Wild and wacky doesn’t even begin to describe Eastern Oregon’s Frontier Conference football contest Saturday against No. 22 Montana Western.
Unfathomable, stunning or unbelievable may be better words.
“Everything that could possibly happen probably happened in that game,” EOU Head Coach Tim Camp said.
The Mountaineers entered the final quarter with a 28-point lead only to see three touchdowns scored in a span of 92 seconds, then later the tying touchdown with 2:43 to play, all before recovering to deliver the final blow and outlast the Bulldogs in a triple-overtime game for the ages, 54-51, Saturday at Community Stadium.
“It was unreal,” said quarterback Kai Quinn, who passed for an EOU record 466 yards in the victory. “To see this team come together like that was amazing. It was a great team win.”
Fight was a word used repeatedly by Camp postgame to describe his team’s ability to grind out a win in a game that had endless twists and turns.
“At the end of the day I think they showed great resilience,” Camp said. “They showed fight today. That’s the one thing I wanted to see.”
He added later, “(I’m) super excited about the kids and the effort they put out there. “If you have fight, you’ll respond when things are against you.”
The game ended on an uncommon play — a blocked field goal — which was perhaps fitting for the uncommon afternoon. The teams had traded field goals in the first overtime — after UMW had the winning touchdown called back on a penalty — and touchdowns by UMW’s Jake Messerly and Quinn in the second overtime.
Nathan Harden gave EOU the lead back with a 39-yard field goal, and moments later Mark Kharchenko lined up his own 36-yard attempt to possibly send the game to a fourth extra period.
But Zach Lacey, who said he had two earlier kicks go right between his hands, got the block to seal the win and set off the celebration.
“It was awesome to see the team never stop fighting,” Lacey said. “Going into that last play, I lined up and said, ‘I want a win. I don’t want a loss or a tie.’ I knew I had to blow it up and get a hand up.”
He later said the contest was “easily one of my top three favorite games I’ve ever been a part of, and the way it ended might have made it No. 1. It was amazing.”
Amazing would indeed be another fitting word for the game. The teams combined for 1,036 yards of offense and 105 points in the nearly four-hour marathon between two teams that, so far this season, had allowed 39 points per game combined.
But the offensive outburst, at least for EOU, didn’t shock Camp.
“I really thought we could have a 500-yard game in the air if done correctly,” he said. “I knew we could score points on them even though they are a good football team.”
That’s not to say the defenses were bad. The teams forced a combined nine turnovers. EOU recorded seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
“I thought we played hard,” said defensive lineman Sage DeLong, who had nine tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss. “There were some situations you can always work on, (but) I thought we stayed steady.”
UMW had two defensive touchdowns of its own, which got the Bulldogs back in the game. Two plays after a Walt McKitrick touchdown with 10:45 to play made it 41-20, Damaen Bentley jumped a route and went 27 yards for a pick-six to cut the gap to 14. Joe Caicedo then forced and recovered a fumble and took the ball 36 yards to make it 41-34 score with 9:13 left.
UMW eventually tied the score at 41-41 on McKitrick’s 53-yard touchdown reception with 2:43 to go.
But with everything suddenly against them, the Mountaineers showed their grit in the closing minutes.
One play after Bentley grabbed a second interception on an iffy jump-ball call for UMW, Garrett Yunker grabbed an interception for the EOU defense. Riley Martello recovered a fumble for the Bulldogs with 89 seconds to play, but Isaiah Cranford responded in kind three plays later by recovering a fumble for Eastern with 42 seconds left.
“The defense knew if we were called out, we were going to play ball. That was a big emphasis — when your number is called out, to be the guy,” Cranford said. “After a turnover we had to give the offense the ball back to win the game.”
Eastern followed that play with a 53-yard deep ball from Quinn to Brenden Kelly for a potential winning field goal. Harden’s 32-yard attempt hit the left upright, but the senior bounced back to hit two important kicks in overtime.
“It was pressure, but as a kicker that’s the thing you look for and dream for growing up,” Harden said of the overtime kicks. “Your heart’s pumping, but as soon as that ball’s snapped, it’s second nature.”
Eastern built its big lead behind the team’s most prolific scoring performance in two years and a historic day for more than just their quarterback. Quinn finished 31-for-61 passing and had four touchdowns, with his pass attempts, along with his 466 yards, the most ever in a game for EOU. Kelly, who also had a 97-yard touchdown reception, finished with a program-best 265 yards receiving. The senior also had an impressive leaping one-handed reception that he tipped to himself during his 10-catch day.
“That kid’s an animal,” Quinn said of Kelly. “I’ve got all the trust in him.”
After two early Harden field goals, Eastern extended its lead to 13-0 on a 21-yard TD reception by Phoenix Milhollen late in the first quarter. Western pulled within 13-6 on two second-quarter field goals, but a seven-yard scoring catch by Gabe Giacci and the 97-yard Quinn-to-Kelly bomb — which came one play after Garret DeVos recovered a UMW fumble at the three-yard line — made it 27-6 Eastern at halftime.
A seven-yard run by Victor Dias, who had 116 yards on the ground, and a 19-yard TD catch by T.J. Hancock helped build the Eastern lead to 41-13 late in the third quarter.
Kelly said the offensive breakout shows what the Mountaineers are capable of as they reach the midway point of the season.
“There’s been glimpses of it here and there the past few games,” he said of EOU’s 593-yard attack. “But getting it (for) a full four quarters, once that happens we’re going to be a dangerous offense. We had three good quarters of that tonight. If we can get four we’re going to be a scary offense.”
The win sends EOU into its second bye week of the season at 2-2. The Mountaineers travel to MSU-Northern Oct. 6.