The Bobcat football team faced off against the undefeated, Big Sky Conference leaders, Eastern Washington Eagles on Oct. 22. The Eagles are ranked third in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). After last week’s loss against Weber State, where the Bobcats gave up 14 points within the first two minutes, the Cats looked to turn things around with the chance redeem themselves against their toughest opponent of the season.
The Bobcats started the game with a quick strike to sophomore Connor Sullivan for 53 yards to put MSU up 7-0. Eastern Washington started with an impressive drive as well, with star quarterback Gabe Gubrud completing six of six passes, taking the Eagles down the field 70 yards for the score. The Cats immediately responded with freshman Chris Murray running the ball 70 yards for the score to put the Bobcats up 14-7. However, Eastern Washington once again reminded the Bobcats that they were playing against the number one offense in the conference.
The Eagles’ passing offense proved too much for the Bobcats all game long. In the end they were able to put up 596 yards of total offense with 520 coming from the air. Gubrud ran a pro-style offense that used a wide variety of formations, putting the Bobcat defense in a tough position.
In order to combat the three All-American wide-receivers from Eastern, the Bobcats switched to zone defense, moving away from their typical man-to-man coverage, in hopes of limiting the amount of long pass completions. The Cats also used more dime packages with six defensive backs, one linebacker and four defensive linemen. This package was used in long yardage situations and was effective in coverage. However, the defensive line was unable to put pressure on the quarterback.
“[Gubrud] was able to extend a lot of plays. I felt like we had good coverage, but I don’t even think Deion [Sanders] could cover nobody for 10 seconds like that,” Bobcat cornerback John Walker said. “It makes it very tough. You just try to plaster, but it’s hard to do that.”
After the first two touchdowns by both teams in the first quarter the Bobcats were able to keep the Eagles in check. They even took the lead in the beginning of the second quarter through a 40-yard field goal by freshman Gabe Peppenger to make it 17-14. But it was the last time the Cats scored as mistakes piled up against them.
With less than three minutes left in the second quarter, Murray and senior Gunner Brekke had a miscue on a hand off resulting in a fumble recovered by the Eagles. “It was a bad mesh. I told [Murray], ‘That one’s on me,’” Brekke said. “I think it’s easy for everyone to point the finger at him, but at some point I just had to take it and I didn’t make that decision, so I put that one 100 percent on me.”
The fumble could not have come at a worse time or position on the field, as the high-powered Eastern Washington offense took over at the Bobcats’ 16-yard line and scored quickly. The Eagles would again get the ball back after the Bobcats went three-and-out on their next drive, leaving just enough time on the clock left to kick a field goal, taking the lead 24-17 at halftime.
In the second half, Gubrud consistently converted third down possessions using short yardage to break the Bobcat defense. “We allowed them to catch some things underneath which was by design in our game plan, but we could have done a better job of rallying and making tackles.” Bobcat Head Coach Jeff Choate said. “We gave them a lot of yards after the catch. By design we tried to take away the vertical passing game and make them earn it.”
Gubrud completed 37 passes on 51 attempts for 520 yards and four touchdowns. Cooper Kupp led Eagles’ wide receivers with 154 yards, 13 receptions and a touchdown. Fellow Eagle receiver Shaq Hill also had seven receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown.
Eastern Washington finished off the Bobcats 41-17 for their fifth victory of the season. The Eagles will continue their pursuit of a Conference Championship next week against University of Montana, meanwhile, the Bobcats have a bye week. The Cats will face off against Southern Utah University on Nov. 5 at 12 p.m. The game will air on Cowles-Media Montana.