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Eastern Washington offense explodes in rout of Northern Arizona

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 2, 2019

Eastern Washington linebacker Andrew Katzenberger  returns Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus’  fumble for a touchdown during a Big Sky game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Roos Field in Cheney. EWU won the game 66-38. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington linebacker Andrew Katzenberger returns Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus’ fumble for a touchdown during a Big Sky game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Roos Field in Cheney. EWU won the game 66-38. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Northern Arizona moved the ball.

Eastern Washington slingshotted it.

EWU totaled 706 yards Saturday in a 66-38 rout of Northern Arizona at Roos Field, an offensive showcase augmented by the arm and legs of the Eagles’ junior quarterback.

Eric Barriere had one of the most well-rounded games of his career, completing 29 of 38 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. The preseason Walter Payton Award Candidate also rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Antoine Custer churned out 139 yards on 13 carries for EWU (4-5, 3-2 Big Sky), scoring all three of his touchdowns in the second half, running through and around the Football Championship Subdivision’s seventh-worst defense (530 yards allowed per game).

The Eagles extended their school-record home winning streak to 13 games.

“Complete” was a common decription among players and coaches.

“It was our most complete game in a lot ways.” EWU head coach Aaron Best said. “A lot of balance on offense, lot of guys factoring in on defense.”

“It was a complete game to show what I can do out there, run it and throw it,” Barriere said.

Northern Arizona’s top-ranked passing offense totaled 356 yards behind the arm of decorated quarterback Case Cookus, who completed 30 of his 46 attempts with a pair of touchdowns.

But NAU (4-5, 2-3), which had a 14-7 first-quarter lead, committed two key turnovers in a pivotal third quarter, and EWU took advantage of both takeaways to run away with the win.

The Lumberjacks trailed 45-31 when they forced their first punt of the game in the third quarter, setting up Cookus’ offense that appeared poised to make it a one-score game.

NAU running back Joe Logan fumbled after an 11-yard gain, however, and Eagles defensive end Mitchell Johnson recovered, setting up a Barriere touchdown pass to Jayce Gilder to extend the lead.

Later in the quarter, Cookus drove NAU to the Eagles’ 11-yard line but fumbled after handling a bobbled snap. The loose ball was recovered by EWU linebacker Andrew Katzenberger, who rumbled 77 yards to make it a 59-31 advantage.

“It was a pretty big swing,” Katzenberger said. “It went from us being down 14 points versus us being up 28. It was a big play for us.”

Talolo Limu-Jones led EWU’s receivers, totaling 147 yards on eight catches, including a 75-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage.

Barriere and the offense continued their torrid pace, scoring on 10 of their first 11 drives against an NAU team which, like EWU, is winless on the road.

“I am disappointed in how we executed the game plan today,” said first-year Northern Arizona coach Chris Ball, a former Washington State assistant. “Give credit to Eastern Washington. They have terrific players and are a well-coached football team, and it showed today.”

Northern Arizona scored on its first two drives before the Eagles’ defense settled in and forced a series of punts.

The Lumberjacks went to the ground often with Logan, who totaled 120 yards and three rushing touchdowns, to help set up its potent aerial attack. Logan also caught seven passes for 78 yards.

Cookus, a former All-American quarterback and sixth-year senior, faced the Eagles for the fourth time in his career, the previous two meetings resulting in season-ending collarbone injuries.

The last time Cookus was healthy for a full game against EWU, he and NAU clipped the Eagles 52-20 in Cheney in 2015, the year he won FCS Freshman of the Year honors.

He had a lot more trouble on Saturday, namely in the second half, when NAU has been outscored 117-31 on the road this season.

EWU’s defense pressed on third and fourth down, when NAU was 7 for 18 and 3 for 6, respectively.

“We rebounded when we gave up touchdowns on the first two series on defense,” Best said.

The Eagles also rebounded as a team after losing two of their previous three games on the road at No. 6 Sacramento State (48-27) and No. 8 Montana (34-17).

“(The previous losses) just made this game so much more enjoyable,” Katzenberger said. “We’ve had some tough times this year, obviously, but we came out and played well on both sides of the ball. We had fun.”

Jack Sendelbach had a game-high 11 tackles, broke up a pass and had a quarterback hurry for EWU, which travels to Idaho State (3-6, 2-3) next week.

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