Consider Eastern Washington’s defense the Timex watch of the FCS.
It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
The group that held high-powered Nicholls State to 14 points for most of the Eagles’ 42-21 thrashing of the Colonels in the second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at Roos Field did it without five veteran starters.
Fettig and Calhoun have been ruled out for the season. Williams, Karstetter and Prunty, ruled as questionable going into the game after sustaining injuries at Portland State two weeks ago, didn’t play.
Yet EWU, which held Big Sky Conference foes to an average of 17 points per game this season, continues to get production from youthful depth.
In August, the secondary’s depth appeared to take a hit when nickel linebacker Anfernee Gurley, one of the top freshmen in the Big Sky last season, was ruled out with a knee injury.
Sophomore Kedrick Johnson, who filled in for Karstetter, made the most of his first start, recording a game-changing scoop-and-score touchdown just before the halftime horn, a sack and seven tackles.
“We practice just like the other guys do,” Johnson said. “They help us out. When guys have injuries, they really walk us through everything. Make sure we stay calm, make sure we know what we’re doing.”
For the fourth straight game, sophomore linebacker Chris Ojoh recorded 10 or more tackles in place of Calhoun, who hasn’t played since October.
Junior Dehonta Hayes and sophomore Calin Criner filled in for Fettig and Prunty, respectively, and combined for 11 tackles and a pass breakup. The deepest Nicholls State completion was 16 yards.
The Eagles’ 237 rushing yards were below their average for the season (274), but it was enough to etch their names in the program’s record book.
EWU has 3,252 rushing yards this season, breaking the school’s single-season record (3,130) set in 1950.
Sam McPherson, who has 1,145 yards on the ground, is happy to part of the milestone.
“It’s awesome,” McPherson said. “When I first came here (in 2015), we ran the ball maybe 10 times a game. And to now, setting a school record for rushing, that’s awesome.
“The offensive line, I can’t thank them enough. They make huge holes for us. And the running backs, we’re four or five deep, and guys are averaging over 7 yards a carry. That’s unheard of.”
big in return
All-Big Sky first-team kicker and punter Roldan Alcobendas missed the Eagles’ regular-season finale at Portland State with an unspecified injury.
He was great in his return.
Alcobendas hit field goals of 22 and 45 yards to improve to 15 for 15 this season. He also averaged 43.5 points on two punts, one pinning Nicholls State inside the 10-yard line.
EWU coach Aaron Best said Alcobendas “came back with a vengeance.”
“When he got back in the saddle on practice Tuesday, it sounded like a NFL punter, Tom Dempsey style. Boom!” Best said. “It sounded fun.”
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