Eastern Oregon had another nearly flawless start Saturday night with two early scores, then struggled the rest of the first half thanks in large part to untimely penalties. EOU went into the break with a mere 14-5 lead over MSU-Northern, and all the momentum was in the Lights’ favor.
The first play of the third quarter, though, swung the momentum back to the Mountaineers.
Kye Yraguen had a strip-sack of Tommy Wilson to open the third, Alonso Mendoza scored on the next play and Eastern rode the momentum to a strong second half and a 41-12 win over the Lights in Frontier Conference play at Community Stadium.
“We started fast, and then got in our own way again. It’s one of those deals,” head coach Tim Camp said. “You can’t have the amount of mistakes that we had. We kind of settled down, we made some adjustments at halftime.
“I’m really really proud of the defense. The defense played really, really well.”
Yraguen’s play was one of many big plays for the EOU defense, which forced three turnovers as the Mountaineers won the turnover battle for the first time this season.
But his might have been the biggest. The 305-pound redshirt freshman took down Wilson, who coughed the ball up, and Colin Deyarmin recovered the fumble at the one-yard line. The next play, Mendoza scored for a 20-5 lead.
“That’s a big defensive stand right down there. You kick the ball, you get them pinned down deep, they had a penalty, and we made a play,” Camp said. “That’s what we expect out of him, and then the offense comes and does its job.”
EOU then forced a stop, and the offense found its form from early in the game. John Lesser, who rushed for 59 yards, scored the first of his two touchdowns for a 27-5 lead.
Fotois Jordanoglou’s 21-yard reception late in the third cut the Lights’ deficit to 15, but Lesser and Josh Finley added rushing scores in the fourth quarter for the final margin.
One of the focuses for afterward, however, was consistency — or a lack thereof. EOU showed flashes of brilliance at times on offense — six plays gained 20 yards or more. But the Mountaineers also finished with 13 penalties for 135 yards, both season highs.
“We had a lot more big plays in this game, but penalties brought us back,” Lesser said. “We’d get a big play, it’d get brought back and it’s first-and-30, 2nd-and-20. So those big plays were consistent for the first time this year I believe, but again, the penalties were consistent, and that’s not something we want to be consistent in.”
Eastern scored on its first two possessions. Victor Dias found paydirt from 13 yards out for a quick 7-0 lead, and Kai Quinn went 70 yards on a keeper — shaking off two would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage — for a 14-point lead just 6:05 into the game.
“I thought we came out with good energy in the first quarter,” Quinn said. “First few plays, we made some plays happen right off the bat, but we have to keep that (going). Have to be more consistent.”
The Mountaineers shot themselves in the foot the rest of the half. In addition to penalties, a high snap on a punt gave the Lights possession deep in EOU territory and led to a field goal. And another high snap — well over the head of punter Nathan Harden — went through the end zone late in the first half for a safety. The Lights went into the half down just nine and with the momentum until Yraguen’s play turned the tide.
“It was a big play. It was a total momentum shifter,” defensive back Tanner Zenke said. “(After that) we just kept on going and kept rolling with it.”
The EOU offense got back on track with 450 yards — 235 rushing, 215 passing — and that despite a second quarter to forget that saw Eastern lose 36 yards. Quinn was 19-for-31 passing to 11 different receivers, and led the team with 83 yards rushing. Dias added 81 yards rushing, including 65 on one play in the fourth quarter.
The defense held the Lights to 290 yards and added interceptions by Isaiah Richie and Zenke. Zackary Jacobs, Deyarmin and Michal Arenas all had 11 tackles, and Chase Van Wyck had two sacks.
“Our whole entire defense just shut them down. We kept forcing turnovers,” Zenke said.
EOU (2-3 overall, 2-3 Frontier) is back on the field next Saturday against No. 8 and undefeated Southern Oregon at Community Stadium. The Raiders won the first matchup, 31-21.