The Eastern Oregon football team is finding a rhythm.
The Mountaineers enter Saturday’s homecoming contest against Montana Tech on a three-game winning streak. The most recent victory, last Saturday’s 27-17 win on the road against then-No. 7 Southern Oregon, has moved EOU up to No. 19 in the nation and back in the discussion to contend for both a Frontier Conference title and a second playoff berth in three years.
“We figured out the formula our team needs to play well, which is high energy and a lot of fun being around each other,” EOU senior offensive lineman Mick Wilson said. “The first couple weeks we were trying to figure out if we were going to be a real intense team, and it worked out that we play our best when we’re having fun and playing with high energy.”
Playing a complete game has also helped the Mountaineers in recent weeks. Early in the season a bad quarter often cost EOU dearly. Eastern gave up 22 third-quarter points in an early-season loss to Southern at home, and 21 in the third the following week in a loss to Montana Tech.
That trend has improved, most notably against SOU in last week’s rematch. While the Raiders scored 14 points late to make it interesting, they never truly threatened the Mountaineers down the stretch.
It’s a trend they’ll need to continue Saturday.
“That was kind of our issue at the beginning of the year in our two losses,” Wilson said. “If we could have finished that game (against Montana Tech), we would have come away with a win.”
Tackling and playing solid defense were also much improved against Southern Oregon, and junior linebacker Eli Teuteu that will again be a point of emphasis Saturday.
“We have to (take) the same things we (took) into the game against Southern into this one — staying physical, making tackles and doing what we do best, which is doing (our) assignments right. No errors.”
Teuteu said there was also a bit of a revenge factor entering the SOU contest, and that aspect is there again, especially considering the Mountaineers let a 14-0 halftime lead slip away in an eventual 24-17 loss to the Montana Tech Orediggers.
“This is another revenge game I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I think other players on the field are thinking about it too,” he said. “We’re just ready to get back out there and show we never should have lost that game. This time we’re working extra hard at practice.”
In the last meeting, EOU held the Orediggers to just 280 yards — the fewest Eastern has allowed since 2016 — and forced five turnovers.
But four third-quarter turnovers resulted in a short field for all three of Tech’s touchdown drives, which combined to total 63 yards. Running back Jed Fike, who rushed for a season-best 149 yards in the last matchup for Tech, also had his best game of the season. Fike leads the Frontier with 129 yards per game.
Montana Tech is a team that is more run oriented, passing for an average of 190 yards per game and rushing for 200. EOU Head Coach Tim Camp said the focus will be on containing Fike and the ground game.
Stopping the run game will go largely back to one of the fundamentals of the sport, tackling, which Camp said EOU did much better in against Southern Oregon. SOU had 236 rushing yards in the early September contest. Last week, the Raiders had just 86.
“That’s all we talked about. If they’re going to try and run, we’re going to stop them. We loaded the box up a little bit (and) we tackled better,” Camp said.
The coach said the Mountaineers also need to be ready for Tech to put the ball in the air.
“We want to stop their run obviously, but they’re college football players, (and) they’re capable of throwing, too,” he said. “In their playbook they also have a passing game.”
The offense has its first turnover-free game of the season against SOU, but Camp noted there were opportunities for EOU to do better last week.
“We had 400 yards of offense on a really good defense, but there are about 125 (yards) left out there,” Camp said, noting EOU dropped several passes and allowed four sacks.
The sacks, though have been a rarity, as EOU’s offensive line has kept quarterback Kai Quinn clean and helped open up the running game. SOU’s four-sack day last week came on the heels of two straight games where the Mountaineers didn’t allow a sack. In fact, Southern has recorded 10 sacks total in its two games against EOU. The Mountaineers’ four other opponents have just three.
That has helped Quinn in posting the conference’s top offensive numbers in passing yards (306 per game), while running back Victor Dias is up to 83 yards per game rushing, second in the conference. Wide receiver Brenden Kelly leads the way in receiving at 135 yards per game.
“We’ve mastered our offense,” Wilson said. “We (made) a couple new tweaks here and there, and I feel like we’re all more comfortable with what we’re running. We’re confident and we’re playing better, playing smarter.”
The key to keeping the rhythm going is pretty simple: “We just have to play our game — play good, sound football,” Teuteu said.