EOU’s Ked Starr returns a punt in the second half of the Mountaineers’ win on Saturday at Community Stadium. CASEY KELLAS - The Observer
Second-half rally lifts EOU to victory on Homecoming
It wasn’t pretty and it was wasn’t easy, but the Eastern Oregon University football team ended its three-game losing streak with a thrilling 28-24 victory over Rocky Mountain College Saturday on Homecoming day at Community Stadium.
In a game that featured blocked field goals and big plays on special teams, it was the Mountaineers who rallied from a 24-13 deficit in the second half to pull out the victory.
“That was fun, man,” receiver Ked Starr said. “It was fun going out there and getting muddy, fighting for our brothers. It wasn’t the best conditions, the field was wet, but we went out there and made plays and did our job.”
After struggling in recent weeks on offense, the Mountaineers finally found a rhythm Saturday. EOU finished with 509 yards, led mostly by quarterback Jason Simonis, who completed 28 of 42 passes for 349 yards and three second-half touchdowns.
“We’ve had it all together, it’s always been just one play away, one guy away,” Simonis said of the offense. “But we all stuck together and believed in each other. I threw the ball up to these guys (receivers) and they were awesome, they caught everything.”
Early on it looked like it was going to be another long day for the Mountaineers. EOU got into the red zone on its first three possessions, but came up with zero points after two of the drives ended on blocked field goals.
Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain got on the board on its second possession of the game, going 98 yards in just five plays, the last of which was a 44-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Baker to Andr McCollouch.
A 35-yard field goal at the end of the half put the Battlin’ Bears up 10-0 going
“Offensively, our first three drives was 12 plays, 12 plays, 14 plays and we couldn’t finish,” coach Tim Camp said. “But if they just kept going, and we reminded them as coaches at halftime, just a little bit more, just a little bit more is all it’s going to take.”
That little bit more showed up in the second half.
After forcing RMC to punt on its first possession of the third quarter, Starr broke off a long punt return that was helped out by a face-mask call to give EOU a short field to work with.
Three plays later Eastern Oregon was in the end zone when Simonis found Andrew Woody for a three-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-7. Then the EOU defense responded with an interception of Baker on Rocky’s following possession.
But right when things appeared to be going in Eastern’s direction, RMC had an answer.
The Battlin’ Bears intercepted Simonis and returned it for a touchdown to stretch the lead to 17-7 with 6:26 to play in the third quarter.
The two teams traded scores after that, with Simonis connecting with Jace Billingsley on an eight-yard touchdown pass, and Rocky returning the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a score to put it at 24-13 heading to the fourth.
But EOU continued to chip away.
Early on in the final quarter, Starr broke off an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown to cut it to 24-20 with 12:40 to play.
“It’s my teammates out there. They getting their blocks is the only way to get loose,” said Starr, who had 126 punt return yards and 77 kick return yards.
Both teams traded possessions after that before the Mountaineers got the ball at its own five yard line with eight minutes to go.
That’s when Eastern Oregon put together its biggest drive of the season.
EOU covered the 95 yards in 11 plays —helped out by a 45-yard completion to Billingsley on a third and six — before Simonis found Billingsley again for a seven-yard touchdown to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the game at 26-24 after the extra point attempt was blocked.
“It’s all about responding for us,” Simonis said. “Bad stuff will happen, but we just have to weather it and respond and keep going.”
“It was good to see them continue to fight,” Camp said.
On the ensuing kickoff, Rocky Mountain’s return man fell down at the four-yard line. On the first snap of the drive the EOU defense got a big push and lineman Wes Orr sacked Baker in the end zone for a safety to put the Mountaineer lead at 28-24 with 3:22 left in regulation.
“That’s great for the D line. Great for the defense. To be able to step up against a quarterback like Baker, that’s what these guys need. They’ll build and they’ll feed off of it,” Camp said.
The Eastern Oregon offense was able to run some time off the clock before punting with 49 seconds left. But RMC couldn’t move the ball upfield and simply ran out of time, giving the Mountaineers a much-needed victory after a difficult three-week stretch.
“Camp always says it’s OK to win ugly,” Starr said. “We came out there, it may not be the win that we wanted, but at the end we got the W.”
“It was great to see the kids having fun out there,” Camp said. “That’s what football is, it’s supposed to be fun. The whole atmosphere out there, we’ve been very fortunate —I’ve been fortunate as head coach and these coaches that have been with me — we haven’t lost a homecoming. We haven’t done anything different, it’s just that the kids believe and they’ve bought in to it.”
Starr added 156 yards receiving on six catches to his big day. Billingsley had 86 yards on five grabs and Luis Ortiz had 58 yards receiving. Chris McGinnis-Parker was the team’s leading rusher with 47 yards on 11 carries.
Baker completed 18 of 25 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Mountaineers’ defense held RMC to 319 yards of offense.
“This definitely builds confidence,” Starr said of the win. “We just have to keep going and come back next week and work. We got another big opponent next week as well. This is a win, and we’ll enjoy it tonight, but we got to move on.”
The Mountaineers are 3-3 this season and will play host to No. 13 Montana Tech (5-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. in Community Stadium. EOU defeated Tech 26-23 in the season opener this year. The Orediggers had a bye this weekend but defeated Dickinson State 42-6 their last time out on Oct. 6.