No. 10 EWU Football Stages Late Comeback to Beat UC Davis, 41-38


By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

A couple weeks ago, after the EWU football team came back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to beat Montana 48-41, head coach Aaron Best marveled at his team’s resiliency.

“It’s unconventional sometimes where we put ourselves behind the eight ball time after time,” said Best. “Then they find a way to get out of it.”

On Saturday evening in Davis, California, the Eagles found themselves in another hole, facing an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to UC Davis. However, as they’ve done countless times in the past, EWU found a way to get out of it.

After trailing 31-20, the Eagles scored two touchdowns in as many minutes and came back to beat the Aggies, 41-38. With the win, EWU improves to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in Big Sky play. But let’s set the scene first.

The EWU defense forced UC Davis into a punt on their first drive and junior quarterback Gage Gubrud got the scoring started with a 40-yard pass to junior running back Sam McPherson. The point after was missed though, and EWU led 6-0. On the next UCD drive, sophomore quarterback Jake Maier hit junior wide receiver Keelan Doss with a 26-yard pass, which set up a one-yard touchdown run from junior backup quarterback C.J. Spencer. The Aggies led 7-6.

Gubrud started the next EWU possession with a 13-yard completion to junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster and a 15-yarder to junior wide receiver Zach Eagle, however his screen pass was tipped at the line and intercepted. Maier and the Aggies offense threatened again, but their 36-yard field goal was blocked.

The UCD defense kept up the pressure to end the first quarter, sacking Gubrud and forcing EWU to punt. Another long connection from Maier to Doss (this one for 45 yards), set the Aggies up at the Eagles 13. Spencer, the backup QB, kept it himself again for another one-yard touchdown and the 14-6 lead.

After trading empty possessions, Gubrud found sophomore wide receiver Jayson Williams for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-13 midway through the second quarter. The rest of the second quarter was a defensive clash, as both teams were forced to punt twice. Then, the Aggies missed another field goal, this one from 41 yards to end the half.

At the break, Gubrud was 17/25 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. But he did have an interception and the team had negative one rushing yard.

The Eagles opened the third quarter with the ball, but long drops by redshirt freshman tight end Talolo Limu-Jones cut consecutive drives short. On the next possession, a 24-yard trick pass by Spencer put the Aggies in the red zone. Then, Doss caught his ninth reception, this one a 16-yard touchdown, to take the 21-13 lead.

That’s when Gubrud led the Eagles on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 14-yard pass to Limi-Jones to narrow the UCD lead to 21-20. Maier came back with a 73-yard drive of his own, hitting redshirt freshman Christian Skeptaris with a nine-yard touchdown to make it 28-20, UC Davis, as the third quarter ended.

Gubrud was picked off again to open up the final quarter, this time by Vincent White, who returned it 41 yards to the Eagles 21. The Aggies threatened, but were forced into a field goal. With 11:38 remaining, EWU was trailing 31-20.

On the very next play, Gubrud connect on a short pass to Webster, who ran 71 yards up the middle for the touchdown.

The two-point conversion was no good and the Eagles deficit was now 31-26. But the defense picked up a pivotal three-and-out, and EWU took over near midfield. They’d only need two plays to retake the lead. First, Gubrud hit Limu-Jones with a 46-yard completion. Then Limu-Jones caught the 6-yard touchdown and Webster caught the two-point conversion with 9:23 remaining.

34-31, Eagles. Two touchdowns in 1:57. Just like that.

Spencer scored his third rushing touchdown of the night to give the Aggies the 38-34 advantage. But the EWU offense wasn’t done yet. A long run by McPherson and a 13-yard completion to Sblendorio had the ball at midfield. After a few empty plays, EWU needed a Sblendorio reception on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

Now in the red zone, McPherson’s seven-yard run picked up first-and-goal. On the next play, Gubrud found Sblendorio with a six-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to retake the lead, 41-38 with 1:37 to go.

The game ended on a 49-yard missed field goal by the Aggies, their third miss of the contest.

Following the game, Best commented on the Eagles’ comeback.

“We are a team that responds and we handle adversity really well,” said Best. “UC Davis played a heckuva game and they are a heckuva team. We just happened to make one more play than they did.”

Gubrud, the winner of the last three BSC Offensive Player of the Week honors, was 33/53 for 452 yards and six touchdowns. In all, eight Eagles had at least 20 receiving yards and four had at least 50. Webster had six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, and Sblendorio finished with seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Limu-Jones had three receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns, while McPherson added three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, in addition to his 53 yards rushing.

On defense, five players finished with double-digits tackles including junior defensive lineman Keenan Williams (12), junior cornerback Josh Lewis (11), junior linebacker Ketner Kupp (11), junior safety Mitch Fettig (10) and junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun (10).

EWU will return home to play Montana State next Saturday, Oct 14 at 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field.