MISSOULA – Nic Sblendorio needed a night like this.
So did the Eastern Washington defense, which had been in an identity crisis all month.
All that changed Saturday night, as Sblendorio caught 18 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown to lead the Eagles to a 48-41 win at Montana.
Gone were the memories of his opening fumble at Texas Tech and the disconnected passing game that struggled through the first two games of the season.
“It was an incredible group effort, because I’m not capable of making these plays without my teammates,” said Sblendorio, a senior captain and the leader of the wide receiving corps that’s trying to carry on the tradition of Cooper Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill.
All night long, Gubrud found Sblendorio and Nsimba Webster (13 catches for 143 yards), especially on the sidelines.
“The perimeter, they covered that kind of light, that’s why we were pitching out a lot of those little screens,” said Sblendorio, the leading returning receiver from last year.
“My number got called a lot, so I had to lead by example,” Sblendorio said.
That wasn’t easy in in the first half. Sblendori had 103 of those yards by intermission, but the Eagles trailed 24-6.
But by game’s end, eight different Eagles had caught passes from quarterback Gage Gubrud.