BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Dylan Zylstra blocked a punt early in the fourth quarter that Evan Day recovered for a touchdown, Jordan Tonani returned an interception for another score 59 seconds later and Eastern Washington held on to beat Montana State, 27-24, in Big Sky Conference play on Saturday night.
“We were on a safe-punt look and not really looking to rush, but we give the option to take a shot and Dylan (Zylstra) took that shot,” Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said.
Less than a minute and just three plays later, Tonani jumped a route, intercepting DeNarius McGhee’s pass and running 21 yards down the sideline for a score that made it 27-17.
“DeNarius (McGhee) is the one the best players I’ve seen in this conference,” Baldwin said of the Montana State quarterback. “We do everything we can to make it difficult for him and eventually, hopefully we can get something.”
Montana State (6-1, 3-1 Big Sky) scored with 2:38 to play on a 2-yard pass from McGhee to John Ellis and got the ball back with 1:38 to go, but they turned it over on downs at their own 23 after three straight sacks by the Eastern Washington defense.
The Bobcats took a 10-3 lead at halftime, but McGhee’s first pass attempt of the third quarter was intercepted by Ronnie Hamlin and the Eagles got a 39-yard Jimmy Pavel field goal. Eastern Washington (5-1, 4-0) then took advantage of a roughing the kicker penalty, driving 84 yards and scoring on a 33-yard pass from Vernon Adams to Quincy Forte to go up 13-10.
McGhee connected on 12 of 15 passes for 141 yards in the first half, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Lee Perkins to put Montana State up 7-0. Adams was just 5 for 14 for 63 yards in the half, but connected on a 39-yard pass to Greg Herd to get the Eagles in position for a field goal as the first half clock expired to cut Montana State’s lead to 10-3.
All told Eastern Washington scored 24 points off various mistakes by the Bobcats.
“This is a great opportunity for our team to look at the small things and figure out that we need to get those things fixed,” Montana State defensive end Caleb Schreibeis said.
The Bobcats held Eastern Washington to just 211 total yards and held a 27-13 edge in first downs, but couldn’t mount much of an attack on the ground gaining just 70 yards on 52 carries. McGhee finished 28 of 36 for 294 yards, while Adams was just 12 of 29 for 140 yards. Both were intercepted twice.
“When you have the things that happened to us, especially in the fourth quarter, it’s tough to re-group that late,” Montana State coach Rob Ash said.