EWU seeks red-emption in home opener

EWU hosts Division II Lindenwood on Sept. 7 at Roos Field


Malati Powell for The Easterner

The EWU football team huddles before its season opener against Washington. EWU lost 47-14.

By Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

The EWU football team didn’t kick off its season with the desired results. After a 47-14 shellacking suffered at the hands of the Washington Huskies in the Aug. 31 opener, the No. 4/5 ranked Eagles return home for the first game of the 2019 campaign at Roos Field expecting a much different outcome.

EWU’s opponent for the Sept. 7 matchup is Lindenwood, a Division II school located in St. Charles, Missouri coming off a 4-7 season in 2018. The Lions play in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and have two alumni currently on the Indianapolis Colts: cornerback Pierre Desir and wide receiver Harvey Binford.

EWU and Lindenwood have never played each other. EWU senior center Spencer Blackburn said EWU has to be as prepared as ever for the Lions despite their Division II status.

“Every team could come in here and get an upset,” Blackburn said. “If we take this game half-heartedly… it could go either way.”

Malati Powell for The Easterner
EWU center Spencer Blackburn (No. 75) calls out directions pre-snap during EWU’s Aug. 31 loss to Washington.

Lindenwood is led by All-American senior tight end Erik Henneman and sophomore quarterback Cade Brister. Henneman led Division II in touchdown receptions for tight ends with nine in 2018. Brister is a dual threat quarterback who threw for 2,433 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 549 yards and eight scores in 2018. EWU head coach Aaron Best acknowledged Brister’s playmaking ability.

“(Brister) likes to run the ball, but he can sling it around the yard a little bit,” Best said. “He’s kind of a multi-dimensional quarterback.”

Best said Lindenwood likes to mix up their tempo offensively and put Henneman either on the line as a true tight end or split him out wide to try and create one-on-one matchups for him.

“They’ll violate your eyes a little bit, a lot like Washington,” Best said. “They’ll move guys (and) shift guys…They’ll go fast, slow (or) no-huddle.”

EWU head coach Aaron Best calls out orders during EWU’s Aug. 31 loss at Washington.

EWU should have no trouble earning a victory against Lindenwood, but no win is ever guaranteed. Below are The Easterner’s three keys to victory for EWU.

Three Keys to the Game for EWU

1. Avoid an emotional letdown. 

On paper, EWU should take care of Lindenwood handily. Crazy things happen in sports, however, and the Eagles need to stay on their toes to avoid an “emotional hangover” after the disappointing result at UW in the opener. If EWU is able to avoid dwelling on its season opening loss and focus its effort completely on Lindenwood, the game could be a blowout by halftime.

2. Tighten up fundamentally. 

Best said that there were too many little mistakes made against Washington, adding that the team would be getting back to practicing fundamentals this week in practice. Talent-wise, Lindenwood can’t match up with EWU, so the Lions’ only hope of victory is sloppy, mistake-filled football played by the Eagles. If EWU stays fairly mistake-free and avoids mental errors such as pre-snap penalties and busted coverages, Eagle fans should be celebrating the first win of the season.

3. Improve in the kicking game. 

EWU’s kicking specialists don’t have to be all-worldly in order to beat Lindenwood. They do, however, need to improve this season after a difficult performance against UW. Junior kicker Andre Slyter missed his only field goal attempt, while sophomore punter Trevor Bowens averaged just 34.2 net yards per punt. Both players were making their first career starts and have plenty of time to improve, but EWU needs better production from the kicking game as the team advances toward conference play.

Five Eagles to Watch 

Senior RB Dennis Merritt-No. 6

Malati Powell for The Easterner
EWU senior RB Dennis Merritt (No. 6) tries to break away from a Washington defender in EWU’s season opening loss Aug. 31.

Merritt surprisingly made his first career start against UW after being listed behind Antoine Custer Jr. on the depth chart and proceeded to lead the team in rushing with 37 yards on five attempts. Custer still had the bulk of the carries but was less effective with those opportunities, gaining 28 yards on 14 attempts. Both players are expected to be heavily involved in EWU’s offense moving forward, but Merritt is listed as the starter on the depth chart for Saturday’s game.

Junior Rover Joe Lang-No. 38

Another Eagle making his first career start against UW was Joe Lang. Lang was listed behind Kedrick Johnson at the rover spot for most of the offseason, but said that during fall camp he started getting more first-team reps. The Royal High School alum had five total tackles against UW and is listed as the starting rover again this week.

Junior Rover Kedrick Johnson-No. 27

Speaking of Johnson: While the Vancouver, WA native didn’t get the start against UW and is listed below Lang on the depth chart this week, he still got plenty of reps in Seattle and took advantage of those opportunities by recording nine tackles, which was second most on the team. Eagle fans should be seeing a lot more of Johnson this season, even if he’s not starting.

Senior TE Jayce Gilder-No. 89

Gilder had a bit of a rocky start to his senior season against UW. He had four receptions for 22 yards, but also had a couple drops that could’ve turned into chunk plays for EWU. The captain should bounce back and is worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

Senior WR Dre Dorton-No. 10

Dorton has blazing speed, but EWU fans didn’t get to see that speed showcased much against UW. Dorton was the starting kick returner, but only had the chance to return two kicks for a total of 29 yards as most sailed over his head into the endzone for touchbacks. Dorton also managed just one reception for six yards. Look for Dorton to have a few more chances for big returns and chunk plays offensively in upcoming games.

EWU vs Lindenwood kicks off at 1:05 p.m. from Roos Field and is being televised locally on SWX.