Courtesy: Montana Sports Information
There is something about that red turf. The Eastern Washington Eagles defeated Montana 35-16 Saturday afternoon to remain undefeated against the Grizzlies while playing on the red turn at Roos Field, which went into place in 2010.
A flurry of huge passing plays and three touchdowns from the best receiver in FCS history sealed the home win for the Eagles, who were outgained by 85 yards but scored five touchdowns in six drives in the victory.
Cooper Kupp caught eight passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns, and also added a long pass on a trick play for 54 yards that helped set up the second touchdown.
"You don't want to see him making great plays against you, but you appreciate the talent," Montana head coach Bob Stitt said.
Montana (5-3/2-3 BSC) moved the ball well early on in drives, but lacked the finishing touch to say in the game. The Griz drove into Eagles territory nine times, but failed to put any points on the board in six of those occasions.
A couple of interceptions by Brady Gustafson, both of which occurred near midfield, and a turnover of downs in the first half also brought an early end to some drives.
"We had some things early to keep this thing somewhat close and we just didn't execute those things when we had them," Stitt said.
After holding the Eagles to just one first down on the opening drive, the Griz linked together short passes to move to the 50-yard line, where Stitt dialed up a trick play. Keenan Curran caught a backwards pass from Gustafson and looked for another pass to Justin Calhoun, but it was blocked at the line and the Griz would be forced to punt.
The Griz D held strong on the next possession, forcing the Eagles to punt from the back of their own endzone. John Nguyen turned a short punt into a 16-yard return to set the Griz up at the Eagles' 23-yard line.
Jerry Louie-McGee made his first reception on a seven-yard gain, setting up the first score of the game. Gustafson found Collin Bingham over the middle for a 16-yard score.
Eastern's Shaq Hill returned the following kickoff 43 yards and nearly into Montana territory, but the Griz forced another three-and-out. The Griz then slowly built up a drive, picking up a couple of third and longs, including an acrobatic sideline catch from Louie-McGee, to move into Eagle territory. Tim Semenza couldn't connect on a 48-yard field goal, giving the ball back to the Eagles at their own 31.
A man who already possesses many FCS records, Cooper Kupp added another with a 69-yard score two plays into the drive. It was a record 46th straight game with a touchdown for Kupp.
On the first possession of the second quarter, the Griz moved deep into Eastern territory again, but a dropped pass on fourth down gave the ball back to the Eagles.
Kupp proved he's not just a great receiver on the next drive, getting the ball on a double-reverse and throwing a 54-yard completion back to his quarterback Gabe Gubrud. Tamarick Pierce scored on a two-yard run on the next play to put Eastern ahead 14-7.
Montana received good starting field position a couple drives later after Gubrud, Eastern's quarterback, shanked a punt for just five yards. Gustafson threw an interception after taking a big hit on the second play of Montana's drive.
Once again, the Eagles used a big play to set up an easy touchdown on the next drive. A 40-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne set up the Eagles inside the 10, where Kupp would haul in his second score of the game on a fade route.
Montana received the ball back on their own nine-yard line with just over 3:30 left in the half, needing a score to get back to a one-possession game. A huge 65-yard run by Jeremy Calhoungave Montana the ball inside the red zone. The Griz couldn't break the goal line, but Semenza hit a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the half, cutting the Eastern lead to 21-10.
On the first drive of the second half, Montana again moved into Eastern territory but failed to put any points on the board. Eric Williams pinned the Eagles back on their own 10-yard line, but the home team's offense couldn't be stopped.
Gubrud and company quickly moved into Montana territory before a third touchdown reception from Kupp, this time from 40-yards out, gave the Eagles a 28-10 lead.
After a Montana three-and-out, the Eagles again used a long pass play, this time a 32-yard strike to Bourne, to move into the red zone. Hill caught a 13-yard touchdown on a slant from Gubrud.
Gustafson threw his second interception of the game on the Grizzlies' next drive, with Alek Kacmarcik making a one-handed grab and returning it 46-yards. Eastern went for a score on the next play, but J.R. Nelson deflected the pass, then tipped it to Yamen Sanders who came down with the interception in the end zone.
The defensive highlight sparked the offense, who drove 80 yards in just three plays and Gustafson found Keenan Curran for a 47-yard score down the left sideline.
Montana's defense still couldn't find an answer for the long pass, this time getting a 38-yard completion to Bourne to move into the red zone once again. The Grizzly defense made another big play, with Justin Strong rising up for an interception on the one-yard line to give the ball back to the Grizzlies.
The offense couldn't get rolling, and Eastern kept the ball on the ground for most of the fourth quarter as neither team scored in the final period, sealing the 35-16 win for the hosts.
The three leading receivers in the Big Sky Conference all play for Eastern (Kupp, Hill and Bourne), and the trio combined for 15 catches, 289 yards and four scores. The Griz had a balanced effort from the receivers with five different players catching at least five passes, but a couple of missed plays cost Montana.
"We had some chances to catch some balls that were up in the air and we needed to go get them. They did it, we didn't," Stitt said. "They have some nice upper-classmen receivers and their quarterback did a nice job of throwing it up and letting them go get it."
The game cost Montana more than just their third loss of the season. Jeremy Calhoun and Josh Horner both finished the game on the sidelines after sustaining injuries.
"You just worry about their health," Stitt said. "You hate to see one of your guys go down and be injured. We've got guys that can back them up, the football part is fine you just worry about the kids."
Montana dropped its third consecutive road contest and have now allowed at least 35 points in back-to-back games.
"We know what's ahead of us, we know what we have to do, now we just have to go back into the film room and execute," senior Caleb Kidder said. "We have to look at this week and last week and get better."
The Griz return home next week to take on Idaho State in a game that will be critical to getting the playoff push back on track.
"You've got another week, that's football," Stitt said. "You get prepared and get ready to go back home and get a win and start feeling good about yourself again. We've got a lot of football left, and like I've always said, you want to be playing your best football at the end of the season."