Vandals come to Cheney for the first time in 24 years


Mckenzie Ford

Senior cornerback D’londo Tucker smiles as he leaves the field against Southern Utah on Oct. 6. Tucker has 24 tackles and an interception this year.

By Taylor Newquist, Sports Editor

After a month of training camp and seven straight weeks of games, EWU finally had a chance to catch its breath and tend to its wounds last week with a bye.

The No. 5 Eagles (5-2, 3-1) return for their homecoming game, hosting the University of Idaho (3-4, 2-3), which hasn’t played in Cheney in over 24 years—longer than most EWU students have been alive.

Senior starting quarterback Gage Gubrud’s availability for this weekend’s game is still up in the air. On Oct. 13, he looked on from the sideline as EWU fell 14-6 to Weber State. Gubrud has missed the last two games with a lower-leg injury, but returned to practice this week with the starting team.

UI and EWU had a rivalry through the 1980s and 90s, and the Vandals made their return to the Big Sky conference this year after a 22-year absence. In their last FBS season the Vandals managed a 4-8 record and ninth place in the 12-team Sun Belt Conference. This year, back in the FCS, they aren’t fairing much better, ranking ninth in the 13-team BSC.

“I’m happy it’s back,” head coach Aaron Best said of the rivalry. “You bring a little more to the table. The proximity obviously matters a ton to the fanbase, but I think it’s great for the Big Sky.”

Should sophomore Eric Barriere start at quarterback, he will have an easier time filling in than he did in his last outing against Weber, where the Eagles did not reach the endzone for the first time since 2008. The Vandals have sacked the quarterback seven times across seven games, and have two interceptions (both last week against Southern Utah), compared to the Wildcats who have 21 sacks and 11 interceptions through seven games.

The Eagles’ rushing attack should also have more room to run this week. Against Weber, they were held to just 62 yards on 36 carries, a 1.72 yards per carry average and 193 fewer yards than this years’ per game average. UI is allowing 229.9 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry.

Senior running back Sam McPherson will also be rested off the bye to help the run game. The last two games, McPherson has only carried the ball seven times, but has still managed to gain 107 yards. He leads the Eagles this year with 683 rushing yards and is second in yards per carry with 8.76 (junior Dennis Merritt leads team with 9.2 YPC).

“I’m a little banged up,” McPherson said during the Eagles’ bye week. “Just like any running back is at this point in the season. I’m going to be fine though. I’m basically at 100 percent.”

The EWU defense hopes to add to its stellar start to Big Sky play. The Eagles are allowing an average of 16.75 points over the last four games, and an average of 350.25 yards per game.

“We have high expectations,” senior cornerback Josh Lewis said. “It’s funny hearing everyone talk about keeping teams to 17 [points], which is good, but it’s all standards and expectations we already had for ourselves.”

The Vandals will be traveling to play in Cheney for the first time since 1994. UI holds a 15-6 all-time series lead over the Eagles, but EWU has won three of the last five contests, most recently a 20-3 win in Moscow back in 2012.

Tickets for the game have sold out and attendance is estimated at over 9,000 people. It will be the Eagles’ 29th consecutive home sellout. The game will also be televised on ROOT sports and there will be live updates @easternersports on Twitter.•