No. 18 EWU football flattens Portland State on Senior Night


Senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio running after the catch on Nov. 18 against Portland State. Sblendorio had a career best 273 yards and 2 touchdowns on eight catches in the victory. | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

On Senior Night at Roos Field, the No. 18 ranked EWU football team demolished Portland State University 59-33. The Eagles outscored the Vikings 28-0 in the third quarter, and senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio nearly broke the school’s single-game receiving record in the final game of the regular season.

With the win, EWU improves to 7-4 overall and 6-2 in Big Sky Conference play. However, the team’s FCS playoff fate has yet to be decided. The 24-team bracket will be released on Selection Sunday at 8 a.m. PST, Nov. 19 on ESPNU. More on that later, but for now, here is what happened against PSU.

The Eagles’ first possession stalled at midfield when they couldn’t convert a fourth down. PSU then marched 50 yards to take the 7-0 lead, capped off by a 1-yard rush by freshman running back Jason Talley, to take the 7-0 lead with 10:43 remaining in the first quarter.

EWU answered right back with a touchdown of its own, but not without a bit of a scare. On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback Gage Gubrud was tackled in the end zone, however he was able to flick it sideways over his head. Instead of a safety or fumble, the play was ruled an incomplete pass.

From there, the Eagles drove the length of the field to tie the game at 7-7 with 7:59 left in the opening frame. Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. punched in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown, and had eight carries for 63 yards in the drive.

The next score came with 2:15 left in the first quarter. A long punt return by junior wide receiver Zach Eagle gave the team favorable field position. Then on the second play of the drive, Custer scurried for a 28-yard touchdown to take the 14-7 lead.

This time, it was the Vikings turn to score in a hurry. Back-to-back passes from redshirt freshman quarterback David Alexander to sophomore tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, followed by a pass interference penalty, hurtled PSU into a first-and-goal. Talley tied the game at 14 with a two-yard touchdown as the first quarter expired.

Senior Roldan Alcobendas’ 30-yard field goal made it 17-14 in favor of EWU with 13:24 left in the half. The Eagles’ offense took back over after a PSU punt, and it was time for some heroics.

Gubrud scrambled away from the pressure and ran for 22 yards. On the very next play, Sblendorio went deep and Gubrud launched a bomb.

Sblendorio and two PSU defenders convened at the 20-yard line, where the ball bounced off one of the Vikings’ helmets. Sblendorio then ripped it away from the safety, and ran the remaining yardage for the score.

The 60-yard receiving touchdown gave the Eagles a 23-14 lead with 10:30 left in the half.

After a pair of empty possessions, the Vikings scored again, this time on a seven-yard receiving touchdown by senior wide receiver Darnell Adams to cut the lead to 24-20. The point after was missed, and the Eagles had 2:19 to go 72 yards.

They only needed 1:38.

On third down, Gubrud found junior wide receiver Stu Stiles for the 51-yard completion as the Eagles approached the red zone. An 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Jayce Gilder gave EWU the 31-20 lead as the first half ticked down.

PSU had 35 seconds to work with, and 87 yards to go. A trio of positive plays got the Vikings to midfield, setting up a final play of the half. That’s when Alexander hurled the Hail Mary towards the end zone. Senior wide receiver De’Sean Parsons came down with it for the 50-yard touchdown as time expired. The point after was missed.

EWU lead at the half was just 31-26, despite outgaining PSU 433-332 in yards. At the half, Gubrud was 11-of-24 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns, while Custer added 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. rushes against Portland State on Nov. 18. Custer finished the game with 181 yards and three touchdowns. | Richard Clark for The Easterner

Sblendorio had 118 yards and a touchdown in the first half, and he was just getting started.

EWU controlled the third quarter, as they outscored PSU 28-0 to go up 59-26 and put the game away. The Vikings punted three times and were picked off once in the frame. The Eagles, meanwhile, scored four touchdowns.

Gilder caught an 11-yard touchdown (his second of the game), Gubrud ran for a 23-yard score, Custer rushed for a 27-yard touchdown and Sblendorio scored on a 74-yard receiving touchdown.

The long catch-and-run was the play of the game, as the senior wide receiver weaved his way through the majority of the Vikings’ defense for the score.

Sblendorio was downright amazing. The senior caught passes of 39 and 36 yards, as he put up a historic stat line. On his Senior Night, Sblendorio had 273 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on just eight catches.

His 273 yards were just two shy of tying Cooper Kupp’s 275-yard record set in 2015.

In all, the EWU offense notched 729 yards, the third-most in school history.

Gubrud—in his first game back from suspension—was 17-of-32 passing for 445 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 67 rushing yards. Custer had 181 yards and three touchdowns on 7.4 yards per carry.

Following the game, head coach Aaron Best commented on his team’s performance.

“We always challenge ourselves to play the best ball we can,” said Best. “I think we played our most complete game of the year, and it happened to be the last game on ‘The Red’ in the last regular season game of the year. We’ll let the chips fall where they may, but we played our most complete game of the year today.”

Now, EWU football waits for the FCS playoff committee to decide its fate. With a record of 7-4, the Eagles have a decent chance of making the playoffs, especially when considering a couple of the results from around the FCS this afternoon.

In addition to some favorable non-conference outcomes, Big Sky foes Montana and Northern Arizona both fell on Saturday. NAU ends the season 7-4 overall and 6-2 in Big Sky play, while UM’s record is 7-4, and 5-3 in conference.

EWU didn’t face NAU this season, but did have a 48-41 comeback victory over UM. Weber State and Southern Utah will share the Big Sky title, then either EWU or NAU should claim a third spot for the conference. Or, both of them may make it.

Last season, four Big Sky teams advanced to the FCS playoffs: EWU, North Dakota, Weber State and Cal Poly. In 2013, when the field expanded to 24 teams, four BSC teams were selected to the postseason. However, only three were picked in 2014 and 2015; in 2015, both NAU and UND were 7-4 and were left out.

Sblendorio, for one, thinks the Eagles resume is strong enough to get in.

“I certainly think so,” said Sblendorio. “But I’m not on the committee and if we aren’t, I’m still really proud of this team.”

EWU dropped their first two games against Texas Tech and North Dakota State, before going on a five-game winning streak. They then lost two-straight—on the road against Southern Utah and at home versus Weber State. The Eagles closed the season with victories over UND and PSU.

Fourteen senior Eagles were honored pregame for their contributions to the program, including: wide receiver Nic Sblendorio, defensive lineman Albert Havili, kicker Roldan Alcobendas, punter Jordan Dascalo, defensive lineman Andre Lino, defensive back Victor Gamboa, running back Adam Gascoyne, defensive back Jake Hoffman, defensive back John Kreifels, running back Jordan Laurencio, linebacker Miguel Perez, defensive lineman Marcus Saugen, defensive back D’londo Tucker and wide receiver Keonte White.

Most of the bunch arrived at EWU as redshirt freshmen in the fall of 2013. In the five years since, the Eagles are 48-17 overall and 34-7 in Big Sky play. Many of the seniors were a part of the program for conference championships in 2013, 2014 and 2016, with playoff berths in all three seasons.

Now, the seniors wait to see if they will be adding another postseason appearance to their resume.