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Eastern Washington football displays flash, substance in Red-White game

The fun never stopped Saturday at Roos Field.

Eastern Washington’s Red-White Game opened with a sweet trick play for a touchdown and closed with a treat for dozens of children gathered on the red turf.

In between, hundreds of fans were treated to clearing skies and some new heroes on the field – the capper to a remarkable “Eagle Week” in Cheney.

It included the hiring of athletic director Lynn Hickey, the completion of this year’s football schedule and finally the Eastern spring game.

“It was a lot of fun,” said linebacker Jack Sendelbach, who set the tone on defense with 11 tackles as the White team shut out the Red squad, 17-0.

“Everyone came together,” said Sendelbach, who said he was surprised by the shutout. “That’s the goal, but to actually accomplish it, even in running quarters, that’s pretty cool.”

“And we saw people grow, on both sides,” Sendelbach said.

None blossomed as much as senior wide receiver Zach Eagle, who had two big punt returns and three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.

His first catch and his touchdown came less than six minutes into the game on a perfectly-executed trick play from midfield.

Quarterback Gage Gubrud handed off to running back Dennis Merritt, who ran right and gave it to freshman wide receiver Johnny Edwards IV.

By that time, Eagle was 25 yards downfield.

After the ball went to Merritt, “all the DBs flew up and I was wide open,” said Eagle, who scored a 45-yard touchdown on the play.

“It worked out well,” said Eagle while holding the MVP trophy.

After the play, coach Aaron Best was as surprised as the Red team defense.

Leaving the game-planning details to his staff, Best said, “People told me to look out for this and that, and “Is this OK to run?”

“We were selective on what we ran, but at the end of the day we want the kids to have fun and compete. I think we accomplished both,” Best said.

All-Big Sky Conference quarterback Gage Gubrud shared White team snaps with freshman Gunner Talkington, who went 5-for-10 for 50 yards.

Talkington also threw the other touchdown pass, a 13-yard floater to the right corner that was deftly hauled in by freshman Andrew Boston.

That gave the Whites a 14-0 halftime lead, which grew to 17-0 on a 33-yard field goal by Andre Slyter.

The Reds were led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 170 yards but was sacked three times. Freshman Marques Hampton Jr. and senior Nsimba Webster combined for seven catches and 95 yards.

Barriere completed a 54-yard pass to Webster, but on the next play was picked off in the end zone by freshman Keshaun King.

The White had 176 yards on 37 plays and the Red had 162 in 38 plays.

“At the end we talk about turnovers,” Best said. “A lot of the times turnovers is timing. When you’re not working with somebody all the time you can get in situations where you have a mesh that goes awry.”

“Things like that happen,” Best said as his players entertained children with on-field obstacle courses and other games. “All and all we are healthy, half the squad is happy, and here we go into the fall of 2018 after 15 spring practices.”

The Eagles resume practice in August and will open at home against Central Washington on Sept. 1 in a game announced during the week.

Eastern has 56 letter winners returning, including an offensive unit with nine starters back.

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