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Eastern Washington University Football
Sports >  EWU football

No. 7 Eastern Washington eager to end losing streak at No. 6 UC Davis

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 10, 2021

Eagles defensive back Calin Criner tries to get a handle on Bobcats running back Isaiah Ifanse last Saturday in Cheney.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Eagles defensive back Calin Criner tries to get a handle on Bobcats running back Isaiah Ifanse last Saturday in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

When Ty Graham and his teammates convened Sunday to watch film and transition into preparations for Eastern Washington’s next opponent, he saw disappointment on the faces around him.

But, Graham said, he did not see a football team in “shambles” after it lost at home for the second game in a row by a combined four points.

And indeed, the Eagles – who dropped just two spots in the latest Stats Perform FCS poll, to No. 7 – are very much in contention for not just a playoff spot but perhaps still one of the top-eight seeds and a first-round bye that accompanies each of them.

“We know within the last two weeks, back-to-back games that we lost, we know we could have won both of those,” Graham, the Eagles’ senior linebacker, said Tuesday. “We’re good, I know that, and we’re ready to roll again.”

Once more they will face a top-10 team, this time on the road at No. 6 UC Davis, which is 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky. That’s one game ahead of the Eagles, who dropped to 7-2 and 4-2 in conference play after losses to Weber State and Montana State (8-1, 6-0), which moved up to No. 3 in the poll with its victory at Roos Field.

“Definitely something we’ve realized about ourselves is that, at this point, we’re battle-tested,” senior safety Calin Criner said Tuesday. “Not every single game has been a blowout, and yeah we’ve had our share of those. But the UNLV game, the Montana game, we came out on top. Now these last two, they’ve come out the opposite way.”

Those victories over Montana and UNLV – an FBS team – are crucial aspects of Eastern’s current playoff résumé, seemingly enough to balance out a Division II victory (which doesn’t count on their playoff resume) and close home losses to the Big Sky’s defending champion (Weber State) and what is currently its highest-ranked team (Montana State).

But a victory at UC Davis would essentially wrap up a playoff spot, if not quite yet a seed – that would likely require an Eagles’ victory at Portland State on Nov. 20, too – and recent history is certainly on Eastern Washington’s side against the Aggies.

Last spring, Eastern won at UC Davis, 32-22, and in that game Eric Barriere shined. He completed 30 of 41 passes – his best completion percentage of the spring season – for 393 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles outgained the Aggies by 167 yards and possessed the ball for more than 36 minutes of the game.

Talolo Limu-Jones caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two scores that day, and he did so in a game in which the Eagles played without receiver Andrew Boston. Boston is second to Limu-Jones this season in receiving for the Eagles, though he has been quiet the last two games – just two catches for 10 yards.

Boston’s presence, Limu-Jones said, should make the Eagles more difficult to defend on Saturday.

Barriere also played well against the Aggies twice in 2018, including a regular-season matchup and a playoff contest that were both at Roos Field. He was particularly good in the playoff game, when he completed 84% of his passes for three touchdowns and 235 yards. He ran for another 43 yards and a touchdown.

“Eric Barriere is a super, super talented player, and they have an explosive football team, and they have been tough for us to handle over the years,” said Dan Hawkins, who has yet to beat the Eagles in four tries as UC Davis coach.

“He’s a gifted runner, but he’s a gifted passer,” Hawkins said later in his weekly press conference. “I have to give him a lot of credit: When he first started he was kind of a runner who throws, but he’s a really talented passer. He’s really accurate. Got a good arm. He can make all the throws, and if he takes off running, he’s tough to handle. He’s got it all.”

That hasn’t so much been the case the last two games, when defenses have held Barriere and the Eagles’ offense to their lowest point totals of the season. Then, on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker resigned.

Now with Pat McCann coordinating the offense on an interim basis, the Eagles will look to get back on track against a team that has not been as dominant defensively as the Wildcats or the Bobcats, who are so far statistically the best defenses in the Big Sky by total yardage allowed. The Aggies currently rank eighth among the 13 Big Sky teams in total defense (393.7 yards per game), one spot behind the Eagles’ defense (387.7).While the Eagles certainly would have liked to win the last two, Limu-Jones said playing in close games against ranked teams – games like the last two and now this Saturday’s – is precisely why he came to Eastern.

“Those are the games that you come for,” he said. “You don’t come to a program like this and expect to win by 50, 60 (points) every time. Like, that’s not fun.”

If the Eagles are going to get the victory – the Aggies are 0-9 all-time against EWU – Hawkins said he expects it would be in a close game.

“Montana State was able to get a few plays on them, and that’s kind of what has to happen,” Hawkins said. “If you have a chance to beat them, it’s going to be by a narrow margin.”

There is one other aspect of the game this week that will be different from the Eagles’ last few: the weather. And that was something Graham said he was looking forward to.

“Not a big fan of the cold, and especially in high school, I only got to play on grass fields,” Graham said of his time at Cheney High School. “So, this time of the year it was always muddy grass. Going down in 70-degree weather in California is kind of going to be like a vacation.”

Limu-Jones said he’ll be happy he doesn’t have to worry about standing next to heaters or wearing tights to stay warm.

“When we get out there, it’s supposed to be 70 (degrees),” Limu-Jones said. “You can’t help but smile.”

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