Teammates took a knee Saturday as Eastern Washington running back Dennis Merritt was carted off the Roos Field turf after he suffered what appeared to be a leg fracture.
By the time the fifth-year senior left the stadium for the hospital, he was already wearing a cast.
Merritt had racked up 50 yards on seven carries and 32 yards on a reception before he went down with the injury at the start of the second quarter of the Eagles’ home opener.
EWU, which went on to beat NCAA Division II Lindenwood University 52-31, was visibly rattled by the potential season-ending injury to Merritt, yielding 17 unanswered points in the ensuing minutes before gaining the momentum in the second half.
“That man works hard, and does so much for the team,” receiver Dre’ Sonte Dorton said. “To see him go down, that was tough.”
The Leavenworth, Washington, product earned his first career start last week (five carries for 37 yards; four receptions for 25 yards) and had recently shown to be the team’s most versatile running back, even with the return of one-time All-Big Sky Conference selection Antoine Custer and senior Tamarick Pierce.
Merritt, Custer and Pierce had collectively totaled 3,126 career rushing yards the previous three seasons.
But Pierce, who suffered a torn knee ligament in the 2018 FCS playoffs, is still recovering from that injury, slowly working his way back into the rotation. Custer, who had seven carries for 47 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, is healthy now, but has had durability issues.
The loss of Merritt in third-year Aaron Best’s relatively run-heavy offense is big, as it makes the Eagles thin on experience at the position when they head to 18th-ranked Jacksonville State on Saturday.
But Best expects talented freshmen to step up.
“We’ll look to a guy like Isaiah Lewis or a Micah Smith and see what we have,” Best said. “But that’s that’s the name of the game. The standard doesn’t change.”
Slyter’s boot: EWU placekicker Andre Sltyer connected on a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter, the longest for the Eagles since 2008. It went well beyond the uprights.
First-time touchdowns: Three freshmen scored their first career touchdowns, including local talent and 2019 Northwest Christian graduate Silas Perreiah, who hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Lewis (2-yard touchdown run) and receiver Freddie Roberson (15-yard touchdown reception) also scored in the rout.
Trouble with special teams, penalties: Slyter is 1 for 3 on field-goal attempts this season and punter Trevor Bowens is averaging 35 yards a punt, almost 10 yards less than EWU’s opponents (44.5). EWU allowed about 20 yards a kick return and also muffed a punt return that put Lindenwood in scoring position.
The Eagles also racked up 13 penalties for 140 yards.
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