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Eastern Washington will turn to backup quarterback Eric Barriere against North Dakota

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 7, 2017, 10:36 p.m.

Eastern Washington Eric Barriere, left, works alongside Gage Gubrud during fall camp. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington Eric Barriere, left, works alongside Gage Gubrud during fall camp. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

For Eastern Washington’s quarterback of the future, tomorrow has arrived.

With the Eagles’ playoff hopes on the line and their All-American quarterback suspended, redshirt freshman Eric Barriere will step into the breach on Saturday at North Dakota.

“We all just need to rally around each other,” Barriere said Tuesday on a chilly afternoon at Roos Field, where the Eagles worked toward regaining some momentum after two consecutive losses.

With games left against UND and Portland State, the Eagles must win them both to have any chance at qualifying for the FCS playoffs.

Eastern (5-4 overall, 4-2 in the Big Sky Conference) lost more traction last weekend with the one-game suspension of All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud.

Barriere, one of the most heralded recruits in school history, will try to take it back.

A three-star recruit, the 6-foot, 195-pounder from Inglewood, California, has speed, arm strength and savvy.

All he lacks is experience. So far this season he is 1 for 2 for 13 yards and an interception, all coming in the season opener at Texas Tech on Sept. 2.

In other words, Barriere is starting with a fresh slate.

“I’m just really excited at my first career start,” Barriere said. “I know I just have to play my game and not do anything to hurt the team.”

Asked what that game is, Barriere said, “Stay in the pocket and find my open receivers.”

That won’t be easy. Most new quarterbacks get “happy feet” as the pocket collapses around them and run too soon. Even former Eagles star Vernon Adams Jr. succumbed to that urge too many times as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

Many see Barriere as another Adams.

When former Eastern coach Beau Baldwin signed Barriere in February 2016, he said, “We wanted to sign a quarterback, but we wanted to make sure we signed the right player.

“We did that with Eric. He was the top quarterback since we started the recruiting process, even before his senior season.”

Barriere’s numbers at La Habra High school: 130 all-purpose touchdowns with 9,304 passing yards and 1,718 rushing.

Barriere also won games, going 30-8 and winning three league titles.

After redshirting last year, he moved up to second on the depth chart after backup Reilly Hennessey transferred to Central Washington.

Barriere showed promise during spring ball and the annual Red-White Spring Game, completing 11 of 15 passes for 137 yards and two TDs to help the Red team defeat Gubrud and the White squad 24-17.

“He can make plays,” Eastern wide receiver Nsimba Webster said. “He can run when he needs to and he has a long arm.”

During fall camp, Barriere got plenty of snaps with the first offense but rarely saw the field as most Eastern games went down to the wire.

That’s about to change.

The soft-spoken Barriere – who speaks at a volume just above a whisper – didn’t seem fazed by the sudden attention.

Early in Tuesday’s practice, Barriere looked calm as he worked through drills.

“He’s very humble and very, very quiet,” Eastern coach Aaron Best said. “But he has a quiet confidence and he’s very articulate by the way he speaks to his fellow players.”

Barriere will have to make a little noise on Saturday because North Dakota plays in a dome and the crowd will be loud. Moreover, the Fighting Hawks are only 3-7 but will be celebrating Senior Day.

“He’s going to let his performance speak for itself,” Best said.