Piscataway, N.J. — Minutes after knocking off Rutgers in what probably will go down as its biggest regular-season win in 126 seasons of football, Eastern Michigan players jogged to the area where its fans sat and celebrated.
It didn’t make a difference that there were only about two dozen Eagles’ fans there, beating Rutgers 16-13 Saturday was like winning a national title or a bowl game. It was sheer joy and there were high fives and hugs to be exchanged.
This was the Eagles (2-0) first win against a Big Ten Conference foe in 39 overall games and their first win against a Power-5 school in 59 overall games. Their only other major win was a 30-27 victory over San Jose State in the California Bowl in 1987.
“It’s awesome. It’s absolutely awesome,” Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. “It’s a group of guys and coaches that people didn’t believe in that stuck together and endured some tough times and tried to stay on course and to believe in ourselves and believe in each other and to do things right, so yeah, to fly out here in the second week of the season and have a win like this, it’s a pretty big deal.”
Paulie Fricano kicked a go-ahead 24-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and the Eagles made two late defensive stands in preserving their moment in time.
Brogan Roback passed for 260 yards and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Antoine Porter. Fricano, who tied his single-game high with three field goals, also hit from 33 and 21 yards, the latter tying the game at 13 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
Creighton had talked about the lack of a win against a Power-5 team earlier in the week.
“It was pretty hard not to be aware because like coach Creighton said, he said it every chance he got,” Roback said. “But you definitely have a little bit of extra juice because you have a chip on your shoulder. You come in, you’re the underdogs and that’s fine. This team loves being the underdog.”
This was 11th straight loss for Rutgers (0-2) and it had to hurt after it played well against then No. 8 Washington last week.
“Well, obviously it’s not a good mood in the locker room when you lose a game,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “I don’t care who you lose to. A loss is a loss and when you’ve invested a lot like these players have, and you lose, it hurts.”
Rutgers got field goals of 25 and 39 yards from Andrew Harte and a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards with 6:07 left in the third quarter for a 13-10 lead.
Roback, who was 19 of 36, then led Eastern Michigan on scoring drives of 72 and 77 yards to set up Fricano’s last two field goals.
Rutgers wasn’t done though.
Starting at their own 7, Kyle Bolin hit Janarion Grant on passes of 8, 10, 22 and 7 yards to help the Scarlet Knights reached the Eastern Michigan 27. On third-and-3 from the 27, Brody Hoying stepped in front of a Bolin pass and returned the interception 71 yards to the Rutgers 5.
The Scarlet Knights held and blocked a 33-yard goal attempt by Fricano with 1:34 to go.
Passes of 33 and 9 yards to Damon Mitchell and a personal foul for roughing the passer got Rutgers to the Eagles 25 with 18 seconds to play.
However, Rutgers was penalized 15 yards for illegal hands to the face that pushed the ball back to the 40 and Bolin (17 of 37 for 198) was sacked on the final play.
“We just didn’t make some plays that were there,” Ash said. “I don’t want to overcomplicate it, oversimplify it. However, you want to look at it, we need to play better.”