MISSOULA – From the opening kickoff Saturday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, one thing was clear: This game was in the hands of quarterback Gage Gubrud.
The first-quarter stat line told it all. Eastern Washington ran 16 plays, including 12 passes and four runs, all by Gubrud .
It was that way all night, good, bad and indifferent. Though the sacks, the red-zone failures and the dramatic second-half rally, Eastern’s offense was defined by one player – Gubrud.
Two years after abject failure in this same stadium, Gubrud threw for a school-record 549 yards to lead the Eagles to a remarkable 48-41 win over Montana.
The redshirt junior from McMinnville, Oregon, enjoyed a game for the ages, leading the Eagles back from a three-score halftime deficit and carrying that momentum to only the Eagles’ third win in Missoula in the last 20 years.
Gubrud also had a school-record 560 yards of total offense while completing 44 of 65 passes for four touchdowns. The old mark was his: 551 in his first collegiate start last year at Washington State.
When it was over and most of the Montana fans had filed out, Gubrud soaked up every moment – from the traditional fight song with fans to a photo op with his offensive linemen at midfield.
“This feels good,” Gubrud said. “We showed a lot of perseverance, especially after that Hail Mary (which gave Montana a 24-6 halftime lead.)
This also felt like Eastern football. After three games of almost slavishly pursuing a 50-50 run-pass balance, the Eagles decided to let it fly in their first game of the Big Sky Conference season.
They did so haltingly at first, as Gubrud was sacked four times in the first half and was off-target on several early throws.
Penalties also hurt the Eagles and forced them to settle for a pair of field goals.
By halftime, Gubrud was 20 for 31 for 218 yards. Those weren’t bad numbers, but the other quarterback, Montana freshman Gresch Jensen, was having the better day.
That changed in a hurry. Gubrud brought the Eagles to within 24-13 with a pass-heavy drive early in the third quarter.
The breakthrough came late in the third quarter, as Gubrud hit Dre’Sonte Dorton for a 32-yard score to make it a 27-20 game. After a Josh Lewis interception, Gubrud threw a short pass that running back Sam McPherson took 50 yards for the tying score.
Watching the play unfold, Gubrud marveled at the downfield blocks.
“Great teamwork, that’s how we came back,” he said.
There were more mountains to climb, as Montana regained the lead early in the fourth. But Gubrud led three more touchdown drives of 73, 58 and 20 yards to put the Griz away.
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