Eagles roll to a 52-31 victory over Sacramento State - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles roll to a 52-31 victory over Sacramento State

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

Junior All-America quarterback Gage Gubrud shared the wealth quite well, and he even scored a touchdown receiving himself.
The No. 9/8 Eastern Washington University football team jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and never trailed as they defeated Sacramento State 52-31 Saturday (Sept. 30) in a Big Sky Conference game at sold-out Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
"It's a great team win," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best, whose team improved to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the league. "We aren't going to play perfect football. But we're going to strive for it and be as close as we can."
Gubrud passed for 447 yards and had five touchdown passes to five different receivers as the Eagles won their third-straight game after an 0-2 start. Running back Antoine Custer Jr., rushed for 81 yards and a score, and had a career highs of five catches for 115 yards and another score.
Nine different receivers caught passes from Gubrud, who even caught a 43-yard touchdown pass himself. He had the 17th-most passing yards in school history and his eighth game of 400 or more of his 22-game career. His 443 yards of total offense ranked 29th.
The Eagles finished with 651 yards of total offense to rank as the seventh-most in school history, coming on the heels of performances of 617 versus Montana (9/23/17) and 650 against Fordham (9/16/17). It's the most yards in back-to-back-to back games in school history.
Records . . .
* Eastern is now 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference, and Sacramento State is 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the league. Both the Eagles and Hornets entered their match-up with 2-2 records and huge victories on the opening weekend of Big Sky Conference play.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles stay atop the Big Sky Conference standings with a 2-0 record, and most importantly, won for the third-straight time. Eastern opened the season 0-2 against a pair of teams who entered Saturday's action unbeaten.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern plays at UC Davis on Oct. 7 before returning home to host rival Montana State on Oct. 14. The Hornets don't play again until hosting Idaho State on Oct. 14.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead after scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions with drives of 73, 65 and 62 yards. Eastern never trailed in the game as they scored more points in the first quarter than they had in their first four games combined (17). Gage Gubrud completed 10-of-13 passes for 169 yards on the three drives with TD passes to Talolo Limu-Jones and Antoine Custer Jr. Gubrud had a 43-yard touchdown reception from Sam McPherson to account for the other score, as EWU had a 225-52 advantage in total offense to that point.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud completed 35-of-50 passes as he finished with 447 passing yards – his third-straight game with at least 399. It was the 14th 300-yard performance of Gubrud's 22-game Eastern career and his eighth of at least 400. He was coming off a school-record 549-yard passing performance at Montana, which eclipsed his previous school record of 520 against Montana State last season. He had 560 yards of offense against the Grizzlies to break his own previous record of 551 set in an upset victory over Washington State in the first start of his career a year ago. Entering Saturday's game, Gubrud was ranked fifth in FCS in total offense per game (349.3) and sixth in passing (322.3).
*Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. had 196 all-purpose yards, rushing for 81 yards on 14 carries and establishing new career highs with five catches for 115 yards. He scored touchdowns both rushing and receiving.
* Junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster led the Eagles with eight catches for 70 yards and a TD. Against Montana on Sept. 23 he had a career high for catches, finishing with 13 for 143 yards.
* Senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio added seven catches for 69 yards, a week after he had a career-high 18 catches – second-best in school history – at Montana on Sept. 23 that were good for a career-high 189 yards.
* Sophomore wide receiver/returner Dre' Sonte Dorton had a 49-yard kickoff return versus the Hornets, and had two total returns for 57 yards. Entering the game, Dorton had averaged 28.0 yards on nine returns to rank 14th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, while the team was 11th at 25.7 per return.
* Defensive end Keenan Williams led the Eagles with a career-high 10 tackles, including nine in the first half alone, to eclipse his previous high of seven.
* Senior defensive end Albert Havili had nine tackles, including a pair for losses, and broke up a pass. He entered the game with four sacks on the season, JHeJranking him ranked 10th nationally and first in the league with an average of 1.00 per game.
* Junior safety Mitch Fettig chipped in eight tackles. He entered the game with a team-leading total of 40 in EWU's first four games to rank 33rd nationally and third in the Big Sky.
Key Stats . . .
* The two teams combined for 83 points and 1,211 yards of offense, with Eastern finishing with 651 and Sacramento State closing with 560. On a blustery day when taking the wind provided an advantage, Sac State had 307 on the ground and 253 through the air, while Eastern had 490 passing and 161 rushing. Eastern's offense, after a 650-yard onslaught against Fordham and 617 yards versus Montana, entered the Sac State game 22nd in FCS in total offense (443.0) and is eighth in passing (325.5).
Turning Point . . .
* The Hornets scored 17 unanswered points in the first half to pull within 21-17, but the Eagles responded with touchdown drives to end the first half and begin the second half. It took the Eagles just one minute to go 76 yards in seven plays, capped by a 4-yard touchdown reception by Zach Eagle – the first of his career – from Gage Gubrud. The Eagle started the second half with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to take a 35-17 lead, with Antoine Custer Jr. scoring on a 3-yard run.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* The game was a match-up of teams on opposite ends of the spectrum in turnover margin, and EWU prevailed 1-0. The Eagles are now 39-0 since 2010 when they win the turnover battle. Sac State entered the game fifth in FCS with an average of +2.0 per game, and led FCS in interceptions with 10. Eastern entered the game with just one interception, and matched that when senior Jake Hoffman had one in the second half. Eastern entered the game -2.0 per game to rank 119th out of 123 FCS schools in turnover margin.
* In what was the 51st game on the famed red turf of Roos Field, a crowd of 10,917 were on hand for EWU's Big Sky home opener. Eastern has now had 22-straight regular season sellouts (crowd of 8,600 or more) and 34 overall.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Kicker Roldan Alcobendas extended the school record for most extra points in a row, making all of six of his against Sacramento State to extend his streak to 84. He previously broke the career 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.
Notables . . .
* The game was a homecoming for a pair of Sacramento State coaches, including head coach Jody Sears, who was an Eastern assistant coach from 2000-07. His assistant head coach and running game coordinator at Sac State, Paul Wulff, was at Eastern from 1993-2007, including eight seasons as head coach from 2000-07.
* Former Eagles Jackie Kellogg and Tony Brooks were among the inductees when the 17th induction of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame took place Saturday. One of the teams they played for was 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 were 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, as well as long-time Eastern photographer Ron Swords.
* The Eagles have won 42 of their last 48 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011. Eastern has won 32 of its last 36 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 36 of their last 40 versus conference foes, and are 46-6 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.
Head Coach Aaron Best Comments . . .
On Winning Third Straight: "It makes life easier on Saturdays when the players believe in the message, they believe in themselves and they believe in each other. After the first two games, we didn't lose belief, we just didn't win on the scoreboard. The last three weeks have been good and we've been playing better."
On Offense: "We're still not firing on all cylinders. There were some issues early in the game where we threw it real well, but we weren't running it well. We had a little lull on offense in the second quarter. All teams are going to do that whether you are good, bad or indifferent. It's a testament to this team in how resilient they are. We scored late in the second quarter and got on the board again to start the third quarter on our first drive. That's what Eastern football is about and will always be about. Everybody loves to win – it heals a lot of wounds, I'll tell you that."
On 651 Yards Versus Hornets: "Jody Sears does a great job with that defense – on film they had a lot of sacks. We tested and challenged our offensive line all week, and our wide receivers and quarterbacks because they led the nation in picks."
On Winning Turnover Battle: "It's big. When we win the turnover battle we win games here at Eastern. That's the way it's been."
On Winning at Roos Field: "It was nice to be back on the red again. That was a good football team we beat, there was no doubt about it. We always focus on one at a time and we'll relish in this win. We played well – I'm going to pat those players on the back. I want to see smiles on their faces and then we'll get to next week on Sunday."
On Heading Back on Road: "This team knows what it takes to win. We've done it three times now, but we don't want to change up the script too much. We're in a groove and we want to stay in the groove. We're going to be on the road, so we have to get in our road manner and mind frame."

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