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Eastern Washington notebook: Steady Sam McPherson steps up in FCS title game loss for Eagles

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 5, 2019

Eastern Washington  running back Sam McPherson  runs  for a 75-yard touchdown against  North Dakota State  during the second half of the FCS title game on Saturday  at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington running back Sam McPherson runs for a 75-yard touchdown against North Dakota State during the second half of the FCS title game on Saturday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

FRISCO, Texas – This time, Sam McPherson went the distance.

Eastern Washington’s senior running back had four monster runs the past two seasons in which he failed to reach the end zone, getting caught from behind by a speedier defender.

McPherson, who rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown in EWU’s 38-24 loss to North Dakota State in Saturday’s FCS title game, is fleet-footed, but not “elite fast” by his own admission.

In front of 17,900 fans at Toyota Stadium, McPherson found his turbo button.

McPherson darted 75 yards untouched in the third quarter, beating NDSU’s elite defense in a foot race, an electric play that cut the Bison’s lead to 24-17.

“It was unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of this many fans. Actually, Montana. But this is the loudest venue I’ve ever played at,” McPherson said. “It was just a blast, honestly, and the NDSU fans are crazy. We didn’t have too many fans there compared to NDSU, but ours were super loud, too. It was definitely a fun atmosphere.”

The Bison bottled up the Eagles’ school-record (3,839) rushing attack, holding all others to 11 yards or less.

But McPherson was a steady presence in the postseason and against the country’s premier run defenses, averaging 125 yards a game, including a 35-yard winning touchdown run in the closing seconds of EWU’s 34-29 win over UC Davis in the quarterfinals.

Going into the season, McPherson appeared to be the No. 2 option in EWU’s four-pronged rotation, but junior Antoine Custer missed four games with an injury, and McPherson stepped up in Custer’s absence.

One of 27 seniors, McPherson ended the year with 1,510 rushing yards, the fourth-best single-season mark in program history.

He finished behind current Buffalo Bills veteran Taiwan Jones, No. 3 in school history (1,742). Jones was among the dozens of ex-EWU stars in Frisco on Saturday.

“It’s been an absolute honor to play for Eastern,” McPherson said. ‘When I signed here, this is what I expected to be, in the national championship game. Obviously, didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, but it’s been an absolute blast wearing the Eastern uniform.”

Ojoh steps up again

EWU sophomore Chris Ojoh wasn’t a full-time starter until October, but he ended his the season second in tackles (105).

He reached the century mark on Saturday after tying Ketner Kupp for a team-high 11 tackles, with two tackles for a loss, including a sack.

Eagles’ secondary intercepts Bisons’ Stick twice

NDSU stalwart quarterback Easton Stick had five interceptions this season before the FCS title game.

He threw two against the Eagles – to cornerback D’Londo Tucker and safety Calin Criner.

It was Stick’s first game with more than one interception since the last time the Bison lost a game – 33-21 to rival South Dakota State in November 2017.

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