Sophomore quarterback Gunner Talkington led the Eastern Washington University offensive units to a quick start, but the defense took over from there as the Eagle football team concluded its first two weeks of preseason practices with an 85-play scrimmage Saturday (Aug. 17) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
"I thought we had a really good 80-play scrimmage with a ton of special teams plays involved," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best. "Overall, top to bottom, it was a good day of work. The team is making plays on both sides of the ball. It's not just jaded and one-sided the entire way. I thought we competed well today."
The offense had 425 yards of offense, including 307 through the air. Talkington completed 7-of-14 passes for 154 yards, hitting Dre' Sonte Dorton for an 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass, as well as leading another eight-play, 79-yard drive. He also added 31 yards rushing as the offensive units scored three touchdowns in the first six possessions of the scrimmage, despite starting quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Eric Barriere sitting out.
"Gunner all throughout camp has been intermixed with the ones and he got the chance all day today to do that," said Best. "I thought for the most part he did fine, aside from a few errant throws if you will. All-and-all he has had a great camp thus far and will continue to get better."
The defense took over after that, and held the offense to a pair of field goals in the final 13 possessions. But those field goals were impressive kicks of 45 and 43 yards by junior Andre Slyter. The defense finished the day with four turnovers forced – two on fumbles and a pair on interceptions by Anthany Smith and Demetrius Crosby Jr.
Eastern's running game was productive throughout the scrimmage, with Dennis Merritt leading the way with 49 yards on seven carries and a 10-yard touchdown run, to go along with three catches for another 25 yards. Micah Smith rushed for 30 yards on 12 carries, and starter Antoine Custer Jr. had 27 on just five rushes. The running backs alone averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
Several true freshmen got a chance to play significantly in the scrimmage, including quarterbacks Trey Turner and Kellen Kranc. They combined to go 16-of-28 for 153 yards, with Jakobie James catching five passes for 59 yards.
Safeties Joe Lang and Tamir Hill each had six tackles to lead the defense, which also had seven quick-whistle sacks. One of the fumble recoveries was by Jusstis Warren, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
Eastern practices two more weeks, and will scrimmage next Saturday (Aug. 24) at 1 p.m. on "Meet the Eagles Day" at Roos Field. The Eagles open their season at Washington on Aug. 31 and then will have its home opener versus Lindenwood on Sept. 7. The Eagles lost 25 seniors from last year's team, but do return 47 letterwinners with five starters back on offense and six on defense.
"Some sleeves need to be rolled up and the collar needs to be bluer than you want it to be sometimes," added Best on the two weeks that lie ahead before EWU begins its season. "That's what has made us great over time, and especially the last few years here at Eastern."
Micah Smith 1 run
Dennis Merritt 10 run (Andre Slyter kick)
Jusstis Warren 25 fumble recovery
Dre' Sonte Dorton 83 pass from Gunner Talkington (Seth Harrison kick)
FG Slyter 45
FG Slyter 43
Rushing: Dennis Merritt 7-49 1td, Gunner Talkington 3-31, Micah Smith 12-30 1td, Antoine Custer Jr. 5-27, Freddie Roberson 4-12, Trey Turner 7-10, Kellen Kranc 4-minus-26, Team 1-minus-15, Totals 43-118 2td (35-180 not including seven quick-whistle sacks and one bad snap)
Passing: Gunner Talkington 7-of-14 154 1td 1int, Trey Turner 7-of-13 54, Kellen Kranc 9-of-15 99 1int, Totals 23-of-42 307 1td 1int.
Receiving: Jakobie James 5-59, Dennis Merritt 3-25, Michael Taras 3-18, Aiden Nellor 2-25, Andrew Boston 2-20, Terence Norman 2-17, Dre' Sonte Dorton 1-83, Talolo Limu-Jones 1-21, Johnny Edwards IV 1-19, Freddie Roberson 1-10, Dylan Ingram 1-7, Julian Houston 1-3, Totals 23-307 1td.
Tamir Hill 6, Joe Lang 6, Cale Lindsay 5, Dehonta Hayes 5, Debore'ae McClain 4, Jusstis Warren 4, Ty Graham 4, Anthany Smith 4, Trevor Davis Jr. 3, Keshaun King 3, Justin Patterson 3, Jacob Newsom 3, Zion Fa'aopega 3, Soli Paleso'o 3, Brad Alexander 3, Caleb Davis 2, Chris Ojoh 2, Andrew Katzenberger 2, Marlon Jones Jr. 2, Blake Ochsner 2,
Interceptions: Anthany Smith, Demetrius Crosby Jr.
Passes Broken Up: Darreon Moore, Joe Lang, Darnell Hogan.
Sacks: Debore'ae McClain, Andrew Katzenberger, Trevor Davis Jr., Cale Lindsay, Jusstis Warren, Jacob Newsom, Soli Paleso'o.
Forced Fumble: Steven Flowers, Keshaun King.
Fumble Recovery: Jusstis Warren, Sebastian Gomez.
More Comments from Head Coach Aaron Best . . .
On the Defense and Scrimmage Overall: "You need effort. You have to be around the piles, the balls, and the throws to have a chance at those things. Everything starts with effort, and that's something we can control. Early on we walked through it in the red jerseys. We weren't as energetic as one thought we would be from that side of the ball, but I think we turned the tide about halfway through it. We made a few plays and that's what it takes. On offense you need a guy or two to make plays and move the sticks. On defense, an interception or a turnover can rally them and become contagious."
On Competition: "I like competition, any competition. Whether it's Gunner, Trey, me, my wife or my kids. I love competition, because I think it shows your true color when you start pushing chips a lot deeper and a lot further. You put guys in situations where they are able to be successful based on their preparations, their knowledge and their luck. Let's be honest, you need luck to be involved, but luck to me is preparation for that piece."
On Playing True Freshmen: "Overall we had two true freshman at quarterback who received half the reps in this scrimmage. With Kellen and Trey, you can't substitute that. Our first-year players on the offensive line have probably gotten more reps this fall, or even in the spring, than probably they have the entire decade. It takes shots off the older guys who know what they are doing and we know what we are going to get from them. Playing the freshmen just encourages the guys to learn more, like on-the-job training."
On Next Week of Practice: "We just need to be consistent. We need to be consistent runners, tacklers, blockers and catchers. We are a little inconsistent at times. There is a ton of leadership on this team, but I'm waiting for it to bud and come to fruition. We need to mature a little bit more in some things. We are immature in our movements and some things, but that's on me. It starts at the top and lends itself to seeing these moments to see how we can progress from here. I'm excited and I love coming to work every day -- if you want to call it work. It's fun, but it's not always going to be fun and smiles."
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