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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Freshmen stepped up on Eagles’ defensive line

EWU freshman Marcus Saugen, top, has made an impact. (Colin Mulvany)
EWU freshman Marcus Saugen, top, has made an impact. (Colin Mulvany)

Three months after being thrown in to the fire, Eastern Washington’s young defensive linemen are putting the heat on opposing offenses.

And they’re making their coaches look pretty smart in the process: the Eagles are deep into the playoffs partly because the new guys are no longer out of their depth.

Ten underclassmen are seeing regular action, if you’re keeping count. Together with four seniors, they’ve helped the Eagles make a late-season statement in almost every major statistical category.

After giving up 500-plus yards in five of their first seven games, the Eagles (11-2) are yielding an average of just 442 yards in the last six contests. Better yet, only 103.5 of those yards are coming on the ground, forcing opponents to the air sooner than they’d like.

They’re also forcing the action, with half of opponents’ 28 turnovers coming in the last four games.

In other words, they’re one of the feel-good stories of this year’s Eagle team – unless you play for the oppositon.

That wasn’t the reality in September.

“We had some work to do,” admitted defensive line coach Ryan Sawyer, who lost several veterans to injury and wound up burning six redshirts.

One of them is North Central product Marcus Saugen, who according to Sawyer “played fast and caught our attention as somebody who could contribute.”

Sure enough, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Saugen has provided speed on the edge at buck end behind starter Samson Ebukam. Appearing in all 13 games, Saugen has 29 tackles, including 10 for loss, and two sacks. Not bad for a kid who won’t get a scholarship until the spring.

“I’m just grinding every day, trying to improve,” Saugen said as the Eagles took the practice field Tuesday to prepare for Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal against Illinois State.

At nose tackle, starter Matthew Sommer is only a true sophomore, but he has a year on his two young backups, Patiole Pesefea and Dylan Donohue.

Like Saugen, Donahue was hoping to play right away, but was half-surprised when it became a reality after numerous injuries.

“You just keep working … and you just have to roll with it,” said Donohue, a 6-1, 285-pounder from Marysville, Washington.

In nine games, Donohue has 13 tackles and pair of sacks. Almost immediately, Sawyer noticed that “there wasn’t any fear in his play, and as funny as it sounds, that’s hard to find.”

The other true freshmen include tackles Pesefea, a 6-2, 280-pounder from Tacoma; and Jay-Tee Tiuli, a 6-4, 315-pound converted offensive lineman from Seattle. At end, there’s 6-3, 220-pound Nick Foerstel, a Tumwater, Washington, product who started fall camp splitting time between fullback and tight end.

Said Sawyer,”The kids had a great attitude all year long. We’ve taken it one week at a time and tried to grow, and hopefully put ourselves in position to make a playoff run.”

Beavers contact four

According to several media reports, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin is one of four coaches contacted by Oregon State in connection with its open head coaching job.

The others are Brady Hoke, who was recently fired at Michigan; Bronco Mendenhall, a former Oregon State player and now the head coach at Brigham Young; and Matt Wells, current head coach at Utah State.

Injury update

Safety Jordan Tonani (concussion) has missed three of EWU’s last four games and is again out this week. Running back Jalen Moore (knee) missed the Portland State and Montana games and is questionable, as is offensive guard Aaron Neary (knee), who was injured in practice before the Montana game. Tight end Terry Jackson II (ankle) was injured versus Montana on Saturday and is also questionable this week.

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