No. 11 EWU football stumbles again, falls to Weber State on Homecoming night

Junior+wide+receiver+Nsimba+Webster.+He+had+seven+receptions+for+94+yards+and+a+touchdown+in+Saturday%27s+loss+%7C+Richard+Clark+IV+for+The+Easterner.

Junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster. He had seven receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s loss | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner.

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

Snow—as well as the EWU football team—fell in Cheney on Saturday afternoon. On a brisk 33-degree afternoon at Roos Field, the Eagles lost to Weber State 28-20 as sizable snowflakes sprinkled the field for the majority of the contest.

With the loss, EWU is now 4-2 in Big Sky Conference play and 5-4 on the season.

Here’s how it went down.

Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud opened up the Homecoming game slinging early and often, getting the offense into the red zone on a trio of passes, including a 34-yard completion to junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster. Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. picked up nine yards, then barreled in for the seven-yard score and the Eagles led 7-0 just 2:28 into the game.

Both teams traded empty possessions, and when Weber State was forced to punt again, the ball was downed at the EWU 2-yard line. The Eagles were able to escape harm’s way, with Custer picking up a pair of long runs and an 11-yard completion to redshirt freshman tight end Talolo Limu-Jones. Gubrud then found senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio for 12 yards to get his team past midfield. That’s when the offense stalled, and the coach staff decided to play for field position and punted away.

The Wildcats found success on their third drive, as junior quarterback Stefan Cantwell hit senior tight end Andrew Vollert with a 34-yard completion to enter EWU territory. Then, Vollert caught a nine-yard pass and junior running back Treshawn Garrett had a 14-yard catch-and-run to tie it up 7-7 at the start of the second quarter.

EWU answered back on the ensuing possession, as junior running back Sam McPherson’s 11-yard run got the Eagles past midfield. Gubrud then hit Sblendorio for 18 yards, Limu-Jones for six and found Webster with a 23-yard dart to put EWU up 14-7. The seven-play, 74 yard drive took 1:44 as Webster registered his fifth straight game with a receiving touchdown.

But Weber State had no intentions of going away, coming back with an 11-play, 71 yard drive of their own to tie it up at 14 with 7:05 remaining in the half. The Wildcats converted on a 3rd-and-14 during the drive, then on 4th-and-7, Garrett caught a 35-yard bomb at the Eagles’ one-yard line. Cantwell capped off the drive with a one-yard completion to senior wide receiver Drew Batchelor.

The Eagles were threatening on their next possession, but an errant snap went over Gubrud’s head and they were forced to punt. A Weber State failed Hail Mary ended the half, with the score knotted at 14.

Through two quarters, Gubrud was 13-for-20 passing for 154 yards and touchdown, while Cantwell was 13-for-19 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Custer had eight carries for 59 yards and touchdown, and Webster had six receptions for 85 yards and a score of his own. The Wildcats were 6/9 on third downs in the half, while EWU was just 3/7.

The second half opened with some aggressive defense from the Eagles, as Weber State was forced into a quick three-and-out. Sblendorio got the ensuing possession started with an 11-yard catch, then junior wide receiver Zach Eagle’s seven-yard catch brought the ball to the Wildcats’ 34-yard line. That’s when the coaching staff drew up the trick play, a double-reverse which ended in sophomore wide receiver Jayson Williams passing to a streaking Gubrud, who carried the ball the remaining 20 yards for the score. However, the Eagles had an ineligible man downfield and the play was called back.

EWU was unable to convert on third down and was forced to punt. Both sides traded empty possessions once again, and Weber State had the ball with a chance to take the lead. This time, it was the Wildcats turn to score in a rapid fashion. Cantwell found Batchelor with a pair of double-digit yard completions, then hit Vollert with an 18-yarder. Garrett capped off the 65-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown catch as Weber State took the 21-14 lead, its first of the game.

The Eagles committed a comedy of errors on their next drive—with a holding penalty, a slipped ball out of Gubrud’s hands and a dropped pass. Luckily, Weber State had a three-and-out, giving EWU the ball back near the end of the third quarter. A 15-yard personal foul on the Wildcats got the ball past midfield, then Gubrud completed a 22-yard pass cross field to Custer and found junior wide receiver Terence Grady with an 11-yard completion to bring up 1st-and-goal.

After an incompletion, Gubrud was sacked for the first time all afternoon, and the team was unable to convert on third down. Senior kicker Roldan Alcobendas drilled the 25-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 12:19 remaining. The defense held tough once again, forcing a Wildcat punt.

On the subsequent possession, the Eagles marched their way to a 1st and goal largely on McPherson’s legs. The junior running back had a run for 13 yards and a pair for 16 each to put his team in scoring position. That’s when Williams had a seven-yard rush, and McPherson bullied his way to the 1-yard line.

McPherson was stuffed on third down, and the Eagles lined up to attempt a play on 4th and goal. But a false start penalty moved the offense back five yards, and out of EWU head coach Aaron Best’s comfort zone. Instead of going for it, Best resorted to a field goal and Alcobendas knocked down the 26-yarder to bring the deficit to 21-20.

Following the game, Best commented on his team having to settle for a field goal in that situation.

“We just couldn’t muster up a touchdown when we got it inside the five–we ended up getting three out of it,” said Best. “It’s a testament to the guys in the red zone on defense—they are a stout bunch. We didn’t execute and part of that is due to Weber State’s ability to do things very well in the red zone.”

To Best’s point, the Eagles were 3/3 on the game in the red zone, but two of those were field goals.

With roughly seven minutes remaining, the Wildcats kept the ball on the ground, picking up multiple first downs and threatening to score again. Then came a monumental third down at the EWU 33-yard line.  Weber State needed four yards; Cantwell picked up five. On the next play, redshirt freshman running back David Jones rushed for the 24-yard score, bringing the lead to 28-20 with 2:26 left.

The Eagles got nothing going on the next drive, but got one more shot at it after a missed Weber State field goal. But Gubrud threw a pick on the next drive, which ended the game.

In all, Gubrud was 22-for-42 passing for 239 yards, a touchdown and an interception. In the second half alone, he was 9-for-22 for 85 yards and an interception.

Custer ended up with 11 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown, while McPherson had 13 carries for 69 yards of his own. Both backs ran the ball well as Custer averaged 6.9 yards per carry and McPherson notched 5.3 yards per carry.

Webster brought down seven receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. Sblendorio finished with 52 yards on four receptions, but no one else had over 25 receiving yards.

Cantwell, on the other hand, was 21-for-31 passing for 230 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he had no interceptions and showed his dual-threat ability with another 66 yards on the ground. The running back, Garrett, had six receptions for 93 yards and two touchdowns as well 38 yards rushing. Jones ended up with 70 yards rushing and touchdown.

Vollert had 87 yards on five receptions, while Batchelor pulled down six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown.

For the Eagles defense, five players ended up with at least seven tackles, including junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun with 13 and junior linebacker Ketner Kupp with 10 of his own.

With the loss, EWU falls to 4-2 in conference play, with games remaining against the University of North Dakota and Portland State University.

The Eagles will travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take on UND next Saturday, Nov. 11 at 11:05 a.m.

“We’ll keep building,” said Best. “It’s about getting the sixth win – that’s our goal and our mission this next week.”