Eastern Oregon football coach Tim Camp said earlier in the week he wanted to see a stronger rushing performance from his team against Montana Western.
After rolling up the third-best rushing total during the Tim Camp era, consider Sunday’s effort by the Mountaineers a success.
Kai Quinn ran for 189 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score in the fourth quarter, as the No. 7 Mountaineers rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit for a 27-24 win over the No. 19 Bulldogs Sunday in their home opener at Community Stadium.
“We know with the hogs up front that we’ve got we’re going to be able to run the ball a lot,” Quinn said. “That’s what our game plan was and that’s what we did.”
With Quinn and John Lesser — who added 103 rushing yards — leading the way, EOU churned out 328 yards on the ground, nearly double the 165 rushing yards the Mountaineers gained a week ago in a 31-21 loss to Southern Oregon.
“Against Southern most of the backs hadn’t played in a year or more, so we were getting the rust out. We needed to get downhill faster. That’s what we preached all week is being aggressive, being more nasty running the ball,” Lesser said. “We did that today. The line opened up holes and we just ran through them.”
No rush was bigger, though, than Quinn’s 37-yard carry for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. The redshirt freshman cut to the left on a run designed to go up the middle and scampered untouched for a 25-24 lead with 4:59 to play. He then found Calvin Connors for the two-point conversion for the final margin.
“I just bounced it outside. The guys did a great job blocking up front,” Quinn said.
Lesser tallied a run nearly as vital moments later. EOU’s Anfernee Cortez had just collected an interception on defense, but the Mountaineers’ offense was bottled up in its attempt to run out the clock. But with Eastern facing third and 13, Lesser barreled his way for 14 yards and the game-sealing first down with about 1:30 to play.
“There’s probably still some things we need to work on, but I thought we covered some people up (and) kept moving the box. At the end of the game we were controlling the line,” Camp said. “That’s a good defensive team.”
Eastern’s rushing performance was its highest since the Mountaineers ran for 337 yards in the 2014 season finale against Southern Oregon, a 31-27 EOU victory. It’s the seventh time under Camp EOU has eclipsed 300 rushing yards, last doing so when it went for 316 in last season’s 27-17 win at Carroll College.
The Mountaineers’ only other game rushing for more yardage in the last decade than they did Sunday — and the last time they reached the 300-yard mark at home — was in 2013, when they ran for 445 yards in a 57-3 waxing of Dickinson State.
Montana Western, which went into the half up 17-12, looked ready to take control of the game midway through the third quarter. After a Zach Janis interception the Bulldogs went 48 yards in 10 plays, scoring on Melvin Walser’s two-yard TD catch for a 24-12 lead with 7:52 to play in the third.
EOU immediately responded, going 72 yards in nine plays and pulling within 24-19 on Quinn’s six-yard keeper with 4:17 to go in the period.
“The kids kept believing,” Camp said. “I told them at halftime if you play together in the second half, we’ll win the game. They believed in each other.”
EOU then started getting the clutch stops on defense in the fourth quarter to stay in the game. The defensive line, with Zach Lacey, Kye Yraguen, Travis Jones, Nick De Alba and Isaiah Cranford among those leading the charge, kept the Bulldog offense in check. UMW had just 52 yards and was 1-for-4 on third down in the fourth quarter. Running back Hunter Thomsen, who had 113 yards, gained just eight of those in the final period.
“It builds great confidence. It shows we can come back. We can do it. We’ve got the grit,” Cranford said.
Bennett Gibson gave the Bulldogs a balanced attack with 233 yards passing and two touchdowns, though only 76 of those came after halftime as the EOU defense firmed up.
“We knew we had to be assignment sound, get to the ball as fast as we can, get tackles. It took a while to do that,” Cortez said. “In the second half, we knew it was time to buckle down and get to work.”.
Quinn finished 14-for-26 passing for 161 yards with two interceptions. Brendan Kelly had a team-high 70 yards receiving and Connors added 58 yards. EOU finished with 489 yards of offense, almost 200 yards more than against SOU, and took a step forward, which Kelly said the team aims to do weekly.
“Something that we focus on is improving every week and building off of the last week,” Kelly said.
Eastern (1-1 overall, 1-1 Frontier Conference) visits I-84 rival College of Idaho Saturday. The Yotes (0-3, 0-2) loss to Southern Oregon 41-25 Saturday.