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Eastern Washington expects more out of Sacramento State

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 29, 2017, 9:22 p.m.

Sacramento State coach Jody Sears is a Pullman High graduate and played wide receiver at Washington State. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Sacramento State coach Jody Sears is a Pullman High graduate and played wide receiver at Washington State. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Before the season began, this looked liked one of the easier games on the Eastern Washington schedule.

Sacramento State was coming off back-to-back 2-9 seasons, coach Jody Sears was on the hot seat and, well, Eastern almost always finds a way to beat the Hornets.

Instead, Sac State is 2-2 and playing far better than expected, and Sears just found a quarterback.

Yes, Eastern has taken the previous five from Sac State, but the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Eagle coach Aaron Best expects more of the same when the Hornets visit Roos Field on Saturday afternoon.

“They have playmakers, as they always have,” Best said. “They were fairly young last year, if I remember right, so now they are less greener and more meaner. They play with high energy and have talent, and those are things we need to be aware of.”

More than anything, the Eagles need to be aware of junior quarterback Kevin Thomson, a dual threat who accounted for seven touchdowns in a 54-27 rout of Southern Utah last weekend.

That impressed the folks at the Big Sky Conference enough to make Thompson the league’s co-Offensive Player of the Week with Eastern’s Gage Gubrud.

“It’s nice to see some really good production out of that position,” said Sears, who’s been on the receiving end of some stellar quarterback play by Eastern.

Sears was the head coach at Weber State, where on Sept. 22, 2012, Vernon Adams Jr. was unleashed on the Big Sky Conference. Eastern won that game 32-26 and beat the Wildcats the next year at Roos Field by 22.

Two years later, Sears was at Sac State when Jordan West threw for a then-school-record 491 yards in a game the Eagles won 28-20.

Now Sears, a former defensive coordinator at Eastern, must contend with Gubrud, who threw for a school-record 549 yards in the 48-41 win at Montana.

While crediting EWU running back Antoine Custer Jr. for being a “really good player” and the Eagles offensive line for “always being a little nasty,” Sears made it clear what he’s most worried about.

“He (Gubrud) makes the whole offense go… he’s the best player at our level,” Sears said.

Out of 96 offensive plays last weekend, Gubrud had a hand in 78. That wasn’t intentional, offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder said.

“There were a lot of throws we made that were actually run calls,” Reeder said. “With all those (run-pass options) the numbers can get skewed.”

Gubrud (who’s fifth in FCS in total passing yards, with 1,289) isn’t the only Eagle on the national leaderboard.

Kick returner Dre’ Sonte Dorton has averaged 28.0 yards on nine returns to rank 14th in FCS, while the team is 11th at 25.7 per return.

Wide receiver Nic Sblendorio, coming off an 18-catch effort at Montana, is third with an average of 8.5 catches per game (34 total). Nsimba Webster had 13 against the Grizzlies and is 17th nationally at 6.5 per game (26 total).

Defensively, Eastern is fifth in sacks at 3.75 per game, with Albert Havili ranking 10th nationally and first in the league with an average of one per game.


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