CHENEY – Matt Nichols threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns, lifting Eastern Washington to a 35-24 victory Saturday over Montana State, which was down eight players because of the flu.
Nichols threw two scoring passes to Nathan Overbay in the first half and two more to Taiwan Jones in the second as the Eagles (5-3, 4-2 Big Sky) took advantage of a depleted Bobcat team.
Among the missing from Montana State (4-3, 2-2) were six starters and two top kickers, Jason Cunningham and Eric Fisher. Team officials did not know whether the players had contracted the H1N1 strain of the flu.
Still, the Bobcats went into the fourth quarter leading 24-14, but they could not hold on as Nichols and Jones connected on scoring tosses of 20 and 38 yards.
Trailing 28-24 and facing a fourth-and-goal at the Eastern Washington 4-yard line, Montana State quarterback Cody Kempt’s apparent TD pass to Everett Gilbert was ruled out of the end zone with 7:42 left in the game.
Eastern Washington responded by gobbling up nearly six minutes with a 12-play, 96-yard drive capped by Tyler Hart’s 4-yard scoring run, the first rushing touchdown surrendered by the Montana State defense this season.
Eastern Washington’s Jones, who entered the game as the Big Sky’s leading rusher, finished with 55 yards on the ground and also caught six passes for 149 yards. Nichols finished 26-of-41 for the Eagles.
For Montana State, C.J. Palmer rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kempt threw for 320 yards and a pair of TD passes and Gilbert caught five passes for 105 yards for the Bobcats, who missed two extra points and didn’t even attempt a field goal.
The lack of a kicking game took a toll early on Montana State.
The Bobcats marched into Eastern Washington territory on each of their first four possessions, but came away with only six points.
Blayde Becksted’s 4-yard TD run on a fourth-and-1 put the Bobcats up 6-0 with nine minutes left in the second quarter. The Bobcats missed the extra point and nursed the lead until Eastern Washington’s offense came up big in the final minute of the first half.
Nichols and Overbay connected on back-to-back scoring passes of 16 and 15 yards for Eastern Washington in a span of 21 seconds late as the Eagles grabbed a 14-6 lead with 32 seconds left. The second score was set up by a Matt Johnson fumble recovery.
But Montana State answered 14 seconds later on its next possession, with Kempt hitting Gilbert on a 60-yard scoring strike to pull the Bobcats to within 14-12.
At halftime, Eastern Washington retired the No. 71 jersey of offensive lineman Michael Roos, now an All-Pro tackle for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Roos played at Eastern Washington from 2001-2004.
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