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Eastern Washington notebook: Eagles show they can win close games, too

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 8, 2018, 11:46 p.m.

Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere said he often dreams of orchestrating winning drives, but he’s rarely had the opportunity.

Before EWU edged UC Davis 34-29 on Saturday in the FCS quarterfinals at Roos Field, the Eagles had pummeled most of their previous opponents in games that were decided well before the last seconds ticked down.

There were no late-game heroics in a 14-6 loss at Weber State in October, when the Eagles’ offense came up empty on its final drives.

Barriere atoned for that performance on Saturday, assembling a four-play, 47-second winning drive capped off by Sam McPherson’s deciding touchdown run with 26 seconds remaining.

Barriere, who passed for 235 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for another score, came up big in the fourth quarter. His 29-yard run to start the winning drive was especially clutch, as he eluded a host of UC Davis defenders.

When UC Davis scored on a go-ahead 2-point conversion at the 1:13 mark, Barriere said was ready to march up the field and put his team back on top.

“I had belief. You can’t get rattled. As a quarterback, things don’t always go the way you expect, so you have to keep your composure and keep the team composed,” said Barriere, who was sacked five times and intercepted once.

“You never know, one big play can happen to spark the whole team. I just want to help the team with whatever I can do.”

But it wasn’t just Barriere and McPherson who exhibited their clutch genes in the win.

On the Eagles’ penultimate possession with the game tied at 21, EWU receiver Andrew Boston freed himself of UC Davis’ coverage and hauled in a 55-yard pass, setting up a Barriere touchdown pass to Nsimba Webster on the next play.

EWU’s offense hit its stride in the fourth quarter and its defense forced a turnover on the UC Davis’ final possession to seal the win.

Linebacker Ketner Kupp liked his team’s resolve.

“It shows the character of our team,” Kupp said. “Our guys remained together and the entire time we talked about how we knew what we needed to do and we thrived under pressure instead of crumbling. We rallied together and it was cool seeing the whole team respond that way.”

EWU head coach Aaron Best had three timeouts to work with on the Eagles’ final drive. He was planning to use Roldan Alcobendas, one of the top placekickers in the country, for the potential winner.

“That was some last drive. I challenged our team to get us a field-goal attempt – we had three timeouts to make it happen.” Best said. “It just shows you what kind of player Eric Barriere is.

“He wasn’t on for most of the night, but when we needed it most he showed up and made some big plays. We’ve been around enough to know that nothing is ever perfect. We embrace adversity. We fight adversity and we are better for facing adverse situations.”

Freshmen step up

EWU was already down to second-string safety Dehonta Hayes when he was briefly out with an injury in the second quarter.

When redshirt freshman Anthany Smith stepped in, five underclassmen were on the field for EWU’s defense, a once senior-loaded group decimated by injuries.

His first play in the game, Smith picked off UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier.

Earlier in the game, redshirt freshman defensive end Mitch Johnson picked off Maier.

Big day for Merritt

EWU is known for often using three running backs, but talented speedster Dennis Merritt is the fourth.

Merritt got the most out of his opportunities.

The Leavenworth, Washington, product had four carries for 29 yards and caught a 33-yard pass setting up Barriere’s touchdown run that tied the game at 21 early in the fourth quarter.

Merritt has 40 carries for 326 yards and three touchdowns this season.

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