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It’s rise and shine as Eastern Washington prepares for East Coast trip

Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud had to scramble during a loss to North Dakota State last Saturday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud had to scramble during a loss to North Dakota State last Saturday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Whatever it takes to win …

The alarm clocks went off early Tuesday morning at Eastern Washington. By 9:30 a.m. the Eagles were practicing at Roos Field, trying to get in the zone.

The Eastern Time Zone.

That’s where the Eagles will be Saturday morning for what’s shaping up as a must-win game against Fordham in New York. With kickoff set for 10 a.m. PST, an early-morning practice made sense to coach Aaron Best.

Likening the preparations to the hot-weather practices ahead of the opener at Texas Tech, Best said that the Eagles are doing “as much as you can to simulate game conditions.”

The Eagles will fly to New York on Thursday.

At first glance, the biggest challenge is mental. Eastern is 0-2 after losing by a combined 96-23 to Texas Tech and North Dakota State, and played worse in the second halves of both contests.

Film from Saturday’s 40-13 home loss to NDSU confirmed what fans saw: a disjointed passing game, few holes for the running game and a defense that finally cracked after being on the field too long.

“We don’t want to hang our heads,” defensive lineman Albert Havili said. “If the younger guys see us hanging our heads, they’re just going to think it’s OK to do that.”

Still, confidence is high.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but we know we can be better than this,” wide receiver Nic Sblendorio said. “We made some mistakes, and there were some plays that just needed to be made.”

The quality of the opposition – a Power-5 team and a five-time FCS titlist – didn’t help. The rest of the schedule figures to be more forgiving. First up is a Fordham squad that was squashed 64-6 at Army and rallied for a 38-31 win at Central Connecticut.

The Rams play the same kind of possession game espoused by NDSU, but they don’t do it as well.

Also, the Rams (1-1) may be without All-American running back Chase Edmonds, who’s listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Edmonds has 5,400 career rushing yards.

“We always prepare is if we’re going to see him,” Best said. “He’s a phenomenal player, but I don’t expect a ton of drop-off if he doesn’t play.”

Eastern is facing its own injury problems. Wide receiver Terence Grady – easily the Eagles’ top performer in the first two weeks – is out for several weeks with a collarbone injury, and starting right tackle Kaleb Levao is out with a knee injury.

Moreover, several key players were limited during Tuesday’s practice. They included three starters – nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli, cornerback Nzuzi Webster and linebacker Ketner Kupp – as well as running back Sam McPherson and linebacker Trevor Davis.