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EWU faces improving Bears

Trae Riek (27) and Northern Colorado gave Eastern the fits last season in Greeley, Colorado. (Joshua Polson / Associated Press)
Trae Riek (27) and Northern Colorado gave Eastern the fits last season in Greeley, Colorado. (Joshua Polson / Associated Press)

Are the Northern Colorado Bears finally coming out of hibernation?

Coming off its first winning season as a Division I school, UNC has followed that up by starting 3-1 for the first time in 13 years going into Saturday’s game at Eastern Washington.

“Our players are playing for one another,” said sixth-year coach Earnest Collins Jr., whose 21-18 win over Northern Arizona last week marked another milestone: the Bears are 1-0 in the Big Sky Conference for the first time. Ever.

Yes, progress is measured in baby-bear steps at UNC, which won just five conference games in its first six seasons in the Sky. Now the Bears have 10 conference wins in the last four-plus years.

Meanwhile, EWU is pursuing its fourth Big Sky title in the last four years.

Speaking of the Eagles, Collins said, “They know how to win – that’s something we’re still learning.”

Don’t look now, but the gap is closing. Two years ago on Cheney, the Eagles scraped out a 26-18 win over UNC.

Last year in Greeley Colorado, they needed a school-record 275 receiving yards from Cooper Kupp and a 44-yard field goal by Jordan Dascalo on the final play to pull out a 43-41 win.

It seems like we play competitive battles with them every time,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said.

“I think Coach Collins has a spirit, attitude and a real toughness about him in a great way. I really respect him, and his team emulates him – there is a toughness, a grit and no fear.”

The Bears certainly didn’t shrink from NAU, coming up with several big defensive stops and three takeaways to knock off the Big Sky preseason favorites. They’ll need another big effort on Saturday at Roos Field.

“Our kids are starting to believe in each other,” Collins said.

Turnover margin a telling stat for Eagles

After going six games without winning the turnover battle, Eastern has done it twice in a row.

Eastern won the battle against UC Davis three to one, including a fumble forced by Victor Gamboa and recovered by Samson Ebukam, and interceptions by D’londo Tucker and Mitch Fettig. Tucker, making his first start of the season, returned his 27 yards for a touchdown.

One game earlier, EWU won the turnover battle 3-0 versus a Northern Arizona team which had just one fumble lost and no interceptions through three games this season.

Eastern is plus-two in turnover margin this year.

In eight-plus seasons (2008-present) under head coach Beau Baldwin, the Eagles are 43-1 when they’ve won the turnover battle, 18-5 when they’ve been tied and 16-25 when they’ve lost (total of 77-31).

The last time EWU lost when it won the turnover battle came in FCS playoffs in 2009 at Stephen F. Austin.

Gubrud moves into the record books

After just five starts at quarterback, Gage Gubrud is already writing some history at Eastern.

The redshirt sophomore has four of the top nine single-game offensive performances in history, including the top two.

Gubrud’s 525-yard effort last week against UC Davis ranks second on the all-time list, behind his 551-yard day in his first collegiate start last month at Washington State.

Last week’s performance earned Gubrud an honorable mention for STATS FCS National Player of the Week. He also was the College Sports Madness Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week.

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