BRONX, N.Y. – It took Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud 19 minutes to find his rhythm at Fordham on Saturday, but once he did, he was dangerous.
Gubrud threw for 399 yards (29 for 41) and three touchdowns (while rushing for two more) and the Eagles outgained Fordham 650-210.
Gubrud’s teammates were pretty good, too, as the defense amassed a school record-tying 10 sacks.
The end result was coach Aaron Best’s first win, 56-21, with the high-rise apartment buildings of New York City as a backdrop.
“I don’t know if words describe how well this team has come together and believed in themselves,” Best said of the trip. “They did a great job of coming across the country and playing well on both sides of the ball.”
Gubrud shook off some early jitters – and a first-quarter fumble by wide receiver Nic Sblendorio – to marshal three first-half scoring drives. But he didn’t entirely settle down until midway through the second quarter – around the 11:00 mark.
Gubrud looked relaxed at that point. He hit three straight passes to receivers, including a 16-yard pass to Stu Stiles and a 15-yard pass to Nsimba Webster in which Gubrud effortlessly eluded two Fordham defenders.
“It always takes a while to get rolling,” Gubrud said. “Getting into a rhythm, you’ve got to get (your receivers) a couple of catches, get hit a couple of times.”
A 17-yard touchdown run by Tamarick Pierce perfectly bridged the five-play, 57-yard drive, as the Eagles took a 21-7 lead with 7:25 to play until the half.
The Eagles’ defense, after allowing 532 yards of total offense in a 40-13 loss to North Dakota State on Sept. 9, was dominant from the start. On Fordham’s promising opening drive, after advancing to Eagles’ 33-yard line, Albert Havili spun and sacked Fordham QB Kevin Anderson, forcing the Rams to punt. It was the first of a school record-tying 10 sacks, as the Eagles’ front line was simply too quick and too fast for Fordham to handle.
“I don’t care if it was six sacks or 10 sacks, that defensive front four was amazing,” Best said. “And that was without Jay-Tee Tiuli, a player who has a lot of experience and success. Give Eti Ena, Jeff Schmedding and Brian Strandley a ton of credit.”
Dylan Ledbetter, filling in for the injured Tuili, had a team-leading five tackles, including two sacks. Havili was credited with 2 1/2 sacks.
“We put the onus on ourselves,” Ledbetter said. “We challenged everyone on the front line to dominate the game.”
In holding Fordham to five first-half first downs (and 95 yards of total offense), the defense set the stage for a breakthrough second half. That came when Dre’Sonte Dorton opened the half with a 51-yard kickoff return and Gubrud immediately found a streaking Antoine Custer Jr., for a 43-yard touchdown reception and a 28-7 lead.
“Scoring that touchdown after the half really gave us some momentum,” Gubrud said.
The Eagles overcame five turnovers, including two interceptions by Gubrud.
Fordham put together two scoring drives after halftime, including a 6-play, 65-yard scoring drive in the third quarter capped by D’An Palladino’s two-yard touchdown run. That score drew the Rams to within 42-20, but it had no effect on the outcome.
The trip included a stop at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers stood, on Friday.
“(An) experience for a lifetime,” Gubrud said. “It really kind of touched home when you go to the spots and see the names there. It really put life in perspective for us.”
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