Sophomore quarterback Adam Tafralis threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for two others to lead the Spartans back from a 17-7 first-half deficit. Senior wide receiver Rufus Skillern, a 2005 Football Writers Association of America preseason All-America selection, made seven catches, including one touchdown, for 138 yards.
The game was played in front of an announced crowd of 11,878, nearly double the average Spartan attendance of 6,594 from a year ago.
The NCAA Division I-AA Eagles were the first to score in the game, with senior All-America quarterback Erik Meyer hitting senior wideout Raul Vijil with a 27-yard touchdown with 7:11 left in the first quarter.
Benefitting from back-to-back penalties of five yards for a face mask and 15 yards for pass interference, San Jose State struck right back on the ensuing possession, Tafralis going 20 yards to Skillern at 5:48. Junior running back Ryan Cole regained the lead for the visitors with a five-yard run, culminating a 10-play, 80-yard drive with 1:17 remaining in the opening quarter. A 29-yard field goal by junior Sheldon Weddle at the 9:13 mark of the second quarter gave Eastern Washington a 17-7 edge.
The score remained the same until, with just over a minute and a half to play before the intermission, Tafralis lofted a pass into the corner of the endzone and found junior wideout John Broussard for the 20-yard touchdown. Sophomore tailback took on a bulk of the workload on the five-play, 80-yard drive, rushing three straight times for 61 yards, including a career-long 43-yard effort.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, the Spartans first took the lead, then took control of the game, scoring 28 unanswered points in all. Tafralis ran eight yards to cap off an efficient, eight-play, 70-yard drive which took just under three minutes to execute, putting San Jose State up by the score of 21-17 at 12:12 of quarter number three. On third-and-six from its own 13 yardline on the very next possession, Meyer's pass attempt was deflected in the air by senior defensive end Justin James and intercepted by junior Ulisese Liua. Liua rumbled six yards into the endzone to give the home side some breathing room at 28-17.
"It was really a culmination of efforts," commented Liua after the game. "Sometimes, you're just in the right place at the right time. To be honest, that time, I might have actually been in the wrong place. (Justin James) tipped it, and we had good pressure inside. I didn't want to let anybody beat me to (the ball). It was just good timing by everybody."
Another Tafralis rushing touchdown, this time for three yards around the right side, made it 35-17 with 2:28 left in the third quarter. The key play of the drive was a 28-yard hookup between Tafralis and Skillern on fourth down and three.
The Eagles managed the final score of the game with 54 ticks showing on the clock in the third quarter, Meyer finding Cole for his second touchdown of the afternoon, on a 21-yard pass play.
Tafralis threw for 290 yards on the day, completing 21 of 34 passes. Davis finished with 94 yards on the ground on 13 carries. The Spartans as a team rushed for 253 yards on the day. In addition to his interception and touchdown, Liua also had a fumble recovery. The Spartan defense sacked Meyer a total of four times. Freshman placekicker Jared Strubeck was successful on all five of his extra-point attempts. Freshman Chad Bozzo saw action at quarterback on one drive in the second quarter.
"This is a wonderful feeling," said Tomey in the post-game press conference. "There are certain things that the coaches can do better, and there are certain things that we as a team can do better. But, we're building a program here, and that takes some time. There is no reason why San Jose State shouldn't have a great program, a program that everybody can be proud of. We are off to a good start, but there's a lot of work left to be done."
The victory marks the first time that Tomey has won in his debut at the helm of a major college program. Previously, he had lost in his first games in charge of both Hawaii and Arizona, against New Mexico in 1977, and against Iowa in 1987, respectively. Now in his 25th season, Tomey has a 16-9 win-loss record as a head coach in season openers.
For Eastern Washington, Meyer threw for 372 yards (23-38) and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Eric Kimble, like Meyer an All-American, caught nine passes for 118 yards. He became the career receptions leader for the Eagles with his third catch of the afternoon, to give him 169. Vigil wound up with 121 yards on five catches.
The Spartans are on the road next weekend, traveling to Champaign, Ill., to take on Illinois on Saturday, September 10. Kick-off is set for 1:00 p.m. (CDT). The Illini turned a 27-10 fourth-quarter deficit into a 33-30 overtime win over Rutgers on Saturday.
The game will be televised by ABC-TV, beginning at 4:00 p.m. (PST).