HUTCHINSON — Three weeks, in a football sense, is a long time. That's how long Hutchinson's football team had between games and how long the Blue Dragons heard about the greatness that is Eastern Arizona's run-based offense.
And it was how long Hutchinson was able to work on the best way to stop Eastern Arizona, by trying to force turnovers. The Blue Dragons recovered three Eastern Arizona fumbles and held the Gila Monsters well below their nation-leading rushing average in a 42-21 victory Saturday afternoon in the Salt City Bowl at Gowans Stadium.
"That's all we heard about going into this game, was how good (Eastern) Arizona is running the ball," Hutchinson middle linebacker Chip Hester said. "We took that personally."
Hester took it most personally and used his motivation to record a game-high 17 tackles. The No. 17 Gila Monsters had 250 rushing yards, besting No. 10 Hutchinson's total by 51, but they missed their season average by more than 70 yards.
Eastern Arizona (8-4) averaged 4.2 yards per carry and big plays were scarce. Hutchinson swarmed the ball and kept quarterback Cody Von Appen, the linchpin of Eastern Arizona's option attack, off-balance. The Gila Monsters fumbled four times, and the first one Hutchinson recovered turned into a touchdown that gave the Blue Dragons (10-2) a 21-7 lead in the first quarter.
"Every game, coach (Rion Rhoades) focuses on turnovers," Hester said. "Trying to get the ball out, get the ball out. That's every game. But this game right here, we knew they toted the ball high and the quarterback ran it all out. Coach really focused on that, and we were able to put the ball on the deck at times."
Hutchinson's defense wasn't satisfied with just the fumble recoveries. Von Appen doesn't pass much, but he hurt the Blue Dragons with deep passes, including a 56-yard touchdown to Rashon Evans on Eastern Arizona's second play to make it 7-0.
And while the Blue Dragons had one sack, they pressured Von Appen enough to force him into difficult throws, and Van Appen threw two interceptions, both caught by Wichita Heights product Dorrian Roberts. Eastern Arizona was looking to tie it midway through the second quarter, but Hutchinson turned the first interception into a touchdown that gave it a 28-14 lead.
"As a quarterback, he's a threat," Hester said. "He's a cut-back quarterback and very agile. We game-planned around him and their whole triple-option, veer offense, just trying to keep him contained."
Hutchinson didn't match Eastern Arizona in rushing yards, but the Blue Dragons had the game's best running game, with five touchdowns and more than four yards per carry. Four players had a rushing touchdown and quarterback Elliott Alford had two. Alford's 15 carries led Hutchinson and were more than he's used to.
Alford usually complements Hutch's running backs, but Saturday the running game was centered around him.
"I knew I was probably going to have to run a little bit more than usual because they know what we do offensively with Angelo (Pease) and Jamal Womble and Derek Campbell," Alford said. "I just had to come through big for my team to win this game. At one point in time I ran like five times in a row. It was killing me, but it was a little successful."
Hutchinson's special teams were also valuable. Cordarelle Patterson, a wide receiver, had an 80-yard punt-return touchdown in the first quarter and gave the Blue Dragons short fields with two other long returns.
Patterson found a way to make a difference even though he caught two passes for one yard.
"I really don't pay attention to getting the ball," Patterson said. "It's not a big deal to me. It's a team thing, so on special teams I try to help my team score."
Eastern Arizona (8-4) 7 7 7 0 — 21 Hutchinson (10-2) 21 7 7 7 — 42
EA— Evans 56 pass from Von Appen (Porter kick)
H—Pease 1 run (Linn kick)
H—Patterson 80 punt return (Linn kick)
H—Alford 18 run (Linn kick)
EA—Von Appen 1 run (Porter kick)
H—Alford 10 run (Linn kick)
H—Campbell 2 run (Linn kick)
EA—Von Appen 1 run (Porter kick)
H—Womble 1 run (Linn kick)
Rushing — Eastern Arizona, Von Appen 18-87, Bridge 11-43, McPhaul 6-34, Evans 11-33, Johnson 5-28, Long 7-21, Jeffries 1-4. Hutchinson, Alford 15-87, Campbell 9-48, Pease 10-37, Womble 14-35, Team 1-(-8).
Passing — Eastern Arizona, Von Appen 7-14-141-2, Team 0-1-0-0. Hutchinson, Alford 4-6-18-0, Miller 0-1-0-0, Pease 0-1-0-0.
Receiving — Eastern Arizona, Evans 4-118, Bridge 2-36, Ah Kue 1-(-13). Hutchinson, Patterson 2-1, Weis 1-15, Pease 1-2.