Cal Poly’s triple option churned yards and sustained clock-eating drives Saturday at Roos Field, but seldom reached the end zone.
Eastern Washington’s defense did, though. Twice. In game-breaking, scoop-and-score fashion.
Cole Karstetter and Jim Townsend cashed in on a pair of first-half Cal Poly fumbles, sparking the sixth-ranked Eagles’ 70-17 rout of the Mustangs in their Big Sky Conference opener.
Karstetter, a senior safety, picked up an errant pitch forced by linebacker Kurt Calhoun early in the first quarter and sprinted 36 yards, erasing the Mustangs’ short-lived, three-point lead.
Seconds before halftime, Townsend, a senior defensive end, picked up a fumble in the backfield forced by freshman defensive end Mitch Johnson. He rumbled 62 yards down the sideline, giving the Eagles a 35-10 cushion.
“Those are just big plays,” said Karstetter, who scored his first touchdown since his senior year at Ferris High in 2013. “They spark us. When the offense has a big play, it sparks our energy and gives a little fire. We’ve struggled a little bit in forcing turnovers, and that’s been an emphasis.
The Eagles’ balanced, explosive offense did the rest of the damage.
Custer, an All-Big Sky Conference running back who missed the first three games of the season with an injury, had 137 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
Sam McPherson added 84 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
Custer’s second carry was a 62-yard scoring burst that gave EWU a 14-3 lead.
“I was just really focused on my run keys, doing my best and hoping to just break one,” said Custer, who was recovering from a hamstring injury. “The line did an awesome job opening lanes. I tried to make their job easy in just hitting the hole they made for me.”
EWU’s 441 yards on 30 carries (14.7 yards per rush) was a Big Sky record, and the Eagles’ second-best total in program history.
All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud was efficient through the air, completing 21 of 27 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown.
Gubrud also ran for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Cal Poly (1-3), whose throwback, run-it-all-day offense totaled 378 rushing yards on 86 carries, marched to EWU’s 1-yard line on its opening drive. A false-start penalty forced the Mustangs into a field goal to take an early lead.
Cal Poly fullback Joe Protheroe, a Walter Payton Award candidate in 2017, totaled 178 yards on 34 carries, and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins had 103 yards on 25 carries.
Cal Poly was just 2-for-8 passing for 21 yards.
EWU head coach Aaron Best said he liked his defense’s resolve after the Mustangs moved the ball early. When Cal Poly, which totaled 24 first downs, did reach cross midfield with its physical running backs and crafty misdirection, the Eagles’ defense rarely gave up points.
Best also said it was the Eagles’ most complete game of the season.
“I thought we played alive,” Best said. “Guys played with a lot of energy. Guys were making plays, and their eyes were in the right places. (Cal Poly) had some big places, and we had some missed opportunities, but overall we trusted each other.”
Calhoun and Dylan Ledbetter combined for 21 tackles to lead EWU’s defense. Johnson added two tackles for a loss, including his fourth sack of the year.
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