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Young Eastern Washington football players enjoyed spotlight in New York

Eastern Washington defensive lineman Dylan Ledbetter (57), shown last season against Richmond, said he lost count of the Eagles’ sacks at Fordham last weekend. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington defensive lineman Dylan Ledbetter (57), shown last season against Richmond, said he lost count of the Eagles’ sacks at Fordham last weekend. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It took the bright lights of New York to bring a few young Eagles out of the shadows.

That should serve them well Saturday night, when Eastern Washington opens Big Sky Conference play in the harsh glare of Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

“I had a great time,” Eastern Washington defensive lineman Dylan Ledbetter said of last weekend’s trip to New York, where the Eagles not only saw the sights but also found a sight for sore eyes – their first win of the season.

Ledbetter and wide receiver Dre’Sonte Dorton were two of the younger players who had breakout games in a 56-21 win over Fordham.

“I’m just trying to make every opportunity special and keep making plays for the team,” said Dorton, a redshirt sophomore who averaged almost 30 yards on four kickoff returns and also had two catches to help the Eastern passing game break out of a two-game slump.

The biggest confidence-booster was a dominating performance by Eastern’s defensive line, which lost all-Big Sky nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli a week earlier against North Dakota State.

The next man up was Ledbetter, who struggled in that game but thrived in the Big Apple. After a slow start, the Eagles manhandled the Fordham O-line to the point where they lost count of the sacks.

“We were counting them on the sideline and we thought there were 12,” said Ledbetter, a redshirt sophomore from West Seattle.

That was a trifle overoptimistic, but the Eagles (1-2) still recorded a school-record 10 sacks.

“It was super-cool to be a part of that,” said Ledbetter, who had two of them along with a career-high eight tackles – not bad for a 260-pound nose tackle who’s still growing into the job.

Ledbetter needs a lot of growing to match the 320-pound Tiuli, who also is out for this week’s game at Montana. Mentally, Ledbetter is getting up to speed in a hurry.

“Jay-Tee has been great,” said Ledbetter, who played in the rotation last year behind Tiuli. “He sets a great example and really takes it to heart, making us master our craft.”

Other new and not-so-new faces made an impact in New York. Junior tight end Henderson Belk caught two passes, including his first touchdown on a 5-yard pass from quarterback Gage Gubrud.

Wide receiver Nsimba Webster had five catches for a career-high 101 yards.

Three true freshman also had big days. Linebacker Chris Ojoh had the best game of his career with five tackles, including a half-sack. Wide receiver Johnny Edwards IV had his first two collegiate catches and defensive back Anfernee Gurley had his first forced fumble and pass breakup.


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