Eagles to host Sacramento State on SWX - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles to host Sacramento State on SWX

Both teams come into Saturday's game with a 2-2 record. Photo: EWU Athletics Both teams come into Saturday's game with a 2-2 record. Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

Not only will Eastern Washington University honor its own on Hall of Fame Day at Roos Field, but it will be Homecoming for a pair of former Eagles as well.
 
The No. 8/9 EWU football team will play its Big Sky Conference home opener on Saturday (Sept. 30) when the Jody Sears and Paul Wulff coached Sacramento State Hornets visit for a 1:35 p.m. game at "The Inferno." Both teams enter Saturday's game with 2-2 records and huge victories on the opening weekend of league play.
 
The game will be broadcast live regionally in the Eastern Washington region by SWX. Fans can also listen to the game on 700-AM ESPN, 105.3-FM, via the web at tunein.com and via mobile phone app, with pre-game coverage starting one hour prior to kickoff. Besides being EWU's annual Hall of Fame game, the Eagle-Hornet match-up is also "Believe Day" for cancer awareness via the Community Cancer Fund (http://communitycancerfund.org; @ComCancerFund #EAGSBELIEVE)
 
Eastern rallied from a 24-6 deficit at halftime to thoroughly dominate Montana in the second half for a 48-41 victory in Missoula on Sept. 23. A school-record 549-yard passing performance – both as a team and by junior All-America quarterback Gage Gubrud – helped EWU extend its Big Sky Conference winning streak to nine games. Senior Nic Sblendorio had the second-best receiving day in school history with 18 catches, and junior Nsimba Webster equaled the sixth-best with 13 grabs. Gubrud's 560 yards of total offense were also a record, as he had a hand in 77 of EWU's 96 offensive plays (65 passes and 12 rushes).
 
Sacramento State is coming off an overwhelming 54-27 home victory over Southern Utah in which quarterback Kevin Thomson passed for 253 yards and rushed for another 149 in the win. He accounted for seven touchdowns – three through the air and four on the ground for head coach Jody Sears, who was an Eastern assistant coach from 2000-07. Wulff his assistant head coach and running game coordinator at Sac State, and was at Eastern from 1993-2007. Wulff was head coach at Eastern from 2000-07.
 
"There are a lot of familiar faces there, and they know a lot about us as people and our program," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best. "They play extremely hard, and that's a reflection of their head coach. Jody is a very high-energy guy and it shows, especially on the defensive side of the ball."
 
As a result of their productive days, Thomson and Gubrud shared this week's Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor – for Gubrud it was his second-straight and fifth of his career. Thomson also won National FCS Offensive Player of the Year honors from STATS, an honor for which Gubrud earned honorable mention for the second-straight week.
 
Entering Saturday's game, Gubrud is ranked fifth in FCS in total offense per game (349.3) and sixth in passing (322.3), while Thomson is 32nd in total offense (253.5) and 11th in average yards per attempt (19.5). With four touchdowns on the ground and nine through the air, the UNLV transfer by way of Auburn, Wash. (Riverside High School), is second in FCS in points responsible per game (19.5).
 
"They doubled-up a Southern Utah team that beat Northern Iowa the previous week," added Best. "Make no bones about it – Sacramento State is for real. Scoring 56 points against anybody, much less Southern Utah, says a ton. It helps when you have a dual-threat quarterback willing to pack it or throw it."
 
The game will be a match-up of teams on opposite ends of the spectrum in turnover margin. Sac State is fifth with an average of +2.0 per game, and leads FCS in interceptions with 10. Dre Terrell has four to rank second nationally. Eastern has just one interception, and is a -2.0 per game to rank 119th out of 123 FCS schools in turnover margin.
 
"They have playmakers, as they always have," Best added of the Hornets. "Their offensive line is much improved, and they are a well-coached team. They were fairly young last year if I remember right, so now they are less greener and more meaner. They play with high energy and have talent, and those are things we need to be aware of."
 
North Dakota, which shared the league title with Eastern last year with perfect 8-0 records, was the preseason pick to win the league title but fell to Montana State Saturday.
 
As a result of its victory over Montana and losses by two teams ahead of the Eagles in the rankings, EWU improved from 11th to ninth in this week's STATS FCS Top-25 rankings. Eastern is also rated ninth this week 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 75 of its last 76 polls, and in the top 10 in 16 of the last 18. Eastern had its streak of being in the top 10 snapped at 15 after losing at home to the Bison on Sept. 9.
 
Former Eagles Jackie Kellogg and Tony Brooks will be among the inductees when the 17th induction of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame takes place this weekend, including a breakfast prior to the game. One of the teams they played for will also be inducted -- the 1992 squad won the first of what is now nine Big Sky Conference football championships and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. The Eagles were coached by Dick Zornes and finished 7-4.
 
Other individual inductees to be inducted will be soccer player Tiera Como-Irby and basketball players Ronn McMahon and Fay Zwarych-Shaw. In addition, the late Lt. William "Bink" Wall will be honored posthumously as this year's recipient of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service & Contribution Award. Wall was an All-Evergreen Conference linebacker while playing for Eastern from 1965-67. He lost his life in 1970 serving the United State Army in Vietnam.
 
 
 
 

EWU-Sacramento State Game Notes

 
Fueling Eastern's Second-Half Renaissance, Gubrud Earns Second-Straight Big Sky Player of the Week Honor
 
Now clicking on all cylinders, Eastern Washington University senior quarterback Gage Gubrud has directed a second-half renaissance for the Eastern Washington University football team during a current two-game winning streak. As a result, Gubrud has been honored by the Big Sky Conference as Offensive Player of the Week, sharing the honor with EWU's opposing quarterback when the Eagles host Sacramento State this week.
 
A school-record 549-yard passing performance – both as a team and by Gubrud – helped EWU extend its Big Sky Conference winning streak to nine games last week. Eastern rallied from a 24-6 deficit at halftime to thoroughly dominate Montana in the second half for a 48-41 victory in Missoula. Gubrud's 560 yards of total offense were also a record, as he had a hand in 77 of EWU's 96 offensive plays (65 passes and 12 rushes). He now owns seven of the top nine single game total offense performances in school history and six of the top 15 passing performances.
 
Gubrud was also Big Sky Player of the Week when he helped Eastern beat Fordham 56-21 one week earlier, helping Eastern produce remarkable numbers in the second half of its last two games after some not so impressive numbers in the first two. Eastern scored 42 points and had 397 yards in the second half against Montana, a week after scoring 35 with 361 yards at Fordham. Eastern was scoreless in the second half of EWU's season-opener versus Texas Tech when it had just 62 yards after intermission, then was held to just a field goal and 58 yards versus North Dakota State. Thus, the totals in the last two games are 11 touchdowns, 77 points and 758 yards against the Griz and Rams, but no touchdowns, three points and 120 yards in losses to the Red Raiders and Bison.
 
 
Former Eagles Jody Sears & Paul Wulff Return to Cheney
 
Former Eastern coaches Jody Sears and Paul Wulff return to Roos Field where the two shared impressive success in the mid-2000's. But now the roles are reversed -- at Eastern Wulff was the head coach and Sears was defensive coordinator. Now, Sears in the Sac State head coach and Wulff is in his second season as the school's assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach.
 
This is the fourth season at Sacramento State for Sears and his sixth overall as a Big Sky head coach after also spending two years as Weber State's head coach in 2012-13. He is 0-3 versus the Eagles, having lost 28-20 in Sacramento in 2015, 41-19 against Eastern in Cheney while at Weber State in 2013 and 32-26 in 2012 in Ogden, Utah. The game in Ogden was the first start of what would be a prolific three-year career for Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
 
Previously, Sears' first opportunity in the Big Sky came at Eastern Washington where he coached the safeties, linebackers and defensive backs from 2000-02 for Wulff. He was elevated to defensive coordinator in 2003 and stayed in that position for five seasons. Eastern won Big Sky Conference titles and advanced to the FCS Playoffs in 2004 and 2005. In 2008, Sears followed Wulff to Washington State where he served as the Cougars' co-defensive coordinator for three seasons and coached the cornerbacks in each of his four seasons at WSU.
 
Wulff began his coaching career at Eastern in 1993 when he shared a cubicle with then-Eagle offensive line coach Mike Kramer, who would become EWU's head coach in 1994. Wulff became offensive coordinator in 1998 and head coach in 2000 when he took over for Kramer. Wulff guided EWU to a 53-40 overall record, a share of two Big Sky championships and three berths in the FCS Playoffs. He was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year following the 2001, 2004 and 2005 seasons and was a finalist for National Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2007. He then was head coach for four seasons at WSU, followed by coaching stints at South Florida, Iowa State and with the San Francisco 49ers.
 
Both Sears and Wulff attended Washington State University. Sears was a wide receiver and graduated from WSU in 1991, and Wulff earned honorable mention All-America honors in 1989. They both played for Cougar coaches Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price.
 
 
Jackie Kellogg and Tony Brooks Will Join Their Championship Team in Hall of Fame On Sept. 30
 
After attending different high schools in Tacoma, Wash., 30 years ago, Jackie Kellogg and Tony Brooks became inseparable as Eagles. The two good friends and former Eastern football teammates will be among the inductees when the 17th induction of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame takes place Sept. 30, 2017, in Cheney, Wash.
 
Both highly-honored as Eagles on different sides of the ball, Kellogg and Brooks will be inducted along with one of the EWU teams they played for. The 1992 squad won the first of what is now nine Big Sky Conference football championships and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. The Eagles were coached by Dick Zornes and finished 7-4.
 
Other individual inductees will be soccer player Tiera Como-Irby and basketball players Ronn McMahon and Fay Zwarych-Shaw. In addition, the late Lt. William "Bink" Wall will be honored posthumously as this year's recipient of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service & Contribution Award. Wall was an All-Evergreen Conference linebacker while playing for Eastern from 1965-67. He lost his life in 1970 serving the United State Army in Vietnam.
 
Kellogg was twice a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection and finished his career from 1990-93 with a school-record of 41 passes broken up that still stands. His 17 interceptions and 222 tackles were also among the top four in school history at the time.
 
As a professional, Kellogg played in four different leagues during his nearly decade-long career, including a highly-successful eight seasons from 1995-2002 in the Canadian Football League. He was originally a 1989 graduate of Clover Park High School in Tacoma, Wash.
 
Brooks graduated from Mount Tahoma High School in 1989 and then became the first of EWU's big-play receivers that have become synonymous with the Eastern Football program in recent years. He was an All-American and finished his career from 1990-93 with all four school receiving records. His 167 receptions were a record for 10 years and now rank 10th (entering the 2017 season), and 3,013 yards, 26 touchdowns and 18.0 average per catch were also school records at the time. On single season lists, his 60 catches in just 10 games in 1993 was a school record that has now been surpassed by 22 other performances in school history.
 
Both Kellogg and Brooks were selected to the Big Sky All-Academic team in each of their four seasons as an Eagle. They were both selected by the Eastern Athletic Department to the "100 for 100" All-Time Football Team, which was honored on Sept. 27, 2008, to commemorate Eastern's 100th year of football. In 1999, Dick Zornes selected them to the "Z" Team consisting of 36 players that he felt were the best players and made the largest contributions toward the 158 games Eastern won in Zornes' 26-year association with Eagle Football.
 
The induction breakfast and ceremony will start at approximately 8 a.m. on Sept. 30. The public is invited to attend and the cost is $20 per person. Guests must register via a link that is available at http://goeags.com/HOF. Inductees will also be honored at halftime of EWU's football game against Sacramento State later that day (kickoff at 1:35 p.m. and televised regionally on SWX).
 
Established in 1996, this year's individual inductees in the Hall of Fame will bring the total to 83 and the '92 squad will be the 15th team admitted. With the addition of Wall, there have also been 18 individuals and one organization honored as recipients of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service and Contribution Award. All of the inductees and induction classes may be viewed at: http://goeags.com/HOF.
 
 
Among Eagles in NCAA Rankings, Dre' Sonte Dorton, Albert Havili & Gage Gubrud Are Near the Top
 
Eastern's kickoff return unit has long been impressive, and so far this year the Eagles and Dre' Sonte Dorton are leading the way. Dorton has averaged 28.0 yards on nine returns to rank 14th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, while the team is 11th at 25.7 per return.
 
Eastern's offense, after a 650-yard onslaught against Fordham and 617 yards versus Montana, has improved to 22nd in FCS in total offense (443.0) and is eighth in passing (325.5). Quarterback Gage Gubrud is up to fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in total offense (349.3) and sixth in passing (322.3) after leading FCS in both categories a year ago (411.0 and 368.6, respectively). Nic Sblendorio, coming off an 18-catch effort at Montana, is third in FCS with an average of 8.5 catches per game (34 total). Nsimba Webster had 13 against the Grizzlies and is 17th nationally at 6.5 per game (26 total).
 
Defensively, Eastern is fifth in sacks at 3.75 per game, with Albert Havili ranking 10th nationally and first in the league with an average of 1.00 per game (total of four). Safety Mitch Fettig has averaged 10.0 tackles per game thus far (total of 40) to rank 33rd nationally and third in the Big Sky.
 
Besides Custer, Eastern has some other top-notch returners back from a year ago. Last year as a true freshman, Antoine Custer Jr. averaged 26.7 yards on 14 kickoff returns with a touchdown, with long returns of 93, 55 and 35 yards. Teammate Nsimba Webster had a 65-yard return against UC Davis, but broke his clavicle in the process. 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. Eastern has returned 18 kickoffs for touchdowns in the past 21 seasons and 19 punts for scores in the same time span (1996 through 2016).
 
 
Eagles Have Now Won 22 Games Since 2010 When Trailing or Tied in Fourth Quarter
 
Eastern has now won 22 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, including one this season, two in 2016 and 2015, one in 2014, two in 2013, six in 2012, two in 2011 and six during EWU's national championship season in 2010. Last season, Eastern had rallies versus both Northern Iowa and Portland State. Facing deficits of 24-7 at halftime and 24-21 entering the final quarter, Eastern rallied for a 34-30 win over Northern Iowa on Sept. 17. After a 21-0 scoring run overcame the deficit and gave Eastern the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles actually trailed 30-28 with 4:13 left. But the Eagles rallied behind the relief quarterbacking of Reilly Hennessey, and his 23-yard touchdown pass to Beau Byus with 43 seconds remaining capped an 11-play, 75 yard drive. That TD came on a fake when EWU elected against a 40-yard field goal attempt against the wind. In 35-28 victory at Portland State to end the regular season, Eastern battled back from deficits to knot the score at 14, 21 and 28, then took a 35-28 lead with 8:19 to play in the game on a Kendrick Bourne 10-yard pass from Gage Gubrud. Eastern's defense then stopped PSU on downs with 1:56 to play and was able to run out the clock.
 
Three of the 22 comebacks have been against Montana, including Eagle victories in 2017 (48-41), 2012 (32-26) and 2010 (36-27). In 2017, No. 11 Eastern trailed 24-6 at halftime but scored 42 points in the second half to stun the Grizzlies. In 2012, Eastern scored two touchdowns in the final 2:19 as the No. 7 Eagles rallied for a 32-26 victory over the 21st-ranked Grizzlies. A recovery by Shaquille Hill on an onside kick that was disrupted by Brandon Kaufman led to EWU's game-winning score. In 2010, Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett. Eastern then added a fumble return for a touchdown by Renard Williams after a sack and forced fumble by Jerry Ceja on the game's final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game against the 12-time defending league champions. It was the first-ever game on EWU's now famous red Sprinturf surface.
Eastern's 1990 game is one of the greatest comebacks in school history, as EWU picked up its first of what is now six victories at Washington-Grizzly Stadium with a 36-35 victory. Trailing 35-17 with 11:03 left in the game, Tom Owens caught three touchdown passes from Scott Stuart in the final 7:46, including the game-winning score with 18 seconds to play on an 80-yard drive. In relief of EWU starter Mark Tenneson, Stuart was 12-of-24 for 217 yards, and Owens caught 12 passes for 177 yards.
 
 
Eagles Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Games at Roos/Woodward Field With 50th Game on the Red Turf
 
The North Dakota State game on Sept. 9 was the 50th at Roos Field since the red turf surface was installed in 2010. Eastern is now 41-9 overall, and have lost just five regular season games at "The Inferno" – 31-5 (86.1 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 is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2017 season. A crowd of 10,231 were on hand for EWU's 2017 home opener, the 15th-most in school history and giving EWU 21-straight regular season sellouts (crowd of 8,600 or more) and 33 overall.
 
Eastern's 2016 average attendance 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).
 
 
Like the History of the Series, Eagle-Grizzly Game Comes Down to Wire Again
 
Eastern is 6-15-1 in Missoula, a win total unmatched by any other league school. Eastern won in Missoula in 1990, then again in 1992, 1997, 2005 and 2013 when EWU would go on to win Big Sky Conference titles (Eastern also won in 2017). Aaron Best, the first head coach in Eastern's history to beat Montana on his first try, has been a part of EWU teams who have registered wins in Missoula in 1997, 2005, 2013 and 2017, and losses there in 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2015.
 
The game was the renewal of a rivalry that has seen Eastern now come out on top in six of the last seven meetings and seven of the last nine. In fact, the Eagles are 11-1 since 2012 against its rivals from the Treasure State – UM and Montana State. The only loss was a 57-16 thumping at the hands of the Griz in 2015 in Missoula. Just one year after that humbling 41-point setback, the Eagle defense allowed just 16 points in the rematch on Oct. 29, 2016, at Roos Field in EWU's 35-16 victory. The 16 points for the Griz was their lowest total in the last 33 games in the series dating back 32 years to a 14-14 tie in 1984. In the 2016 meeting, the two teams combined for 995 yards of offense, with EWU winning despite a 540-455 yardage advantage for Montana.
 
Since 1990, Eastern has now won six times on UM's home field in Missoula. After the 1990 victory, wins in Missoula in 1992, 1997, 2005 and 2013 would eventually yield Big Sky titles for the Eagles (the sixth win was in 2017). Eastern, however, won just twice at home from 1990-2009. The lone win over Montana from 1990-2009 at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) came in 1991, but Eastern's change to a red synthetic Sprinturf surface and change of name altered its success in Cheney with consecutive home wins in 2010, 2012, 2014 (twice) and 2016. Eastern also won in 2002 in a home game played at Spokane's Albi Stadium against the top-ranked Grizzlies.
 
Fourteen recent games in the Eastern versus Montana series have been decided by margins of 10 points or less. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton. In 2017, Eastern had 617 yards and Montana finished with 538 for a total of 1,155 in EWU's 48-41 victory. In 2016, the two teams combined for 995 yards, with EWU winning 35-16 despite a 540-455 yardage advantage for Montana. In fact, four of EWU's 22 games of at least 600 yards in total offense have come against the Grizzlies. Eastern had 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007, 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005, 540 in a 42-37 win in 2013 and 503 in a 2010 victory in Cheney. In 2013, the two teams combined for 1,029 total yards, and one year earlier had 980. In the last 32 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.6 points. In 10 of those 32 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-34 Grizzly win in Missoula in 2009, EWU's 42-37 victory in 2013, Montana's 57-16 romp in 2015 and EWU's 48-41 triumph in 2017.
 
The 2017 meeting was the first time in the last 11 meetings that both teams were not nationally ranked. The last time that happened was in 2007 when top-ranked Montana needed a field goal with 26 seconds left to beat the unranked Eagles 24-21 in Missoula.
 
 
Looking for First Turnover Advantage in '17, Eastern 38-0 Since 2010 When Winning the TO Battle
 
The Eagles are looking for their first turnover advantage of the 2017 season after losing that battle 3-0 versus Texas Tech, tying North Dakota State 2-2, finishing with a 5-1 deficit against Fordham and losing the battle against Montana 2-1.
 
In the last nine seasons, the Eagles are 47-1 when they've won the turnover battle, 21-6 when they've been tied and 19-27 when they've lost (total of 87-34). 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, 18-5 when they've been tied and 17-20 when they've lost. That's a collective record of 73-25 (74 percent), with 20 of those 25 losses (80 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 (78 percent when including ties).
 
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 in its 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.
 
 
Eagles Have Impressive 41-6 Big Sky Record Since 0-2 Start in 2011
 
The Eagles have won 41 of their last 47 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011. Eastern has won 31 of its last 35 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 35 of their last 39 versus conference foes, and are 45-6 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.
 
 
 
Challenging Schedule Proving to Be Just That
 
Eastern's three non-conference foes in 2017 are so far 7-3, including a pair of victories over the Eagles. Texas Tech leads the way at 3-0, North Dakota State is also 3-0 and Fordham is 1-3. Those three foes 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.
 
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.
 
 
First Starts of Careers Made by Five Eagles in First Four Games
 
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 against Texas Tech, but EWU began with four wide receivers instead. Belk, though, made his starting debut one game later versus North Dakota State. Against Fordham on Sept. 16, sophomore defensive nose tackle Dylan Ledbetter made the first start of his career as an injury replacement for Jay-Tee Tiuli. Ledbetter, whose father, Mark, lettered as a linebacker at Washington State from 1986-89, had a career-high eight tackles and two of EWU's 10 sacks. He entered the game with 34 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in his previous 16 games as an Eagle. Also, junior wide receiver Zach Eagle made his first start as an Eagle wide receiver and caught a pass for 14 yards and had two punt returns.
 
Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Brett Thompson saw significant action at Fordham, then the 2016 graduate of Olympia (Wash.) High School made the first start of his career in Eastern's come-from-behind 48-41 victory against Montana. Starting offensive guard Matt Meyer was injured and missed the Montana game, and previously Kaleb Levao was lost for the season with a knee injury. The result was three different starting offensive lines in three games (NDSU, Fordham and Montana), with three players starting multiple positions (Tristan Taylor, Chris Schlichting and Jack Hunter).
 
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. They remain redshirts, as well as junior defensive end Jim Townsend.
 
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
 
Defense (203 starts by 18 players): Andre Lino 26, Mitch Fettig 26, Nzuzi Webster 23, Victor Gamboa 22, Albert Havili 20, Josh Lewis 14, Keenan Williams 13, Jay-Tee Tiuli 11, D'londo Tucker 9, Cole Karstetter 9, Jake Hoffman 9, Ketner Kupp 6, Kurt Calhoun 5, Jack Sendelbach 3, Dylan Ledbetter 2, John Kreifels 2, Jonah Jordan 1, Conner Baumann 2 (including 1 as a fullback).
 
Offense (135 starts by 15 players): Tristen Taylor 18, Chris Schlichting 18, Matt Meyer 16, Gage Gubrud 17, Spencer Blackburn 15, Nic Sblendorio 13, Antoine Custer Jr. 10, Nsimba Webster 6, Kaleb Levao 4 (including 1 as defensive lineman), Terence Grady 4, Jack Hunter 5, Stu Stiles 2, Henderson Belk 2, Zach Eagle 2, Jayce Gilder 2, Brett Thompson 1.
 
 
 
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 21 games in his career (13-4 in 17 games as a starter), he remains the Eastern career leader in passing yards per game (310.2), completion percentage (.661) and total offense per game (347.7). He is also sixth in passing yards (6,515, 977 from the No. 5 position), fifth in touchdown passes (56, 14 from No. 4) and sixth in total offense (7,260, 168 from No. 5). Gubrud already owns seven of the top nine single game total offense performances in school history (1-2-3-4-6-7-9) and six of the top 15 passing performances (1-2-4-7-14-15). In addition, he had an impressive string of 222 passes without an interception in 2016, going four full games in 2016 from Sept. 24 to Oct. 22 without a pick. He had what was then 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 Breaks Consecutive Extra Points Record
 
Kicker Roldan Alcobendas tied then broke the school record for most career extra points in a row, making all of seven of his against Fordham on Sept. 16 to extend his streak to 72. He has since extended it to 78. He broke the record of 66 set by Jason Cromer from 1988-90. In his 22-game career, Alcobendas has made 15-of-21 field goals and 110-of-114 extra points. Thus far this year he has made 5-of-7 field goals.
 
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 made his last 63 extra points in a row in 2016 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. He also averaged 54.6 yards on 44 kickoffs with seven touchbacks.
 
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 Fifth Among the Top Punters in School History
 
With an impressive 42.2 average on 17 punts thus far in 2017, Jordan Dascalo has now punted 95 times as an Eagle for a 40.9 career average to rank fifth in school history. He averaged 46.8 yards on six punts in EWU's season-opener against the Texas Tech 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. He had a 62-yard punt at Fordham on Sept. 16, equaling the second-longest of his career (he had a 67-yarder in 2015 versus Montana), and ranking as the 19th-longest in school history. He had a 45.0 average on four punts in that game, with two of them downed inside the 20.
 
In his career, Dascalo has now had 31 punts downed inside the 20. He has had nine 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 59.9 yards (6,644 total yards) in 111 career kickoffs with 45 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.
 
 
Looking Ahead for Eagles
 
This week, Eastern plays its home opener on Sept. 30 versus Sacramento State (2-9 overall last year/2-6 Big Sky) 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.
 
 

 
More Aaron Best Comments

 
On Gage Gubrud & Difference in First Two/Next Two Games: "Gage had a fabulous game at Montana and I'm really proud of him. We see him Sunday to Saturday here on campus, and we see what a great person he is and how hard he prepares for each and every opponent. He's professional in his approach to the game – win, lose or draw. You think maybe he was Clark Kent after the first two games – he found a phone booth and he changed clothes. But he didn't do that. Those were two quality opponents and we were in our first two games of our new offensive coaching staff, so we were still getting familiar with each other. He was the same player, but the numbers were just different. The numbers were a little more in our favor against Montana. Just because it's not an Eastern record in subsequent weeks doesn't mean he's not exceeding expectations. We've been spoiled by our riches in that respect."
 
On Montana Victory: "I'm just so happy for our players for overcoming so much. We had guys going down with cramps, we had turnovers and penalties, and didn't have great results in the first 30 minutes. But in the next 30 minutes it was like we tore a mask off and we were a whole new team. We dominated the second half and that was fun to see. When they completed that hail mary pass (at the end of the first half) there was a lot of wind that went out of our sails. We talked at halftime that one play doesn't define a game. We executed immensely well in the second half and I'm proud of our team. Very proud."
 
On Opening League Season 1-0: "It's nice to start unblemished and to feel like you started off on the right foot. There are still a few things we have to clean up, but it just goes to show how resilient this team is. It's unconventional sometimes where we put ourselves behind the eight ball time after time. Then they find a way to get out of it. It's a testament to the program and the foundation coach (Beau) Baldwin laid here. It's a tough place to win and to start off 1-0 in conference is gratifying no matter who it is. But it is sweeter when it comes against the Griz."
 
On Red Zone and Turnovers: "Those are things we'll go back to the drawing board and try to find four more points. We're attempting field goals, but we're just not getting the sevens. That's partly on us as coaches and we have to have better execution. But the red zone is something we have to take a look at, as well as our turnovers. We have to quit giving possessions away. When we don't give them away, we're a pretty decent team."
 
On Winning in Missoula: "It's a very hard place to win, and that's an understatement. Everybody wants to talk about how many times we've been here and the record against the Griz, but it's just a great game overall and awesome to be a part of. The fans are ruckus and it comes down to the wire. Other than about two or three games in the last 20 years, it's always come down to an onside kick or the final series. This game is never over until the final horn sounds, that's for sure."
 
On Offensive Line & First Career Start for Brett Thompson: "Jase Butorac is doing a fabulous job with those guys. We started a redshirt freshman offensive tackle, and not many people in the stands knew that. He made his first start in a place that is hard to play and you don't have any cadence as far as the offensive line. When you talk about overcoming the odds, that offensive line did a great job. Gage was on the run a few times that helped things out. There are a lot of other positions that stepped up. Whoever we have available to play will play – we aren't worried about the players we don't have, we have to coach up and play with the guys we do have."
 

 

More Team Notes

 
Eastern Rides Momentum from Milestone Win at Fordham
 
A school-record 10 sacks and the first victory in the head coaching career of Aaron Best merely scratched the surface of what a milestone win EWU's 56-21 victory at Fordham on Sept. 16 actually was. The game was the 200th in 16-plus years for Best as a coach at Eastern. He was 129-68 in 16 previous years as an assistant coach from 2000-2006 and 2008-16 until taking over as head coach this season.
 
Eastern's defense held Fordham to just 217 yards total and 1-of-17 on third down, and EWU recorded 11 three-and-outs. Those marks, plus the sack total, resulted in the Rams finishing with just 26 net yards rushing. It was EWU's best defensive rushing performance in 75 games, dating back to Oct. 15, 2011, when the Eagles held Northern Colorado to 17 rushing yards in a 48-27 win. Interestingly, that total included just one sack. Overall, the defensive performance was the third time in the last six games EWU has allowed 244 yards or fewer, and the fourth time in eight games with 292 or less. EWU allowed Richmond just 205 yards in a 38-0 win in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs in 2016.
 
The different Eagles contributed toward EWU's 10 sacks. The previous record was nine set on Oct. 24, 1992, against Northern Arizona and matched Oct. 23, 2004 versus Weber State. The Eagles registered five quarterback sacks in the first half alone, with senior end Albert Havili having 2 1/2. Sophomore Dylan Ledbetter, starting in place of injured nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli, had two sacks. Junior Jonah Jordan finished with 1 1/2.
 
The Eagles had great balance on offense, finishing with 399 yards through the air and 251 on the ground. The 650 yards were the seventh-most in school history and most in EWU's last 11 games. The rushing total was EWU's most in the last seven outings. Sophomore Dennis Merritt had a 70-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season in the fourth quarter, his first score as an Eagle.
 
Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud completed 29-of-41 passes and had 471 yards of total offense, rushing for 72 and passing for 399. Other offensive standouts included junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster with five catches, good for a career-high 101 yards and a career-long 38-yarder. Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr.  had 102 all-purpose yards, finishing with 49 on the ground and 53 on a pair of catches, including a career-long 43-yard TD catch. Sophomore wide receiver Dre' Sonte Dorton, helping fill-in for injured wide receiver Terence Grady, caught a pair of passes for 52 yards and had three kickoff returns for 99 yards. Thus, he averaged just over 30 yards per every time he touched the ball. He entered the game having just two other touches (both kickoff returns) for 29 yards. He is averaging 25.7 yards on his seven career touches. Junior tight end Henderson Belk caught a pair of passes, including the first touchdown of his career on a 5-yard pass from Gubrud. He entered the game with just two catches in what is now a 26-game career. Junior Zach Eagle had a reception for 14 yards in his first start as an Eagle.
 
Defensively, senior defensive end Albert Havili had the second multiple sack game of his Eastern career – and second in five games – with a career-high 2 1/2 versus Fordham. He had two versus Richmond in the quarterfinals of the 2016 FCS Playoffs. He now has 8 1/2 in his Eastern career. Sophomore defensive nose tackle Dylan Ledbetter, making the first start of his career, had a career-high eight tackles and two of EWU's 10 sacks. He entered the game with 34 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in his previous 16 games as an Eagle. Junior defensive lineman Jonah Jordan had career highs of five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks versus Fordham. He entered the game with 20 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in his previous 19 games as an Eagle. Senior John Kreifels had a career-high four tackles against Fordham, having entered the game with 16 tackles in his first 25 games in an Eagle uniform.
 
A trio of true freshman also had big days. Chris Ojoh had the best game of his young career with five tackles, including a half-sack. Johnny Edwards IV had his first two catches of his Eastern career against Fordham, good for 15 yards. And Anfernee Gurley had his first fumble forced and pass broken up in his Eastern career versus Fordham. Even a quartet of players made their Eagle debuts and contributed. Senior Miquel Perez played in his first game as an Eagle, and forced a fumble on the first tackle of his career. It was recovered by sophomore Conor McKenna, who was also playing in his first game. Sophomore Joe Lang had his first tackle as an Eagle in his first game played. Tight end Trenton Harris also made his Eagle debut.
 
Eastern dominated in the second quarter, gaining 181 yards of offense to minus-3 for the Rams. Tied 7-7, a 62-yard punt by Jordan Dascalo pinned Fordham deep, and EWU got the ball back after a punt and went on a two-play 34-yard drive. Gubrud scored his second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run. Eastern then had a five-play, 57-yard drive that featured a career-best 15-yard reception and 17-yard TD rush by Tamarick Pierce on back-to-back plays. The punt by Dascalo equaled the second-longest of his career (he had a 67-yarder in 2015 versus Montana), and ranks as the 19th-longest in school history. After taking a 21-7 leading at halftime, Eastern also wanted to make a statement in the second half – and they did. A 51-yard kickoff return by Dorton was followed by a 43-yard touchdown strike from Gubrud to Custer to give EWU a three-touchdown lead just 17 seconds into the third quarter.
 
 
 
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.
 
North Dakota State 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).


Eastern is 25-13 (66 percent) Since 2010 Versus Ranked Opponents
 
The Eagles have now played 121 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 54-67 (.446 in those games, including a 17-42 mark (.288) versus top 10 foes. Since 2010, though, the Eagles are 25-13 overall (.658) and 8-7 (.533 versus top 10 teams. So far this season, Eastern is 0-1 with a 40-13 loss to second-ranked North Dakota State (the Eagles were ranked seventh).
 
Eastern 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.
 
 
 

More 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).
 
 
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 2016 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.
 
 

Recent Game Recap

 
#11 Eastern Washington 48, Montana 41: The 11th-ranked Eagles scored 42 second-half points to rally from a 24-6 halftime deficit and opened the 2017 Big Sky Conference season with a 48-41 victory over Montana Sept. 23 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana. Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud broke his own school record with a 549-yard passing performance, finishing with four touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. His 560 yards of offense were also a record, as he eclipsed his own previous records of 520 passing and 551 total yards. The 549 team passing yards were also a school record, breaking the previous mark of 526 set in 2015 versus Northern Iowa. Senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio had the second-best receiving performance in Eagle history with 18 catches, good for a career-high 189 yards. He had tie-breaking 3-yard TD pass from Gubrud with 6:53 left to cap a 58-yard drive to give the Eagles a 41-34 lead. Eastern expanded it to 48-34 on a 10-yard TD run by Antoine Custer Jr. with 2:12 to play. The EWU defense did its part by recording three key stops in the fourth quarter. Montana punted on the first, then EWU's Nzuzi Webster had the tackle on a fourth-down play with 4:54 remaining. After Eastern took the lead for good, the defense followed with another fourth-down stop with inside of three minutes left. Eastern's first 10 possessions included seven trips inside the Montana 25-yard line for the Eagles, but EWU managed only a pair of field goals. After getting out-gained 307-220 in the first half, the Eagles had a dominating 259-68 advantage in the third quarter. The Eagles finished with 617 yards – 16th-most in school history – while Montana finished with 538. Eastern opened the third quarter with a 51-yard kickoff return by Dre' Sonte Dorton, and that led to EWU's first touchdown drive of the day. But the Eagles needed eight plays to go 36 yards, capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Gubrud to Sam McPherson. Eastern converted a pair of third downs on the drive after going 4-of-10 in the first half. After a Montana field goal gave the Grizzlies a 27-13 advantage, Eastern scored two touchdowns within a 27-second span to knot the game at 27-all. A 32-yard touchdown pass from Gubrud to Dre' Sonte Dorton started the barrage, then on Montana's next play, Eastern's Josh Lewis recorded Eastern's first interception in four games. Then, on the very next play, McPherson turned a short pass from Gubrud into a 50-yard TD and a 24-all tie. Gubrud completed 44-of-65 passes for 549 yards, four touchdowns and 11 rushing yards. It was the 13th 300-yard performance of Gubrud's 21-game Eastern career, his seventh of at least 400 yards and second with 500. His previous school record was 520 against Montana State last season, and the previous record for total offense was 551 set in an upset victory over Washington State in the first start of his career a year ago. Sblendorio had the third performance of his career of at least 100 yards receiving, and was just two catches from the school record of 20 set by Cooper Kupp in 2015 versus Northern Colorado. Junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster also had a career high for catches, finishing with 13 for 143 yards. It was his first 100-yard receiving performance of his career. Dorton had his second-straight game of at least 150 all-purpose yards, finishing with 174. He caught two passes for 40 yards and a TD, and had five kickoff returns for 134 yards. He had a momentum-turning 51-yard return to open the second half. Junior safety Mitch Fettig had 13 tackles to lead the Eagle defense. He entered the game with a team-leading total of 26 in EWU's first three games. Junior linebacker Ketner Kupp missed EWU's first three games with a sprained ankle, but finished with 10 in his 2017 debut.
 
 

Series History

 
Hornet Stadium is definitely a home-away-from-home for the Eastern football team, but, actually, home-field advantage hasn't meant much for either team in the past 14 meetings in the series. Thanks to a second-half rally in the most recent meeting in 2015 in Sacramento, the Eagles defeated Sacramento State 28-20 and kept EWU perfect in 12 tries versus the Hornets in Sacramento. The Eagles lead the all-time series 18-4, with all four losses coming in Cheney. But even stranger than being perfect in Sacramento is the fact that in the last 14 meetings between EWU and Sac State, the home team has won only three times (EWU 45-10 in 2004, 28-24 in 2010 and 31-28 in 2012). Eastern is 7-0 in Sacramento and 3-4 in Cheney in those 14 meetings.
 
Looking Back . . .
 
2015 . . . #11 Eastern Washington 28, Sacramento State 20 -- Trailing 20-7 at halftime, the 11th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team dominated Sacramento State in the third quarter and rallied for a 28-20 victory Sept. 26 at Hornet Stadium in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams. Eastern's defense pitched a shutout in the second half, and the Eagles out-gained the Hornets 278-18 in the decisive third quarter. EWU has never lost at Sac State in 12 tries. Former walk-on Jordan West had a school-record 491 passing yards in the win, and in successive weeks, the junior quarterback has led EWU to a school record for passing yards (526 versus Northern Iowa), broke a 23-year record for passing efficiency (313.5 versus Montana State) and then broke a 21-year old record for passing yardage by completing 29-of-47 passes with three touchdowns. Two of the touchdown catches were by Cooper Kupp, who now has 47 TD receptions in his career to break the previous EWU and Big Sky records of 46 set by Eric Kimble from 2002-05. Eastern's defense gave up 291 yards of offense and 20 points in the first half, but held the Hornets to just one first down and 18 yards in the decisive third quarter. The first four possessions of the second half for Sac State included a pair of three-and-outs, and a muffed punt that was recovered by Eastern's Alek Kacmarcik. The Eagles finished with 594 yards of total offense, compared to 359 for the Hornets. In the second half alone, Eastern had a 361-68 advantage. Junior Kendrick Bourne finished with seven catches for a career-high 204 yards – Eastern's 11th 200-yard performance all-time and third this season. Kupp, the leading receiver in FCS, finished with 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Jabari Wilson, after suffering a concussion a week earlier in a 188-yard rushing effort against Montana State, finished with 65 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Senior Miles Weatheroy had 10 tackles for the Eagles, and junior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora had nine. D'Londo Tucker had an interception and Nzuzi Webster broke-up two passes. Jay-Tee Tiuli had four tackles with a sack.
 
2012 . . . Eastern Washington 31, Sacramento State 28 -- In the most recent meeting in Cheney, Eastern responded with touchdowns the first three times Sacramento State scored and used three Jimmy Pavel field goals to escape with a 31-28 victory on Oct. 20, 2012, in a Big Sky Conference game at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The game ended with Sacramento State at the Eastern 45-yard line, but the Eagles did enough up to that point to pull out a Homecoming win as the newly-crowned No. 1 ranked team in FCS. Pavel made field goals of 24, 40 and 47 yards for the Eagles, as he remained perfect for the season (11-of-11). Quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron combined to complete 26-of-37 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. They also combined to rush for 62 yards. Senior Greg Herd caught nine passes for 109 yards and a pair of scores, and junior Brandon Kaufman added six grabs for 102 yards and a TD. Linebacker Grant Williams, filling in for the fourth-straight game for the injured Zach Johnson (hamstring), had a team-leading 12 tackles. Defensive end Jerry Ceja had a sack for the Eagles as he increased his season total to eight. Ronnie Hamlin, who entered the game with a team-leading 61 tackles, chipped in eight stops.
 
* In the 2011 meeting in Sacramento, a record-setting four touchdown receptions by Nicholas Edwards (currently EWU's wide receivers coach) helped EWU rally from a 15-point deficit to defeat Sacramento State 42-35 in overtime. True freshman Jordan Talley provided the winning points with a 1-yard TD run to open overtime. Eastern held on a fourth-and-goal play from its own 3-yard line to preserve Eastern's fourth-straight victory. Edwards finished with 11 catches for a career-high 192 receiving yards, and tied a school record with his four TD receptions. True freshman Quincy Forte added 87 yards rushing on just 11 carries in the first start of his career as EWU finished with 456 yards of total offense. Greg Herd added seven catches for 81 yards for the Eagles. Another true freshman, linebacker Cody McCarthy, led the Eagles with a career-high 12 tackles. Junior safety Jeff Minnerly added nine and sophomore Ronnie Hamlin chipped in seven. The Hornets played the game without injured quarterback Jeff Fleming, but still managed to run for 313 yards and pass for another 232 for a total of 545 versus the injury-decimated Eagles. Sac State pulled ahead with 2:44 left, but Eastern, thanks to a converted fourth-and-five play, tied it with a 68-yard TD drive, capped by a 22-yard diving catch by Edwards for a touchdown with 55 ticks remaining. In overtime, Eastern needed 10 plays to get into the end zone, then Sac State appeared to be on its way to score with a 15-yard run on the first play. But three Hornet plays yielded seven yards before the game ended on a fourth down incompletion from the Eagle 3-yard line.
 
* The Eagles entered their 2010 meeting ranked eighth in FCS, but needed a late defensive stop and a short touchdown drive to pull-out another victory, 28-24, at Roos Field. The win was one of six victories EWU had that season when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, as the Eagles finished 13-2 and won the NCAA Division I title. Eastern led 21-0 early in the second quarter, but was out-scored 24-0 to fall behind mid-way through the fourth quarter. But the Eagles responded -- much like they did all season -- with a key defensive stop that was highlighted by a third down sack by sophomore defensive end Paul Ena followed by a 35-yard scoring drive that was capped by a Brandon Kaufman 6-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell with 33 seconds to play. Taiwan Jones rushed for 145 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown run in which he broke five tackles on his way to his 10th career play of at least 70 yards. Eastern's defense, which was on the field for 82 plays compared to 56 plays for EWU's offense, had three sacks, two interceptions and broke-up nine passes. Zach Johnson led the way with 12 tackles and a pair of passes broken up, and his twin brother Matt Johnson had nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and broke-up three passes. Eastern had a 212-110 lead in total offense early in the game, but over the span of Sac State's 24-0 run, the Hornets out-gained Eastern 267-66. Sacramento State finished with 398 yards of offense and EWU had 323.
 
*In the 2009 meeting in Sacramento, the 19th-ranked Eagles scored 35 first-half points and went on to hold-off Sacramento State 56-30 in sweltering heat at Hornet Stadium. Eastern's 2009 win over Sac State avenged a 15-13 home setback to the Hornets the previous year. In the 2008 meeting, the Eagles had 363 passing yards and 23 first downs, but had three turnovers, were 0-for-6 on third down and had minus 31 yards rushing. In 2009, Eastern had one turnover, were 10-of-14 on third down and had 283 yards rushing.
 

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 SWXRN. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.