Eagles to play conference foe North Dakota Saturday - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles to play conference foe North Dakota Saturday

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Eagles

It's lost its luster, but not its importance.
 
A year after both schools went undefeated to share the Big Sky Conference football title and were picked to finish 1-2 this year as well, Eastern Washington University will play for its postseason life this Saturday (Nov. 11) when the No. 19/21 Eagles play North Dakota indoors at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.
 
Kickoff is 11:05 a.m. Pacific time in a game which will be televised live regionally by SWX via a feed from the MidCo Sports Net. The webcast of the broadcast may be watched via Pluto TV and watchbigsky.com. 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.
 
The Eagles are still among seven league teams fighting not only for the league title, but berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs which begin on Nov. 25.  The Eagles are coming off 28-20 loss to Weber State to move to 5-4 for the season and 4-2 in the league. They are tied with a trio of teams they have already defeated – Montana, Sacramento State and Montana State – and are behind the 5-1 records of Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Weber State.
 
"We just need to go out and play ball this week," said head coach Aaron Best, whose team will have a new starting quarterback and middle linebacker because of one-game suspensions handed out. "We'll play for each other and do whatever we can to go get a win at Grand Forks."
 
Eastern has dropped its last two games to SUU and Weber State to snap a five-game winning streak, and earlier this season the Thunderbirds knocked off WSU. A key league game is upcoming when NAU plays at SUU on Nov. 18.
 
However, with some help, Eastern could still tie for the school's 10th Big Sky Conference title in school history. In fact, it's conceivable – although highly unlikely – that when the dust clears on Nov. 11 that seven Big Sky schools could be 5-2 in league play. However, if both NAU and SUU win this week, Eastern's title hopes will be dashed.
 
Last season, four Big Sky Conference schools advanced to the FCS Playoffs, with EWU and North Dakota receiving first-round byes and Weber State and Cal Poly playing on the opening weekend. Helping EWU's case for a berth will be three losses to ranked FCS teams with a combined 22-5 record (8-1 North Dakota State, 7-2 Weber State, 7-2 Southern Utah), plus its other loss was to FBS member Texas Tech (4-5 after a 3-0 start).
 
Injuries have plagued the Fighting Hawks this season, and they will end their season this week in Grand Forks no matter what the outcome is. They lost four of their first five league games, and are now just 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the league after last week's 47-21 loss at Southern Utah. It was that same Southern Utah team that ended EWU's 12-game Big Sky winning streak with a 46-28 win in Cedar City, Utah, on Oct. 21.
 
"They've been devastated by injuries from the get-go, and it's unfortunate because Coach (Bubba) Schweigert really had them competing hard last year and into the playoffs," said Best. "This is their last game and they are at home – they'll have a little more to play for and have a chip on their shoulder. They played Southern Utah tough last week and then it kind of got away from them. They run a lot of unorthodox sets on offense and they give you fits on defense. It's tough to get a bead on this team and that makes them tough to prepare for."
 
Eastern has won the three previous meetings with UND by an average margin of 48-11, including scores of 54-3, 35-14 and 55-17, with halftime leads of 38-3, 14-6 and 34-17. But it's misleading when understanding the improvement UND has made under Schweigert. North Dakota has been a much-improved team since compiling records of 8-16 in league play and 13-21 overall in the three seasons it played EWU (2012, 2013, 2014). In the two seasons EWU did not play the Fighting Hawks, UND was 5-3 in the Big Sky and 7-4 overall in 2015, and 8-0 in the league and 9-3 on the season in 2016.
 
After this week's game, Eastern closes the regular season by hosting Portland State for Senior Day on Nov. 18. The FCS Playoffs begin on Nov. 25.
 
 
 

EWU-North Dakota Game Notes

 
Eagles Drop to 19th in the Rankings
 
With a two-game losing skid, Eastern has fallen to 19th in the weekly STATS Top 25 poll and to 21st in the coaches poll. Eastern fell from eighth to 14th in the STATS poll and was 12th by the coaches after its loss to Southern Utah on Oct. 21, then was 11th in both polls after a bye week.
 
In this week's STATS poll, Weber State is 14th, Southern Utah is 15th and Northern Arizona is 24th. Weber State is up to 12th in the coaches poll, with SUU rated 19th and Northern Arizona 24th.
 
Eastern has now been ranked by STATS in 81 of its last 82 polls, and in the top 10 in 19 of the last 23. Eastern had its streak of being in the top 10 snapped at 15 after losing at home 40-13 to the North Dakota State on Sept. 9, and again fell out of the top 10 on Oct. 23. Defending FCS champion James Madison has been No. 1 all season in both polls, but Jacksonville State took over the No. 2 spot after NDSU suffered its first loss of the season last week.
 
 
Eagles Seek to Continue November Excellence
 
The month of November has long been a successful month for Eastern Washington, and they hope to get back on track and continue that in 2017. Since 2004, EWU has lost just seven regular season games in November (Weber State in 2017; NAU, Portland State and Montana in 2015; Sac State and Weber State in 2006; and Cal Poly in 2005), with an overall record of 30-7.
 
In November and beyond since 2004, the Eagles are now 43-15, including a 13-8 record in the FCS Playoffs. Since 2010, Eastern is 28-8 overall in November and beyond, with the lone setbacks coming in 2017 to Weber State; 2016 to Youngstown State in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs; 2015 to Portland State, Montana and Northern Arizona; 2014 to Illinois State in the playoff quarterfinals; 2013 to Towson in the playoff semifinals; and 2012 to Sam Houston State in the playoff semifinals. Until losing to Northern Arizona on Nov. 7, 2015, Eastern had won its last 19 regular season games in November, dating back to a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State on Nov. 1, 2008.
 
 
NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee Announces Top 10 Teams
 
The NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee revealed the top 10 teams in order on Nov. 2, and Northern Arizona was the only Big Sky Conference team on the list. They were No. 9 and South Dakota State was 10th, while the top eight positions were held (in order) by defending FCS Champion James Madison, North Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota, Sam Houston State, Elon and Wofford.
 
However, those are sure to change after NDSU, South Dakota and NAU all lost last week. Updated rankings will be announced during the halftime studio show on ESPNU on Nov. 9 during a game involving former FCS teams Georgia Southern and Appalachian State at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time.
 
For the second straight year, the November announcements will help build excitement around the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and may have some bearing on the final bracket that will be revealed at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Selection Sunday, Nov. 19, on ESPNU.
 
The 2017 championship field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large qualifiers. The top eight teams will be seeded, receive first-round byes and host second-round games. The 16 other teams will bid to host first-round games, which will take place Saturday, Nov. 25. The national championship game will be at 9 a.m. Pacific time Saturday, Jan. 6, in Frisco, Texas, and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
 
 
Eastern is 25-14 (64 percent) Since 2010 Versus Ranked Opponents
 
Weber State was the second ranked FCS foe Eastern has played this season, and the first in Big Sky Conference play. Earlier this season, Eastern lost 40-13 to second-ranked North Dakota State (the Eagles were ranked seventh). Prior to beating EWU 28-20, Weber State was ranked 19th in the STATS Top 25 poll, and is 14th by the coaches. Eastern was 11th in both.
 
The Eagles have now played 122 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 54-68 (.443 in those games, including a 17-42 mark (.288) versus top 10 foes. Since 2010, though, the Eagles are 25-14 overall (.641) and 8-7 (.533 versus top 10 teams.
 
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.
 
 
Special Teams, Including EWU's Kickoff Return Unit, Near Top in FCS Statistics
 
Eastern's kickoff return unit has long been impressive, and so far this year the Eagles and Dre' Sonte Dorton are ranked high in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Dorton has averaged 27.8 yards on 21 returns to rank ninth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, while the team is sixth at 25.3 per return.
 
Dorton had a 96-yard return for a touchdown at Southern Utah on Oct. 21, accounting for EWU's only points in a span of 35:04 in the 46-28 loss. On his TD, Dorton faked a reverse and then ran down the sideline for the 13th-longest return in school history to help EWU regain a two-possession lead at 21-8. In the fourth quarter, with EWU trailing 32-28, he had a 36-yarder shortened to 14 yards because of a holding penalty. Dorton also has two returns of 51 yards and others of 49 and 38 this season.
 
Besides Dorton, 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.
 
In the last 22 seasons (1996-2017), Eastern has returned 38 total kicks – 19 kickoffs and 19 punts -- for touchdowns. In that same span Eastern has allowed only 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).
 
In other national statistics, Eastern is 41st in net punting (36.70), allowing just 2.50 yards by opponents on punt returns this season to rank third nationally. Punter Jordan Dascalo is 43rd in average per punt (40.6).
 
Eastern is sixth in FCS in passing (328.1 per game) and ninth in total offense (460.0), and is also 22nd in scoring (33.2). Quarterback Gage Gubrud is fifth in total offense per game (340.7), seventh in passing yards per game (321.9), sixth in FCS in points responsible for per game (18.2) and 10th in total passing touchdowns (22). A year ago he led FCS in both passing and total offense (368.6 and 411.0, respectively). Nic Sblendorio is 11th in FCS with an average of 6.9 catches per game (62 total) and 53rd in yards (69.8 per game, total of 628). Nsimba Webster is 17th in receptions (6.2, total of 56) and 45th in yards (72.9, total of 656).
 
Safety Mitch Fettig has averaged 9.3 tackles per game thus far (total of 84) to rank 29th nationally and sixth in the Big Sky.
 
 
Depth Helps Eagles Win Five Straight Despite Injuries to Eight Starters
 
As a testament of Eastern's outstanding depth, Eastern won their fifth-straight game against Montana State on Oct. 14 despite playing without eight injured players who have started this season (combined 25 starts). Among those who were out for that game, junior offensive guard Matt Meyer and senior cornerback D'londo Tucker have been declared out for the season by head coach Aaron Best. Meyer has played in 23 games (16 as a starter) and will be back for the 2018 season. Tucker was injured at Montana on Sept. 23 and has 57 total tackles, three interceptions, a sack and 12 passes broken up in his 35-game career (nine as a starter). Of those who also missed the MSU game, tight end Henderson Belk and safety Jake Hoffman remain out, while wide receiver Terence Grady and defensive tackle Andre Lino have since returned.
 
As a result of the injuries, opportunities have been given to numerous Eagles to assume starting roles in recent weeks, including nose tackle Dylan Ledbetter, safety Tysen Prunty, true freshman defensive back Anfernee Gurley, offensive tackle Brett Thompson and wide receivers Zach Eagle and Jayson Williams. In addition, linebacker Jack Sendelbach replaced the injured Ketner Kupp in the starting lineup for the first three games.
 
Eastern previously announced that starting nose tackle and 2016 first team All-Big Sky Conference performer Jay-Tee Tiuli underwent surgery in late September and will miss the remainder of the 2017 season. However, he has not redshirted, so he will be able to return for his senior season in 2018 as an injury redshirt. Tiuli has played in 36 career games (11 as a starter), and has had 77 total tackles with 8 1/2 sacks, three quarterback hurries and two passes deflected. He earned third team preseason All-America honors from stats, and first team all-league accolades from College Sports Madness.
 
Previously, starting offensive tackle Kaleb Levao was lost for the remainder of the season as well. Actual injuries suffered by players are not disclosed.
 
 
First Starts of Careers Made by Nine Eagles in First Seven Games
 
The most recent starting debut for the Eagles this season came against Montana State on Oct. 14 when sophomore Tysen Prunty started at safety in place of injured senior Jake Hoffman. Prunty finished his debut with a career-high seven tackles versus the Bobcats.
 
Previously, two debuts were made against UC Davis on Oct. 7 when true freshman Anfernee Gurley made this first start of his career as an extra defensive back and running back Sam McPherson started at running back. In his first series as a starter, McPherson gathered in a 40-yard touchdown pass. Gurley finished with a career-high nine tackles.
 
One game earlier versus Sacramento State on Sept. 30, sophomore Jayson Williams made his first start when EWU began with a four receiver set. He had three catches for 74 yards, including a 59-yarder in the first quarter that set-up Eastern's first touchdown of the day in the 52-31 win.
 
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 has been injured and out since playing sparingly versus Fordham, 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 (Tristen Taylor, Chris Schlichting and Jack Hunter).
 
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, who has also now been lost for the season. 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. Also, junior wide receiver Zach Eagle made his first start as an Eagle wide receiver against Fordham and caught a pass for 14 yards and had two punt returns.
 
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 injured Ketner Kupp on defense.
 
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.
 
The UC Davis game on Oct. 7 was the 250th game for Aaron Best associated with the Eastern football program. He is in his 21st year as either a player or a coach, and EWU has won more than 60 percent of its games during that time.
 
 
Career Starts
 
Defense (258 starts by 20 players): Mitch Fettig 31, Andre Lino 27, Nzuzi Webster 25, Victor Gamboa 25, Albert Havili 25, Josh Lewis 19, Keenan Williams 18, Cole Karstetter 13, Jake Hoffman 11, Jay-Tee Tiuli 11, Ketner Kupp 11, Kurt Calhoun 10, D'londo Tucker 9, Jonah Jordan 6, Dylan Ledbetter 6, Jack Sendelbach 3, Tysen Prunty 3, John Kreifels 2, Conner Baumann 2 (including 1 as a fullback), Anfernee Gurley 1.
 
Offense (190 starts by 18 players): Tristen Taylor 23, Chris Schlichting 23, Gage Gubrud 22, Spencer Blackburn 20, Nic Sblendorio 18, Matt Meyer 16, Antoine Custer Jr. 14, Nsimba Webster 11, Jack Hunter 10, Zach Eagle 7, Brett Thompson 6, Jayce Gilder 5, Terence Grady 4, Kaleb Levao 4 (including 1 as defensive lineman), Jayson Williams 2, Stu Stiles 2, Henderson Belk 2, Sam McPherson 1.
 
 
 
 
 

Player Notes

 
 
Eagles Suspend Two for Upcoming North Dakota Game
 
A pair of Eastern Washington University football players will not be making the trip to play North Dakota this week for violation of team rules, EWU head coach Aaron Best announced Nov. 5.
 
The two players are junior quarterback Gage Gubrud and junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun. Best said they will practice this week but won't be with the team when they play Saturday (Nov. 11) against fellow defending Big Sky Conference champion North Dakota.
 
"I was made aware (Sunday morning) of a situation that occurred (Saturday night) involving both Gage and Kurt," said Best. "The incident is in violation of our team rules, and in response to the situation, I have suspended both players for this week's game at North Dakota. Unless something else unveils itself, we will then move forward. I do not plan on elaborating any further than what I have just indicated on the incident."
 
Both have started every Eagle game this season, and Gubrud will be replaced in the lineup by freshman redshirt Eric Barriere, who will make his first start in an Eastern uniform. Calhoun's backup at middle linebacker is listed as redshirt sophomore Andrew Katzenberger, who has played in 16 career games but none as a starter. Redshirt sophomore Jack Sendelbach, who started three games earlier this season as an injury replacement for Ketner Kupp at strong-side linebacker, may also get the starting nod in the middle.
 
Barriere has appeared in three games this season and is 1-of-2 for 13 yards and an interception, all coming against Texas Tech on Sept. 2. Katzenberger has 12 tackles for the season and 25 in his career. Sendelbach has 31 tackles this season with 1 1/2 sacks, and has 47 tackles in his 22-game career.
 
Among the nation's leaders in passing and total offense, Gubrud has thrown for 2,897 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, and has rushed for another 169 yards and four scores. Calhoun was coming off a career-high performance for tackles with 13 in a 28-20 loss to Weber State, and is second on the team with 68 on the season.
 
 
One Webster on a Roll, Another Ranked Eighth in School History
 
The Webster twins have made their mark on Eastern Football, and now the juniors are making their mark in the record book.
 
With his 21st pass broken up in his career versus Weber State, junior cornerback Nzuzi Webster now ranks eighth in school history. In his 36-game career (25 as a starter), he has 128 total tackles and a pair of interceptions. For the season, he has 26 tackles and six passes broken up.
 
His twin brother Nsimba Webster, a junior wide receiver, has had a touchdown catch in each of his last five games. For the season, he's caught 56 passes for 656 yards and five scores, and should eventually approach Eastern's career leaders lists in several categories. In his 27-game career (11 as a starter), he has caught 69 passes for 817 yards and seven touchdowns.
 
 
Roldan Alcobendas Now Ranked Fourth in Career Kick Scoring Points
 
In his 27-game career, kicker Roldan Alcobendas has scored 187 points to rank fourth in school history. He missed his first extra point attempt of the game against UC Davis on Oct. 7, ending his school-record string of consecutive career extra points made at 85. He has made 19-of-28 field goals and 130-of-135 extra points. Thus far this year he has made 35-of-36 extra point attempts and 9-of-12 field goals.
 
He has also handled kickoff duties as of late for the Eagles, and is averaging 60.2 yards on 37 kicks this season with seven touchbacks. In his career, he has 105 kickoffs for 57.5 average (6,037 total yards) with 17 touchbacks.
 
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 a 40.6 average on 37 punts thus far in 2017 to rank 43rd in FCS, Jordan Dascalo has now punted 115 times as an Eagle for a 40.6 career average to rank fifth in school history. Against UC Davis on Oct. 7, he averaged 42.5 yards per punt with a long of 56 and one downed inside the 20-yard line. The average field position for the Aggies after his punts was its own 29-yard line.
 
He averaged 46.8 yards on six punts in EWU's season-opener against 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 37 punts downed inside the 20. He has had 10 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 60.0 yards (6,901 total yards) in 115 career kickoffs with 47 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.
 
 
After Just 22 Career Starts, Gubrud Already Up To Fourth in EWU Career Passing Yards
 
Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud has played in just 26 career games, but he's still making his mark in a hurry on EWU's career leaders list.
 
He's moved up to No. 4 in school history in career passing yards with 8,123, ranking only behind 10,000-yard passers Matt Nichols (12,616), Vernon Adams Jr. (10,438) and Erik Meyer (10,261). He is also fourth in total offense with 8,929 yards, ranking behind Nichols (13,308), Adams (11,670) and Meyer (10,942).
 
After setting three FCS, seven Big Sky marks and 18 school records in the 2016 season, Gubrud now seeks to maintain a pair of career marks. After 26 games in his career (16-6 in 22 games as a starter), he remains the Eastern career leader in passing yards per game (312.4) and total offense per game (343.4), and is second in completion percentage (.655)  He is also tied for fourth in touchdown passes (70, tied with Bo Levi Mitchell with 70 from 2010-11).
 
Gubrud now has a school-record nine 400-yard passing performances in his career, two more than Adams with seven. He has had back-to-back-to-back 400-yard performances on three occasions, and Adams, Jordan West and Matt Nichols are the only other quarterbacks in EWU history to have accomplished that feat two games in a row. Gubrud's 15 300-yard passing performances rank only behind Meyer (17), Nichols (19) and Adams (20).
 
Gubrud already owns seven of the top nine single game total offense performances in school history (1-2-3-4-6-7-9), plus the Nos. 13, 19 and 28 performances. He owns eight of the top 18 passing performances (1-2-4-7-13-15-16-18), plus Nos. 22, 39 and 44. 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.
 
During Eastern's five-game winning streak from Sept. 16 to Oct. 14 this season, Gubrud had 2,071 passing yards (414.2 average per game) while completing 69 percent of his passes. He passed for 19 touchdowns and accounted for another four (three rushing, one receiving). In his best five-game stretch a year ago, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,160 yards (432.0 average) and 20 touchdowns in five victories from Sept. 24 to Oct. 29.
 
 
 
 
 

More Aaron Best Comments

 
On New Starters at Quarterback and Linebacker: "It's opportunity, but the opportunity in this case came through some adversity. Those are two things we do really well here – we take advantage of opportunities and we are able to overcome adversity. Because they know going into the week what is going to take place on Saturday, they can prepare themselves knowing they are getting more repetitions. We'll rally around those players. It should be fun to see Eric go to work and put his fingerprints on this program on Saturday. He'll play free and he won't stress – he'll wear a smile always and we're excited for his opportunity. It's an unfortunate situation we've been dealt, but we'll handle it like grown men, good student-athletes and mature people, and we'll move on from this. It will be a team effort to pick up the slack on both sides of the ball."
 
On Loss to Weber State: "An above good Weber State outfit came to town and we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We matched their energy and their effort, and it was a good old-fashioned defensive battle. We couldn't get off the field on defense in the first half – third and fourth down were kind of our nemesis. But we tightened the screws up in the second half. We'll keep building. It's about getting the sixth win – that's our goal and our mission this next week."
 
On Positives from Weber State Loss: "Our team played hard and they played very violently on defense. They played the game how we teach and coach the game. It's just unfortunate somebody has to lose in these situations, especially on your home field. We showed a lot of grit, toughness, dedication and commitment in that game, because everything is not always going to be perfect. We weathered a few storms. When you have two really good football teams it's not going to go as smooth as everybody would like it -- it's how can you smooth out those rough times. At times we did a good job of that and I'm proud of our players for taking the turnover piece to heart and to the field. They did a fabulous job against a team that gets the ball out on you."
 
On EWU's Defense: "I give a lot of credit to coach Jeff Schmedding and his defense. They gave up only 28 points at home, and given the conditions they allowed only a few big plays. We're used to scoring more than that on offense and we didn't get that done. It was a gritty game – there were a lot of plays between the 20's and it was a chess match inside the 20 going in. I was really, really proud of our defense because they made it tough-sledding for Weber State in the second half."
 
On Penalties and Turnovers: "It's obviously something we have to deal with, because they are happening. The focus this past week was the turnover piece, and we did a great job with that. On the only turnover we had, we had to force the ball downfield on the last play of the game. We have to look at the penalties and determine if they are intellectual or not intellectual – are they hustle penalties and we have to do something about it, or are they pre-snap or post-snap penalties. Our players play hard, so you don't want to take the edge off those guys. But we do want to play smarter. We have to take a look at the penalties like everything else. We have to be better, but we certainly did a good job in the turnover department. We didn't get any, but we didn't give any up until the last play of the game."
 
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."
 
 
 

More Team Notes

 
 
Eagles Have Impressive 44-7 Big Sky Record Since 0-2 Start in 2011
 
Although they had their 12-game Big Sky winning streak come to a close at Southern Utah on Oct. 21 and fell to North Dakota on Nov. 4, the Eagles have won 44 of their last 51 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011. At one point the Eagles had won 44 of 49 league games, and the only Big Sky school which has come close to that in the 54-year history of the league was Montana, which won 50 of 55 games from 1995-2002 and 46 of 51 from 2003-2009.
 
 Eastern has won 34 of its last 40 league games, with the other 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 school-record 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 38 of their last 44 versus conference foes, and are 48-7 since the 0-2 start in 2011. Including three wins at the end of the 2009 season, Eastern has a 54-11 record in league games since then.
 
What's perhaps most impressive is Eastern's ability to consistently win on the road. Until losing at Southern Utah, the Eagles had won its previous road game versus all 13 other league members, as well a 2012 road victory at Idaho, which will join the league next year. Eastern still faces a challenge to that accomplishment this season at North Dakota (Nov. 11).
 
 
Eagles Have Now Won 23 Games Since 2010 When Trailing or Tied in Fourth Quarter
 
Eastern has now won 23 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, including two 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
 
Three of the 23 comebacks have been against Montana, including Eagle victories in 2017 (48-41), 2012 (32-26) and 2010 (36-27). Earlier this year, No. 11 Eastern trailed 24-6 at halftime but scored 42 points in the second half to stun the Grizzlies. In the second half, Eastern scored on touchdowns on five of its six possessions, and had a dominating 259-68 yardage advantage in the third quarter. After knotting the game at 27 and 34, Eastern took the lead for good on a tie-breaking 3-yard TD pass from Gage Gubrud to Nic Sblendorio with 6:53 left. Eastern expanded it to 48-34 on a 10-yard TD run by Antoine Custer Jr. with 2:12 to play. The defense did its part by recording three key stops in the fourth quarter 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.
 
At UC Davis on Oct. 7, No. 10 Eastern rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 points in the period and went on to win a heart-stopping 41-38 victory over the Aggies at Davis, Calif. Gage Gubrud engineered scoring drives of 71, 55 and 75 yards in the final quarter, and finished with six touchdown passes and 452 yards passing. He passed 6 yards to Nic Sblendorio for a game-winning TD with 1:37 to play, followed by a missed 49-yard field goal by the Aggies that could have knotted the game. Gubrud passed for 452 yards and six touchdowns in the win.
 
 
Eastern Now 40-0 Since 2010 When Winning the TO Battle
 
The Eagles had their first turnover advantages of the 2017 season against Sacramento State on Sept. 30 and Montana State on Oct. 14, and won both of those games. The Eagles had three fumble recoveries and an interception against a Bobcats team that had just four turnovers in its first five games, including only one fumble and no fumbles lost. Versus Sac State, the Hornets had entered the game leading FCS with 10 interceptions, but EWU had none while recording one defensively by senior safety Jake Hoffman. Sac State entered the game fifth in FCS with a +2.0 turnover margin per game, while EWU was -2.0 and ranked 119th out of 123 FCS schools.
 
To begin the year, EWU had lost the turnover 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. Eastern had two turnovers and forced none at UC Davis on Oct. 7, and lost the turnover battle 3-1 on Oct. 21 at Southern Utah, and 1-0 versus Weber State on Nov. 4. That put EWU at minus 12 turnovers for the season, ranking EWU 116th out of 123 FCS schools in turnover margin (-1.33 per game). Eastern is 105th in turnovers lost (22) and 106th in turnovers gained (10).
 
On Nov. 4 against Weber State, there were no turnovers in the game until EWU had an interception on its final offensive play of the game when it was desperately trying to rally. The Eagles had entered that game a minus-11 in turnover margin, while Weber State was among the national leaders at a plus-11.
 
In the last nine-plus seasons, the Eagles are now 49-1 when they've won the turnover battle, 21-6 when they've been tied and 20-29 when they've lost (total of 90-36). 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 40-0 since 2010 when they've won the turnover battle, 18-5 when they've been tied and 18-22 when they've lost. That's a collective record of 76-27 (74 percent), with 21 of those 27 losses (78 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 (77 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 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. After beating Sacramento State on Sept. 30 and Montana State on Oct. 14, and falling to Weber State on Nov. 4, Eastern is now 43-10 overall, and have lost just six regular season games at "The Inferno" – 33-6 (84.6 percent), plus are 10-4 in playoff games. The only regular season losses at home for EWU since then are to conference foes Montana State (2011), Portland State (2011 and 2015) and Northern Arizona (2015), as well as North Dakota State and Weber State (2017).
 
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 43-10 overall (81 percent) since the red turf was installed in 2010 – including a 4-0 record versus rival Montana. Eastern has a 156-65 record (70.6 percent) in 221 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 9,451 were on hand for EWU's most recent home game versus Weber State, giving EWU 24-straight regular season sellouts (crowd of 8,600 or more) and 36 overall.
 
Currently on record pace with an average of 10,475 fans per game this season, Eastern's 2016 average attendance was 8,435 (67,477 in eight home games). The school record is 9,577 set in five home games in 2015. Eastern had its fifth-most fans in school history against MSU this season (11,301), No. 8 against Sacramento State (10,917), No. 17 versus North Dakota State (10,231) and No. 23 against Weber State (9,451).
 
 
Eagles to Play Fellow FCS Power Jacksonville State in Home-and-Home Series
 
A home-and-home series with fellow NCAA Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse Jacksonville State will take place in 2019 and 2021, Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves announced on Oct. 26, 2017. The first game will take place at Burgess-Snow Field in Jacksonville, Ala., on Sept. 14, 2019, followed by a return game two seasons later on Sept. 11, 2021. Eastern also has previously announced a non-conference game in 2019 at Washington (Aug. 31).
 
The Eagles and Gamecocks each have four playoff appearances in the last five years (2012-16), with only five other teams on that list (Illinois State, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State). Last season, third-seeded JSU lost to unseeded Youngstown State 40-24 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs, and two weeks later the Penguins upended the second-seeded Eagles 40-38 in the semifinals.
 
Jacksonville State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, is 8-1 overall and ranked third nationally by both STATS and the coaches. The Eagles are 4-1 in the Big Sky and the Gamecocks are 6-0 in the OVC.
 
"Our players, staff, and fans look forward to opportunities such as these," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best. "We like to play highly-anticipated, non-conference matchups. Opportunities such as these make Saturday's more special."
 
In EWU's only previous meeting with Jacksonville State, the Eagles beat the Gamecocks 35-24 in the quarterfinals of the 2013 FCS Playoffs. Eastern was ranked third in FCS and seeded third in the playoffs, and a week later fell to Towson 35-31 in the semifinals. Jacksonville State entered the playoffs that season ranked 20th.
 
 
Gage Gubrud Wins Pair of National Player of the Week Honors
 
Both in numbers and accolades, it's been quite a roll Gage Gubrud and the Eastern Washington University football offense has been on as of late.
 
The junior All-America quarterback was selected as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week from College Sports Madness after directing EWU's fourth-quarter rally in a 41-38 win at UC Davis on Oct. 7. He was also chosen by CSM as its Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week, and earned honorable mention for FCS Performer of the Week for the third time this season by College Performance Awards. One week earlier versus Sacramento State, he was selected as the College Sports Madness FCS Offensive Player of the Week. He also won his third-straight Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor – the sixth time overall in his career – and became the first Eagle to win it three consecutive weeks. Gubrud joins the likes of Travis Lulay of Montana State and Doug Nussmeier and John Friesz of Idaho as other players in league history to garner the award three times in a row.
 
The 2014 graduate of McMinnville (Ore.) High School helped Eastern erase an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit at UC Davis by directing scoring drives of 71, 55 and 75 yards in the final quarter. Finishing with six touchdown passes and 452 yards passing, he passed 6 yards to Nic Sblendorio for a game-winning TD with 1:37 to play, followed by a missed 49-yard field goal by the Aggies that could have knotted the game. It was Eastern's 23rd victory since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, including two this season. The Aggies finished with a 551-501 advantage in total offense, but Eastern had 205 of its yards in the fourth quarter alone. The Eagles managed only 13 points in the first 41 minutes of the game, having five three-and-outs in that span. Eastern, however, had a five touchdown drives of 73 yards or more, and another of 55. Gubrud completed 33-of-53 passes and completed passes to 10 different receivers. His six touchdown passes were one away from the school record.
 
Versus Sac State on Sept. 30, he accounted for 486 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-31 victory. Gubrud completed 35-of-50 passes as he finished with 447 passing yards and five touchdowns. He also caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from running back Sam McPherson, and had six rushes for a net loss of four yards. He had a hand in 57 of EWU's 86 offensive plays, resulting in the seventh-most yards in school history with 651.
 
 


Recent Game Recap

 
#19/14 Weber State 28, #11 Eastern Washington 20  
 
The 11th-ranked Eagles led 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half, but No. 19/14 Weber State scored 14 unanswered points and went on to beat the Eagles 28-20 in an important Big Sky Conference game at Roos Field on Nov. 4 in EWU's 91st Homecoming Game. After a pair of EWU field goals cut Weber State's lead to one with 7:01 to play, the Wildcats went on a time-consuming drive of 4:35 that was capped by a 24-yard touchdown run. Eastern turned the ball over on downs in its next possession, all but sealing EWU's second-straight setback after a five-game winning streak. Although the Eagles were 3-of-3 in scoring in the red zone, twice in the last 12:19 of the game Eastern had to settle for field goals after having first-and-goal situations from inside the Weber State 10-yard line. Eastern even had one TD called back because of a penalty. The loss spoiled an impressive defensive performance in which the Eagles held Weber State to 414 yards of offense, with EWU managing only 383. Eastern took a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the game when the Eagles drove 78 yards on seven plays, capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by Antoine Custer Jr.. After WSU knotted the score, Eastern went 74 yards on seven plays in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead, capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass from Gage Gubrud to Nsimba Webster. Gubrud finished 22-of-42 for 239 yards and a touchdown. Webster caught a team-high seven passes for 94 yards, and for the fifth-straight game had a touchdown reception.  Custer led Eastern's rushing attack with 76 yards and a touchdown, and Sam McPherson chipped in 69 yards. Junior safety Mitch Fettig had eight tackles, having entered the game with a team-leading total of 76. Junior linebackers Kurt Calhoun and Ketner Kupp combined for 23 tackles, with Calhoun finishing with a career-high 13 and Kupp getting 10 with a pass broken up and a quarterback hurry. Senior kicker Roldan Alcobendas made field goals of 25 and 26 yards in the fourth quarter for the Eagles. Senior punter Jordan Dascalo punted six times for a 36.5 average with two downed inside the Weber State 20-yard line.
 
 
 

Series History

 
* Eastern has won all three meetings against North Dakota, winning 55-17 in Cheney in 2012, 35-14 in 2013 in Grand Forks, and 54-3 in the most recent meeting on Nov. 1, 2014, at Roos Field. However, UND has been a much-improved team since compiling records of 8-16 in league play and 13-21 overall in those three seasons. In the two seasons EWU did not play the Fighting Hawks, UND was 5-3 in the Big Sky and 7-4 overall in 2015, and 8-0 in the league and 9-3 on the season in 2016.
 
* In the 2014 meeting, a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by redshirt freshman Moe Roberts put the exclamation point on a 31-point second quarter and the sixth-ranked Eagles went on to beat North Dakota 54-3 Nov. 1, 2014, at Roos Field in EWU's 88th-annual Homecoming Game. The 51-point margin was EWU's largest in 27 seasons as a member of the Big Sky Conference (212 games at the time), and its fourth-largest in 31 years a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (357 games at the time). The Eagle defense held North Dakota to 37 yards passing, the fewest against EWU since surrendering 34 versus Montana in 2011. Eastern out-gained UND in total offense 459-163 for EWU's best defensive effort since 1996. Eastern sophomore Jordan West passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns in his fourth game as a starter in place of injured All-American Vernon Adams Jr. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp finished with nine catches for 111 yards and a score. Senior Quincy Forte added two scores on the ground for the Eagles, who improved to 53-32-3 all-time in Homecoming games. Sophomore Miquiyah Zamora and senior Cody McCarthy each had eight tackles for Eastern's defense, with Zamora also intercepting a pass that led to a touchdown and McCarthy breaking up a pass. Defensive lineman Andre Lino added five tackles, including his first career sack. Senior Jake Miller punted four times for a 46.5 average, with three downed inside the 20-yard line and a 63-yarder. Coming off an emotional loss and fearful of North Dakota's defense, the Eagle offense scored on the first possession of the game on a 15-play, 81-yard drive that took 7:12 off the clock. The Eagles took a 38-3 halftime lead.
 
* In the 2013 meeting in Grand Forks, quarterback Vernon Adams overcame a slow start and passed for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help EWU to a 35-14 victory over North Dakota in a Big Sky Conference game Oct. 12, 2013, indoors at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. Eastern's defense also turned two second-half UND turnovers into scores, including a 77-yard interception return by Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ronnie Hamlin. The Eagles scored 14-straight points without North Dakota touching the ball to gain some distance over upset-minded UND. Although the Eagles won the total offense battle 408-406, the real statistical battle was won in the turnover department where EWU won 4-0. Eastern was also 9-of-15 on third down compared to a 5-of-15 performance by UND. All-America cornerback T.J. Lee finished with six tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Tevin McDonald and Evan Day also forced fumbles, and safety Todd Raynes, making the first start of his career, had a team-high seven tackles with a pass broken up. Adams finished the game 22-of-30, with Mario Brown rushing for 49 yards and Quincy Forte adding 40. Shaq Hill scored on a TD reception from Adams, and Forte scored on a fourth-and-1 play on the final play of the first half following a 58-yard pass from Adams to Cory Mitchell. Eastern was playing in the state of North Dakota for the first time in school history (the 20th state Eastern has played in all-time) and indoors for the first time in the career of Adams.
 
* In 2012 in Cheney, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Shaq Hill sparked Eastern to a 34-point first-half outburst in a 55-17 Big Sky Conference football victory over North Dakota Oct. 6, 2012, at Roos Field. Eastern's 38-point winning margin was its best at the time since a 52-13 win over Montana-Western on Aug. 31, 2007, and the largest versus a NCAA Football Championship Subdivision opponent since a 51-7 win over Weber State on Oct. 23, 2004. The 55 points the Eagles scored were their most since a 56-30 win at Sacramento State in 2009. Eastern won the total offense battle 458-325, but that didn't matter as much as EWU's short TD drives of 24 and 57 yards to open a 34-17 lead at halftime, despite having one yard less on offense than UND. Eastern had a 236-102 advantage in offense in the second half.  The Eagles rushed for 290 yards, despite starter Jordan Talley missing the game with a concussion. Starter Quincy Forte finished with 72 yards and Demitrius Bronson came off the bench to register his first 100-yard outing as an Eagle with 118 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Vernon Adams had an efficient and productive outing, completing 12-of-15 passes for  151 yards and four touchdowns in his third career start. His passing efficiency rating was an off-the-charts 252.6.

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