PULLMAN, Wash. — Opponents of Eastern Washington’s football team can try to focus on stopping receiver Cooper Kupp, but coach Beau Baldwin said that won’t be enough to beat the Eagles.
“We have a lot of great players on this offense,” Baldwin said after Eastern Washington of the FCS upset Washington State 45-42 on Saturday.
Kupp, last year’s FCS offensive player of the year, caught 12 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
But quarterback Gage Gubrud threw for 474 yards and five touchdowns.
Washington State, which lost to Portland State of the Football Championship Subdivision in its opening game last year, could not stop the Eastern Washington offense, which produced 606 yards.
Eastern Washington, which came in as three-touchdown underdogs, also upset Oregon State of the Pac-12 three years ago.
“I just learned there is no fear” in this team,” Baldwin said. “This was the enjoyment of all the labor and all the work.”
Gubrud, making his first start, completed 34 of 40 passes and was intercepted once. He also ran for a touchdown to ice the game.
“We knew we could do this the whole time,” Gubrud said.
Kupp’s two touchdown receptions in the third quarter put EWU ahead for good.
“It feels awesome to come out in the first game and do what we did,” said Kupp, who was passed over by Washington and Washington State. “The mentality is that we are the better team.”
Washington State rebounded from the loss to Portland State last year to finish 9-4.
“Eastern Washington’s first-level guys are as good as our first-level guys,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “They beat us in all three phases of the game.”
“We need to play better football,” said WSU receiver Gabe Marks, who caught 10 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
But cornerback Marcellus Pippins said it was too soon to panic.
“This is just one game,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more games to go.”
In the first half, the teams combined to score touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions.
The streak started when Luke Falk threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Marks and the Cougars led 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Eastern Washington replied with Gubrud’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Antoine Custer Jr., to tie the game at 7-7.
Washington State came right back with a 58-yard drive, capped by Falk’s 27-yard scoring pass to Kyle Sweet for a 14-7 lead.
Eastern Washington replied with another touchdown, this time on a 6-yard pass from Gubrud to Sam McPherson. On this 75-yard drive, Kupp caught one pass for 11 yards, rushed the ball once for 14 yards and threw a 22-yard pass.
Washington State came right back, scoring on a 2-yard pass from Falk to Marks.
Eastern Washington tied the game at 21-21 when, on the first play of its subsequent possession, Kupp caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Gubrud.
Jamal Morrow’s 5-yard touchdown run put the Cougars ahead 28-21, and ended the scoring streak as EWU punted on its next possession.
But Eastern Washington’s Mitch Fettig intercepted a Falk pass, and Jordan Dascalo kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to cut Washington State’s lead to 28-24 at halftime.
Kupp caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Gubrud on the opening drive of the second half to put the Eagles ahead 31-28. That gave him 58 career touchdown passes, tying the FCS record set by David Ball of New Hampshire. He broke the record on EWU’s next drive, with a one-handed catch of Gubrud’s 7-yard pass in the end zone, giving the Eagles a 38-28 lead.
Marcellus Pippins intercepted Gubrud in the end zone to end another EWU scoring threat.
Erik Powell missed a 38-yard field goal attempt for Washington State midway through the fourth.
Gerard Wicks caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Falk with 4:42 left in the game for Washington State’s first points of the second half, cutting EWU’s lead to 38-35.
But Eastern Washington marched down the field, with Gubrud scoring on a 30-yard bootleg with 1:39 left for a 45-35 lead.
Wicks scored on a 3-yard touchdown run for Washington State with 14 seconds left. Their on-side kick attempt was recovered by the Eagles.
Coach Mike Leach has lost all five of his season openers at Washington State.
Eastern Washington: Gubrud, a sophomore, played spectacularly in his first career start. Kupp has made a specialty of out-classing Pac-12 defensive backs. Last season, he caught 15 passes for 246 yards at Oregon. Two years ago he caught three touchdown passes against Washington. As a freshman, he caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State.
Washington State: The Cougars finished 9-4 last year, but will have to play better in a tough Pac-12 to match that this year.
Eastern Washington plays at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State next Saturday
Washington State plays at Boise State on the blue turf next Saturday.
COOL HAND LUKE
Falk completed 41 of 51 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
Washington State received plenty of votes in the preseason Top 25, but likely won’t get many in the next poll.