EWU looks to turn the tide during Homecoming

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EWU looks to turn the tide during Homecoming

EWU senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. stiff-arms a defender during the Eagles' 35-20 victory over North Dakota on Sept. 28. Custer leads EWU in rushing this season.

EWU senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. stiff-arms a defender during the Eagles' 35-20 victory over North Dakota on Sept. 28. Custer leads EWU in rushing this season.

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

EWU senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. stiff-arms a defender during the Eagles' 35-20 victory over North Dakota on Sept. 28. Custer leads EWU in rushing this season.

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

EWU senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. stiff-arms a defender during the Eagles' 35-20 victory over North Dakota on Sept. 28. Custer leads EWU in rushing this season.

By Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

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Famous author Charles Dickens once said, “Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.” 

That sentiment rings especially true for the EWU football team (1-1, 2-4), which enters Saturday’s homecoming matchup against the Northern Colorado Bears (1-1, 1-5) a perfect 2-0 at home but an imperfect 0-4 on the road. 

EWU senior defensive lineman Dylan Ledbetter said he wishes he had the answer as to why the Eagles start better on Roos Field.

“I don’t know if it’s the offense, the defense or energy,” Ledbetter said. “It’s something we’re working on, for sure.”  

EWU head coach Aaron Best said all the early season losses are abnormal for the program. He said the coaches have to act as guides for the players when they reach uncharted waters.

“(We) have to explain to the guys that ‘no, the (losses) aren’t okay, but don’t be shell-shocked,’” Best said. “We’ll get through this thing together.”

EWU’s season opening 47-14 loss to the Washington Huskies wasn’t a surprise, but after losses at Jacksonville State, Idaho and Sacramento State, the Eagles find themselves in an uphill climb to return to the postseason. 

For all the away game struggles, EWU has taken care of business on the Inferno with a Sept. 7 59-31 rout of Lindenwood and a Sept. 28 35-20 victory over North Dakota. With four losses already in the ledger, the Eagles can ill-afford another setback Saturday against the Bears. 

UNC had a difficult first six games. Its only victory came in upset fashion over Idaho on Sept. 28 by a score of 27-24. All but one of UNC’s losses came by 17 points or more, with the low point being a 50-0 thrashing at the hands of Sac State on Sept. 14. 

The Bears are in last place in scoring offense and total defense in the Big Sky Conference.  

UNC has been led by senior running back Milo Hall, who has 498 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Graduate quarterback Jacob Knipp has thrown for 1213 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Defensively, senior linebacker Luke Nelson has 51 total tackles, an interception and a forced fumble for the Bears. Senior cornerback Michael Walker has added 29 total tackles and two interceptions. 

EWU winning six straight to end the season must start with a win on what is forecasted to be a crisp, 55 degree fall day in Cheney. 

Following are The Easterner’s three keys to an Eagle victory.

1.) Limit penalties. 

The Eagles had ten yellow flags thrown against them in their 48-27 loss at Sac State on Oct. 5. These costly infractions stifled the offensive momentum by creating long yardage situations. EWU is averaging 72.8 penalty yards per game in 2019. 

Senior running back Antoine Custer Jr. said the offense has to avoid getting in its own way.

“We have talent on the offense to move the ball very well,” Custer said. “We have to see it in ourselves … to minimize the (mistakes) we can control.”

If the Eagles cut their average of nearly eight penalties per game down to five or six, they’d be doing themselves a big favor.

We have the talent on the offense to move the ball very well … we have to see it in ourselves …  to minimize the (mistakes) we can control.”

— Antoine Custer Jr.

2.) Avoid a slow start.

EWU was losing 21-0 after the first quarter at Washington, 28-0 at halftime at Idaho and 21-7 after the first quarter at Sac State. Against Idaho and Sac State, the Eagles managed to draw within one score, but the hole they had dug themselves into proved to be too much to overcome. 

Conversely, EWU has started strong at home. The Eagles led Lindenwood 21-0 after one quarter and 28-7 at halftime against North Dakota.   

3.) Offensive consistency. 

EWU’s loss at Sac State was the first time since Sept. 7 that the offense didn’t have at least one scoreless quarter in a game. The Eagles still went three-and-out and turned the ball over on downs five times each. 

This inconsistency is surprising for a group that was third in the country in total offense in 2018. EWU is still racking up the yards, averaging 474.3 per game. However, those yards often come in spurts. That average is also aided by EWU’s school-record 769 total yards against Division II Lindenwood. 

UNC brings an ample opportunity to rediscover some offensive momentum. The Bears have given up 501.8 yards per game, which is the worst in the BSC. 

If EWU can score consistently in all four quarters while avoiding long scoring droughts, Eagle fans should be celebrating wins instead of dreading losses.

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