EWU and NDSU to play in 50th Game on the Red Turf on SWX - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

EWU and NDSU to play in 50th Game on the Red Turf on SWX

You can watch the 50th game live on SWX. Photo: EWU Athletics You can watch the 50th game live on SWX. Photo: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

It's already been said – and proven -- in the Eastern Washington University football program that iron sharpens iron.
 
In a repeat match-up between top 10 ranked teams, the No. 7/6 Eagles open their 2017 home schedule at sold-out Roos Field this Saturday (Sept. 9) when No. 2 North Dakota State visits in the opening weekend of the Big Sky Conference/Missouri Valley Football Conference Challenge Series.
 
In what will be the 50th game on the famed red turf of Roos Field, kickoff is 1:05 p.m. in a game televised live by SWX in the Eastern Washington region, NBC North Dakota and via ESPN3. Fans can also listen to the game on the Eagle radio network (including 700-AM ESPN), via the web at tunein.com and via mobile phone app, with pre-game coverage starting one hour prior to kickoff.
 
This week's showdown with the five-time NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Champions is the second game of a home-and-home series against the Bison. Eastern, which won the national title in 2010 prior to NDSU's incredible run of five-straight, lost 50-44 in overtime on Sept. 10, 2016, in Fargo. Eastern knocked off NDSU 38-31 in overtime in the only previous meeting with the Bison on Dec. 11, 2010, in the FCS Playoffs in Cheney.
 
Both teams advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs last season, but losses enabled current No. 1 ranked James Madison to become the first team other than EWU or NDSU to win the national title since 2009.
 
"They have a very highly intelligent offense and defense, and their special teams are a well-coached outfit," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best. "They do everything really, really, really well. And that's not even mentioning how physical they are. But our goal is to be the most physical team between the tackles on defense, and to sustain drives with points at the end on offense. It's a tall task, but our team is up for that challenge."
 
While NDSU opened its season with 72-7 home romp past Mississippi Valley State, Eastern lost 56-10 against Texas Tech of the Big 12 Conference on Sept. 2 to mark the head coaching debut of Best. The Bison outgained MVSU 683-58 in total offense, including a massive 498 to minus-31 advantage in rushing and 85-89 in passing.
 
Meanwhile, Eastern faced the top offense in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and were out-gained 626-301 in total offense and 449-220 through the air. This week's meeting with NDSU is a night-and-day type of situation for Eastern's defense.
 
"That's going to be one of the bigger challenges for our defense," said Best of the contrast in styles. "We're not going to play this week against many four-receiver sets and on-the-edge rushes, passes and screens. It's probably not an 180-degree turn in what we faced last week, but pretty darn close."
 
Dropping just two spots in both polls, Eastern is ranked seventh in this week's STATS FCS Top-25 rankings and is rated sixth by the coaches. North Dakota State is No. 2 in both polls, behind defending FCS champion James Madison. Eastern has now been ranked by STATS in 72 of its last 73 polls, including a current streak of 15-straight weeks in the top 10. The only schools with longer streaks are NDSU, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State.
 
The Eagles entered the season ranked fifth in the preseason STATS NCAA Football Championship preseason top 25 rankings, and were one notch higher in the poll of coaches. EWU's finished 12-2 and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference a year ago and ended the year ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons, and 12th playoff berth overall.
 
Eastern was 6-2 versus ranked teams last year, and was No. 8 when it fell to top-ranked NDSU. EWU is 17-41 all-time versus top 10 teams and 8-33 versus teams in the top 5, but are 8-6 and 3-5, respectively, since 2010. Overall, EWU is 25-12 since 2010 versus ranked teams, and 54-66 all-time.
 
The Eagles are well-stocked with experience on the field. Eastern returns 51 letterwinners, including 25 on defense, 22 on offense and four on special teams. Six starters return on offense and six on defense.
 
 
 
 

EWU-NDSU Game Notes

 
Big Sky & Missouri Valley Begin Challenge Series
 
In an effort to publicize current matchups and promote future non-conference scheduling between two of the premier FCS conferences, the Mis­souri Valley Football Conference and the Big Sky Conference have announced a Challenge Series between the two leagues. The eight-game series will begin Sept. 9 and conclude Oct. 7.
 
"The Big Sky and Missouri Valley Football Conferences have a great history of football suc­cess," says Andrea Williams, Commissioner of the Big Sky Conference. "It was important to both leagues to highlight and promote the outstanding achievements of our players, coaches and programs. This year will be no different, with top teams in the country meet­ing in great non-conference matchups."
 
"The history of games between these two great FCS conferences is long and strong and it's wonderful to give these games even more significance with this Big Sky/MVFC Chal­lenge Series," notes Patty Viverito, Commissioner of the MVFC. "Inter-conference FCS match-ups featuring nationally-ranked teams make the football season more interesting and meaningful for teams and fans alike."
 
Over the past four seasons, institutions in the two conferences have played one another 35 times. The MVFC has the advantage in that span, although the Big Sky and MVFC split last year's eight meetings, 4-4. This year, institutions in the two leagues will play one an­other eight times, including six times at Big Sky sites.
 
Since being founded in 1985, the MVFC has an all-time edge of 50-33 in games played be­tween their institutions, which includes 30 playoff meetings. Notably, the Big Sky and the MVFC make up two of only three leagues to have two or more playoff teams every year since 1999. In each of the past three seasons, the MVFC and Big Sky, meanwhile, have combined to produce eight of the 24 teams in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoff field. Since the FCS playoffs began in 1978, the two leagues have combined to pro­duce 13 national champions.
 
This year, a total of nine teams representing the two leagues highlighted the STATS FCS top- 25 pre-season rankings. All eight matchups will feature at least one team that was a pre-sea­son top-25 squad, and in two of those matchups both teams are ranked.
 
Date -- Matchup (TV) . . . Note: Current STATS Rankings are Listed
Sept. 9 -- #2 North Dakota State at #7 Eastern Washington, 4 pm ET (SWX/NBC ND/ ESPN3)
Sept. 9 -- Cal Poly at #21 UNI, 5 pm ET (Panther Sports Network/ESPN3)
Sept. 9 -- #4 South Dakota State at Montana State, 8 pm ET (SWX/Pluto TV/Altitude 2)
Sept. 9 -- #22 Western Illinois at Northern Arizona, Time TBD (NAU-TV AZ/Pluto TV)
Sept. 9 -- Missouri State at #11 North Dakota, 5 pm ET (Midco Sports Network/Pluto TV)
Sept. 16 -- #11 North Dakota at South Dakota, 3 pm ET (Midco Sports Network/ESPN3)
Sept. 16 -- #21 UNI at Southern Utah, 8 pm ET (Pluto TV)
Oct. 7 -- #18 Illinois State at Northern Arizona, Time TBD (NAU-TV AZ/Pluto TV)
 
 
NDSU & EWU Enjoy More FCS Playoff Success in 2016, But Come Up Short to Advancing to Title Game
 
Both the Eagles and Bison are no strangers to postseason football, and last year both advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
 
Improving by six wins from the previous season and highlighted by an 11-game winning streak, Eastern finished the 2016 season 12-2 overall and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, and ranked third in the final STATS FCS Top 25 regular season poll.
 
After rolling through its first two opponents in the playoffs, Eastern suffered a heartbreaking 40-38 loss to Youngstown State, which needed an improbable catch with one second left to pull out the victory. Eastern ended the year ranked fourth in the final STATS top 25 poll after coming so agonizingly close to returning to its first NCAA Division I Championship game since 2010 when the Eagles won the national title.
 
Until falling to YSU, EWU hadn't lost since falling to five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State 50-44 in overtime on Sept. 10. One week before that, the Eagles had knocked off Washington State of the Pac-12 Conference 45-42. One week after edging Eastern, NDSU beat 13th-ranked Iowa 23-21.
 
Top-seeded North Dakota State had won five-straight FCS titles and 22-consecutive postseason games before it was defeated at home by fourth-seeded James Madison 27-17 in the semifinals. James Madison went on to beat YSU 28-14 in the NCAA Division I Championship Game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
 
 
 
Eagles Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Games at Roos/Woodward Field With 50th Game on the Red Turf
 
This week's game will be the 50th at Roos Field since the red turf surface was installed in 2010, as EWU seeks to improve upon its 41-8 record when North Dakota State visits. The Eagles have lost just four regular season games at "The Inferno" – 31-4 (88.9 percent), plus are 10-4 in playoff games.
 
This is the seventh season the stadium has been known as "Roos Field," as a new red synthetic Sprinturf surface made its debut in 2010. Eastern finished a perfect 8-0 in its debut season at "The Inferno," including three playoff victories. Eastern is 41-8 overall (84 percent) since the red turf was installed in 2010 – including a 4-0 record versus rival Montana. Eastern has a 154-63 record (71.0 percent) in 217 games at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) since 1967, with the Eagles utilizing Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane as the school's main home field from 1983-89.
 
In 2016, Eastern finished 7-1 in the 50th season of football at EWU's current stadium location, which opened in 1967 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the 2017 season. With 9,302 fans on hand for the ISU game on Nov. 12, Eastern has a current streak of 20 consecutive regular season sellouts and a total of 32 (crowds of 8,600 or more). Eastern's 2016 average was 8,435 (67,477 in eight home games), ranking behind the school record of 9,577 set in five home games in 2015. The Montana game on Oct. 29 had a crowd of 10,931 to rank as the fifth-most in school history, with the top three coming versus the Griz (11,702 in 2010, 11,583 in 2006 and 11,339 in 2014).
 
 
Reunion for 1967 Football Team Includes Honor for Fallen Hero
 
The 50-year-old memories of the hard-hitting by football player Lt. William "Bink" Wall – and the ultimate sacrifice he paid just three years later – will be remembered at the North Dakota State game when he is honored posthumously as the recipient of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service and Contribution Award.
 
A reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Football team's near-perfect season and runner-up finish in the NAIA Championships will take place this weekend. That squad, which was the first team inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, will be honored in pre-game introductions at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field), which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall.
 
As part of the pre-game introductions, Wall will be honored for his service to Eastern and his country. Originally from nearby Tekoa, Wash., he was killed in Vietnam in 1970 -- just three years removed from his honor-filled Eastern football career and 13 days prior to the birth of his second child. His wife, Linda Wall-Sullivan, as well as their two daughters and five grandchildren, will be recognized with the '67 team at the NDSU game. The memory of Wall will also be recognized during EWU's normal Hall of Fame event on Sept. 30.
 
The Service and Contribution award was created in 2007 to recognize extraordinary achievements and contributions by individuals with a past association with the Eastern athletic department. This award, selected by the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Executive Committee, seeks to honor individuals who have contributed not only to EWU, but to other outside endeavors such as education, community service and coaching – and in Wall's case, service to our country.
 
 
Just One Eagle Made First Start of Career at Texas Tech
 
When EWU played at Texas Tech on Sept. 2, a total of 21 of 22 starters hit the field with starting experience under their belts. Six full-time starters returned on each side of the ball, plus all of the team's specialists from a year ago. An additional five starters on offense and four on defense had previously started for the Eagles. The lone starting debut came on defense when sophomore Jack Sendelbach started in place of Ketner Kupp (ankle) on defense. Junior tight end Henderson Belk was listed as a starter, but EWU began with four wide receivers instead.
 
Eight freshman redshirts made their Eastern debuts against Texas Tech on Sept. 2 – Eric Barriere, Talolo Limu-Jones, Calin Criner, Keith Moore, Rudolph Mataia Jr., Brett Thompson, Nicholas Blair and Conner Crist. Three true freshmen made their debuts in an Eastern uniform, including Anfernee Gurley, Johnny Edwards IV and Chris Ojoh. Three other true freshmen were on Eastern's travel squad and did not play -- quarterback Nick Moore, cornerback Ira Branch, and wide receiver Andrew Boston.
 
In addition, Aaron Best made his head coaching debut versus the Red Raiders. It came versus the same team former head coach Beau Baldwin made his EWU head coaching debut against back on Aug. 30, 2008, in a 49-24 Red Raider victory. Interestingly, Best is a 1996 graduate of Curtis High School in Tacoma, Wash., and Baldwin graduated from the same school six years earlier. Best was making his debut as Baldwin's offensive line coach in that 2008 game.
 
 
 
Career Starts by Returning Players
 
Defense (170 starts by 17 players): Nzuzi Webster 23, Andre Lino 23, Mitch Fettig 23, Victor Gamboa 22, Albert Havili 17, Josh Lewis 11, Jay-Tee Tiuli 10, Keenan Williams 10, D'londo Tucker 6, Cole Karstetter 6, Jake Hoffman 6, Ketner Kupp 5, John Kreifels 2, Kurt Calhoun 2, Jonah Jordan 1, Jack Sendelbach 1, Conner Baumann 2 (including 1 as a fullback).
 
Offense (102 starts by 13 players): Tristen Taylor 15, Chris Schlichting 15, Matt Meyer 14, Gage Gubrud 14, Spencer Blackburn 12, Nic Sblendorio 10, Antoine Custer Jr. 7, Jack Hunter 3, Nsimba Webster 3, Terence Grady 3, Stu Stiles 2, Jayce Gilder 1, Kaleb Levao 3 (including 1 as defensive lineman).
 
 
 
Gubrud Seeks to Maintain Career Records Marks
 
After setting three FCS, seven Big Sky marks and 18 school records in the 2016 season, junior Gage Gubrud now seeks to maintain a pair of career marks. After 18 games in his career (11-3 in 14 games as a starter), he remains the Eastern career leader in passing yards per game (301.8), completion percentage (.673) and total offense per game (337.8). He is also seventh in passing yards (5,433, 455 from the No. 6 position), seventh in touchdown passes (49, one from No. 6 and two from No. 5) and sixth in total offense (6,080). Gubrud already owns six of the top eight single game total offense performances in school history (1-2-3-5-6-8) and five of the top 14 passing performances (1-3-6-13-14). In addition, he had an impressive string of 222 passes without an interception, going four full games in 2016 from Sept. 24 to Oct. 22 without a pick. He had a school-record 551 yards of total offense in the first start of his career, a 45-42 season-opening victory over Washington State of the Pac-12 Conference.
 
 
Roldan Alcobendas Two Extra Points Away from Record
 
Kicker Roldan Alcobendas made his only extra point attempt in the game versus Texas Tech on Sept. 2 and is now two away from a school record. With a current streak of 64 extra points in a row, Alcobendas is two from equaling the record of 66 set by Jason Cromer from 1988-90. Alcobendas made his last 63 in a row last season to shatter the previous season record of 47. His 73 total extra points made in 2016 were one behind the Big Sky Conference record of 74 set by former Eagle Kevin Miller in 2013.
 
Alcobendas is a 2013 graduate of Camas (Wash.) High School, and had to sit out both the 2013 and 2015 seasons because of knee injuries. He finished the 2016 season 9-of-15 kicking field goals and made 73-of-74 extra points. He also averaged 54.6 yards on 44 kickoffs with seven touchbacks. In his 19-game career, Alcobendas has made 11-of-17 field goals and 96-of-100 extra points.
 
Returning to the venue he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2014, Alcobendas made field goals of 48 and 31 yards and had a career-high 11 total points in EWU's 41-17 victory over Montana State in 2016 to earn Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors. His 48-yarder was the best of his career, and equals the 23rd-longest in school history. He also had a 31-yarder blocked and made all five of his extra point attempts to account for 11 of EWU's points. In addition, he averaged 64.0 yards in three kickoffs, including one touchback.
 
 
Career Average for Dascalo is Fourth Among the Top Punters in School History
 
After an impressive 2017 opener versus Texas Tech, Jordan Dascalo has now punted 84 times as an Eagle for a 41.1 career average which moved him up one spot to fourth in school history. He averaged 46.8 yards on six punts against the Red Raiders with a long of 58. A pair of his punts were downed inside the 20, and the average starting position for TTU after his six punts was its own 23. Dascalo also kicked off three times, with all three resulting in touchbacks.
 
In his career, Dascalo has now had 25 punts downed inside the 20. He has had eight punts in his career of at least 56 yards, including a career-long of 67 to rank sixth in school history. He is also 4-of-7 in his EWU career kicking field goals, and has averaged 59.8 yards (6,284 total yards) in 105 career kickoffs with 42 touchbacks.
 
Dascalo, who punted as a freshman in 2014 for Washington State, earned Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his performance against his former team on Sept. 3, 2016. He averaged 55.3 yards on three punts, including one downed inside the Cougar 20-yard line. He also kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half that started a decisive 17-0 scoring run by the Eagles in the 45-42 win. He also had seven kickoffs for a 57.0 average against WSU with one touchback. His 48-yarder equaled the 23rd-longest in school history and was the best in nearly seven years by an Eagle since Mike Jarrett booted a 49-yarder versus Idaho State on 10/3/09.
 
 
 

More Aaron Best Comments

 
On This Week: "We know what we have and we're still finding out who we are. It's a different team that we'll face – it isn't a pass-first offense we'll be going against. We'll be at home, so our team will have a little vigor and spring in their step. We want to learn from the Texas Tech loss – myself, the coaching staff and players. We are all in this together. We all win together and unfortunately, sometimes we lose together. That's the way it's always going to be, and the hardest part of sports is being on the not enough points side of things. There were opportunities to be had and we will capitalize on them in the future."
 
On His Team After Texas Tech: "Our players have the DNA to play and play hard. There was a lot of effort and no letdown on both sides of the ball, and I thought special teams played really solid so that's a positive. In the first four possessions of the game there was a lot of back and forth. It was a game for a quarter, and we wanted it to be a game for four quarters. Unfortunately that didn't happen and we'll learn from this."
 
On TTU Loss: "Collectively we didn't maintain the consistency. The doors were opened but we didn't capitalize in the first half, and then it bled into the second half. This one is going to sting – they all sting when you lose. We aren't used to this. You have to be humbled when you lose, so this is a lesson for our team. They'll learn and grow up from this."
 
On Positives: "There were some players who truly had some solid games. One was Sam McPherson – I thought he ran really hard. Terence Grady came up with a few huge catches. On defense we had guys who were playing hard – they were flying around. Players like Mitch Fettig played most if not all the game. A hot day doesn't provide a lot of breathers out there against a pass-happy team. Credit Texas Tech – their quarterback was very efficient and they got the ball out of his hands quick. We just didn't make enough plays."
 
On Moving Forward From Loss: "We'll look at this film and do what we can with it. This is a good, solid Texas Tech football team, and we'll follow them closely in the Big 12 this season. They have 40-plus new players, but they flew around on defense and they mixed it up well on offense. There were times we let them off the hook with penalties, and offense our first play of 2017 was a fumble. Those are things we will clean up and are eager to clean up."
 
On Expanded Travel Roster: "Because we can travel 70 players to non-league games, it expands the roster by 10 bodies. It makes it a little bit easier out of the gate to have a little bit more fluctuation in numbers. So you don't have to make those tough decisions until we get to the league slate when you really have to pare that number down from 70. It is still difficult, but it's not as hard as it will be in three weeks after we expose some of these guys to the first three games. Then when we travel to Missoula we have to make some decisions based on personnel, special teams involvement, depth and numbers at each position. So it gets harder, but from the get-go, it's not as hard given the fact that we have 70 guys traveling to both Texas Tech and to Fordham."
 
 
 

Team Notes

 
Trip to New York to Play Fordham Awaits Eagles
 
A trip to New York City follows for the Eagles against a Fordham team which closed the 2016 season with an 8-3 record, and finished as the Patriot League runner-up with a 5-1 mark. This will be the first-ever meeting for EWU against the Rams, a collegiate football power in the 1930's known for the "Seven Blocks of Granite" featuring the famous Vince Lombardi.
 
Fordham was defeated by Lehigh 58-37 late in the 2016 season, costing the Rams their fourth-straight trip to the FCS Playoffs. Fordham has been in the playoffs five times overall (2002-07-13-14-15) and are 3-5 all-time. Eastern hasn't played any current member of the Patriot League.
 
Eastern's three non-conference foes in 2017 combined to win 68 percent of their games overall in 2016 (25-12), 65 percent in league play (15-8) and 67 percent in the postseason (2-1). By contrast, Eastern's non-conference opponents in 2016 were 31-11 overall the year before for 74 percent, 18-7 in league play (72 percent) and 7-1 in the postseason (88 percent). The Eagles emerged from that gauntlet with a 2-1 record.
 
The game at Fordham will be just the eighth occasion all-time that EWU has played east of the Mississippi River, The last time came in 2013 in Ohio when Eastern fell at Toledo 33-21. That was only EWU's fourth game ever in the Eastern time zone.
 
Eastern is 2-5 in games played East of the Mississippi River, including in 2007 when the Eagles played at Appalachian State (Boone, N.C.) in the FCS Playoffs (L, 35-38). Eastern's other games in the East were West Virginia in 2006 (L, 3-52), Southern Illinois (Carbondale) in the FCS Playoffs in 2004 (W, 35-31), Connecticut in 2001 (W, 35-17), Eastern Illinois (Charleston) in 1991 (L, 12-30) and Fairmont State in Morgantown, W.Va., in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967 (L, 21-28).
 
Eastern has also played three games very close to the Mississippi River in Louisiana –McNeese State (Lake Charles) in 2007, Nicholls State (Thibodaux) in 2004 and Northeast Louisiana (Monroe) in 1992 -- and six times at Northern Iowa (Cedar City) in 2015, 2005, 1994, 1992, 1989 and 1985.
 
In 2018, Eastern is scheduled to play at Washington State (9/15/18) in a rematch of EWU's 45-42 win to open the 2016 season. The Eagles will play in 2019 at Washington (8/31/19), a team EWU narrowly lost to 59-52 in 2014 and 30-27 in 2011. In 2020, the Eagles will play at Florida, and in 2022 are scheduled to play at Oregon.
 
 
Eagles Open Big Sky Conference Slate at Rival Montana
 
After finishing a perfect 8-0 in league play a year ago, Eastern's eight Big Sky Conference foes this coming season combined for a 40-50 record overall and 30-34 league mark in 2016. Two of the opponents – North Dakota and Weber State – advanced to the FCS Playoffs and were a collective 16-8 on the season and 14-2 in the Big Sky.
 
Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play on the road at Montana (6-5/3-5) on Sept. 23 before playing its home opener on Sept. 30 versus Sacramento State (2-9/2-6) on Hall of Fame Day at EWU. Eastern plays at UC Davis (3-8/2-6) on Oct. 7, then hosts rival Montana State (4-7/2-6) on Oct. 14.
 
An Oct. 21 game at Southern Utah (6-5/5-3) is the first of three-straight games against teams with winning records overall and in league play in 2016. After a bye week on Oct. 28, Eastern hosts Weber State (7-5/6-2) for Homecoming on Nov. 4 and plays at fellow defending Big Sky champion North Dakota (9-3/8-0) on Nov. 11. The regular season closes with Senior Day at Roos Field on Nov. 18 versus Portland State, with the FCS Playoffs beginning the following weekend on Nov. 25.
 
 
Eagles Entered Season With National Rankings of Fourth (Coaches) & Fifth (STATS)
 
The reigning national champion James Madison Dukes were picked Aug. 7 as an overwhelming preseason No. 1 in the STATS NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25, with Eastern Washington ranked fifth. In the coaches poll released a week later, the Eagles were fourth.

James Madison, which won the CAA Football title and only lost to North Carolina in a 14-1 season, collected 134 of the 163 first-place votes and 4,034 points in the STATS poll of national media. On the way to winning their second national title, the Dukes ended North Dakota State's five-year championship run in the semifinals. Last year's FCS runner-up, Youngstown State, was ninth.

NDSU was picked second in the preseason poll, followed in the Top 5 by Sam Houston State, South Dakota State and Eastern Washington. The Missouri Valley Football Conference had a poll-high six teams and the CAA was second with five. Eastern received 3,270 points, with fellow Big Sky Conference members North Dakota ranking eighth (2,871) and Cal Poly coming in at No. 23 (427). Eastern doesn't play Cal Poly, but takes on North Dakota on Nov. 11 in Grand Forks, N.D., in a showdown of undefeated Big Sky co-champions in 2016 (both were 8-0 and didn't play each other).


Undefeated Co-Champions in 2016, North Dakota & EWU Picked 1-2
 
There won't be an undefeated tie this year between North Dakota and Eastern Washington University in the race to the Big Sky Conference football championship, but they are expected to battle at the top again. The Fighting Hawks and Eagles have been pegged to finish 1-2, respectively, by both the coaches and media as the picks were released July 18 at the Big Sky Conference Football Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
 
The Eagles received five first-place votes and 271 total points by the media, and had two first-place tallies and 124 total votes by the coaches. The Fighting Hawks were picked first on six of the coaches' ballots, and received six more total votes than EWU. North Dakota earned 15-of-24 first-place votes from the media and had 298 total points.
 
The two teams play each other on Nov. 11 in Grand Forks, N.D. in what could be a showdown for the league title. That game ends the regular season for the Fighting Hawks, while the Eagles play their last game at home versus Portland State the following week. A year ago, Eastern was picked to finish second and ended up tying North Dakota at the top of the league standings with perfect 8-0 records.
 
The Fighting Hawks return several key contributors from the 2016 season, including safety Cole Reyes and running back John Santiago. Reyes is the Big Sky's reigning Defensive Player of the Year and was selected as the Big Sky's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The Fighting Hawks also return the Big Sky's Coach of the Year, as Bubba Schweigert returns for his fourth season in Grand Forks.
 
 
Eagles Have Impressive 40-6 Big Sky Record Since 0-2 Start in 2011
 
The Eagles have won 40 of their last 46 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011. Eastern has won 30 of its last 34 league games, with the lone losses coming against Montana and Portland State in 2015 and Northern Arizona in both 2015 and 2014. An Oct. 25, 2014, loss at Northern Arizona snapped EWU's 14-game conference winning streak and a home loss against the Lumberjacks on Nov. 7, 2015, ended a streak of eight Big Sky wins in a row. Including non-conference victories (two versus MSU and one against Cal Poly) and a playoff win (Montana), the Eagles have won 34 of their last 38 versus conference foes, and are 44-6 since the 0-2 start in 2011. As a result, head coach Beau Baldwin left Eastern with a 58-14 Big Sky record for a winning percentage of .806 to rank as the fifth-best in league history. His .726 winning percentage overall (85-32) is seventh all-time in the 53-year history of the Big Sky.
 
 
Eastern is 25-12 (68 percent) Since 2010 Versus Ranked Opponents
 
The Eagles have now played 120 games against ranked teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision since becoming a member of that classification in 1983 (then known as I-AA). Eastern is 54-66 (.450 in those games, including a 17-41 mark (.293) versus top 10 foes. Since 2010, though, the Eagles are 25-12 overall (.678) and 8-6 (.571) versus top 10 teams. EWU was 6-2 against ranked teams in 2016, having lost to top-ranked North Dakota State by a 50-44 score in overtime and then falling 40-38 to 13th-ranked Youngstown State in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. Eastern defeated Northern Iowa, ranked 10th at the time, by a 34-30 score on Sept. 17, beat No. 25 Northern Arizona 50-35 on Sept. 24, defeated No. 16 Montana 35-16 on Oct. 29, knocked off No. 14 Cal Poly 42-21 on Nov. 5, then beat No. 14 Central Arkansas 31-14 on Dec. 3 and was victorious over No. 12 Richmond 38-0 on Dec. 10. Overall, EWU has faced the No. 1 team in FCS nine times, winning twice (35-31 in 2004 over Southern Illinois in the FCS Playoffs and 30-21 in 2002 over Montana at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash.
 
 
Eastern Now 38-0 Since 2010 When Winning the Turnover Battle
 
After going six games without winning the turnover battle in 2016 (including the first three), Eastern had turnover advantages in six of its last 12 games, including a 7-1 advantage two playoff victories. The Eagles had a dominating 5-1 advantage over Richmond, and one game earlier had a 2-0 advantage over Central Arkansas. But EWU lost the turnover battle 2-1 to Youngstown State, as EWU finished the season 6-0 when it won the turnover battle, 2-2 when it lost and 4-0 when it was tied.
 
In the last nine seasons, the Eagles are 47-1 when they've won the turnover battle, 21-5 when they've been tied and 17-26 when they've lost (total of 85-32). The last time EWU lost when it won the turnover battle came in the 2009 FCS Playoffs at Stephen F. Austin when EWU had two miscues and forced four in the 44-33 loss. Thus, EWU is 38-0 since 2010 when they've won the turnover battle, 18-4 when they've been tied and 15-19 when they've lost. That's a collective record of 71-23 (76 percent), with 19 of those 23 losses (83 percent) coming in games EWU has lost the turnover battle and 53 percent of EWU's wins coming when they've won the turnover battle (79 percent when including ties).
 
 
 

Player Notes

 
Gubrud Heads List of Players Honored With Preseason Accolades
 
There are at least 5,160 reasons Eastern Washington University's Gage Gubrud is now among the favorites to win the Walter Payton Award presented by STATS to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
 
The junior quarterback burst on the FCS scene a year ago in his first season as a starter by passing for a FCS record 5,160 yards, to go along with 48 touchdown passes and more than 5,700 yards of total offense. On Aug. 2, STATS named him among the players on the Watch List to win the award after finishing third in the voting a year ago. He was later named to the watch list for FCS Performer of the Year as selected by College Football Performance Awards.
 
Gubrud was joined on the STATS Watch List by Chase Edmonds from Fordham, which hosts EWU in The Bronx, N.Y., on Sept. 16. Edmonds was first in the nation in rushing yards per game (163.5), and second in all-purpose yards per game (194.6) and points per game (10.9). He finished fourth in the voting for last year's Payton Award, right behind Gubrud.
 
In addition to the Watch List, Gubrud was selected to the STATS preseason All-America second team and was picked defend his title as the league's Offensive MVP. He was last year's NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus.
 
Defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli earned third team preseason All-America honors from STATS, while Gubrud, defensive end Albert Havili and safety Mitch Fettig earned preseason All-Big Sky Conference honors. In addition, Gubrud was selected by College Sports Madness to win the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year award and was joined on CSM's preseason All-BSC squad by eight other Eagles. Defensive nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli joined Gubrud on the first team, with wide receiver Nic Sblendorio, safety Mitch Fettig, cornerback Nzuzi Webster and defensive end Albert Havili picked for the second team, and center Spencer Blackburn and linebacker Ketner Kupp chosen to the third team.
 
 
Gubrud Returns After Winning FCS Player of the Year Accolades
 
There were a handful of FCS Player of the Year awards handed out following the 2016 season, and quarterback Gage Gubrud was among those honored. After breaking a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision single season record with 5,160 passing yards, Gubrud was selected as the 2016 FCS Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio). He and his parents attended the live presentation of awards at the 62nd Touchdown Club of Columbus Awards (www.tdccolumbus.com) on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Gubrud was the sixth recipient of the TDC's FCS Player of the Year Award, with Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke the winner in 2012. Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins won in 2015, Marshaun Coprich of Illinois State won in 2014 and Timothy Flanders of Sam Houston State won in the inaugural year in 2011.
 
Gubrud finished third in the voting for the Walter Payton Award presented by STATS to the top offensive player in FCS, finishing behind winner Jeremiah Briscoe from Sam Houston State and Gubrud's Eagle teammate Cooper Kupp. It was the 30th awarding of the honor, which has become known as the Heisman Trophy of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level.
 
With voting conducted at the conclusion of the regular season, it was Briscoe, who threw an FCS single-season record 57 touchdowns in 2016, finishing with 599 votes to defeat Kupp (372) and Gubrud (362). Despite being unable to lock down the program's fourth Walter Payton Award winner, Eastern Washington was still able to make history at the STATS FCS Awards ceremony. Kupp and Gubrud became the first pair of teammates to be voted as finalists for the prestigious honor, whose past winners have included Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer (2005), Eagle quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (2011) and Kupp (2015). Only Villanova has had as many past winners as EWU, and Kupp would have become just the second repeat winner had he won.
 
Kupp was also the 2015 winner of the FCS Offensive Player of the Year by both STATS and the FCS Athletic Director's Association (he repeated as winner of that award in 2016), and he was also presented the 2015 Walter Payton Award as selected by Mickey Charles LLC.
 
 
Gubrud Among Two All-Americans and Six All-BSC Players Back
 
Quarterback Gage Gubrud was honored on six All-America teams in 2016, including as a first team selection by Hero Sports. Gubrud was a second team selection by STATS, the American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press and College Sports Madness. Hero Sports also selected him to its Sophomore All-America squad. Four seniors also received All-America accolades, and a sixth, center Spencer Blackburn, who was picked for the Hero Sports Sophomore All-America squad. 
 
Gubrud and Cooper Kupp were honored on Nov. 22 as the Big Sky Conference co-Offensive MVPs, the first time in league history two players from the same team were selected by the coaches to share the award. Both were unanimous selections as first team selections in the league, with Kupp also becoming just the fourth player in league history to earn first team all-league all four seasons.
 
A total of 13 Eagles overall were honored, including a league-high seven first team selections. Returning for 2017 are first team defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli, second team center Spencer Blackburn, third team cornerback Nzuzi Webster and honorable mention performers Mitch Fettig (safety) and Tristen Taylor (offensive tackle).
 
Blackburn took over as Eastern's starting center in the fourth game of the season for injured senior Jerrod Jones, and earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors. After Blackburn's insertion into the starting lineup beginning with the Northern Arizona game on Sept. 24, Eastern's five starters on the offensive line for the rest of the year consisted of two redshirt freshmen and a trio of sophomores.
 
Eastern players have now been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP in 12 of the last 16 seasons, including six of the last seven.
 
 
Gubrud Breaks Three FCS, Seven Big Sky and 18 EWU Records
 
Sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud – the Big Sky's co-Offensive MVP along with teammate Cooper Kupp -- put up some remarkable numbers in his first season as EWU's starter, breaking three FCS records, seven Big Sky marks and 18 school records.
 
Gubrud is a 2014 graduate of McMinnville (Ore.) High School and passed for an FCS record 5,160 yards in the 2016 season, breaking the record of 5,076 by Taylor Heinicke of Old Dominion in 2012. His 11 games with at least 300 yards passing and 12 with at least 300 yards of total offense are also FCS records. Gubrud's total of 5,766 yards of total offense were just 33 from the total offense mark of 5,799 set by Steve McNair of Alcorn in 1994. Gubrud broke EWU and Big Sky Conference single season records previous set by Vernon Adams Jr. in 2013 with 4,994 passing yards and 5,559 yards of offense.
 
Gubrud's average of 411.9 yards of offense per game was also a league and school record, and ranks fifth in FCS history. He broke the previous Big Sky record set 25 years prior by Jamie Martin of Weber State with a 394.3 average in 1991. Gubrud's final tally of 368.6 passing yards per game was an EWU school record, breaking the record of 364.5 set by Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011. They were also the second-most in Big Sky history (behind the record of 379.6 set by Dave Dickenson of Montana in 1995) and ranked ninth all-time in FCS.
 
Gubrud also set Big Sky and school records for total offensive plays (704), passing completions (386) and attempts (570), and a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 606 (the old record was 605 by Vernon Adams Jr. in 2013). The six single game EWU records he holds are for passing yards (520 vs. Montana State), total offense (551 vs. Washington State), touchdowns responsible for (7 vs. UC Davis), points responsible for (42 vs. UC Davis), fewest interceptions per pass attempt (0 in 64 attempts versus Central Arkansas) and completions (47 vs. Central Arkansas), which was also a league record.
 
 
 
Gubrud 2016 NCAA Statistical Leader in Passing and Total Offense
 
Helping EWU lead FCS in passing offense for the second-straight year, Gage Gubrud passed for 5,160 yards, 48 touchdowns and a .677 completion percentage, and also rushed for a team-leading and EWU quarterback record 606 yards (4.5 per carry) and five more scores.
 
 He finished as the FCS leader in total offense at 411.9 per game, passing yards (5,160) and passing yards per game (368.6), and was second in points responsible per game (22.9), total points responsible for (320) and passing touchdowns (48). He was also third in completion percentage (.677) and third in passing efficiency (166.6).
 
Teammate Cooper Kupp missed 1 1/2 games earlier in the season and almost a half at both Portland State on Nov. 18 and Central Arkansas on Dec. 3 with shoulder injuries. But he led FCS in receiving yards per game (130.8), was second in receptions per game (9.0), and joined Shaq Hill as the FCS leader in receiving touchdowns (17). Kendrick Bourne was 32nd in receptions per game (5.6) and 26th in receiving yards per game (85.8), and Hill was 37th in average receptions (5.5) and 32nd in average yards (82.6). That trio was 1-2-3 in the Big Sky in total receiving yards, 1-4-6 in receiving yards per game, 1-6-7 in receptions per game, and 1-1-9 in touchdown receptions (Bourne had seven).
 
 
Antoine Custer Jr. Makes Big Plays Rushing & Returning for Eagles as a True Freshman in 2016
 
True freshman running back Antoine Custer Jr., made big plays all season as a true freshman for the Eagles, finishing his debut season with 977 all-purpose yards and a pair of Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades. He rushed 98 times for a net of 416 yards and five touchdowns, and caught 27 passes for 187 yards and a score, and also averaged 26.7 yards on 14 kickoff returns with a touchdown. Custer started at running back in six games, including Eastern's opener against Washington State, and scored the first touchdown of the season for the Eagles on a pass from Gage Gubrud.
 
He ended the regular season by returning four kickoffs for a 26.8 average in a 35-28 victory against Portland State on Nov. 18. He had a long of 35, which sparked EWU's nine-play, 61-yard drive that knotted the game at 28 in the fourth quarter. En route to a career-high of 185 all-purpose yards, he also rushed for a team-high 69 yards on 13 carries (5.3 per carry), giving him 210 yards in his last two regular season games of the season.
 
He had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, and first of the season for the Eagles in EWU's 48-17 win over Idaho State on Nov. 12. He finished with 141 yards on 12 carries, including an 83-yard touchdown in the second quarter which equals the ninth-longest in school history. It was the first 100-yard rushing performance by an Eagle in EWU's last 15 games dating back to Jalen Moore's 128-yard performance at Northern Colorado. His 141 were the most for an Eagle in 19 games since Jabari Wilson had 188 versus Montana State earlier in the 2015 season. While EWU's offense ended up with four turnovers and had to punt three times, the Eagles had excellent balance with 281 on the ground and 276 through the air. Eastern finished with a total of 557, including 209 in the third quarter. It was the first time in 23 games the Eagles had more rushing yards than passing yards, dating back to a playoff win over Montana on Dec. 6, 2014, when the Eagles had 212 on the ground and 182 through the air.
 
He missed the Northern Colorado game on Oct. 8 with a concussion. He was also very productive in a 42-21 win at Cal Poly on Nov. 5 when he had 145 all-purpose yards -- 64 yards rushing, 39 on three catches and 42 on two kickoff returns.
 
Custer is proof that lightning can strike twice in the same spot. Just like he did against Northern Iowa on Sept. 17 when he had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half against Northern Iowa, Custer provided a third quarter spark for the Eagles in EWU's 63-30 win over UC Davis on Oct. 1. He opened the third quarter with a 55-yard return this time, leading to a short touchdown drive as part of EWU's 35-point onslaught in that period. The resulting TD pulled EWU within 23-21, and the lead quickly changed hands twice before the Eagles scored the final 35 points of the game.
 
His 55-yarder was just his second return as an Eagle, and then he followed that with a 16-yard return versus the Aggies. Teammate Nsimba Webster had an earlier 65-yard return against UC Davis, but broke his clavicle in the process. Senior Shaq Hill, who was a freshman All-American as a returner, had a 43-yarder against Montana on Oct. 29 and averaged 17.9 on eight returns. Webster had a 25.3 average per return, and EWU's 21.7 average as a team ranked fourth in the Big Sky and 25th nationally. In addition, Eastern's 20.3 average on punt returns – including a 22.9 average for Cooper Kupp – ranked first in the league and third in FCS.
 
Trailing Northern Iowa by 17 at halftime on Sept. 17, Custer's TD in EWU's come-from-behind 34-30 win over Northern Iowa helped earn him his first Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honor. His TD return was the first by an Eagle since Hill had a 90-yarder against Portland State on Nov. 21, 2014. Hill, EWU's all-time leader in kickoff returns and yards, actually provided three blocks down the sideline during Custer's TD return.
 
In the last 21 seasons (1996-2016), Eastern has returned 37 total kicks for touchdowns while allowing just 17. Until North Dakota State had one in the FCS Playoffs in 2010, Eastern had not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in more than 10 years (599 total returns).
 
 
Running Back Duo Returns After Seeing Significant Action as True Freshmen
 
A pair of running backs from Eastern's talented 2016 recruiting class played as true freshmen in the opener against Washington State on Sept. 3 when Antoine Custer Jr. and Tamarick Pierce received carries at running back. Custer started and had the first EWU touchdown of the season on a 14-yard reception, and rushed once for no gain. Pierce did not get a carry, but carried four times for 18 yards the next week at North Dakota State. Custer was a California two-time All-State selection out of powerhouse De La Salle High School, and Pierce was an All-State selection from Oakland, Calif., and Saint Mary's High School. Custer rushed for 4,429 yards (103.0 per game and 10.3 per carry) and scored 66 total touchdowns while helping his team compile a 41-2 record in three seasons, with a pair of state titles and a runner-up finish. He finished with 5,965 all-purpose yards in his career, and scored 53 touchdowns rushing, four receiving and nine on returns and recoveries. Pierce rushed for 3,342 yards (8.8 per carry) in his career with 35 rushing touchdowns, caught 44 passes for 424 yards and eight more scores, and scored 47 total TDs in three seasons.
 
Offensive lineman D.J. Dyer made his Eagle debut against Northern Arizona on Sept. 24 when injuries to Eagle offensive linemen forced him to burn his redshirt. The other 15 true freshman on the roster redshirted and played on scout teams, including highly-touted quarterback Eric Barriere from La Habra (Calif.) High School. He accounted for 130 career touchdowns with 9,304 passing yards and 1,718 rushing yards in high school, and led the Highlanders to a collective 30-8 record and a perfect league record in three championship seasons.
 
 

Series History

 
Eastern is 1-1 all-time versus North Dakota State, having lost 50-44 in overtime in 2016 and won by a 38-31 score on Dec. 11, 2010, in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
 
 
Looking Back to 2016 . . . No. 1 North Dakota State 50, No. 8 Eastern Washington 44 (OT)
 
Top-ranked and five-time defending national champion North Dakota State rallied in the final minutes and beat No. 8 Eastern Washington University 50-44 Sept. 10, 2016, in overtime in a thrilling showdown in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.
 
After trailing most of the game, Eastern had back-to-back scores to take a 44-41 lead with 4:32 to play after a 53-yard drive. Eastern's defense held NDSU to single scores in the third and fourth quarters to that point, but the Bison put together a 15-play, 71-yard drive to knot the score at 44 with a 28-yard field with 42 seconds remaining.
 
Following a 35-yard pass play on EWU's next possession, Jordan Dascalo missed a 49-yarder that could have won it. After an EWU interception in overtime, a 25-yard run by Lance Dunn on the first play of the ensuing possession by the Bison ended the game.
 
Eastern had 556 yards of offense, and had scoring drives of 82, 75, 85, 75, 62 and 53 yards. Eastern had 450 passing yards, while the Bison finished with 280 on the ground and 257 through the air for a total of 537.
 
Sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud passed for 450 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 49 and a touchdown in a losing effort. His 499 yards of total offense were the third-most in school history. He led the Eagles on four second-half scoring drives after Eastern lost senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the game with a shoulder injury.
 
In Kupp's place, sophomore receiver Stu Stiles caught eight passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Kendrick Bourne had the sixth 100-yard receiving game of his career, finishing with eight receptions for 133 yards. Kupp had a pair of touchdown catches in the first half, and finished with five catches for 62 yards.
 
Senior safety Zach Bruce had a career-high 14 tackles, eclipsing his previous high of 10. Sophomore linebackers Ketner Kupp and Kurt Calhoun were forced to start their first games of their careers because of a pair of injuries to EWU's starters. Kupp, brother of former Eastern senior receiver Cooper Kupp, finished with eight tackles. Calhoun, whose brother Tim was a tight end for the Eagles (2002-06), had 13.
 
 
Looking Back to 2010 . . . Eastern Washington 38, North Dakota State 31 (OT)
 
With their backs against the wall in a snowstorm, Eastern found a way to rally in the final minutes and upend North Dakota State 38-31 in overtime Dec. 11, 2010, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
 
Junior running All-America Taiwan Jones led the Eagles with a career-high 230 rushing yards, but 138 of those came on his first four carries of the game as EWU jumped out to a 14-0 lead. He had 203 yards in the first half alone, then suffered a season-ending foot injury early in the second half.
 
After North Dakota State took a 31-24 lead with 5:51 left, Eastern put together a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, had entered that drive with just 38 yards passing.
 
Tyler Hart gathered in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell on the first play of overtime, then linebacker J.C. Sherritt forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Zach Johnson to end the game with NDSU at the Eastern 1-yard line.
 
Sherritt, an All-America senior linebacker who would go on to win the Buchanan Award, finished with a team-high 15 tackles to give him 406 in his career and break the school record.
 
With a steady snowfall in the second half and Jones out for the game, the Eagles had just 35 yards in the third quarter compared to just nine for the Bison. Eastern had 85 yards in the fourth and NDSU had 117 as EWU finished with 382 yards of offense to 316 for North Dakota State.
 
North Dakota started the second half with a kickoff return for a touchdown, the first one against the Eagles in 600 returns dating back more than 10 years to Sept. 25, 1999. But Eastern's Jesse Hoffman countered with one of his own on the ensuing kickoff, giving EWU a 24-17 advantage.
 
All-Big Sky Conference defensive tackle Renard Williams had two sacks and four total tackles for the Eagles, and Johnson finished with 12 tackles, a pair of passes broken up and a half-sack. His twin brother Matt Johnson chipped in 10 tackles, as did Tyler Washburn.
 
Tyler Hart and Greg Herd each had four pass receptions for 43 and 30 yards, respectively.
 
 

Recent Game Recap

 
Texas Tech 56, Eastern Washington 10 -- Texas Tech scored touchdowns on seven-straight possessions and rolled past Eastern Washington University 56-10 Sept. 2 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas, in the season-opener for both teams.
 
Eastern's defense held the Red Raiders to just 20 yards on their first three possessions, but a 75-yard touchdown pass got TTU untracked. Texas Tech, which led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense and passing yards a year ago, finished with 626 yards, including 449 through the air.
 
Eastern's offense managed 301 yards of offense, including 207 passing and 10 rushing by Eagle All-America quarterback Gage Gubrud. He had a 22-yard touchdown pass to Terence Grady in the second quarter to cap a five-play, 75-yard drive for EWU.
 
The game marked the head coaching debut of Aaron Best, whose NCAA Football Championship Subdivision team was hoping to repeat its success of a year ago when it beat FBS Washington State 45-42 and in 2013 when it knocked off Oregon State 49-46.
 
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek was accurate, completing his first 14 passes and finishing 26-of-30 for 384 yards and three touchdowns in just under three quarters of action. His TD passes included strikes of 75 and 68 yards as the Red Raiders scored touchdowns on six-straight possessions on drives of 75, 68, 75, 75, 81 and 85 yards. Texas Tech added an interception return for a score and another touchdown on a 69-yard drive.
 
Gubrud completed 22-of-34 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide receivers Terence Grady and Nsimba Webster combined for 14 catches for 150 yards. Grady had a career-high eight receptions for 93 yards and a TD in his first game in two years after redshirting last season. Webster had 57 yards on a career-high six grabs. Junior safety Mitch Fettig led the Eagle defense with eight tackles, with Albert Havili and Jack Sendelbach each recording sacks. Senior punter Jordan Dascalo averaged 46.8 yards on six punts with a long of 58.
 
The Red Raiders nearly doubled Eastern in average yards per play – 8.3 to 4.2. Texas Tech converted 5-of-10 third downs while EWU was 6-of-15. Eastern put its first points on the board in the second quarter with a 22-yard field goal, Eastern gave up a 75-yard pass play to give Texas Tech a 14-3 lead. Eastern gave the ball up on downs on its next possession, then a 68-yard TD strike gave the Red Raiders a 21-3 advantage.
 
The Eagle-Red Raider game was a match-up of the nation's two NCAA Division I passing champions in 2016. The Red Raiders averaged 463.0 yards per game to win the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision passing title by nearly 100 yards (Louisiana Tech averaged 363.4 and Washington State averaged 362.5). Texas Tech finished 5-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big 12 Conference, and was also first nationally in total offense (564.5) and fifth in scoring offense (43.7). The Red Raiders, coached by Kliff Kingsbury, were 3-6 in the Big 12 Conference last year to tie for sixth and 5-7 overall.
 
Eastern averaged 401.0 passing yards per game to lead the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision for the second-straight season. The Eagles were also second in FCS in total offense (529.6) and third in scoring (42.4).
 
Eastern now has a 10-25 record all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision members, including three victories since 2012. Eastern beat Idaho 20-3 that season, upset No. 25 Oregon State 49-46 in 2013 and then knocked off Washington State 45-42 in 2016.

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