BOISE, Idaho (AP)Eastern Michigan quarterback Taylor Powell got emotional after winning the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP honors and leading the Eagles to a 41-27 victory over San Jose State on Tuesday.
”I’m just really thankful for the opportunity here,” said Powell, who threw for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns. ”My college career has been a journey. I’ve had two coaches fired and had to find different homes. But it’s hard to talk about (coach Chris Creighton’s) belief in me. He was unwavering.”
Creighton’s unwavering belief in Powell – especially after a rocky start to the game – might be the start of something special at Eastern Michigan (9-4), which won its second bowl game in school history. Its only other victory came in the 1987 California Bowl, also against San Jose State.
”We’re fortunate to get this one,” a teary-eyed Creighton said. ”I’m super proud of our guys. . They just continue to fight and they believe and they love and care about each other. So, when it all comes together like that, it’s a pretty special moment.”
Special moments didn’t appear to be in Eastern Michigan’s future early when Powell, who also played at Missouri and Troy before transferring into Creighton’s program this season, was strip-sacked early in the game.
That play was sandwiched between the Spartans building a 13-0 lead in the first quarter when Hawai’i transfer Chevan Cordeiro rushed 27 yards for a TD and then found Justin Lockhart with an 8-yard scoring pass.
But then Sterling Miles blocked the extra point attempt and Tristen Hines scooped up the ball and raced 87 yards for a 2-point defensive PAT. And thing began to turn for Eastern Michigan.
”I can’t tell you that our sideline was on fire after that play, but it was something positive after two monster negatives,” Creighton said. ”I talked about turnovers, takeaways and special teams. You saw early on that wasn’t going our way.”
Then, Eastern Michigan took control of the game, scoring 33 straight points.
The offense that had consecutive three-and-out possessions had touchdowns on its next four drives, all but putting the game out of reach.
Samson Evans scored from 1 yard out to draw Eastern Michigan within 13-9 by the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Powell found Darius Lassiter with a 1-yard scoring strike, Evans had a 3-yard TD run and Powell and Lassiter connected on a 28-yard scoring play.
Jesus Gomez booted a 51-yard field goal and Jaylon Jackson scored on a 31-yard run to round out the scoring for the Eagles.
Cordeiro threw TD passes to Nick Nash and Isaiah Hamilton in the second half for the Spartans. Cordeiro led the Spartans offensively, completing 26 of 44 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.
San Jose State (7-5), which entered the game tied for the fewest total turnovers in FBS with six on the season, turned the ball over three times. It was first time this season that the Spartans had multiple turnovers in a game.
”If you’re going to win against good teams and one side of your game is struggling, the other side has to respond,” San Jose coach Brent Brennan said. ”And we didn’t answer. We didn’t do that in either phase of the game.”
Eastern Michigan: While the Eagles will savor their second-best season in school history, coach Chris Creighton might have to temper expectations heading into 2023 with some key players returning. Powell is out of eligibility, but whoever steps into the quarterback role will have Evans, the team’s leading rusher, returning along with both Hassan Beydoun and Tanner Knue, the team’s top receivers.
San Jose State: Losing Elijah Cooks and his 1,000-plus yards of receiving will hurt looking ahead to next season for the Spartans. But all the other starters on offense – including Cordeiro at quarterback – return for a team that will be poised to keep building on the program’s recent success.
Eastern Michigan: Hosts Howard on Sept. 2 in its opener.
San Jose State: Opens next season at USC on Aug. 26.
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