Deep into the season and confronted with more than its share of injuries, Eastern Washington certainly isn’t out of its depth.
The eighth-ranked Eagles (5-2 overall, 4-0 Big Sky Conference) won their fifth consecutive game last weekend despite playing without eight injured players who’ve combined for 25 starts.
Two more backups, cornerback Victor Gamboa and safety Tysen Prunty, stepped up last weekend, starting for the first time in a 31-19 win over Montana State.
Starting in place of injured D’londo Tucker and back from a six-game suspension, Gamboa also finished strongly, getting an interception to erase the Bobcats’ last shot at an upset.
Gamboa had practiced with the team but had sat out the first six games for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
“It’s just great to get back out there with my brothers,” said Gamboa, a redshirt senior who said he got through the suspension with the help of my teammates and his mother at home.
“And just believing in the process,” Gamboa said before practice Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game at Southern Utah.
Inevitably, injuries are part of the process, and the Eagles haven’t been immune. With senior safety Jake Hoffman out last week, sophomore Tysen Prunty got his first start of the season.
Prunty had appeared in the six previous games.
“It’s definitely exciting, though it’s always tough to see a guy like ‘Hoff’ go down.” Prunty said. “But it was good to know that he had my back.”
A week earlier at UC Davis, true freshman Anfernee Gurley – one of the biggest surprises during fall camp – started at nickelback.
“I’m learning a lot from the older guys,” Gurley said. “I’m getting used to the game speed and becoming smarter in my football IQ.”
Previously, All-Big Sky nose tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli was lost for the season in the second week against North Dakota State. Sophomore Dylan Ledbetter stepped in and already has 28 total tackles. Meanwhile, Jonah Jordan stepped in to start the last three games for injured tackle Andre Lino.
In the season opener at Texas Tech, another sophomore, Jack Sendelbach, started in place of injured Ketner Kupp.
Though Eastern does not disclose the nature of injuries, it’s been the same story on offense.
Opening-game starter Henderson Belk also was injured at UC Davis and gave way to Jayce Gilder and Talolo Limu-Jones, who already has seven catches for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
On the line, guard Matt Meyer is out indefinitely and tackle Kaleb Levao is out for the season. Several players have shifted position while redshirt freshman Brett Thompson has started the last four games at left tackle and junior Jack Hunter from Gonzaga Prep has done the same at right guard.
Help is on the way. Lino was in uniform last weekend, and wide receiver Terence Grady – who broke a collarbone against NDSU – will make the trip to Southern Utah this week.
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