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Spartans fall short after fast start in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

SJSU receiver Isaiah Hamilton vs. Eastern Michigan, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, December 20, 2022
photo by: Terrell Lloyd

A “long” 15-minute first quarter was a game in itself for San Jose State (7-4) before their ordeal set in.

In an entertaining and interesting bowl game between MAC and Mountain West opponents, Eastern Michigan (9-4) handled San Jose State for most of the game in a 41-27 win over the Spartans to take the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

In six bowl appearances, the Eagles have won two bowl games; both over the Spartans in 1987 and 2022.

With 180 yards of offense in the first quarter alone for SJSU, Spartan quarterback Chevan Cordeiro engineered two scores right away to jump out to a 13-0 lead - a 27-yard TD jaunt by Cordeiro and an eight-yard TD toss to Justin Lockhart.

But momentum is a finicky thing, sometimes fleeting

In between the first quarter scoring action, a missed 46-yard Spartan field goal attempt and a momentum-swinging blocked field goal ran back for two points the other way by EMU helped lead to 33 unanswered Eagle points.

“That blocked field goal was critical,” said Spartan head coach Brent Brennan. “It’s something hard to practice. It’s really a frustrating thing and we can’t have that. We still have to get to work and get that fixed.”

By the start of the second quarter, a 4th-and-goal call found running back Kairee Robinson stopped well short leading to 96-yard scoring drive the other way for EMU along with two more Eagle scoring drives for the 30-13 first-half lead.

“We just couldn’t sustain that first second quarter drive,” said Brennan. “And then we couldn’t get off the field. It was really hard to take.”

A prolonged defensive lapse looked to be predicated with missing safety Tre Jenkins and a slowed Mountain West defensive player of the year Viliami Fehoko - two season stalwarts for the Spartans.

Jenkins had to leave the game in the middle of the first quarter and Fehoko looked to be nursing a leg injury but continued to play and shot back in the second half.

Along with making the correct adjustments after a slow start, EMU noted the Spartan gap and immediately took action into the Spartan secondary with 298 yards in the air.

The Eagle’s defense also turned the table on the Spartans. EMU flipped SJS’ +12 turnover margin forcing three interceptions: two by Cordeiro and one by receiver Elijah Cooks on a trick play. All in all, 14 points off turnovers for the Eagles.

The Spartan did snag two interceptions but countered with no points.

Spartan backers Jordan Pollard and Kyle Harmon had 11 and eight tackles, respectively, with Harmon breaking 100 tackles for the year.

The Spartans finally responded on their third drive of the third quarter with a diving 37-yard reception by Isaiah Hamilton (five receptions, 137 yards, one touchdown) that led to Nick Nash’s first touchdown grab of the year, a 17-yarder from Cordeiro.

Cordeiro had a career day throwing for 366 yards (26-44), three TD throws, one rushing TD, two INTs. And the Spartans racked up 498 yards of total offense - the highest offensive output this season.

“Chevan is a special player and an amazing part of our team,” said Brennan. “He’s not going to want to talk about his numbers. He’s going to want to talk about the interceptions, because he’s so motivated and competitive.”

“That’s what we love about Chevan,” added Brennan on Cordeiro’s drive and passion. “Chevan’s going to be leading the charge this off-season and helping us get ready to play good football next fall and I’m grateful Chevan is a part of us. I love him. We love him.”

EMU continued the grind

Almost on cue, the Eagles countered right away with a scoring drive after the Spartans elected not to try a fourth and inches at mid-field and it was 41-20 Eagles by the end of the third.

Down 21 points to start the fourth, the writing was on the wall, as the Spartans would need to score on every drive to pull it out.

With Hamilton coming alive in the season finale, he answered with a 17-yard touchdown reception from Cordeiro cutting the lead to what would be the final 41-27 score.

Eastern Michigan would continue to grind the Spartans with 418 yards of offense until Spartan cornerback Michael Dansby intercepted a pass in the end zone for hope.

But the Eagles set the final dagger by intercepting Cordeiro with 1:47 left in the fourth and Eastern Michigan had their second bowl win in their history.

“I’m grateful to our seniors, who are great competitors and leaders, for trusting us,” said Brennan with added solemn. “Most of them came to us when we were a 1-11 team. They believed in what we were doing and I’m forever grateful.”

With National Signing Day starting this Wednesday, San Jose State will expect a big reload with many of their longtime foundational players graduating away.