Of Eastern Washington’s 16 scripted and situational possessions Saturday at Roos Field, just two resulted in the offense – first-, second- and third-team units – reaching the end zone.
Both belonged to the Eagles’ presumed starters, who wasted little time taking big shots down the field.
After an Eagles secondary devoid of Mitch Fettig, Tysen Prunty and Cole Karstetter helped force a three-and-out on the first series – more than a dozen “dinged up” players were held out of the scrimmage to rest, according to head coach Aaron Best – their All-American quarterback was true to form.
Gage Gubrud’s second deep ball in his first six plays fell into the hands of speedy receiver Nsimba Webster, who hauled in the throw 45 yards downfield. Three plays later, the two connected on a 24-yard touchdown.
The first-team offense, playing without standout running back Antoine Custer and touted redshirt freshman receiver Andrew Boston, also scored on its fourth drive, a run-heavy, seven-play series that concluded with a 9-yard Tamarick Pierce touchdown scamper.
EWU’s first-team units locked up five times. Coaches mixed second- and third-team players the majority of the scrimmage, even sprinkling in some first-teamers.
One the of offense’s drives was killed when Webster, who hauled in three catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, dropped a pass across the middle on fourth down.
“(Webster) had a great day and made a bunch of catches,” said Gubrud, who was 8 for 14 for 124 yards. “But we also put one on the ground in a critical fourth-down situation. That’s the kind of stuff we need to improve on.”
Senior Zach Eagle, who rotated between first and second teams, recorded five receptions for 109 yards, half of the total coming from a deep ball from second-string quarterback Eric Barriere, who finished 12 for 17 for 148 yards.
Senior corner Josh Lewis, who had two pass breakups, praised his defense for often getting off the field without surrendering points.
“I think we did well. We held the offense to minimum scores,” Lewis said. “We obviously have to work on (giving up) the big plays, but we forced some turnovers too.”
EWU’s second- and third-team defenses had a trio of interceptions, including the scrimmage’s final play when linebacker Andrew Katzenberger jumped a short route and took freshman quarterback Simon Burkett’s pass to the end zone. Mitchell Johnson and Keshaun King also had picks.
Best didn’t think either unit dominated the other.
“There was some good on both ends, and I know that sounds like some coach cliche, but there really was,” Best said. “When the offense got it going, the defense got a stop. When the defense got a couple stops in a row, the offense would turn it back on.
“A couple of guys who stood out to me were Sam McPherson, Nsimba Webster and Zach Eagle. It was good to see some old guys step up again, and it was good to see some young guys step up. (Freshman safety) Tre Weed played really well.”
In the day’s second scoring drive, McPherson was both a shifty and downhill runner, breaking outside and busting through tackles, peeling off drive-saving runs of 16 and 8 yards.
Defensive backs Anthany Smith and Tamir Hill combined for 13 tackles.
“There was good, bad and ugly, just like any other day. We weren’t perfect, but we’re striving to be more consistent,” Gubrud said. “We saw some good things out of some young receivers and quarterbacks.”
EWU, ranked No. 8 in the AFCA preseason FCS coaches poll, opens its season Sept. 1 in Cheney against NCAA Division II power Central Washington.
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