Eagles smash records on the way to a shootout win

Ewu Eagles

MACOMB, Ill. —  The first-ever meeting between the Eastern Washington University Eagles and the Western Illinois University Leathernecks was anything but boring. In a game that saw 1,397 combined offensive yards and 1,016 combined passing yards, it was the Eagles who prevailed, hanging onto a 62-56 victory over WIU at Hanson Field in Macomb, Ill., on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 18).

With the win, Eastern Washington improves to 3-0 overall for the first time since 2007 while the Leathernecks, who are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, fall to 0-3.

The Eagles had 754 yards of total offense, the most-ever against a Division I opponent and came up just short of the school record of 769 yards against Lindenwood on Sept. 7, 2019.

Senior quarterback Eric Barriere also etched his name into the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) record books, throwing for 487 yards of his career-high 542 passing yards in the first half, setting a new FCS record for passing yards in a single half. He would come up just shy of EWU’s school record 549 passing yards, set by Gage Gubrud on Sept. 23, 2017 against Montana.

“It was a tale of two halves. We had a lot of fight in the first half on offense, and we had a really solid second quarter on defense,” said head coach Aaron Best. “In the second half, we scored on the first play offensively with Dennis Merritt’s long run, but we couldn’t muster up enough to get stops or get the ball back. We hurt ourselves with penalties and inconsistent drives, we had too many three, and four, and outs. Half of America loses every week, and we weren’t in that half. It is a win, but we have a lot of things to clean up.”

The first seven drives of the game in the first quarter ended in a touchdown, as Eastern Washington scored four and the Leathernecks scored three, with EWU holding a 28-21 lead after the first quarter of play. In all, Eastern Washington scored six touchdowns in their first six possessions of the first half.

The second quarter saw Eastern score four more times, as they took a 55-21 lead into the locker room after holding the Leathernecks scoreless in the second quarter. The 55 points in the first half set a new EWU record as a member of the FCS for points in a half, besting the 46 scored last week (Sept. 11) against Central Washington.

The weather in Macomb stayed hot and humid in the second half, but the Eagles cooled down. The Leathernecks struck first at the 12:48 mark of the third quarter, and Dennis Merritt would answer with his third score of the game just 20 seconds later on a 73-yard rushing touchdown. That would wind up being the final touchdown of the game for Eastern Washington, as the Eagles were outscored 14-7 in the third and 21-0 in the fourth quarter and the Leathernecks scored the final four touchdowns of the game.

In all, Barriere completed 31 of his 45 pass attempts with 542 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. He was without an interception for the second-straight game, and also added 20 yards on the ground.

Barriere connected with five different receivers who found the endzone, as Johnny Edwards IV scored twice and Freddie RobersonEfton Chism IIITalolo Limu-Jones and Dennis Merritt each added scores. Edwards (126) and Roberson (118) each went over 100 yards receiving and Barriere was just a touchdown short of EWU’s school record.

Merritt would score two rushing touchdowns as well, en route to his second-straight game with over 100 rushing yards, setting a new career-high of 148 rushing yards. Justice Jackson also scored a touchdown and added 46 yards on the ground.

Ty Graham found himself with double-digit tackles for the second time in three games, leading the way with 10 plus a sack. Demetrius Crosby grabbed the lone interception of the game, helping EWU improve to 60-0 since 2010 when they win the turnover battle. He would also add six tackles and a pass breakup. Debore’ae McClain also had a sack, and Jack Sendelbach had eight tackles.

The Eagles now turn their sights to Big Sky Conference play, which begins next week (Sept. 25) at Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. Pacific time and will be broadcast on ESPN+ and on ESPN 700-AM.