24-17 advantage into halftime, and exploded with touchdowns on two of their first three possessions in the second half to take a seemingly insurmountable 21-point lead.

However, Illinois State would not go away easily. Battle-tested with a 6-0 road record, the Redbirds scored 18 points on their next three possessions to bring the 21-point deficit down to three. Ahead 38-35 and facing a crucial third-and-9 from their own 24-yard line with just over 12 minutes left, the Eagles needed a spark—what they got was that and more.

Deciding to leave Kaufman in single coverage and use extra defenders on a blitz, Illinois State gambled and lost. Padron lofted a pass down the right sideline and Kaufman made a superb individual effort to locate the ball at its highest point, snatch it away from the Redbirds defender and outrun his man on the way to a 74-yard touchdown.

“He is definitely a special receiver—one of the best I have had the opportunity to play with ,” Padron said of Kaufman. “He’s one of those guys that if you put it in his area he will come down with it. “

Kaufman said that  he surprised himself  with his intensity. “I just have a fight that I did not necessarily know that I have,” Kaufman said. I am just working as hard as I can for these seniors. I am working as hard as I can for Nick Edwards, as hard as I can for Greg Herd and as hard as I can for this university. They have given me everything.

“I am just trying to dig deep and give everything I have.”

Led by quarterback Matt Brown, Illinois State was unable to sustain an offensive drive and gave the ball back to Padron and the Eagles. Padron led his second touchdown drive in as many possessions, finding wide receiver Ashton Clark up the right seam for a 10-yard touchdown catch and boosting the Eagles’ lead to 51-35 with 7:42 remaining.

“I am just so proud of the guys for how hard they fought and how they kept responding,” Baldwin said. “When you get down to the final eight in the country, you know there are going to be some highs and lows in a football game. That game had a lot of emotion, momentum swings and things that happened. Our guys found ways to make plays whenever it felt like we were losing the momentum.”

A strange momentum swing to which Baldwin was referring occurred late in the first quarter on an EWU kick return following an Illinois State touchdown that put the Redbirds up 10-7. Redshirt freshman kick returner Shaquille Hill fielded the kick at his 6-yard line and returned it for what appeared to be a 94-yard touchdown. However, upon review the referees determined that Hill dropped the ball just before it crossed the plane of the goal line. Since the referees initially ruled touchdown and blew the play dead, the ball was spotted at the point in which it hit the ground after being dropped, which was the Illinois State one half-yard line.

Instead of scoring a touchdown, the EWU offense was unable to score on first-and-goal from the one-half yard line and settled for a Jimmy Pavel field goal instead, tying the game at 10-10 as opposed to taking a 14-10 lead. Baldwin called it a learning lesson for Hill, and guaranteed he will never do that again.

EWU and Sam Houston State have faced each other one time in their school’s history, with the Bearkats emerging victorious during an FCS quarterfinals game in 2004 in which the Eagles lost a 20-point fourth quarter lead. Former Sam Houston State quarterback Dustin Long threw his third touchdown as time expired to tie the game at 34-34 and kicker Lance Garner kicked the game-winning PAT with no time left on the clock. Sam Houston State went on to lose in the 2004 FCS semifinals to eventual runner-up Montana.

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