Eastern rallies for 34-29 win in quarterfinals with a touchdown with 26 Ticks Left
CHENEY, Wash — After all the blowouts, the Eagles needed a fourth-quarter comeback on their resume.
The Eastern Washington University football team rallied twice in the fourth quarter to get by UC Davis 34-29 in a rematch between Big Sky Conference teams on Saturday (Dec. 8) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
Eastern trailed 21-14 in the fourth quarter, but scored twice within a less than three minute span to pull ahead. After the Aggies regained the lead with 1:13 to play and used a two-point conversion to take a one-point lead, Eastern scored on a four-play, 75-yard drive to advance to the school’s sixth semifinal in school history.
Eastern had defeated the Aggies 59-20 on Nov. 10 in a game that helped secure a tie of the Big Sky Conference title for EWU. The Eagles won for the sixth-straight time in the rematch, but in the previous five games had won by an average score of 52-18. Eastern also improved to 7-0 all-time versus the Aggies.
” I can’t say enough about this team,” said EWU head coach Aaron Best , who achieved his second victory as a head coach and 17th playoff win as an Eagle. “It’s incredible to be at my alma mater and do win this in front of our home fans. This was an impressive win and I’m a proud dad, friend and coach of all 105 players and our staff.”
In what will be its 17th postseason home game since 2010, the third-seeded Eagles (11-2) now advance to the semifinals where they will host Maine (10-3), a 23-18 upset winner over Weber State on Friday in the quarterfinals.
“It’s awesome to get to play again at Roos, and I challenge everybody to come out again and bring a friend or two,” Best said. “I know this – if we go 1-0 this week we’ll play in January. Our mindset from the start of the season believed this could happen. It was Eag Nation, and it started within the four walls of our locker room.
“That’s a special bunch,” he continued. “I don’t want this season to end because they are so precious, they are so important and they are so fun to hang around every day. We’ll let it rip next week and see where it goes.”
Sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere accounted for 278 yards of offense and four touchdowns for the Eagles, with 235 through the air and 43 on the ground. Running back Sam McPherson had 143 rushing yards, including the game-winning 35-yard run.
Four Eagles finished in double figures in tackles for the Eagle defense, which had three interceptions and forced a total of four turnovers. Senior linebacker Ketner Kupp led the way with a career-high 16 tackles.
Eastern has now won 23 games since 2010 when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, but it was the first this season for the Eagles. Eastern had two each in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 seasons, one in 2014, two in 2013, six in 2012, two in 2011 and six during EWU’s national championship season in 2010.
Eastern finished the regular season ranked fourth in the STATS Top 25 poll and were third in the American Football Coaches Association poll. Right with the Eagles are Weber State (3/4) and UC Davis (7/10), with Montana State also ranked (23/24) and earning a playoff berth with a 7-4 record.
Records & Rankings . . .
* Now 11-2 overall and finishing 7-1 in the Big Sky in 2018, Eastern captured its 10th Big Sky title and a 13th appearance in the FCS Playoffs. 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.
* UC Davis finished 10-3 this season, and is now 12-7 in its last 19 games under head coach Dan Hawkins — and three of those losses have been to the Eagles. In 2017, in the first season for both schools with new head coaches, Eastern rallied for a 41-38 victory on Oct. 7 at Davis, Calif. Eastern leads the all-time series 7-0.
What It Means . . .
* Eastern, making its 13th tournament appearance to rank 12th in FCS history, now have a 18-11 record all-time to rank 11th in wins. Eastern hasn’t played a true playoff road game since 2009 when it fell at Stephen F. Austin in the first round, and has gone 12-4 in 16 home games since then with playoff berths in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Eastern won the 2010 NCAA Division I title on a neutral field in Frisco, Texas.
* The game was EWU’s 10th appearance in the quarterfinals in 13 playoff appearances, with Eastern advancing to the semifinals five previous times (1-4 record). While the Eagles played in their 29th game in the FCS playoffs all-time and 21st at home, the Aggies played in their first FCS postseason game on Dec. 1 and the game at EWU was their first road game in the playoffs.
Head Coach Aaron Best Comments . . .
On Game-Winning Drive: “That was some last drive. I challenged our team to get us a field goal attempt – we had three timeouts to make it happen. It just shows you what kind of player Eric Barriere is. He wasn’t on for most of the night, but when we needed it most he showed up and made some big plays. We’ve been around enough to know that nothing is ever perfect. We embrace adversity, we fight adversity and we are better for facing adverse situations.”
On Beating UC Davis a Second Time: “I couldn’t be prouder – we fight to the bitter end. This was a rejuvenated UC Davis team, and we knew weren’t going to see the same outfit we saw in November. They were ready to go and we made a ton of plays on defense, but we couldn’t capitalized on the turnovers. We got the ball out of their hands, but we just couldn’t muster a lot on offense. Give a credit to their defense for doing different things to us. They moved their front a little bit and brought more pressure than we anticipated. We knew they would do something different, but we made enough plays at the end.”
On Big Plays in the Game: “One of the biggest plays was Anthany Smith coming in for Dehonta Hayes , and then he gets an interception. Eric Barriere’s scramble late in the game put us in at least shouting distance of a field goal. Andre Slyter kicked the ball out of the end zone, knowing that they have to go 75 yards with 26 seconds left with one timeout. Then we ended the game with a sack/fumble by Jim Townsend . And you have to mention Sam McPherson on the touchdown. It’s a total body of work by our entire team who are willing to do whatever they can do to help this team win.”
On Season Ending for Loser: “It was unfortunate that somebody had to lose. The worst thing about this situation is that you wish both teams could advance. It was a very energy-driven game, especially by the fans. We felt it on the field and we thank them immensely.”