When Eastern Washington linebacker Ketner Kupp ran back a 95-yard interception return in the closing minutes of the Eagles’ 42-21 dispatching of Nicholls State on Saturday, it was a familiar sight.
The hard-hitting senior rumbling almost the length of the red carpet – even running along the goal line to burn the clock – was rare, but not the manner in which he scored.
This was the latest defensive touchdown for EWU, which leads the country in that category.
Of the Eagles’ six defensive scores this season, most have been game-changers, often sparking a slow-starting offense and inciting an eventual rout.
EWU quarterback Eric Barriere, whose offense managed just three first-half points against Nicholls State in a FCS second-round game in Cheney, said he felt the momentum shift.
“There’s just something about the defense making plays that sets the whole mood,” Barriere said. “Everybody starts getting turned up. From there, we just let it all loose.”
Third-seeded EWU (10-2), which plays host to sixth-seeded UC Davis (10-2) on Saturday at Roos Field in the FCS quarterfinals, was sparked by Kedrick Johnson’s 55-yard scoop and score in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
The Eagles scored 39 unanswered points.
“It’s a game changer, really,” EWU safety Dehonta Hayes said of defensive touchdowns. “The start of our last game, we were really lackadaisical, a little bit slow. As soon as we got that field-goal block for a touchdown, it changed the whole momentum of the game.”
When EWU faced UC Davis at Roos Field in the first meeting on Nov. 10 in a key Big Sky Conference game, the Aggies trailed 21-17 to start the second half.
On UC Davis’ first drive of the third quarter, standout quarterback Jake Maier looked to put the Aggies back on top, but EWU cornerback Nzuzi Webster’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Eagles a bigger cushion.
In a 70-17 thrashing of Cal Poly in September, EWU trailed 3-0 late in the first quarter before rover Cole Karstetter’s 38-yard scoop-and-score. Eagles defensive end Jim Townsend ended the first half with a 62-yard fumble return touchdown.
Townsend’s touchdown has made him one of 18 candidates for the SBNation.com’s popular “Piesman Trophy,” awarded to a college offensive or defensive lineman who makes the most athletic, “unlineman-like” play.
“Defensive touchdowns can really be a blessing,” said Hayes, whose defense allowed just 16.9 points in conference play. “Because without them, sometimes we might not be able to out of the hole we’re in.”
for Fred Mitchell Award
EWU kicker and punter Roldan Alcobendas is one of 10 finalists for the Fred Mitchell Award, given to the top place kicker at the FCS, NCAA II, NCAA III, NAIA and NJCAA levels.
The first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection is 15 for 15 on field goals this season and ranks first in the FCS in kick scoring (9.4 points per game).
Alcobendas, EWU’s all-time leader in kicking points (304 points), also averages 45.8 yards a punt. He recorded EWU’s record for longest punt (78 yards) against Weber State.
The winner of the award will be announced Monday.
Mitchell gets NFL workout
Weeks after winning his second Grey Cup, Canadian Football League star and ex-EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell will get a workout with the Minnesota Vikings, according to The Sports Network.
Mitchell, who was twice named the CFL’s MVP with the Calgary Stampeders, will work out with the Vikings on Wednesday, TSN reported.
Mitchell, who won the Walter Payton Award and led EWU to a FCS national title in 2010, passed for 5,124 passing yards and 35 touchdowns this past season.
Former CFL and NFL starting quarterback Jeff Garcia told Canadian media earlier this year that Mitchell could thrive in the right NFL system.
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