The Eastern Oregon University football team gave Frontier Conference-leading and sixth-ranked College of Idaho all it could handle, and gave itself a shot at the upset Saturday at Community Stadium.
The Mountaineers led 14-7 at halftime, were tied 14-14 after three quarters and had a chance, trailing by seven in the final minute of the game — a marked improvement from the season-opening 48-12 loss to the same Coyotes.
But third-quarter offensive struggles and a strong second half by C of I offensively were enough to allow the Yotes to escape with a 24-17 victory.
“That was a dogfight. We went a little bit dim in the third quarter offensively. We got a lot of kids playing out there who are freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” head coach Tim Camp said of his team against the senior-laden Yotes. “Pretty proud of them.”
It was the third time in three weeks EOU has been within a touchdown of its opponent in the fourth quarter. Eastern has lost those three contests by six, 13 and now seven points, but Camp commended his team for the effort in all three games.
“Three games in a row where you’re close,” he said. “I don’t like to be close, but at the same time, I love how the kids played. They were just playing football. You got a good rivalry game.”
The Mountaineers were the aggressors early and often against C of I. EOU scored on its second possession on a 1-yard touchdown run by Victor Dias for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, while defensively the Mountaineers held C of I’s powerful offense in check. C of I was forced to punt on its first four possessions, going three-and-out three times.
The Yotes pulled even late in the second quarter when Nick Calzaretta scored from a yard out to cap a 14-play, 90-yard drive that took seven minutes.
It took Eastern 11 seconds to respond, as Kai Quinn hit Cade Reed for a 95-yard touchdown pass right in the middle of the C of I defense to give EOU the lead at the half.
College of Idaho — which had just 24 yards rushing at halftime — pulled even early in the third quarter on the ground, as Calzaretta scored from 21 yards out to cap a drive that saw him rush for 54 yards.
Another long drive by C of I — this one an 86-yard excursion that took more than nine minutes — ended in a Kyle Mitchell field goal for a 17-14 lead early in the fourth.
“That stretch in the third quarter, a 13-play drive, that was a big one. We had multiple third downs. It was ugly, but good football,” Camp said describing the series. “It was
3 yards and a cloud of dust, and then an 11-yard competition right at the sticks. Our kids were right there.”
C of I’s Hunter Jaurez then hauled in a one-handed catch for a 30-yard score and a 10-point lead with 11:11 to play.
But the Mountaineers, who had just 19 yards on their first four possessions of the second half, finally woke up on offense to get back in the game late. A 64-yard drive — one that included a 30-yard completion to Conner Falk and a 40-yard hookup with Reed — set up a 32-yard Jaiden Machuca field goal to make it a one-possession game with 2:30 to play.
Eastern failed to recover the ensuing onside kick but stopped C of I to regain possession with 44 seconds to play. Quinn found Dias for a 20-yard completion one play after being sacked, but Eastern’s Hail Mary pass on the final play fell incomplete.
Both teams found the majority of their success through the air, with C of I quarterback Darius-James Peterson passing for 274 yards, and Quinn for 250. Eastern put up an improved effort against the Yotes’ rushing attack, holding it to 149 yards after allowing 377 in the first contest.
EOU managed just 45 rushing yards against what Camp said was a stout defensive front, but he felt Eastern did enough in the ground game to keep C of I honest on defense.
“Their box is as good as anybody. Their (defensive) line is seniors and they have two senior linebackers,” he said. “I thought we did enough to keep them off balance and open up a couple things.”
Eastern (2-7 overall, 2-6 Frontier) travels to face Rocky Mountain in its final road game Saturday.