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Fresno State football cuts it close against Eastern Washington

Quarterback+Mikey+Keene+runs+the+ball+during+the+double-overtime+on+the+home+opener%2C+Sept.+9.
Diego Vargas
Quarterback Mikey Keene runs the ball during the double-overtime on the home opener, Sept. 9.

One week after going on the road and beating Purdue, Fresno State struggled to a 34-31 win in double overtime during its home opener against Eastern Washington University on Sept. 9. 

With the win, Fresno State improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2013, when it had Davante Adams and Derek Carr. 

The ‘Dogs entered the game as 31.5 point favorites. Head coach Jeff Tedford took accountability for the team’s underwhelming performance.

“This was a good wake-up call for us…I need to do a better job getting us ready to play,” Tedford said.

After a highly efficient debut with the team in the Purdue game, Bulldog quarterback Mikey Keene struggled at the home opener with accuracy, completing only 59% of his pass attempts.

Fresno State’s defense started strong, forcing an Eastern Washington turnover on downs. On the next play, Bulldog wide receiver Mac Dalena took a handoff for 33 yards. Two plays later, running back Elijah Gilliam found the end zone on a 5-yard run to give the ‘Dogs a quick 7-0 lead. 

Wide receiver Erik Brooks celebrates after making a touchdown. (Valentina Saldaña)

Eastern Washington responded with a field goal on a nearly nine-minute drive. They were able to extend the drive after converting two 4th down attempts.  

The ‘Dogs were held scoreless on their next possession. They had an opportunity to have a big play, but Keene overthrew Dalena on 3rd down. 

On the ensuing Eagles possession, the ‘Dogs forced their first turnover of the year after defensive lineman Kemari Munier-Bailey recovered a fumble by Eagles quarterback Kekoa Vesperas. 

Fresno State took over on Eastern Washington’s 20-yard line and nearly scored on the first play, but Keene’s pass to wide receiver Erik Brooks fell incomplete. After running back Devon Rivers gained 14 yards on two plays, Fresno State scored on a 6 yard pass from Keene to tight end Jake Boust to take a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. 

Both teams were held scoreless for the remainder of the first half. The ‘Dogs could not get their pass game flowing as Keene only completed seven of his 15 pass attempts for 48 yards. 

At halftime, Fresno State honored its all-time winningest coach, with Jim Sweeney posthumously inducted into the Fresno State Ring of Honor.

Jim Sweeney’s jersey on exhibition with his family behind. (Valentina Saldaña)

The sluggish offense carried over for Fresno State into the second half with a three-and-out.

Eastern Washington cut the lead to 14-10 on its next possession after quarterback Michael Worthman ran for a 12-yard touchdown. 

Fresno State ended its offensive struggles on the next drive. Keene connected with tight end Tre Watson for a gain of 16 yards on 2nd and 20. After two straight first downs, Keene connected with Brooks for a 29 yard touchdown pass to give Fresno State a 21-10 lead.

The Eagles strung together another long possession ending in a touchdown. Worthman found wide receiver Efton Chism III in the back of the endzone for a two-yard touchdown pass to trim the lead to 21-17. 

On the next possession for Fresno State, Keene threw his second interception of the season to Eastern Washington linebacker Connor O’Farrell with under a minute remaining in the 3rd quarter. 

The Eagles took their first lead of the game with 10 minutes remaining when Justice Jackson took a handoff on fourth-and-three, 33 yards for the touchdown to silence the sellout crowd at Valley Children’s Stadium. 

Bulldog lineman Devo Bridges celebrates after tackling an Eastern Washington player. (Diego Vargas)

Fresno State tied the game at 24 with under six minutes remaining on a 43-yard field goal by kicker Dylan Lynch. 

Lynch had the chance for the game winning kick with seven seconds left, but his kick went wide right, sending the game to overtime with both teams tied at 24. 

The Eagles took the ball first in overtime. Tight end Austin York made a one-handed catch to put the Eagles on the 1-yard line. On the next play, Visperas found wide receiver Anthony Stell Jr. to put the Eagles up 31-24. 

Fresno State took advantage of its opportunity. On third-and-five, Brooks converted a key 1st down to put Fresno State on the 1-yard line. On the next play Gilliam scored his second touchdown of the game to tie the score at 31.

The “Dogs couldn’t convert on their 3rd down attempt on the following drive, settling for a Lynch 25 yard field goal. 

After going two full regulations without forcing an interception, Bulldogs linebacker and reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week Levelle Bailey intercepted Visperas on the first play of the Eagles 2nd overtime possession to give the Bulldogs a win, 34-31. 

The Bulldogs will head to Arizona to face 1-1 Arizona State on Sep. 16. 

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