Four years ago, Mitchell Johnson was on his way to scoring a defensive touchdown.
It didn’t end as he’d hoped.
“I tripped my senior year in high school on a pick-six, on the 2-yard line,” the Eastern Washington defensive end said, “so, it’s been a while, for sure.”
Johnson did better on Saturday.
The junior’s interception and touchdown sparked the 12th-ranked Eagles midway through a record-setting first half of scoring, and Eastern Washington routed visiting Cal Poly 62-10 in a Big Sky Conference game in front of a limited number of fans at Roos Field in Cheney.
The victory came against Beau Baldwin, Cal Poly’s first-year head coach who won a national title as Eastern’s head coach a decade ago.
“They’re not any sweeter, but your heart goes out for those guys when you’re facing your former boss, when he’s trying to jump-start a program, trying to take it from a triple (option) to a spread offense,” said Eagles coach Aaron Best, who was the offensive coordinator on that 2010 title team. “It’ll come along, there’s no doubt about it. We’re just fortunate that it didn’t come as fast as they wanted it to.”
The Eagles (3-1) looked polished on offense against a Cal Poly team (0-3) that lost 73-24 a week ago and mustered just 238 yards against the Eagles.
In the first half, the Eagles scored 45 points, a program record. By then, they had 447 yards of offense at an average gain of 11.2 per play. They finished with 683 yards.
EWU senior quarterback Eric Barriere completed 23 of 33 attempts for 284 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 40 yards on five scrambles before giving way to Gunner Talkington early in the fourth quarter.
Yet it was the junior Talkington who got the Eagles’ scoring going: He started the team’s opening drive and completed 2 of 3 attempts, the first a 71-yard connection with senior Talolo Limu-Jones, and the second a 12-yard touchdown to sophomore Freddie Roberson.
Barriere quarterbacked the next possession and completed his first four passes before Tamarick Pierce ran through Cal Poly’s defense untouched for a 44-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Eagles lead. Johnson’s defensive score came on the following Cal Poly possession.
“It was a situation where Gunner had the opportunity to put us in a position,” Best said of the decision to start Talkington. “We went down and we scored. Those are decisions that are made throughout the week, and we knew Eric was gonna be Eric, and he was again today …”
Barriere and Talkington weren’t sacked, and Talkington finished 6 of 9 for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“When guys have the ability to sit in the pocket with good protection,” Best said, “usually good things happen with those receivers out there.”
Limu-Jones led the Eagles with 147 yards on seven receptions. The 683 yards of offense are the eighth most for the Eagles in a single game, and the 62 points are the 15th most.
Eastern didn’t punt until the fourth quarter. The Eagles’ defense held the Mustangs to 102 yards and forced five three-and-outs in the first half. Cal Poly’s leading receiver was freshman Zedakiah Centers (five catches, 26 yards). The Mustangs ran for 168 yards.
“It felt like (Cal Poly) could be really good in a few years,” Johnson said. “Just with some more experience, that’s gonna be a really good program.”
The Eagles are set to visit UC Davis (3-1) on Saturday, and they are scheduled to wrap up the regular season at home against Idaho on April 10. The 16-team FCS playoffs are scheduled to begin April 24.
“When we play our top ball, it doesn’t really matter who’s in the game, whether it’s a senior, freshman, junior, we play with a lot of heart,” Johnson said. “With so much extra time since fall, we’ve gotten so much more cohesive as a group, so I think it’s pretty obvious that we all jell really well.”
Is this a playoff team?
“I know we’re a 3-1 team right now at the end of the day,” Best said. “That’s what our focus is on.”
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