Another First Half Shutout Helps No. 5/4 Eastern Past UNC 48-13
GREELEY, Colo. — Fast starts – and a stingy defense — suitco the Eagles just fine.
The Eastern Washington University football team opened up a 20-0 halftime lead and went on to beat Northern Colorado 48-13 Saturday (Nov. 3) at Nottingham Field in Greeley, Colo., in the start of three November Big Sky Conference games that will determine EWU’s postseason playoff fate.
A week after leading 31-0 at halftime versus Idaho, Eastern pitched another shutout in the first half against the Bears and led 20-0. With the offense piling up 562 yards, the defense had three interceptions and six sacks to hold UNC to 259 yards on the day. Senior D’londo Tucker had two of the interceptions for the Eagles, who have now held all six of its Big Sky opponents to 17 points or less with shutouts in 12 of 24 quarters this season.
“I feel good, really good,” said Eastern head coach Aaron Best . “Much like last week, I thought we dominated in the first half on both sides of the ball and on special teams. They were very similar games. We took a step forward in this game – even after a few lulls in the third quarter we got out of it and put some more points on the board and stretched the lead even further.”
On a blustery day with sustained winds of 25 miles per hour and gusts of up to 40, Eastern took advantage for a fast start in the first quarter to take a 13-0 lead. The Eagles dominated early with a 169-28 advantage in total offense in the first quarter, and scored after punts of just 27 and 11 yards by the Bears.
Sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere accounted for 309 yards of total offense for EWU – 245 passing and 64 rushing. He had one TD pass and a pair rushing.
Eastern has now won all 10 Big Sky Conference meetings between the two schools, including all five in Greeley. But the last two times they played Eastern had to rally in the fourth quarter to pull out wins – 35-28 during EWU’s National Championship season in 2010 and 43-41 in 2015.
Eastern remained ranked fifth in this week’s STATS NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll and fourth by the coaches. Right behind the Eagles are Weber State (4/5) and UC Davis (6/9). The loss to Weber State knocked Eastern down a bit in the nationally rankings, after EWU equaled its highest rankings in the past four seasons with rankings of fourth and third, respectively.
Records & Rankings . . .
* Now 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky in 2018, Eastern closed the 2017 season with a 7-4 record overall and was 6-2 in the Big Sky Conference in the first season under head coach Aaron Best . This is the 12th-straight season the Eagles will have finished 5-3 or better in the Big Sky, with a 12th-straight winning season and 21st in the last 23 years guaranteed. But winning a 10th Big Sky title and making a 13th appearance in the FCS Playoffs is the quest for the 2018 Eagles, who are hungry to make that happen.
* The Bears are 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the league, and had won its second-straight game on Oct. 27 with a 42-39 victory at Southern Utah. Northern Colorado also had won 42-14 over Northern Arizona in its last game at Nottingham Field on Oct. 20. Eastern also played NAU, but won only by a 31-26 score.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles are now 5-1 in the Big Sky and are one of four teams with one loss or less in the standings entering play on Saturday. The lone undefeated team in the league is UC Davis (5-0, 7-1 heading into today’s home game versus Northern Arizona). Other one-loss teams in the league are Idaho State (4-1 and 5-3 overall heading into tonight’s game at Portland State) and Weber State (5-1 and 7-2 overall after today’s 26-14 win versus Sacramento State). The Eagles host UC Davis at Roos Field on Nov. 10, which will play a big part in determining the league champion and automatic berth in to the FCS Playoffs which begin on Nov. 24. On Nov. 17, Weber State plays at Idaho State in another key game. The Eagles close the regular season on Nov. 16 at Portland State (4-4/3-2).
What’s Next . . .
* A Big Sky Conference showdown that has been building for the last two weeks takes place next Saturday (Nov. 10) at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., when the Eagles take on UC Davis. Both teams can garner the coveted automatic berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. If Eastern beats UC Davis and Portland State and finishes the league season 7-1, and ISU also wins out, Eastern Washington is the auto bid. If UC Davis wins out, they received the automatic bid based on potential tiebreakers with Weber State or Idaho State. If UC Davis loses to EWU and finishes 7-1, and EWU and WSU win out, Weber State is the auto bid. If UC Davis and Weber State are the only 7-1 teams it would go to common opponents since they did not play each other and with those games still left to play it’s too early to tell. Idaho State cannot get the auto bid with one conference loss even if they win out.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern got off to a quick start, taking advantage of the wind, field position and great defense to go on drives of 89 and 60 yards, ending with field goals of 22 and 23 yards by Roldan Alcobendas . Those were sandwiched around a 24-yard touchdown run by Sam McPherson , which came on the first play after a 27-yard punt by UNC and a 21-yard return by Calin Criner . In the first three possessions for each team, Eastern had 171 yards and an average of 8.6 per play, compared to just 23 yards and 1.9 average for Northern Colorado.