MOUNTAINEER BIG PLAYS DRILL OREDIGGERS
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
At the end of the third quarter, Eastern Oregon's Justin Alsterlund held up four fingers to the home crowd and said, "Four quarters. Four quarters, baby."
The fourth quarter hasn't been kind to the Mountaineers in recent history. Time and again, the Mountaineers have played their opponents tough, including twice this season, only to see close games blown open by the opposition in the fourth.
Not Saturday. Eastern went into the fourth quarter with a 21-9 lead over Montana Tech, and came out of it with a 21-9 win. There would be no comebacks or hearts broken this day. The Mountaineers evened their record at 2-2 heading into next week's home game against Pacific Lutheran.
It was an epic effort by the Eastern defense. The Mountaineers gave up just 222 yards to the Orediggers, but that's half the story. Eastern allowed Montana Tech only 22 plays, 61 yards of offense and 6:12 of possession time in the second half. The Mountaineers also made one of their trademark defensive stands near the goal-line in the fourth quarter, and held Montana Tech's two freshman quarterbacks to 44 yards passing.
Meanwhile, the Eastern offense ground down the Orediggers' defense on a hot, Indian summer afternoon, grinding out 46 plays and 23:48 of possession time in the second half.
"Win or lose, our kids play really hard," said Eastern coach Jim Fenwick. "The kids played really well today our offense, defense, special teams. We took advantage of our opportunities."
With Major Caldwell out of the game after tweaking his ankle, Justin Alsterlund became the workhorse. He touched the ball 30 times for 172 all-purpose yards. He helped set up Eastern's opening-drive TD with a 62-yard punt return, and scored two TDs himself on a short pass and a short run. He ran the ball 23 times for 72 yards, caught four passes and had three special team returns. He also had a 60-yard touchdown catch and run called back due to a holding call.
The 5-8, 175-pound Alsterlund, who got a painful shoulder stinger on his touchdown run, admitted after the game he was tired and sore. "After this, I'm headed right to the training room. This little body can't take much of this."
The play of the game might have been a 76-yard pass from Scott Jensen to Jacoby Fox late in the third quarter. Eastern had dominated much of the game, but Montana Tech seemed to have the momentum after a second-half field goal, and was trailing just 15-9.
Jensen hit Fox down the left side of the field on a big pass play that put the Mountaineers in scoring position deep in Montana Tech territory. Fox, who was denied a TD after being caught from behind by an Orediggers cornerback, wished he was faster.
"Where's the receiver speed on that play, huh? I didn't have the 4.3 speed to get away," he said.
Both Alsterlund and Fox said the Mountaineers are playing better this year (Eastern came darn close to beating Menlo and having a 3-1 record, after going 1-9 last year), because they are more of a team. "There's a lot more bonding among the players," said Fox. "It's about everyone, it not about you."
"We've had a whole year together. We had some rough times (last year). We're playing more as a team now," said Alsterlund.
Eastern got off to a quick, and slightly strange, start. After Alsterlund's big runback, the Mountaineers were set up for a 21-yard drive ending with a 2-yard pass from Aaron Hazel to Alsterlund.
Nick Martin's kick was blocked, but lineman Brett Fairchild picked up the loose ball and ran it in. After a long conference by the refs, it was ruled that the blocked kick went backward, so Fairchild's run was allowed and Eastern was awarded a two-point conversion.
Eastern had an 8-0 lead, but the Mountaineers started getting some bad breaks. First, a penalty wiped out Alsterlund's long touchdown run after a screen pass. Then, Montana Tech went on a time-consuming 99-yard drive, with quarterback Justin Kegel doing most of the damage on the ground. Near the end of that drive, Eastern held inside the 10-yard line on a fourth-and-three, but a face mask penalty was called to keep the drive alive. The Orediggers scored on a 10-yard run and failed on a two-point conversion to make it 8-6.
If not for the two penalties, the Mountaineers would have been ahead 15-0. Fenwick said the Mountaineers showed him a lot, not letting those two big mistakes get to them. "Something we've been working on this year is leadership, poise and maturity. We're starting to develop that," he said.
Just before the end of the half, Eastern put together a long drive of its own, going 90 yards on 12 plays to score with 21 seconds left in the half on a Damien Johnson 1-yard run. The big play of that drive was a 30-yard pass from Hazel to Kenny Davis. Davis caught the ball down the middle of the field between two defenders and came down at the 2-yard line in the final minute of the half.
Eastern scored again on the final play of the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Alsterlund. That play was set up by Jensen's long pass to Fox.
The Orediggers had one final drive late in the fourth to make the Eastern fans nervous. Montana Tech got inside the 10-yard line, but the Eastern defense stiffened. On a fourth-and-goal play from the 8-yard line, Montana Tech quarterback Jake Hill was forced out of the pocket, and as he was being tackled, his pass into the end zone was low and hit the ground harmlessly.
Hazel ended the game throwing for 120 yards on 13-for-21 passing. Jensen was 3-for-8 for 95 yards.
Eastern Oregon 21, Montana Tech 9
Montana Tech 0 6 3 0 9
Eastern Oregon 8 7 6 0 21
EOU Justin Alsterlund 2 pass from Aaron Hazel (Brett Fairchild rush), 11:31
MT Adam Cotton 10 run (Adam Cotton rush failed), 8:08
EOU Damien Johnson 1 run (Nick Martin kick), 0:21
MT Dan Kleckner 42 field goal, 7:07
EOU Alsterlund 5 run (Nick Martin kick failed), 0:00
First downs 14 21
Rushes-yards 47-173 52-119
Passing yards 44 215
Comp-att-int 3-12-0 16-29-0
Total net yards 217 334
Punts 6-41.2 6-40.5
Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-1
Punt Returns 4-43 4-69
Kickoff Returns 3-56 3-65
Time of possession 27:35 32:25
Third-Down Conversions 2 of 13 7 of 17
Fourth-Down Conversions 0 of 2 3 of 4
Sacks By-yards lost 4-27 0-0
RUSHING Montana Tech, Justin Kegel 12-72, Cotton 19-46, Josh Johnson 11-36, Kevin Dighams 4-24. EOU, Alsterlund 23-72, Major Caldwell 7-41, Damien Johnson 11-31, Ryan Teicheira 2-5, Scott Jensen 3-4, Josh Clark 1-(-14), Aaron Hazel 5-(-20).
PASSING Montana Tech, Jake Hill 2-7-0 38, Kegel 1-5-0 6. EOU, Hazel, 13-21-0 120, Jensen 3-8-0 95.
RECEIVING Montana Tech, Conor Hogan 2-19, Patrick Watson 1-25. EOU, Matt Hamlin 5-50, Alsterlund 4-22, Teicheira 3-29, Jacoby Fox 1-74, Kenny Davis 1-30, Allen Baker 1-6, Damien Johnson 1-4.
LEADING TACKLERS Montana Tech, Todd Schlaebitz 20, Lucas Paugh 16, Kent Kahl 9, Ben Steele 8. EOU, Nick Hannah 15, Tom Neill 15, Mark Persche 8, Drew Storm 6.