The unbeaten versus the winless is never as easy as it might look.
On another record-breaking day for Cooper Kupp and Gage Gubrud, Montana State scored 17 points on its first three possessions of the game to take an early lead, but the third-ranked Eastern Washington University football team scored 27 unanswered to hold off MSU 41-17 Saturday (Oct. 22) at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.
Kupp added two more records to his resume with the fifth-most catches in school history and his 27th career performance of at least 100 receiving yards. The reigning FCS Offensive Player of the Year caught 13 for 154 yards and a touchdown. He equaled the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record for consecutive games with a catch, having caught at least one in all 45 of his career games. He also broke the school record for career all-purpose yards to move into seventh in Big Sky Conference history.
Coming off a bye week, Eastern finished with 596 yards of offense as sophomore Gage Gubrud passed for a school-record 520 and four touchdowns. He rushed for another 18, giving him 538 yards of total offense to rank second behind the school-record 551 he had to open the season against Washington State. He now has six of the top 11 performance in school history in his first seven starts as an Eagle.
The Eagles entered the game with the top passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and the second-highest scoring team. Gubrud entered as the FCS leader in passing yards and total offense.
Eastern's defense surrendered 17 points in the first 16:03 of the game, but MSU didn't score again in the final 43:57. Eastern forced five turnovers and had none themselves – the 35th-straight game EWU has won when it has also won the turnover battle.
"Montana State dialed up some things early, they were executing and they made some plays early, but our defense settled in," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "Our offense would get going and sputter in spots, but our defense kept getting stops and turnovers throughout the rest of the game.
Eastern held MSU to 349 yards, and had a 421-152 advantage after the first quarter.
"We're proud whenever we go on the road and find a way to win against a very good team at a tough place to play," added Baldwin. "You know that's special and we had to work for it."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Playing its first game since Oct. 8, Eastern is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Sky Conference, and the Bobcats are 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the league under first-year head coach Jeff Choate. The Bobcats were coming off a 45-27 loss at Weber State, but in their previous four losses the Bobcats had lost by a combined 14 points.
* The EWU-MSU game was the first meeting in seven meetings that both teams were not nationally-ranked, but the seventh-straight year EWU has. The last time both teams did not enter the game ranked, neither squad was. Interestingly, that 35-24 victory on Oct. 24, 2009, started a current stretch in which EWU has won 47 of 56 Big Sky Conference games (84 percent).
What It Means . . .
* The victory sets up a potential top-10 FCS matchup with Montana next week in Cheney. Eastern received 17 first-place votes and jumped up a spot to third in this week's STATS FCS Top 25 poll after North Dakota State lost at home to South Dakota State. Eastern jumped two spots to third in the coaches poll, aided by the NDSU defeat and a loss by previously fourth-ranked Chattanooga. Sam Houston State is now No. 1 in both polls. In the Athlon Power Rankings, the Eagles remained No. 2, with North Dakota State retaining the top spot despite its loss. Montana, which defeated EWU 57-16 a year ago, enters its game today against Northern Arizona ranked 10th in both polls.
What's Next . . .
* Montana, a perennial playoff participant and Big Sky title contender, will visit Cheney on Oct. 29 in a rematch of last year's 57-16 romp over EWU in Missoula. After a road game at Cal Poly on Nov. 5, the Eagles will have Senior Day on Nov. 12 against Idaho State. Eastern closes the regular season Nov. 18 (Friday) at Portland State, which joined Montana as runner-up in the league last season and advanced to the playoffs.
Keys to Game . . .
* EWU won the turnover battle 5-0, including a fumble forced by senior Samson Ebukam and fumble recoveries by senior J.J. Njoku and junior D'londo Tucker. Eastern also had an interception by senior safety Zach Bruce – his third of the season and fifth of his career, and picks in the fourth quarter by Victor Gamboa and Jake Hoffman. In eight-plus seasons (2008-present) under head coach Beau Baldwin, the Eagles are 44-1 when they've won the turnover battle, 19-5 when they've been tied and 16-25 when they've lost (total of 79-31). The last time EWU lost when it won the turnover battle came in the 2009 FCS Playoffs at Stephen F. Austin when EWU had two miscues and forced four in the 44-33 loss. Thus, EWU is 35-0 since 2010 when they've won the turnover battle, 16-4 when they've been tied and 14-18 when they've lost.
Turning Point . . .
* After falling behind 17-14 in the second quarter, the first turnover of the game was a fumbled exchange by the Bobcats that was recovered in the air by EWU's J.J. Njoku at the MSU 16-yard line. A 9-yard touchdown run by Antoine Custer Jr., gave EWU a 21-17 advantage and started a 27-0 scoring run, including a 48-yard field goal Roldan Alcobendas that gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead at halftime. Eastern added a 1-yard touchdown reception by Jayce Gilder in the third quarter on a 65-yard drive to take a 31-17 advantage into the final period.
Top Performers . . .
* Sophomore Gage Gubrud completed 37-of-51 passes for 520 yards, breaking the previous school record of 491 set by teammate Jordan West in 2015 versus Sacramento State. Gubrud had touchdown passes to four different receivers.
* Cooper Kupp had 13 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown, giving him four of the top five performances in school history. He also has had catch totals of 20 (school record), 15 and 14 in his career, with Aaron Boyce the previous record holder with 17 against Montana in 2007. Kupp has now scored 66 total touchdowns and his career (plus two passing), and has had a TD in 37 of 45 career games.
* Senior Shaq Hill caught seven passes for 147 yards a TD, giving him eight 100-yard performances in his career and three this season (second-straight). He caught four passes for a career-high 172 yards and three touchdowns in EWU's 54-29 win over the Bobcats in 2013.
* Sophomore linebacker Alek Kacmarcik and senior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora each had a team-leading six tackles and a sack for EWU. Zamora now has 311 career tackles, just two from moving into the No. 9 position in school history.
Key Stats . . .
* With 596 yards of total offense, Eastern had the 22nd-most in school history and its fourth performance this season with at least that many. Eastern held MSU to 349, and had a 421-152 advantage after the first quarter.
* Eastern entered the game ranked second in FCS in total offense with an average of 565.2 yards per game, trailing only Sam Houston State at 608.2 per outing. After six games, Eastern was the FCS leader in passing offense (433.2 yards per game), second in scoring offense (47.5 behind SHSU at 54.8), third in third down conversions (52.9 percent), third in completion percentage (.709) and fourth in passing efficiency (175.94).
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles have won 12 of the last 14 meetings against the Bobcats, and are 30-10 overall in the 40-game series dating back to 1948. Eastern has won seven of the last eight meetings at home (including a 2003 win in Spokane) as well as six of the last seven in Bozeman. Overall, Eastern is 16-6 in Bozeman, 13-4 in home games and 1-0 on neutral fields.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Eastern senior Cooper Kupp equaled his 12th FCS all-time record broke another school mark at Montana State. He has now caught a pass in 45-straight games. Jacksonville State's Josh Barge also has a current total of 45 in a row, and the record was originally set by Marcus Lee of Towson (2005-08), then tied by current EWU wide receivers coach Nicholas Edwards (2009-12) and Tyrone Walker from Illinois State from (2009-12). Now with 6,079 all-purpose yards, Kupp passed the EWU record of 5,934 set by Eric Kimble from 2002-05, a mark which ranks seventh in Big Sky history. The league record is 7,112, and the top receiver on the list is Fred Amey from Sacramento State with 6,343 from 2001-04. Kupp has now broken 12 FCS records, eight Big Sky Conference all-time marks and 21 school records. Kupp owns the FCS record with 64 career receiving TDs and 5,925 receiving yards, and is second on the all-time FCS receptions list (370, 25 behind the record of 395 set by Elon's Terrell Hudgins from 2006-09).
Notables . . .
* Despite trailing at halftime in five of its first six games season, a big part of EWU's 5-1 record is the team's third-quarter production, having outscored opponents 115-28 in that period. Eastern has had a third quarter advantage in every game, including 7-0 versus MSU.
* The last three meetings with the Bobcats – all Eastern victories – have included a total of five 50-point performances. Eastern beat the Bobcats 55-50 in Cheney in 2015 and 52-51 in 2014 in Bozeman in a pair of non-conference games. The last Big Sky game between the two teams was in Cheney in 2013, won by the Eagles 54-29. In those previous three meetings, the two teams have amassed 3,608 yards of total offense, with each team going over the 500-yard mark in each game. In the 2015 meeting with MSU, Eastern had 667 yards on just 57 plays (11.7 yards per play), compared to 718 yards and 104 plays (6.9 per play) for the Bobcats. In 2014, the figures were 74-582-7.9 for the Eagles, and 82-546-6.7 for the Bobcats, and in 2013 it was 591-48-12.3 (Big Sky record) for EWU and 504-78-6.5 for the Bobcats. Thus, EWU has averaged 10.3 yards per play (179-1,840) while MSU has averaged 6.7 (264-1768). In six games this season, the Eagles are at 7.0 per play (482-3,391).
Head Coach Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On Offensive Adjustments: "Our players work hard to feel that regardless of what a defense does against us we should have answers. But today it was tough at times. We're going to go through moments where we have to grind and it isn't perfect. But we have to believe in the next series we're going to find a way to get in the zone and do it. Our players have a belief of that, and none of them care who gets the credit or gets the ball. There are a lot of players who have the ability to get a lot of touches, but they are all very selfless in that way. They are excited about their teammate and whoever has the hot hand. That what makes it special – the way they support each other in those moments."
On 17-0 Advantage in Second Half: "It's not by accident we're playing good in the second half – we began to build that months ago. It's a combination of the work ethic year around, and that builds you both physically and mentally. Our players are ready to make adjustments at halftime and find different things to attack in the second half. It's been pleasant to see them find ways to get better as we go through a game. It takes a lot of grind to get to that point as a football team."
On Montana: "We have always respected that program so much and what they have done over the years. And more than anything, let's just focus on 2016 and what they've accomplished. They are an incredibly good football team. We've seen the numbers they have put up and what they have done both at home and on the road. We know we have our hands full, regardless whether it's Montana or any team playing incredibly well overall. They've done an amazing job and have been very consistent this year. We're always excited to play Montana just three hours away in Missoula. I'm sure they'll bring plenty of people over and it will be a fun environment."
On Penalties: "We've been pretty solid with that most of the year. We had a few too many penalties at North Dakota State, but other than that game we've been solid. We'll have to look at video and see, but whatever the number, it was too many and we understand that. We need to evaluate it and make corrections."