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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eagles face gritty Richmond in FCS quarterfinals

If the Eastern Washington football coaches haven’t brought it up, the Eagle seniors surely have:

Remember Towson.

The Eagles go into Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal game at Roos Field as a solid favorite over Richmond, a well-traveled underdog from the Colonial Athletic Association that is counting on a backup quarterback to get past the Eagles.

Just as Towson did in the 2013 semifinals.

It’s a game that still haunts the Eagles, who got off to a slow start but took a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. However, Towson backup QB Connor Frazier led two touchdown drives to pull out a 35-31 win and deny Eastern a trip to the national title game.

Even the weather will be the same: highs in the upper 20s with a chance of snow.

The only difference is that Richmond backup Kevin Johnson isn’t coming in cold. He’s already led the Spiders to a pair of playoff wins after burning his redshirt following Kyle Lauletta’s ACL tear at the end of the regular season.

“He as a really strong arm and he’s able to run around, so obviously that’s going to cause some problems,” Eastern roverback J.J. Njoku said.

Actually, Richmond presents a trip of problems. The 6-foot, 195-pound Johnson is 30-for-45 for 604 yards in two games, and likes to air it out for wideout Brian Brown (77 catches for 1,441 yards and 11 TDs.)

The 12th-ranked Spiders (10-3) also have an excellent go-to back in freshman Deontez Thompson (167 carries for 924 yards and nine TDs.).

The second-seeded Eagles (11-1) counter with a defense that’s among the most improved in the country and has given up just four second-half touchdowns in its last six games. Eastern’s pass rush, led by end Samson Ebukam, has kept quarterbacks off-balance and still managed to keep the run game in check.

Last weekend, the Eagles were held to their lowest point total of the season, but the defense permitted a season-low 244 yards in a 31-14 win over Central Arkansas.

“Even though we didn’t score as many points as we’ve been averaging, we found a way to win the turnover battle 2-0,” coach Beau Baldwin said. “When you take care of the ball in the playoffs and don’t turn it over at all, and are able to get a couple, that leads to wins - it flat out does.”

So does the Eagles’ prolific offense, which leads the nation in passing with Gage Gubrud throwing to a trip of 1,000-yard receivers in Cooper Kupp, Shaq Hill and Kendrick Bourne.

“Their wide receiving corps is probably as talented as any we’ve seen,” Richmond coach Danny Rocco said.

However, Richmond has the nation’s second-ranked passing defense (156 ypg) and has given up just 13 passing TDs. Opponents are getting a paltry 6.4 yards per attempt.

“I don’t know we’ve faced a defense that’s as disciplined and plays as a team as well as they do,” said Baldwin, who added that Richmond’s “grit and touchness” reminds him of past encounters against Eastern teams - including Villanova in the 2010 semifinals and yes, Towson in 2013.


Several key Eastern players are listed as questionable, including Kupp (shoulder) and linebacker Miquiyah Zamora (hamstring). … This is the first meeting between EWU and Richmond. … If Eastern wins, it will host Youngstown State or Wofford in the semifinals next weekend. … Eastern is the only seeded team left in its half of the bracket. The favorites are still alive in the other half, where defending champ North Dakota State hosts South Dakota State and Sam Houston State visits James Madison.