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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Backups step up big for Eagles

Many of his players are injured, but Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin still has a healthy attitude:

No victims and no excuses, despite an injury list that reached the critical stage last weekend when the second-ranked Eagles played at Southern Utah.

Fifteen players – with a combined 135 career starts and 322 games played – missed the game for various reasons, including injury, sickness and suspension. Despite that, Eastern defeated the Thunderbirds 42-30 to improve to 3-0 in the Big Sky Conference and 6-1 overall.

“Our guys really didn’t know how many guys were out,” Baldwin said Tuesday as the Eagles prepared for Saturday’s home game against Northern Colorado. “I’m not talking about who’s out, and we don’t drag it out. That allows us to move forward, trusting in the guy next to you.”

Judging by the results, this is a very trusting group.

On offense, the Eagles were missing several key players, including All-American quarterback Vernon Adams (out three to six weeks with a broken foot); wide receivers Cory Mitchell (still on the mend from a broken collarbone suffered Sept. 6 at Washington), and Shaq Hill (suspended); and running backs Quincy Forte (shoulder) and Jabari Wilson (hamstring).

That meant more snaps for running backs Mario Brown and Jalen Moore, who both responded with career highs to spearhead a ground game that picked up 280 yards.

“We had a lot of people out, but in a way that made us stronger, more of a team,” said Moore, who credited the offensive line after he ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

That in turn helped backup quarterback Jordan West trust himself in his first collegiate start; he completed 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns – including key passes to new targets Nic Sblendorio, Terence Grady; and tight ends Terry Jackson II and Jake Withnell.

On defense, the Eagles have been devastated by injuries on the line, including end Evan Day (still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the spring) and tackle Jordan Pulu (out since Aug. 23 with an elbow injury and not expected back this season). Samson Ebukam and John Goldwire are back after missing starts, but in the interim, the Eagles added six true freshmen into the rotation.

In the secondary, the casualties began with the loss of cornerbacks D’londo Tucker (season-ending knee injury after spring ball and Frank Cange (season-ending ACL injury suffered Aug. 30), Nzuzi Webster (knee) and starting strong safety Todd Raynes (first to a shoulder injury at Montana State, then a knee injury against Idaho State.)

The Eagles have put their trust in true sophomore safety Zach Bruce and redshirt freshman corner Victor Gamboa. Bruce responded on Saturday with a team-high eight tackles, while Gamboa had seven stops and two interceptions.

Said Gamboa: “I think it energized the defense, and made us want to go out there every time and get a pick.”

Which is just the kind of attitude Baldwin wants to see.

Notes

The team will wear special Military Appreciation jerseys on Saturday, in conjunction with EWU’s fourth-annual Military Appreciation Day at Roos Field. Fans will have the opportunity to bid on select Military Appreciation jerseys beginning 90 minutes before kickoff up to the end of halftime. Bidding will start as low as $150 while “Buy It Now” prices start as low as $500. Only non-senior jerseys will be available for auction, and no additional jerseys will be made available for purchase once the auction ends.

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