The Eagles nearly pushed the Bison over the cliff.

Top ranked and five time defending national champion North Dakota State rallied in the final minutes and beat No. 8 Eastern Washington University 50 44 Saturday (Sept.

Sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud passed for 450 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 49 and a touchdown in a losing effort. He led the Eagles on four second half scoring drives after Eastern lost senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the game with a shoulder injury.

In Kupp place, sophomore receiver Stu Stiles caught eight passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Two sophomore linebackers also filled in for injured starters, and Ketner Kupp and Kurt Calhoun combined for 21 tackles in their starting debuts.

“I just proud of our players, and I not caught up in the end result with how I feel about how these guys came in here and battled,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “It was a game either team could have won and came down to the wire. Give them credit, they found a way to win. We be back swinging next week.”

After trailing most of the game, Eastern took a 44 41 lead with 4:32 to play after a 53 yard drive. But NDSU came back to knot it with a field goal, and Eastern Jordan Dascalo missed a 49 yarder that could have won it. After an EWU interception in overtime, a 25 yard run by Lance Dunn on the first play of the ensuing possession by the Bison ended the game.

“From a broad perspective in how we competed, our attitude and our effort, I loved how it felt the entire game,” said Baldwin. “I know we got down 10, but we never rolled over. We kept fighting and threw punches on both sides of the ball. We got some key stops late and made some big plays to score some key points.”

Won Lost Records . . .

Eastern, now 1 1, was coming off a hard earned and emotional 45 42 victory over Washington State, a Pacific 12 Conference opponent which was coming off a nine win season and a bowl victory. Thanks to a school record for total offense (551 yards) by sophomore Gage Gubrud in his debut as EWU starting quarterback, and a record setting day by reigning FCS Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, the Eagles rolled up 606 yards on the Cougars. And the defense did its part, holding WSU scoreless for a 31 minute span from the second to fourth quarters.

Now 2 0, North Dakota State needed overtime to win its first game of the season, 24 17 over seventh ranked Charleston Southern on Aug. 27 in the FCS Kickoff.

What It Means . . .

The two teams which have combined to win the last six NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles squared off in a game that will probably have FCS Playoff implications down the road. North Dakota State is the undisputed heavyweight of the FCS, having won the last five championships and 20 straight playoff games since EWU won the national title in 2010. In the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs that season, a late game tying drive at EWU Roos Field led to a 38 31 victory in overtime for the Eagles. The last team to win the national title was Villanova, whose reign ended when the Wildcats fell to the Eagles the week after EWU beat NDSU.

What Next . . .

In the seventh meeting overall but the first at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., the third ranked Northern Iowa Panthers of the Missouri Valley Football Conference visit the Eagles of the Big Sky Conference Sept. 17 in EWU home opener. Pacific time. Like the Eagles, the Panthers also picked up an impressive season opening win over a FBS foe, winning 25 20 on the road at Iowa State on Sept. 3

Keys to Game . . .

Injuries played a major factor for the Eagles. Eastern played without its two starting linebackers, senior Miquiyah Zamora (hamstring) and Alek Kacmarcik (concussion), and nose guard Matthew Sommer (knee) missed his second straight game. Against NDSU, senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp (shoulder) and Cole Karstetter (Achilles) were lost for the game in the second half with injuries.

Top Performers . . .

Sophomore Gage Gubrud completed 28 of 40 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another 49 yards and a TD on 18 carries.

Sophomore Stu Stiles had his best game as an Eagle, finishing with eight catches for 169 yards and a touchdown, eclipsing his previous highs of three catches for 30 yards last season against Sacramento State. In fact, he entered the NDSU game with no catches on the season and just seven for 70 yards in his career.

Senior wide receiver Kendrick Bourne had the sixth 100 yard receiving game of his career, finishing with eight receptions for 133 yards.

Senior Cooper Kupp had a pair of touchdown catches in the first half, and finished with five catches for 62 yards.

Senior safety Zach Bruce had a career high 14 tackles, eclipsing his previous high of 10.

Key Stats . . .

Eastern had 556 yards of offense, and had scoring drives of 82, 75, 85, 75, 62 and 53 yards. Eastern had 450 passing yards, while the Bison finished with 280 on the ground and 257 through the air for a total of 537.

Turning Point . . .

Eastern defense held NDSU to single scores in the third and fourth quarters, and the EWU offense had back to back scores to take a 44 41 lead with 4:32 to play. But the Bison put together a 15 play, 71 yard drive to knot the score at 44 with a 28 yard field with 42 seconds remaining.

Team Highlights . . .

Sophomore linebackers Ketner Kupp and Kurt Calhoun were forced to start their first games of their careers because of a pair of injuries to EWU starters. Senior middle linebacker Miquiyah Zamora missed the game because of a hamstring injury suffered in practice during the week, while strong side linebacker Alek Kacmarcik was held out because of a concussion suffered versus Washington State. Kupp, brother of Eastern senior receiver Cooper Kupp, finished with eight tackles. Calhoun, whose brother Tim was a tight end for the Eagles (2002 06), had 13. Ketner Kupp is a 2015 graduate of Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., and Calhoun graduated the year before from Zillah (Wash.) HS.

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