Walter Payton Award finalist Vernon Adams threw for five touchdowns, including two in a pivotal third quarter, to lead third-seeded Eastern Washington to a 41-17 victory over South Dakota State in second-round action of the FCS playoffs.
The Big Sky Conference champion Eagles improved to 11-2 overall and will take on the winner of Saturday’s late game between sixth-seeded McNeese State (La.) and Jacksonville State (Ala.) on either Dec. 13 or 14.
South Dakota State, which had its five-game winning streak broken, saw its season end with a 9-5 overall record.
The Jackrabbits took the opening kickoff and drew first blood with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Austin Sumner completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive for 59 yards, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Reggie Gandy.
Eastern Washington tied the game late in first quarter on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Zack Gehring, then took a 14-7 lead on the second play of the second quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Cooper Kupp.
SDSU came back to tie the game late in the first half with a nine-play, 53-yard scoring drive. The Jackrabbits’ own Walter Payton Award candidate, Zach Zenner, capped the drive with a 1-yard run for his 23rd rushing touchdown of the season.
The Eagles gained control of the game with a pair of touchdowns less than four minutes apart in the third quarter. EWU took the lead for good with 8 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the quarter as Adams hooked up with Zach Wimberly on a 3-yard touchdown.
The momentum shifted further in EWU’s favor as the Jackrabbits’ attempt at a fake punt on the ensuing possession was snuffed out with the Eagles taking over at the SDSU 34. Four plays later, the Eagles cashed in as Adams connected with Kupp on a 15-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone. On the play, Kupp set an FCS freshman record with his 20th touchdown reception of the season, breaking the record previously set by Randy Moss of Marshall (W. Va.) in 1996. The extra point was blocked, however, keeping the score at 27-14.
The Jackrabbits put together their final scoring drive of the game late in the third quarter, driving 63 yards on 13 plays before settling for a 27-yard field goal by Justin Syrovatka.
EWU delivered the knockout punch on the second play of the fourth quarter as Adams connected on a deep ball with Cory Mitchell for a 69-yard touchdown. The Eagles added a late touchdown on a 20-yard run by Quincy Forte.
The Eagles finished the game with 504 yards of total offense, compared to 403 by SDSU.
Adams completed 12-of-22 passes for 217 yards, while Forte rushed 21 times for 202 yards. Kupp led the Eagle receivers with four catches for 90 yards.
For SDSU, Sumner ended the afternoon 26-of-40 passing for 315 yards. Senior wide receiver Trevor Tiefenthaler recorded career highs of 11 catches for 139 yards, while Jason Schneider added six receptions for 81 yards in setting the Jackrabbit single-season record with 78 receptions. Gandy contributed six receptions for 30 yards and two carries for 10 yards on the ground.
Zenner crossed the 2,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season, finishing the year with 2,015 after tallying 71 yards on 21 carries.
Senior linebacker R.C. Kilgore led the Jackrabbits with 12 tackles. Ronnie Hamlin recorded a game-high 13 tackles for Eastern Washington.