SACRAMENTO, California – A towel on his head and hands on his face, Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere appeared dejected as he sat alone on the Hornet Stadium bench midway through the second quarter.
Barriere was shelved for portions of the second and third quarters after being looked at by trainers for an unspecified injury, but Sacramento State had already established a two-touchdown lead before his initial exit, including a Barriere interception that turned into a 27-yard scoring return.
When the Walter Payton Award candidate returned after a few fruitless drives with backup Gunner Talkington, the Eagles regained their pulse, pulling within a possession of the resurgent Hornets, who then had a clock-eating touchdown drive for a 41-27 lead.
George Obinna then proceeded to add an exclamation point.
Sacramento State’s star defensive end picked up a Barriere fumble in the final 2 minutes and rumbled 73 yards for the Hornets’ in a convincing 48-27 upset of the swooning Eagles.
The Hornets (3-2, 1-0 Big Sky) totaled 471 yards against EWU, their first home win over the Eagles in program history.
The Eagles (2-4, 1-1) were picked to win the Big Sky and were ranked as high as No. 4 in the preseason. With five games remaining, they will likely have to win out for a chance at a playoff berth or a possible share of the title.
EWU offensive tackle Chris Schlichting held back emotion as he voiced his frustration over the loss and the program’s worst start since 2011.
“We have potential All-Americans all throughout that locker room, we have dudes who know what they’re doing, so this is just hard,” Schlichting said. “Especially since you want to win for the fans and win for this university, then you do stuff like this.”
Sacramento State, led by former EWU offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, was also menacing on defense.
Leading the Big Sky in fewest points allowed heading into the game, Sacramento State piled up seven sacks in its first win over an Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 team since 2012.
Hornets quarterback Kevin Thomson orchestrated a lengthy, 13-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to make it 41-27 with 6:16 remaining that took away the Eagles’ momentum.
Thomson, an Auburn, Washington, native, passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Hornets jump out to an early 21-7 lead. He wasn’t sacked.
Elijah Dotson also frustrated the Eagles with 103 rushing yards.
The typically downtrodden Hornets have also shut out Northern Colorado 50-0 and gave brawny Football Bowl Subdivision foes Arizona State (19-7 loss) and Fresno State (34-20 loss) fits.
“We came in with the expectation to win the game, and nobody blinked,” said Taylor, an offensive coordinator at EWU in 2016. “Everyone bought it and it’s nice to see them rewarded with a big win.”
EWU came out hot, though.
The Eagles scored on the game’s opening possession, a 12-play drive capped by Barriere’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Talolo Limu-Jones.
When Barriere left in the second quarter with his team trailing, the Eagles were ineffective. Talkington struggled through a series of three-and-out drives, completing 2 of 11 passes for 27 yards, and was sacked twice.
“We’re depleted, but so what – that’s not an excuse,” EWU coach Aaron Best said. “We’re not good enough in some areas. We aren’t disciplined enough in areas. We don’t make enough plays in areas and we hold too much on offense.”
Barriere completed 22 of 42 passes for 309 yards, two touchdowns an interception and rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, a statistic boosted by a 92-yard touchdown run in the first half.
“He was shifty, hard to tackle,” Obinna said of Barriere. “Every time he ran out of the pocket, it was an extra effort. But just trusting everyone to do their job is what it came down to.”
EWU’s Jayson Williams hauled in seven passes for 129 yards a touchdown and Dehonta Hayes and a game-high 17 tackles. Hayes was also ejected for a late targeting penalty.
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