The biggest takeaway from Eastern Washington’s trip to New York was the only one that mattered.
After two straight lopsided losses, the Eagles did what they were supposed to do: beat Fordham and give Aaron Best his first win as head coach.
“We are all going home with smiles on our faces,” Best said Saturday after a 56-21 win over Fordham. “We’ll enjoy the ride home. The first one is the big one, so congratulations, Eagle Nation.”
Outscored 96-23 in their first two games, the Eagles made the most of a talent advantage over the Rams.
Eastern rolled up 650 yards of offense, held the Rams to 26 yards rushing and otherwise dominated a team that went 8-3 last year and narrowly missed the FCS playoffs.
Sure, the Eagles turned the ball over five times, but they also pillaged the Fordham quarterbacks, recording 10 sacks.
“I don’t know if words describe how this team has come together and believed in themselves,” Best said. “They did a great job of coming across the country and playing well on both sides of the ball.”
Run, Gage run
Best has said it more than once: He doesn’t want quarterback Gage Gubrud to be the team’s leading rusher this year.
And Gubrud wasn’t on Saturday – technically. That honor belonged to third-string running back Dennis Merritt with four runs for 80 yards.
However, Gubrud finished with 72, and it’s how he started the game that helped dictate the game’s outcome.
It was a 10-yard scramble from Gubrud that gave the slow-starting Eagles a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Early in the second, a 9-yard run put Gubrud in the end zone and put Eastern back in the lead – for good, as it turned out.
Gubrud also managed to complete 29 of 41 passes for 399 yards (the 18th-most in school history), albeit with a pair of interceptions that kept the Rams in the game until the third quarter.
Playing without their most imposing defensive lineman, the Eagles nevertheless racked up a school-record 10 sacks.
While the Fordham running backs managed 105 yards on the ground, quarterback Kevin Anderson had minus-80 – the product of all those sacks.
For a group that had been pushed around against Texas Tech and North Dakota State, that meant a lot.
“I don’t care if it was six sacks or 10 sacks, that defensive front four was amazing,” said Best while crediting the coaches for fashioning a winning game plan without injured nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli.
“The linebackers filled the gaps like they need to and our backend wasn’t too shabby themselves,” Best said. “If we play defense at that pace and with that passion, we have a chance in most ballgames. That’s who we are – we are blue collar.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.