Eastern Washington notebook: Nsimba Webster steps up as big-play receiver

Eastern Washington receivers Andrew Boston, left, and Nsimba Webster, right, celebrate after one of Websters touchdowns against Central Washington during the EWU/CWU game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 at Roos Field at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. The Eagles beat the Wildcats 58-13. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

On an almost annual basis, Eastern Washington has produced some of the Big Sky Conference’s most dynamic pass catchers.

Senior Nsimba Webster, a shifty, athletic former high school quarterback, appears to be the next in that lineage.

Webster had his way with Central Washington’s secondary in Saturday’s 58-13 rout, hauling in 10 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, most of the damage coming in the first half.

The output was nearly one-third of his season total a year ago (693 yards) as the Eagles’ No. 2 option.

With the graduation of leading receiver Nic Sblendorio, Webster is in position to be the Eagles’ go-to receiver.

He’s proved his ability to catch the ball in space and create yards, using his speed to be a viable deep threat.

Asked if he believed he could be the Eagles’ next great receiver, he deflected the praise and pointed to position group.

“I feel like the whole receiving corps is ready to take that next step and to be what we were in the past – among the top receivers in the league or in the nation or whatever.” Webster said. “We’re looking to just keep the standard up. That’s our goal. That’s what we are supposed to, and that’s what we are going to keep on doing.”

Last season, Webster played mostly on the outside, but he has since shifted more toward the inside, matching him up with safeties who don’t possess the same foot speed.

EWU head coach Aaron Best saw the benefit of the move.

“Nsimba had a great game – he had a ton of catches and yards, and made a lot of big plays,” Best said. “He fought his tail off along the sideline – we moved him inside for a reason and we saw the productivity.”

Shutting down Reilly

Reilly Hennessey didn’t have an ideal return to Cheney as Central Washington’s quarterback.

Hennessey, who started two games for EWU in 2015, was working with mostly new receivers and found himself being hounded by a EWU defense that returned eight starters.

He completed 19 of his 32 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 68 yards on 12 carries and was sacked twice.

Hennessey was visibly frustrated. After taking a sack in the first half, he could be seen yelling at his offensive linemen on his way to the sideline.

“Don’t want to say it was just another game, because I could look across the field and know every other guy over there,” said Hennessey, who combined for nearly 3,000 yards with his feet and arm last year.

“I was just going out there to play to the best of my ability. I wanted to play the best that I could, wanted to compete.”

EWU senior linebacker Ketner Kupp, who sacked Hennessey once, said it was “weird” to be facing his former quarterback.

“It was kind of funny. After plays, he’d talk to us here and there,” Kupp said.

Best, who said his defense was eager to face a former teammate, believes Hennessey will bounce back from the lopsided loss.

“Reilly gave me a hug on the sideline, and I told him I loved him. I’m not going to root for him when he’s playing us,” Best said.

“He’ll have better days. It’s unfortunate that some Saturdays aren’t your best day. He knows how to bounce back. He’s had a few shining moments in his career, here and there. He’ll be fine.”

Custer sidelined

EWU totaled more than 300 yards rushing without its top returning running back Antoine Custer, an All-Big Sky Conference talent.

Custer didn’t suit up and didn’t wear pads the first two weeks of August practice, recovering from an undisclosed injury Best described as minor.

Best said he expects Custer to play at Northern Arizona next Saturday, but wouldn’t make any guarantees.

“I expect Antoine to be in the fold, but at the end of the day I’d pit our running backs against anyone in the conference. Top to bottom I think we’re pretty special.”

Custer rushed for nearly 800 yards last season and 10 touchdowns, and also hauled in 21 receptions for 276 yards and two scores.

True freshman in fold

True freshman Tre Weed registered his first career snaps as a punt returner, totaling 43 yards.

The Sumner High product’s first return was fair caught and his last was an impressive 22-yard return.

Senior Zach Eagle was listed as the starting punt returner on the depth chart, but Weed fielded four of the six punts that were returned.

“We’ll see where we go with him, but I am proud of that individual,” Best said. “He did a great job for us today.”