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Thursday, August 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 67° Partly Cloudy

Big Sky football: Eagles get turnover margin in the black

The Eastern Washington defense made a positive statement last week.

Going into the North Dakota game, the Eagles had forced just six turnovers in five football games, and the turnover margin was in the red – minus-3.

That’s exactly where North Dakota stood in the third quarter – in the red zone and still in the game – but the Eagles forced two late turnovers en route to a 35-14 win.

With four takeaways at UND, the Eagles are plus-1 going into Saturday’s game against Southern Utah, which figures to be unimpressed; the Thunderbirds bettered that performance with six takeaways in a dominating 17-7 win over Portland State.

The Vikings’ seven points were their fewest in a Big Sky Conference game since 2006, but T-Birds coach Ed Lamb doesn’t expect a repeat of that game, or his team’s 30-27 upset of the top-ranked Eagles last year in Cedar City, Utah.

In that game, Southern Utah got a blocked punt for a score, then recovered an Eastern fumble in the red zone in the fourth quarter.

“We have no hopes that Eastern is going to turn the ball over five or six times,” Lamb said on Wednesday.

The same can be said of Lamb’s conservative, run-oriented offense, which has given the ball away just nine times, including one fumble. The Thunderbirds are a gaudy plus-9 in turnover margin.

The Eagles hope to take an early lead forcing Southern Utah to throw. That worked well last week, as Eastern got five sacks from a rejuvenated pass rush.

Kupp on Rice list

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp has a nose for the end zone, but not for news. The redshirt freshman from Yakima was named to the initial 20-player Watch List for the Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision. “I found out about it through Twitter,” Kupp said. “One of my friends Tweeted it to me.” Just six games into his career, Kupp already has 22 catches for 427 yards and eight touchdowns. “He has been as consistent as any young player I have seen,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said.

Cantu getting it done

Southern Utah’s quarterback is no Brad Sorensen, and that’s fine with Lamb. Sorensen, a prolific passer and seventh-round NFL draft pick by the San Diego Chargers, has left the field to junior Aaron Cantu. A popular figure in the lockerroom “since the day he got here,” according to Lamb, Cantu has fit in well with the T-Birds’ conservative offense. Through seven games, Cantu has completed 137 of 208 passes for eight TDs and eight interceptions. “He’s unselfish, and on a couple of occasions, when we needed long scoring drives, he’s come through,” said Lamb, perhaps recalling the season-opening win over FBS member South Alabama. Cantu took the T-Birds 54 yards in the final two minutes to set up the winning field goal in a 22-21 victory.

Homecoming activities

Football-related activities on Saturday for Homecoming include a parade in downtown Cheney at 10 a.m.; a Tailgate Bash at the campus mall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and a family-oriented tailgate event in Parking Lot P-12 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Around the league

After a 40-26 win over Northern Colorado, Idaho State is 3-3, its best start since the 2005 season and as many wins as the last two seasons combined. It also gave ISU (and former Eastern) coach Mike Kramer his 55th career conference win, putting him alone in third place on the all-time Big Sky list. … Montana State senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee enters Saturday’s game against Weber State with 9,840 career passing yards, and needs 160 more to become the third player in Big Sky history to throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in his career. … Three Big Sky teams are ranked in the top 11 FCS teams in this week’s Jeff Sagarin Ratings. Eastern is seventh, Montana is eighth and Montana State ranks 11th. Northern Arizona is 25th.

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