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Hopefully the Mountaineers trek to Helena, Mont., isn’t all lost.
TOE TAPPING: EOU’s Kirk Miller reels in a touchdown pass against Carroll Saturday. The Observer/PAUL HARDER
Sure the Eastern Oregon University football team didn’t come home with a win, falling 37-17. But that shouldn’t be the focal point.
A lot of teams have traveled to face Carroll College and left with a loss.For the Saints, the winners of five of the last seven national championships, it was another game.
For the Mountaineers it was a lot more — a proving ground.
They’re close. A 4-1 conference record has them in second place, and should still be in the top-25 in the NAIA poll — that will come out later today.
Rodell Razor proved EOU just didn’t show up on the opening play.
The senior cornerback stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.
Unfortunately, EOU couldn’t capitalize.
After moving the ball down to the 8-yard line the drive stalled, and then a missed field goal.
That set the tone for the game. From that point on, the Mountaineers never had the time to find a rhythm.
Carroll dominated every facet of the game.
The most important — other than the scoreboard — was the time of possession.
John Camino and the Saints’ rushing attack chewed up 40:26 of the game.
Camino rushed for 189 yards on 17 attempts. Sharing the backfield, Gabe Le picked up 87 yards on 16 attempts. Both runners scored twice.
That left the Mountaineers with 12:50 of offense.
Against one of the best defenses in the country, that’s a tall task.
Still, the Mountaineers grabbed the lead in the second quarter, 7-3.
Chris Ware connected on a two-yard fade route to Kirk Miller.
From there the big plays came far and few between.
The running game never got established.
Kevin Sampson and Joel Harran combined for seven carries gaining 18 yards.
The Saints defensive front disrupted Ware all day long. Blitzes came from all angles, forcing Ware to move around and out of the pocket.
Carroll finished with five and a half sacks.
Sampson, Ware’s typical outlet, stayed in to help in pass protection most of the game.
Sampson finished the game with one catch for minus four yards. That gave him seven touches for 15 yards. Sampson averages 125 all-purpose yards per game.
But the speed of Carroll caused the most frustration.
Jordyn Jackson and Miller are used to breaking away from opposing defensive backs.
Not against the Saints.
The leading wide outs were blanketed most of the game, and some amazing catches helped them reach their averages.
Jackson hauled in five passes for 93 yards. Miller caught six passes for 73 yards.
In the red zone, however, it must have seemed like there were 15 players on the field.
EOU entered the game scoring 82 percent of the time when getting inside the 25-yard line.
Ware scrambled in the third quarter inside the 10-yard line before the ball was punched out from behind.
Close, but not close enough.
The Saints went on to score the next three touchdowns to pull away.
How good is this Mountaineers football team? We are about to find out. The Southern Oregon loss to open the season stung. But this loss had to leave a bitter taste thinking about the what-ifs on the nine-hour bus ride home.
The Mountaineers don’t have time to sulk. They’re right back on the road next week to face Rocky Mountain College.
Carroll made its statement —they’re still the top dog in the conference.
But this Saturday, the Mountaineers have a chance to prove they are ready to challenge for that spot.
The great thing about the Frontier Conference schedule is the Saints will have to come here.
That game on Nov. 7 could have a lot of meaning too. It could be for a share of the conference title.