CHENEY, Wash. (AP) - Vernon Adams threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score as Eastern Washington defeated Montana State 54-29 on Saturday to take a major step toward the Big Sky Conference championship.
The No. 3 Eagles (8-2, 6-0) notched the program's 500th victory in defeating the No. 4 Bobcats (7-3, 5-1). It was the first Big Sky matchup of FCS top-five teams since 1994.
EWU scored on all eight of its possessions, not counting when the Eagles were taking a knee at the end.
Adams now has 38 touchdown passes to break the school record and ranks second in Big Sky history. He was an efficient 16 of 18, including a scoring throws of 76, 68 and 17 yards to Shaquille Hill. Hill finished with a career-high 172 receiving yards.
"Vernon was special and the receivers were special," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. "I didn't realize (Vernon) had just two incompletions -- that is impressive. That is just the type of player he is. He keeps getting better, and he keeps working at it."
Quincy Forte's 25-yard scoring run with 1:28 left in the first half gave EWU the lead for good at 26-21. Forte rushed for a career-high 123 yards and two scores.
"The offensive line did a great job, and we added a running game that I think surprised Montana State," Baldwin said.
MSU closed to 40-29 early in the fourth quarter on DeNarius McGhee's 2-yard run. Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, Adams responded with his 76-yard TD bomb to Hill, who caught the ball in stride and scored easily. That gave the Eagles a 47-29 lead with 11:57 remaining.
The Bobcats came up empty on their next drive, giving up the ball on downs. Anthony Vitto entered at quarterback for EWU, with Adams on the sideline with cramps. Vitto led a 71-yard drive that was capped with his 36-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp to end the scoring. That gave Kupp, a redshirt freshman, a touchdown catch in all 10 EWU games this season. He finished with 110 yards.
McGhee, who has over 10,000 yards passing in his career, had his best day of the season throwing. He hit 31 of 37 attempts for 330 yards with an interception. His one touchdown pass went to Tanner Bleskin, who had 116 yards receiving. Cody Kirk ran for 100 yards and two scores.
"We knew we had to score points," McGhee said. "It's not on our defense, it's on our team."
EWU swept the Montana schools for the second straight year, and Saturday's meeting between the Eagles and Cats will be the last conference meeting until 2016. MSU and EWU do have a home-and-home non-conference series set up for the next two seasons, starting next September in Bozeman.
Montana State plays its final two games of the regular season at home, starting with this Saturday's tilt against Southern Utah.
Griz 31, South Dakota 27
VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) - Ellis Henderson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown with 1:36 to play as Montana rallied to beat South Dakota 31-27 on Saturday.
Henderson scored three touchdowns, including two receiving for the No. 10 Grizzlies. He also caught TD passes of 6 and 71 yards.
Henderson's long kickoff return helped Montana survive a late South Dakota score.
"Our guys seem to just find a way and where it comes from you know is just true grit," said UM coach Mick Delaney, whose squad has overcome second-half deficits in its last three victories. "We give up things that we probably shouldn't. We make mistakes. But somehow these young men are finding a way to win.
"It's a heartache, that's for sure," said South Dakota coach Joe Glenn, who led Montana to a national title in 2001. "We just can't fold our tent like that. What do you say when they run (a fumble) in for a touchdown then we kick it to their best player and we don't even touch him. We're not even close."
With South Dakota up 24-17, Jordan Tripp forced a fumble that was returned 35 yards by Matt Hermanson for a touchdown with 6:33 remaining in the game. A 38-yard field goal from Miles Bergner with 1:48 left gave the Coyotes (4-6) a 27-24 lead, but then Henderson's kickoff return gave the lead back to the Grizzlies (8-2).
"It was just disappointing," Glenn added. "We got outcoached there. We never should have kicked it to the kid. It just shouldn't happen."
It was the second longest kickoff return in Montana history, and was eerily similar to the one former Havre Blue Pony Marc Mariani returned in UM's historic comeback against South Dakota State in 2009. Henderson's two receiving scores Saturday gave him 14 for the season, and helped him pass Mariani's 2009 total for third on the single-season list. Henderson is now one behind Mariani's 2008 total of 15 for second on that list.
"I was a little shocked but happy I could go back there and the blocking was just great," Henderson said. "I mean, I couldn't say more for the blocking. I just ran straight and all of my blocks were perfect. They sealed the edge for me and I was one-on-one with the kicker and the kicker was too far away to make a play."
South Dakota had one final opportunity, driving 44 yards to the Montana 31-yard line before Bo Tully broke up a pass intended for Josh Vander Maten and the Coyotes turned the ball over on downs.
Jordan Johnson had 337 yards passing and two touchdowns, highlighted by the 71-yard strike to Henderson in the first half. But Johnson was also picked off three times, including once in the end zone and one that was returned 60 yards for a TD by Aaron Swift on the Grizzlies' first possession.
Henderson caught four passes for 188 yards.
Trevor Bouma had 147 yards rushing and a touchdown and Kevin Earl completed 27 of 45 passes for 235 yards and a score to lead South Dakota.
South Dakota held Montana to just 53 yards on the ground while rushing for 223. The Yotes'also held a 458-390 advantage in total yards. However, Montana's defense, which has really struggled over the last four games and three wins, held the Yotes' to just three second-half points.
The Griz return home for the final time this season when they host Weber State this Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Note: Sports Editor George Ferguson contributed to these stories.