MISSOULA – With its starting quarterback in street clothes, Montana still proceeded to punish Eastern Washington with a series of yard-churning, clock-eating drives.
Running back Marcus Knight did most of the damage, running through and around the Eagles for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
Backup quarterback Cam Humphrey – filling in for injured leader Dalton Sneed – won his first career start in the form of a game manager (20 of 29 for 176 yards, touchdown) who wasn’t afraid to push forward when the pocket collapsed.
Those efforts – coupled with EWU’s latest series of crippling offensive lulls – were enough for the 10th-ranked Grizzlies to dispatch the Eagles 34-17 on Saturday at a raucous Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
EWU dropped to 3-5 (2-2 Big Sky) for the first time since 2006. Two months ago, it was the league favorite many expected to make a another deep Football Championship Subdivision playoff run after reaching the 2018 national title game.
Instead, the Eagles, who are 0-5 on the road, likely cemented their second postseason absence in head coach Aaron Best’s three seasons.
“I’m not really thinking about (postseason chances). I am taking it on a week-by-week basis,” said EWU safety Dehonta Hayes, who had a team-high 10 tackles. “If I think about it now, it will affect how I play.”
In a make-or-break game for EWU, the Eagles’ once-explosive offense went bone dry in the second half.
EWU jumped out a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, an effort led by quarterback Eric Barriere, who completed 10 of his 16 first-half passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.
But Montana unsettled the Eagles’ offense in the second half, when Barriere completed 12 of 25 passes for 70 yards and EWU was held to a field goal.
“We played really well in the first half,” Best said. “Didn’t score enough points against a good football team.”
EWU often hurt itself.
EWU receivers had several drops, Barriere was hit and miss with his throws and the Eagles’ running game was mostly contained (101 yards). EWU also had two turnovers on downs deep in Montana territory.
The Eagles had their lowest offensive output of the season against FCS teams, totaling 365 yards, most of which came on a handful of big plays in the first half.
Barriere had a pair of 36-yard passes to receiver Andrew Boston. The second Boston took into the end zone after muscling a cornerback to give EWU a 7-3 lead.
On the Eagles’ subsequent drive, Barriere hit Talolo Limu-Jones on a 62-yard pass, setting up Tamarick Pierce’s short touchdown run, giving EWU a 14-3 cushion in front of a maroon-clad crowd of 24,072.
Montana answered with Knight’s first touchdown – a 5-yard run – and continued to outscore the Eagle 31-3 the rest of the way.
Grizzlies head coach Bobby Hauck is 7-1 against EWU.
“You have to be able to run the ball well here or you’re not going to be able to win late in the season,” Hauck said. “And you have to be able to stop it, because the other team is trying to do it. We did a good job on both sides of that equation.”
EWU, which primarily punted in the second half, hurt itself when true freshman kick returner Silas Perreiah fumbled a kickoff early in the fourth quarter. Montana recovered and soon scored on Knight’s third touchdown run.
The Eagles’ defense – which was often on the field due to the offense’s struggles – yielded only 10 points until midway though the third quarter.
The Grizzlies’ starting quarterback, Sneed, had passed for over 2,000 yards before an injury at Sacramento State last week.
His backup did fine.
Humphrey, a former Boise State quarterback, started the game by leading the Grizzlies to a 35-yard field goal on the first drive, capping a 16-play series that chewed up about half of the first-quarter clock. He passed short, handed off to Knight and called his own number (nine carries, 31 yards).
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