No. 10/9 EWU football wins fifth straight, outlasts Montana State


Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. had a career-high 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles have won 12 straight Big Sky games dating back to 2016. Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner.

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

If there’s one characteristic EWU football head coach Aaron Best points out most, it’s resiliency. And the first-year coach had much to rave about after the Eagles’ 31-19 win over Montana State University on Saturday.

EWU had three turnovers, but forced four Bobcats turnovers, including two in the red zone.

“We stub our toe a little bit — but we put a band-aid on, we don’t go to the doctor,” said Best. “At the end of the day, this team is resilient.”

With the win, the Eagles move to 5-2 overall and 4-0 in Big Sky play. Here’s what happened against Montana State.

EWU was threatening on their first possession, but Gubrud fumbled and the Bobcats recovered. Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. was in the area and had an opportunity to snatch up the ball, but likely thought it was an incomplete pass. MSU couldn’t capitalize on the miscue, however, and turned the ball over on downs.

The Eagles got back on track their next drive, as Gubrud’s 17-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jayson Williams had the team past midfield. The rest of the drive was all Custer, as his two-yard touchdown gave EWU the 7-0 lead. At that point Custer had 45 yards on eight carries (almost entirely on that drive), while Gubrud was 7/7 passing for 55 yards.

On the ensuing possession, MSU sophomore quarterback Chris Murray put his team in Eagles territory with a 21-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Kevin Kassis. The Bobcats then converted two fourth downs, the latter on a rush by Murray to get in the red zone.

However freshman running back Troy Anderson couldn’t handle Murray’s pitch and EWU recovered Anderson’s fumble at their own 19 yard line. That was MSU’s first fumble of the season.

On third-and-10 to end the first quarter, Gubrud scanned the field, and when no one was open, used his legs to pick up 12 yards. Junior running back Sam McPherson then caught back-to-back first down passes to get past midfield. Gubrud’s touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Talolo Limu-Jones was called back for holding and the Eagles weren’t able to score.

Senior kicker Roldan Alcobendas knocked down a 23-yard field goal to give his team the 10-0 lead with 8:56 to go in the half. Gubrud was 14/14 for 109 yards up to that point, while the Eagles’ 16-play, 75 yard drive took 7 minutes and 46 seconds, one of the longest all season.

The Bobcats answered right back. Murray showed off his dual-threat ability, keeping it himself for the 54-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-7.

Gage Gubrud, though, is as resilient as they come. He led the Eagles on a 10-play, 82 yard drive to take the 17-7 lead. A 10-yard completion to junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster gave EWU first-and-goal at the one. Gubrud bobbled and nearly lost the snap, but found Webster again for the one-yard touchdown.

Back-to-back empty possessions end the half with EWU leading 17-7. At the half, Gubrud was 19-20 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown, while MSU’s Murray was held to 1-6 passing for just 21 yards.

MSU had the ball to start the second half and were in the red zone—thanks to a 31-yard completion to junior wide receiver Jabarri Johnson. Senior defensive end Albert Havili sacked Murray, who fumbled and junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun recovered at the Eagles’ 19 yard line.

The defense celebrates Calhoun’s recovery. They came up with a season high four turnovers against MSU. Photo via EWU Athletics.

Senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio’s 17-yard reception put the Eagles in Bobcats’ territory, before Gubrud scampered for another 12 yards on third-and-10. On the ensuing play, McPherson broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and maneuvered the right sideline 23 yards to the house. The Eagles took the 24-7 lead on the 11-play, 83 yard drive.

After consecutive empty possessions, MSU used a nearly eight-minute drive to go 80 yards and cut into the lead. Murray completed a 32-yard pass to junior tight end Connor Sullivan before pitching it to junior running back Logan Jones, who scored the nine-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and the EWU lead was still 24-13.

Gubrud fumbled on the second play of the next possession and MSU took over at the EWU 22-yard line. The Eagles defense forced the Bobcats into a fourth down, but Murray had forever in the pocket to find Kassis with a 19-yard completion. LaSane’s five-yard run cut the lead to 24-19, while the two-point conversion was again no good.

If the nerves weren’t high enough at Roos Field, sophomore wide receiver Dre’ Sonte Dorton fumbled the kickoff, giving the Bobcats the ball in Eagles territory. But EWU’s fortunes would turn quickly. Murray fumbled on the second play of the drive and junior defensive end Keenan Williams recovered the ball.

On the ensuing possession, Gubrud found Limu-Jones with a 23-yard completion on 3rd-and-27. Then on 4th-and-four, Gubrud spun to his left, scurried away from the defense and picked up the first down with his legs.

Following the game, Best commented on his quarterback’s instincts on that run.

“Great players make great plays in big situations. The last time I checked, all these games are big,” said Best. “It doesn’t have to be home, away, conference or non-conference, you only get 11 guaranteed games so they are all big. The standard is to make big plays in big situations and that’s what Gage did.”

For the day, EWU was 11-14 on third downs, compared to 7-16 for MSU.

Custer’s three-yard touchdown sealed the deal, as EWU took the 31-19 lead. The score also capped off a day to remember for the sophomore running back, who finished with a career-best 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He did all that on 27 carries, as he had an incredible 5.4 yard average per carry.

For the cherry on top—and the insurance that they’d win the turnover battle—senior defensive back Victor Gamboa intercepted Murray to end the game. The Eagles are now 40-0 since 2010 when they win the turnover battle.

Gubrud finished the game 25-31 passing for 224 yards and one touchdown. Six Eagles had at least 20 yards receiving, led by Webster with six catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. McPherson also had six carries for 54 yards and a touchdown, along with four catches for 36 yards.

In all, seven defenders had at least five tackles, led by junior linebacker Ketner Kupp (12), junior safety Mitch Fettig (9) and Williams (9).

With the win, EWU secured their 12th straight BSC win. They will travel to Cedar City, Utah on Oct. 21 to take on Southern Utah University.