Custer leads Eastern to win on Senior Day

Senior Day for Antoine Custer Jr. was a memorable experience.

The senior running back from Berkeley, Calif., had a career-high 218 yards rushing to help the Eastern Washington University football team to its 13th-straight winning season and remain unbeaten at home with a 53-46 victory over Portland State Saturday (Nov. 23) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.

Finishing the regular season 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky, EWU closed with its fourth-straight victory – the team’s only multiple game winning streak of the season. EWU has a current school-record 14-game winning streak at “The Inferno,” with Eastern going a perfect 5-0 at home and 2-5 on the road this season.

Eastern scored 38 unanswered points spanning halftime to break it open from a 17-all tie. Portland State rallied to pull within a single score in the fourth quarter, but Eastern senior wide receiver Jayson Williams recovered an onside kick with two minutes left and EWU was able to run out the clock.

Custer averaged 13.6 yards per carry, and scored on runs of 29 and 2 yards. He had an 88-yard non-scoring rush, and finished with the 15th-most yards in school history. He finished the regular season with 1,228 yards for eighth all-time at EWU and his 3,045 career yards are fourth.

“Antoine embodies who we are,” said Eastern head coach Aaron Best . “He shows up to work and he has fun during practice, and it shows during games. He’s arguably one of the better backs if not the best back in this league. He’s paid his dues and it’s shown, not only today, but over the past four years with his body of work.”

Quarterback Eric Barriere passed for 260 yards and rushed for 23 in the win, passing for three and scoring another on a 10-yard rush. Redshirt freshman Freddie Roberson had his first 100-yard receiving performance as an Eagle with four catches for 104 yards.

Senior Andrew Katzenberger had a team-high 14 tackles, with senior Jack Sendelbach and junior Kedrick Johnson had 10 apiece. Senior Dehonta Hayes , Eastern’s leading tackler, had nine to give him 115 for the year.

Eastern has faint hopes of gaining a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, and will know its fate Sunday (Nov. 24) at 9:30 a.m. The brackets will be unveiled on ESPNU.

“Hopefully we can hear those two precious words – Eastern Washington – on TV tomorrow morning,” said Best. “Regardless, it doesn’t put a stamp good or bad on the season. There are people outside of our room that cast us away after a 1-3 start. Here we are 6-2 in the conference after going 8-0, 6-2 and 7-1 before that – there aren’t many teams in this conference that can boast of that. So it’s not how you start but it’s how you finish. I’m proud of this bunch of seniors and our entire program.”

Eastern scored 14 of its points in the first half off a pair of interceptions. The Eagles took a 17-7 lead in the first quarter on a 10-yard run by Barriere after the first career interception for senior Tysen Prunty . In the second quarter after PSU knotted the score at 17, an interception by redshirt freshman Tre Weed led to a 29-yard touchdown run by Custer. Weed originally returned the pick 33 yards for a TD, but a penalty shortened the penalty.

That started the run of 38-straight points for the Eagles. A strategic EWU timeout late in the first half, helped Eastern get the ball back with 2:31 to play. But the Eagles only needed 1:12 to go 88 yards on four plays, with sophomore Andrew Boston scoring on a 14-yard pass from Barriere and giving EWU a 30-17 halftime lead. Barriere had passes on the drive of 33 yards to Boston, 24 to senior Jayson Williams and 22 to redshirt freshmen Freddie Roberson .

Eastern then scored the first two times it had the ball in the second half, including drives of 90 yards and 56. Custer scored on a 2-yard run after his 88-yarder, and then Tamarick Pierce caught a 4-yard TD pass from Barriere. Eastern added an insurance TD in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run by Pierce, who finished with 54 yards in just his fourth game played this season, ensuring he can still redshirt and return in 2020.

Eastern honored a group of 19 seniors in pre-game ceremonies. Those seniors have helped Eastern win 38 games overall with a 27-5 Big Sky record in the last four seasons, including Big Sky titles and berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2016 and 2018.

Records & Rankings . . .

* Eastern is 7-5 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky, and has a four-game winning streak. Eastern beat Northern Arizona 66-38 on Nov. 2 in Cheney, Wash., and that came after a 34-17 loss for the Eagles at rival Montana after owning a 17-10 lead in the third quarter. The Eagles are a perfect 5-0 at home and 2-5 on the road this season.

* Last week, Eastern took its No. 1 offense in the FCS to Cal Poly and emerged with a 42-41 victory and 496 yards of total offense to maintain that lead. The Eagles averaged 9.2 yards per play, with their six scoring drives taking just 31 plays for 450 yards and 9:01 off the clock – averages of 14.5 yards per play and 1:30 per possession.

* Coached by former Eagle player and 1987 graduate Bruce Barnum, PSU opened the season 5-3 and 3-1 in the Big Sky, but has dropped its last four. The Vikings, who had a bye last week, lost consecutive games to Northern Arizona (31-29), Montana (38-23) and UC Davis (45-28), and finished the year 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky.

What’s Next . . .

* Eastern still has hopes to garner one of 14 at-large berths into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. The Eagles will find out their fate at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time via ESPNU when the brackets are revealed for the 24-team tournament. Eastern advanced to the championship game a year ago, and has made 13 previous playoff appearances to rank 12th in FCS history. Eastern is also ranked ninth all-time with 19 victories, and is seventh in percentage (.612, 19-12).

* Eastern’s next regular-season game is scheduled for Sept. 5, 2020, at Florida. The Eagles open a six-game home schedule the next week versus Western Illinois on Sept. 12, and also host Northern Arizona (Sept. 19), Montana (Oct. 3), Idaho (Oct. 17), Weber State (Oct. 24) and Montana State (Nov. 7).