For the second time in three weeks, Eastern Washington true freshman Antoine Custer Jr. gave the Eagles a lift with a long kickoff return to open the second half.
The Big Sky Conference noticed, and for the second time this year, Custer is the league’s special teams player of the week.
With Eastern trailing UC Davis 23-14 at halftime on Saturday, Custer took the second-half kickoff 55 yards, setting up the Eagles for their first score in what would be a 35-point barrage in the third quarter.
Eastern went on to win that game 63-30, thanks in no small part to the other Eastern honoree – senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the offensive player of the week.
Kupp had 12 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns as Eastern improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky going into Saturday’s home game against Northern Colorado.
Kupp had scoring receptions of 71 and 32 yards from quarterback Gage Gubrud, as well as a non-scoring 52-yard catch, giving him 30 plays of 40 yards or more in his Eastern career. He came within one yard of his school record of 275 receiving yards set last year at Northern Colorado, and now has averaged a TD reception for every 5.6 catches in his career.
Meanwhile, Custer provided a momentum-swinging play for the second time this season; two weeks earlier, his 93-yard kickoff helped spur Eastern to a 34-30 win over Northern Iowa.
“Antoine has stepped in and done well as a freshman,” coach Beau Baldwin said. “He’s a mature young man, and for being a freshman he is well above his years in terms of physical and mental toughness.”
Custer followed with a 16-yard return versus the Aggies. He now has a 54.7-yard average on three returns for the season. Custer has started at running back in three games, So far this season he has rushed 34 times for a net of 58 yards and two touchdowns, and has caught 11 passes for 78 yards and a score at Washington State.
In the last 20-plus seasons (1996-2016), Eastern has returned 36 total kicks for touchdowns while allowing just 17.
The Big Sky honors came a day after quarterback Gage Gubrud won the Big Sky offensive award from College Sports Madness.
In his fifth start, the redshirt sophomore had 525 yards of total offense in the win over Davis.
Following the 627-yard outburst against UC Davis – ninth-best in school history – Eastern has moved into second in FCS in total offense with an average of 546.4 yards per game.
Eastern is still ranked fourth in FCS going into Saturday’s home game against Northern Colorado.
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