Eagles dispose of Illinois State 51-35, host Sam Houston State in semifinal game
CHENEY — As Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin looked at the statistics from the Eagles’ 51-35 win over Illinois State on Saturday evening, he glanced at star wide receiver Brandon Kaufman and joked, “You just can’t get 200.”
Kaufman failed to reach 200 yards, but he did have 191 and hauled in three of Kyle Padron’s school-record-tying six touchdown passes as the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Second-seeded Eastern (11-2) will stay home to face Sam Houston State at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Padron, a transfer from Southern Methodist, connected with Kaufman on back-to-back scoring plays early in the third quarter, and then the duo hooked up again early in the fourth to turn back the Redbirds (9-4), who were 6-0 on the road coming into the game.
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“He’s definitely a special receiver, one of the best I’ve had the opportunity to play with,” Padron said after completing 19 of 33 passes for 358 yards. “You put the ball in his area, he’s going to come down with it.”
With a 24-17 lead at the half, Padron dropped a perfect pass into Kaufman’s hands at the goal line. Ronnie Hamlin intercepted ISU quarterback Matt Brown on the next play, setting up Padron’s 17-yard strike to Kaufman in the back right corner of the end zone for a 38-17 lead at the 11:01 mark.
But the biggest connection came a quarter later, after the Redbirds had scored 18 straight points to close within a field goal.
Facing third-and-nine on the 24, Padron lofted the ball down the right sideline and the momentum switched.
“It was a little underthrown,” Padron said. “He’s 6-foot-5, went up and got it, shook off a couple of guys and ran for 40 yards or so. I didn’t do a whole lot.”
Kaufman, who had his 18th 100-yard game and became the Big Sky Conference season record holder with 1,635 yards receiving, said, “It was an overall team effort. Balls are being put in the right places. But right now I have a fight in me I didn’t necessarily realize I had.”
Padron’s last touchdown, a 10-yarder to Ashton Clark with 7:42 remaining, closed the scoring. Quincy Forte, who rushed for 116 yards on just seven carries, set up the score with a 57-yard burst.
Brown was 27 of 48 for 372 yards but had that critical interception, plus another in the final seconds. Tyrone Walker had 148 yards receiving and a touchdown on nine catches, and Lechein Neblett caught six passes for 101 yards and a TD. Darrelynn Dunn rushed for 98 yards and a score to go over 1,000 yards for the season.
“We played hard, we didn’t play well at times,” Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. “We made too many mistakes to win a game of this magnitude.”