Eagles Lose To Towson Late In FCS Semifinal - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles Lose To Towson Late In FCS Semifinal

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by EWU Athletics Media Relations

In a game of inches and momentum, Towson won early and late.

A fast start and fast finish was enough for the Tigers as they rallied from 10 points behind in the fourth quarter to stun Eastern Washington University in the semifinals in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs Saturday, Dec. 21, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles had scored 31-straight points, including 24 in another dominating third quarter performance. But Towson, which went scoreless for 29:19 in the game, used touchdown drives of 75 and 71 yards in the final 5:09 to overcome a 31-21 Eagle lead.

Towson, now 13-2 after winning its 12th-straight road game, advances to the NCAA Division I Championship Game against North Dakota State on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 11 a.m. Pacific time at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The season ended for the Eagles at 13-2, as well as the team’s 10-game winning streak.

The game was punctuated by near-misses throughout by the Eagles. In the first quarter alone, Eastern nearly recovered two early Towson fumbles, and had lost one of its own fumbles at the Towson 12-yard line. But once the Eagle offense got untracked, it was nearly unstoppable until the end. Eastern finished with a 580-483 advantage in total offense, including a 206-19 advantage in the third quarter.

Eastern failed on a fourth-and-2 play at the Towson 29-yard line with 3:34 left, which set the stage for the game-winning drive. On the fourth down play, a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Vernon Adams was just off the fingertips of wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams had the fifth-best passing performance in his career – and 12th with at least 300 yards -- with 390 yards on 28-of-42 passing. He had a pair of touchdown passes, finishing with 55 in 2013 to rank second in FCS history behind the record of 56 shared by Willie Totten (Mississippi Valley 1984) and Bruce Eugene (Grambling 2005).

Senior Ashton Clark had eight catches for 129 yards and Kupp, the Jerry Rice Award winner as the top freshman n FCS, had eight for 124 yards. Quincy Forte added 77 yards on the ground.

Kupp, who had caught at least one touchdown pass in each of his first 14 games as an Eagle, did not have a TD pass against Towson. But with 1,691 yards for the season, he moved from 13th to fourth in FCS history. The FCS, Big Sky and school records are 1,850 set by Eastern’s Brandon Kaufman in 2013.

Kupp owns the FCS record for receiving yards by a freshman, as well as for receptions (93) and touchdown catches (21 to rank fourth in FCS history).

The Eagle defense did a splendid job against FCS rushing and scoring leader Terrance West, who broke the single season FCS rushing yardage record early in the game. He finished with 115 yards against EWU, giving him 2,410 yards for the season and breaking the FCS record of 2,326 yards set by Jamal Branch of Colgate in 2003.

The final two touchdowns Towson scored were the first EWU allowed in the second half of three playoff games. Up until that point, EWU had out-scored opponents 65-6 in the second half in three playoff games (24-0 versus Towson, 14-3 vs. Jacksonville State, 27-3 vs. South Dakota State).

Linebacker Cody McCarthy led the Eagles with 13 tackles, and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and safety Todd Raynes each had 11.

The Eagles fell behind early 21-0 as they went scoreless in the first quarter for only the third time this season. Eastern finally got on the board in the second quarter with a 67-yard drive on six plays, ended with an 8-yard TD pass from Adams to Forte.

Eastern exploded in the third quarter, with touchdown drives of 67 and 92 yards, and another 86-yard drive that led to a 22-yard field goal by Kevin Miller. Forte scored the first touchdown with a 7-yard run, then Mario Brown scored from 3 yards out to give EWU its first lead of the day at 24-21 with 28 seconds left in the quarter.

The Eagle defense did its part too, and the Eagles out-gained Towson 206-19 in the third period.

Eastern had a 179-53 advantage in the third quarter this season, including a dominating 130-9 margin in the last eight games. In those eight games, EWU allowed only third-quarter field goals to Idaho State on Nov. 2, South Dakota State on Dec. 7 and Jacksonville State on Dec. 14. Eastern didn’t allow a third-quarter touchdown since Oct. 12 versus North Dakota. Eastern outscored its opponent in the third quarter in 12 of 15 games, including the last 11. During EWU’s 10-game winning streak, the Eagles had a 141-17 advantage in the third.

Towson had out-scored opponents 144-34 in the third quarter this season entering the game, thus, the Eagles scored half as many points as the total the Tigers had allowed in their first 14 games.

An 82-yard TD drive to open the fourth quarter gave the Eagles a 31-21 advantage with 11:55 to play when Adams found Cory Mitchell for a 13-yard TD.

It was EWU’s first-ever meeting with Towson, and Towson’s first-ever meeting against a team from the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles were previously 2-0 against CAA Football, and are 12-2 this season with a 10-game winning streak.

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