EWU grinds out win over North Dakota

Eagles’ defense forces six turnovers in undesirable weather conditions


Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

EWU takes the field in snowy and windy conditions. EWU beat UND 35-20 Saturday.

By Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

EWU head coach Aaron Best didn’t have the reaction many would have to playing in gusting winds, snow and rain during a September football game.

“It was awesome,” Best said. “Saturdays in the fall in Cheney are going to be windy…we love it. It’s just more adversity (and) something we can get over the hurdle and step around.”

Malati Powell for The Easterner
EWU head coach Aaron Best patrols the sidelines during the Eagles’ 35-20 victory over UND Saturday.

No. 21 EWU (1-0, 2-3) has faced its fair share of adversity in the first month of the season, but today the Eagles overcame the challenging conditions and recent struggles in play with a 35-20 victory over No. 25 North Dakota (2-2).

Today’s win was generated almost entirely by the EWU defense and running game. The defensive unit, which had been allowing 44.5 points per game coming in, forced six turnovers and sacked UND quarterback Nate Ketteringham five times. Meanwhile, senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. and true freshman running back Silas Perreiah combined for 246 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. 

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner
EWU senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. falls into the endzone. Custer ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns in EWU’s 35-20 victory over UND Saturday.

It was the first 100+ yard game in Perreiah’s short career. The Northwest Christian alum, who finished with 129 yards and one touchdown, has found himself second on the depth chart at running back after coming into the season fifth. He said his rise up the depth chart has been an adjustment, but said more experienced running backs like Custer and seniors Dennis Merritt and Tamerick Pierce have helped him along the way. (Merritt is likely out for the season after suffering a serious leg injury against Lindenwood on Sept. 7, while Pierce has yet to see game action this season.)

“They gave me lots of information when I came in for fall camp,” Perreiah said. “It’s all a credit to them.”

As Custer and Perreiah pounded UND offensively, the EWU defense flew around and made plays all afternoon. Senior linebacker Jack Sendelbach returned from injury and made 12 tackles and had one sack. Senior safety Dehonta Hayes had 10 tackles and an interception. Junior safety Calin Criner had some huge plays, including two interceptions. His second pick came with 11:46 remaining in the game. UND had the ball in EWU territory trailing 28-20 when Criner jumped a slant route on third down and plucked Ketteringham’s pass out of the air while absorbing a hit. Criner said the pick was a credit to the defensive front six for winning on first and second down.

“(The) linebackers and d-line played great,” Criner said. “It gave us an opportunity to show different things on third down.”

EWU jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead on two short Custer runs. At halftime, EWU led 28-7 after Custer ran for his third score of the day and junior quarterback Eric Barriere added a ten yard rushing touchdown of his own. UND strung together 13 straight points in the third and early fourth quarters, but junior defensive tackle Keith Moore forced a Ketteringham fumble that was recovered by senior defensive end Jim Townsend at the UND 17 with under nine minutes remaining. Perreiah’s score gave EWU a two-score lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

The six turnovers forced by EWU were a result of three interceptions (two by Criner, one by Hayes) and three forced and recovered fumbles. Senior defensive tackle Dylan Ledbetter recovered two fumbles. Criner said the defense hadn’t been playing sound football in the first four games this season, but ramped it up this week. 

“We always talk about (how) turnovers come in bunches,” Criner said. “Today we got one, then another one came, and they kept (coming).”

Malati Powell for The Easterner
EWU and UND players jump on a fumble. The fumble was recovered by the Eagles’ Dylan Ledbetter. EWU beat UND 35-20 Saturday.

Custer finished with 137 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Barriere added 38 yards and a score on the ground. It wasn’t a good day throwing the ball for the EWU signal caller, as Barriere was just 6-15 for 93 yards through the air. Barriere wasn’t given many opportunities to get in a rhythm, however, as EWU ran 62 times to the 15 pass attempts. 

True freshman Nick Kokich had a busy day in his second day handling punts for the Eagles. Kokich punted nine times with a 37.7 yard average, and would’ve had a tenth punt if not for a muffed snap in the fourth quarter.

The time of possession was almost identical, as EWU had the ball for 30:33 and UND had the ball for 29:27. Both teams struggled on third down, with EWU going 4 for 16 and UND going 4 for 17.

Next up for EWU is a matchup in California with Sacramento State on Oct. 5. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.