OGDEN, Utah – After about a dozen fruitless drives, Eastern Washington’s disconcerted offense finally established a semblance of rhythm.
Sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere, filling in for the injured Gage Gubrud for the second consecutive week, had the Eagles sniffing the end zone in the fourth quarter Saturday at Stewart Stadium. EWU appeared primed to erase an eight-point deficit that felt much larger.
His ensuing throw, intended for Nsimba Webster, was intercepted by Jawian Harrison, taking the air out of an offense that had its worst outing in a decade.
No. 13 Weber State and its vaunted defense had its way with fourth-ranked EWU in a 14-6 slugfest, holding the typically explosive Eagles to a paltry 247 yards and their first touchdown-less game since 2008.
The physical, blitz-heavy Wildcats constantly harassed Barriere, limiting the underclassman to 19-of-42 passing for 185 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times.
“We just couldn’t produce,” EWU offensive lineman Spencer Blackburn said. “Our defense gave us every opportunity to win that game, and we could not produce as an offense. Unacceptable.”
The Eagles (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky), who also had three turnovers on downs, reached the red zone just three times, settling for field goals on two of their trips.
In a game pitting the Big Sky Conference’s top defense against its premier offense, it was Weber State (4-2, 2-1) that controlled the game, and without much help from its offense.
EWU held the Wildcats to 276 yards and yielded just one touchdown, a first-quarter scoring connection between quarterback Jake Constantine and Rashid Shaheen.
It took all of two minutes, though, for Weber State to take control and get its homecoming crowd of 8,200 going.
After forcing EWU to a swift three-and-out to open the game, Weber State freshman sensation Josh Davis scored on a 75-yard punt return.
“There wasn’t much we did right in the first half on offense,” said EWU head coach Aaron Best, who mostly praised his defense after the loss.
Even when Eastern went to its often-trusty ground game, it gained little ground (62 yards on 36 carries) against the Wildcats, who often stacked the box and tallied eight tackles for a loss.
And when EWU scraped together decent drives, it either turned the ball over or settled for a pair of field goals by Roldan Alcobendas, who is 9 for 9 this season.
Alcobendas was busy. He punted seven times, including a 78-yarder that set an EWU record.
Trailing 14-6 in the final minutes, EWU had one last try to force overtime, but Barriere’s pass at midfield was picked off by Landon Stice. Weber State has forced 20 turnovers this season.
Weber State head coach Jay Hill emphasized taking away the Eagles’ short passing game.
“There were a couple slant routes early where (Harrison stopped them) from his free safety spot, which just rattled (Barriere),” Hill said. “That was a big play for EWU going into this game.
A week after Barriere shredded the FCS’s worst defense with 331 total yards in a 55-17 rout of Soutern Utah, he appeared flummoxed by Weber State, one of the country’s best units.
For the second consecutive week, Gubrud wore a protective boot on a foot he injured at Montana State. Best was mum on his status after the game.
“Whether it was Eric and whether it was Gage, it would have been a difficult day, and we knew that coming in,” Best said.
Weber State downed Gubrud and the Eagles 28-20 in Cheney last year.
EWU’s defense, which held its fourth straight conference to 17 points or less, was led by safety Dehonta Hayes’ 12 tackles.
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