No doubt about it

With a playoff spot likely secured, EWU needs one more win to earn share of Big Sky title


Bailey Monteith

Junior running back Tamarick Pierce and senior lineman Beau Byus celebrate a touchdown against UC Davis on Nov. 10. EWU scored six rushing touchdowns in the game.

By Taylor Newquist, Sports Editor

Elation, excitement and relief became more visible with each turnover and subsequent score during the second half of EWU’s 59-20 win over UC Davis last Saturday.

As the deficit between the teams grew, it became clear that the Big Sky standings would be evened to a three-way tie for first place, and that only Portland State stands in the Eagles’ way of their year-long quest to return to the FCS playoffs as Big Sky champions.

The No. 4 Eagles (8-2, 6-1) travel to Portland for a Friday night game against the Vikings (4-6, 3-4). EWU has won six of the last eight meetings against PSU, including four straight wins in Portland.

“It’s kind of like friday night lights for us, it’s pretty cool,” junior safety Tysen Prunty said, referring back to playing high school games on Fridays.

A different defense

EWU’s defense allowed its most points in BSC play last week to UC Davis with 20. Before that game, the Aggies lowest points total against a BSC opponent this year was 42.

Bailey Monteith
Sophomore linebacker Chris Ojoh looks toward the sideline after tackling a ball carrier against UC Davis on Nov. 10. Ojoh made a team-high 10 tackles filling in for injured senior Kurt Calhoun.

The Eagles’ defense has allowed nearly half as many points in BSC play as they did a season ago. In total, EWU has held BSC teams to an average score of 16, with teams averaging 31.25 points per game last season.

EWU has also intercepted 11 passes this year from eight different defenders, compared to six all of last year from three defenders.

Big-time backfield

UC Davis had no answer for Eagle rushers, with EWU picking up 372 yards on the ground. The three leading running backs—senior Sam McPherson, and juniors Antoine Custer Jr. and Tamarick Pierce—each crossed the goal line two times.

EWU is ninth in the FCS in rushing yards per game averaging 263.7 yards, and is second in yards per carry with 6.61. Last year, EWU averaged 156.3 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.

“Having a great offensive line and those four great running backs makes it easy,” senior tight end Henderson Belk said. “You can block a guy for a couple seconds and they can usually make a guy miss.”

McPherson leads EWU rushers with 875 yards. He is ranked No. 9 in the FCS with 7.06 yards per carry, and is closing in on becoming the Eagles’ first 1,000 yard rusher since Quincy Forte in 2013.

Sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere has added to the ground game, totalling 310 yards and five touchdowns rushing in the five games since taking over the starting role.

One more hurdle

PSU is eighth in the BSC, and with four wins this year has already improved on its winless 2017 season. The Vikings lost their last two games by one score or less and won the three before that. Their best game of the year was a 22-20 win over then No. 14 Montana on Oct. 6.

“Meaningful November games are something that we yearn for,” head coach Aaron Best said. “But they’re not deserved they’re earned, and this outfit has done a good job through 10 games.”

If the Eagles win they will capture at least a share of the Big Sky title and potentially secure a first-round bye going into the FCS playoffs. It would be EWU’s 10th conference title and the first for Best as head coach. A first round bye in the playoffs would give the team more time to rest, a home game and a lower-seeded opponent. The Eagles have a 16-11 record in their 12 playoff appearences all-time.

If the Eagles lose, they will still likely secure themselves a playoff berth, but will need both Weber State and UC Davis to lose for a conference championship.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.  and the game will be broadcast online on or Pluto TV channel 232. Follow @easternersports on Twitter for live updates.