CHENEY —Huge plays from underclassmen have been the key to Eastern Washington’s success throughout the 2013 season.
Typically the heroics of sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams and freshman receiver Cooper Kupp spread the stat sheet from week to week for the Eagles. But in an FCS quarterfinal-round matchup with a hot Jacksonville State team, it was freshman linebacker Albert Havili who sealed the Eagles’ 35-24 victory at Roos Field Saturday.
Havili stepped in front of a Max Shortell pass with just under 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, easily intercepting the throw and returning the ball 77 yards to put Eastern Washington up by 11, which proved to be the final score of the contest.
Third-seeded Eastern Washington (12-2) advanced to the national semifinals for the second consecutive season and third time in four years. The Big Sky Conference champions will host seventh-seeded Towson (12-2) next Saturday. The Tigers defeated No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois, 49-39, in a quarterfinal Friday night.
“I am really proud of our guys to keep fighting,” EWU coach Beau Badlwin said. “We found different ways to win this game than we did a week ago (against South Dakota State). Who knows what kind of game we will be in next week, but we know it will be against a very good opponent. We are happy to get one more shot at home with next week’s ball game.”
Though the visiting Gamecocks (11-4) had several chances to try to regain the lead, a costly turnover on downs with over seven minutes to play and a Shortell interception with 58 seconds left ended the Ohio Valley Conference squad’s season.
Adams, a Walter Payton Award finalist, ended his up-and-down day 18-of-29 passing for 324 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Ashton Clark was Adams’ favorite target, hauling in 11 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown.
Eagles running back Quincy Forte carried the ball 24 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the second straight playoff game Forte has come up big for Eastern Washington, as his 202-yard, one-touchdown performance last weekend helped his Eagles beat South Dakota State.
Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins left the game at the end of the first half with a knee injury and was replaced by the junior Shortell. When Jenkins left, he had already accumulated 127 passing yards on 12-of-14 passing, and 118 rushing yards on 14 carries.