No. 8 EWU football toppled in Cedar City, snap five-game winning streak


Junior running back Sam McPherson scores a three-yard touchdown. The Eagles fell 46-28 on Saturday | Logan Stanley for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

As it turns out, EWU football can only escape by the skin of its teeth so many times. Entering the game on a five-game winning streak—including two come-from-behind victories on the road—the Eagles’ luck finally ran out in Cedar City, Utah on Saturday evening as the team fell to the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds 46-28.

After trailing 21-8 midway through the second quarter, SUU scored 17-unanswered points, then used three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away. EWU (5-3 overall, 4-1 Big Sky Conference) had its 12-game BSC streak (dating back to 2015) snapped. The Eagles are now 6-3 in their short series with the Thunderbirds, including 3-3 in Cedar City. Here’s how it went down.

At the jump, it was all EWU. Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud opened up the game with two short passes to senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio, then marched past midfield with a 19-yard completion to junior wide receiver Zach Eagle. The nine-play, 75-yard drive was capped off with a 17-yard touchdown completion to give the Eagles the lead less than three minutes in.

SUU senior quarterback Patrick Tyler and the Thunderbirds were nearing midfield on their first possession when junior cornerback Josh Lewis made a diving interception. The Eagles offense, however, was unable to capitalize. As they neared the red zone, sophomore Antoine Custer Jr. cut back and made a defender miss, but fumbled the ball in the process.

Fortunately for EWU, the SUU offense was still hibernating at this point, and was forced to punt after picking up a first down. Gubrud continued the hot start with a seven-play, 60 yard drive that included a 26-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Dre’ Sonte Dorton and an 18-yard rush by junior running back Sam McPherson that got the Eagles to the nine-yard line.

McPherson punched it in from three yards out to give the Eagles the 14-0 lead near the end of the first quarter. At this point, the team’s offense was incredibly balanced—having registered 87 yards passing and 86 rushing.

Now, it was the defense’s turn to show its talons, forcing SUU into a three-and-out on their next three drives. The only problem? EWU went three-and-out, got intercepted and turned it over on downs during that stretch.

“We put our defense into a little bit of back-against-the-wall mindset a few too many times. They bailed us out a little bit,” head coach Aaron Best said following the game. “In the second half we just couldn’t get the oil in the engine, so to speak, on offense. It was a choppy game. We never matched what the defense was doing.”

Still, through five possessions, the Thunderbirds were held to just 51 yards of total offense and no scores. Then came their sixth.

After the Eagles didn’t convert on fourth down, SUU was able to capitalize, strolling the remaining 47 yards for the touchdown. Sophomore running back Jay Green Jr. capped off the nine-play drive with a rush from one yard out. The Thunderbirds converted the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 14-8 with 5:12 left in the half.

On the ensuing kickoff, Dorton, the return man, juked a few Thunderbird defenders by faking a reverse. Dorton bursted through the created space and was gone for the 96-yard touchdown. Just like that, it was 21-8.

SUU wasn’t done, though, as they were able to score again before the half. Fueled by a 20-yard rush by Green—and a pair of pass interference calls—sophomore running back James Felila ran it in from eight yards out to cut the lead to 21-15.

An empty possession by both teams ended the first half, and a forgetful second quarter for the Eagles, who were out-gained 159-52 in the frame. At the half, Gubrud was 13-for-23 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown as seven Eagles had at least one reception.

The Thunderbirds opened up the second half by picking up a couple first downs. On third down, however, Tyler was sacked by junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun. Facing 4th and 9 right at midfield, some teams might go for it, but SUU decided to punt. It paid off, squeezing the Eagles within their own three-yard line.

When EWU was forced into a three-and-out, the Thunderbirds got the ball near midfield. And that’s when Tyler’s legs started giving the Eagles defense fits. Tyler kept the drive alive multiple times, including a short run on 3rd down to put his team at the Eagles’ 18-yard line. Felila then picked up 10 yards of his own, and Tyler hit freshman wide receiver Landen Measom with an eight-yard touchdown pass to take their first lead of the game, 22-21 with 6:24 left in the third quarter.

On the following series for EWU, Gubrud was picked off again, this time near midfield. The defense stood tough though and held SUU to a 43-yard field goal as the third quarter came to a close.

Facing a 25-21 deficit and their backs against the wall, Gubrud and the Eagles’ offense needed a boost. And they got it in the form of a 31-yard catch-and-run to the SUU 35 by Sblendorio. Then, after getting sacked on 2nd down, Gubrud found Webster with a 13-yarder to enter the red zone.

The third down magic persisted, as Gubrud hit Eagle at the two-yard line, who was able to tip-toe the left sideline and make the catch. Custer punched it in, and the Eagles retook the lead, 28-25 with 11:32 remaining.

Unbothered, the Thunderbirds would strike twice in less than two minutes.

First, on 4th-and-2, Tyler beat the blitz and found the wide-open tight end, junior Logan Parker for the 26-yard touchdown as SUU re-grasped the lead with 7:39 left.

On the second play of the ensuing drive, Gubrud got intercepted deep in the Eagles’ territory. Then, Measom caught another touchdown—this one a 12-yarder—to essentially ice it with 6:24 to go.

For the game, Gubrud was 24-for-44 for 246 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Custer—who was coming off a career best 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns—had 43 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while McPherson finished with 29 yards and a touchdown on four carries. In all, six Eagles had at least 20 yards receiving, led by Sblendorio with six receptions for 71 yards.

SUU’s Tyler finished 22-for-33 for 183 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Measom had eight catches for 57 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Parker caught four for 54 yards and a touchdown.

But the real production came in the ground game, as the Thunderbirds had 53 rushing attempts for the game. Felila led the way with 143 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts, while Green had 49 yards on nine carries. Tyler rushed for 49 yards of his own, and freshman running back Terrance Beasley chipped in 31 yards on six attempts.

“It was a game we didn’t play as well as we would have liked, and felt we could have played better,” said Best. “But the team we played was a pretty darn good outfit.”

The Eagles will be off next week with a bye, and will be back in action against Weber State University on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 1:05 p.m. The home game at Roos Field will be homecoming for EWU, with festivities taking place the week leading up to kickoff.

“We will work during our bye week – that was something we were going to do anyway regardless of this outcome,” said Best. “We’ll continue to fine-tune the things we need to fine-tune, and get better.”