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Sports >  NCAA

Eastern Washington rallies from early deficit to beat UC Davis 38-20

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 13, 2021

Eastern Washington receiver Talolo Limu-Jones hangs onto the football during a Big Sky Conference game against UC Davis on Saturday.  (Trevor Bowens/EWU Athletics)
Eastern Washington receiver Talolo Limu-Jones hangs onto the football during a Big Sky Conference game against UC Davis on Saturday. (Trevor Bowens/EWU Athletics)
By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

No Eastern Washington University football team has won seven games faster.

But getting to the eighth – a key yardstick for making the postseason – has been nothing short of excruciating for the Eagles.

Playing its third consecutive top-caliber NCAA Football Championship Subdivision foe, Eastern scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and rode a dominating performance on offense and defense to stop UC Davis 38-20 Saturday at foggy UCD Health Stadium in Davis, California, on another record-breaking night for EWU quarterback Eric Barriere.

Under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, Eastern’s offense rolled up 623 yards en route to the eighth victory, and produced a key 75-yard drive that gave the Eagles a 31-20 lead with 11:21 to play. Eastern scored again on an 80-yard drive with 5:36 remaining to open the final 18-point advantage.

“They responded to two weeks of adversity,” Eastern head coach Aaron Best said in a postgame radio interview . “This week, there was a ton more during the week. Our guys are resilient and played with the most guts I’ve ever seen coming down here and playing on the road for the first time in a month against a top-five outfit. From the middle of the second quarter on we controlled the game, and controlled the game especially late when we really needed it.

“It was a total team effort and I couldn’t be prouder. The ride home will be very joyful.”

The Aggies, ranked sixth and fourth in the two major FCS polls, were held to 283 yards and 3 of 12 on third down. Their final lead (17-14) came when Lan Larison returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards for a TD.

The Eagles converted 9 of 19 times on third down and all three of their fourth-down attempts, a week after going 3 of 13 and 2 of 3, respectively, in a loss to Montana State.

EWU ran 101 plays to 63 for the Aggies, and had a 36:41 to 23:19 advantage in possession time. The Eagles forced UC Davis to punt five times.

“Don’t forget about the defense today,” Best said. “They played absolutely lights-out. They gave up only 13 points and stood tall in the end zone.”

Eastern, which won its seventh game on Oct. 16 to improve to 7-0 (Oct. 18 was the previous fastest to seven victories in 2014), had lost its past two games. The Eagles started the skid Oct. 23 against four-time defending Big Sky champion Weber State (35-34), then lost on Nov. 6 to the fourth-ranked Bobcats (23-20).

Now 5-2 in the Big Sky and 8-2 overall, EWU is the 12th Eagles team to win at least eight regular-season games in 38 seasons as a member of FCS. All previous 11 squads have advanced to the playoffs, but only two of six seven-win teams have advanced, so getting the eighth victory was all-important.

Eastern entered the game with rankings of seventh in the Stats Perform top 25 poll, and was eighth by the coaches, with rankings as high as second earlier this season. The win was a big step for EWU toward securing one of the top eight seeds and a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs, which begin Nov. 27.

En route to breaking a pair of major Big Sky career records, Barriere passed for 411 yards, topping the school and Big Sky record for career passing yards of 12,616 set by former Eagle Matt Nichols from 2006-09.

Barriere finished 34 of 54 with three TD passes, equaling the 110 Vernon Adams Jr. had from 2012-14 for school and conference career marks.

Barriere has 12,676 passing yards to rank 10th in FCS history. His 110 TDs rank 13th and his Big Sky and EWU record of 14,242 yards of total offense is sixth.

“He’s a legend, a present-day legend,” said Best. “He’s still writing the script, and everything he continues to do he is trying to get better. We got our eighth win, and a lot of credit goes up front to the players protecting him – his eyes were able to stay upfield. And when you run the ball your opportunity to throw the ball is that much better. We mixed it up well enough today.”

Nine Eagles caught passes and three scored touchdowns, including seven for 72 yards by Andrew Boston and six for 93 yards and a TD by Freddie Roberson. Senior running back Tamarick Pierce finished with 89 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Senior linebacker Jack Sendelbach, who missed the Montana State game, led the Eagles defensively with nine tackles (two for losses), a forced fumble and a pass broken up.

Eastern also extended its perfect record in the all-time series versus the Aggies. Eastern has now won all 10 previous meetings, starting back in 2005 when the two teams played a similarly foggy game at Roos Field (then Woodward Field) in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles will try for win No. 9 next Saturday in Hillsboro, Ore., when Eastern plays a hot PSU squad coached by former Eastern player and 1987 EWU graduate Bruce Barnum. The Vikings are now 4-3 in the league and 5-5 overall after losing Saturday at league-leader Sacramento State, but the Vikings had won their last three games before that.

Eastern got off to an uncharacteristic slow start versus UC Davis, falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter after a 3-and-out and a missed field goal by the Eagles. It was the third scoreless period in the last four quarters for EWU, which had just two empty quarters in its previous 25 periods versus FCS competition.

The Eagles got untracked with a pair of uncharacteristic scoring drives, started with a fake punt that yielded a first down on the last play of the first quarter. Eastern turned that into a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive capped by a 4-yard TD pass from Barriere to Roberson. The drive included a 38-yard strike to Roberson, EWU’s longest offensive play since the Idaho game on Oct. 16.

Eastern scored the next time it had the ball, with a 23-yard reception by Boston jump-starting the drive. But a juggled interception try by the Aggies was actually alertly caught by Talolo Limu-Jones for a 17-yard gain, setting up a 3-yard TD pass by Efton Chism III for the lead.

After giving up a touchdown on UCD’s opening possession, the Eagle defense forced three punts on the next four Aggie drives. A penalty negated a Davis touchdown run, and the resulting field goal helped EWU own a 14-10 lead at halftime.

A 97-yard kickoff return by Lan Larison – a state champion steer wrestler out of Caldwell, Idaho – gave the Aggies the lead back. But a pair of turnovers forced by the Eagles, including the third interception of the season by Demetrius Crosby Jr., helped EWU score the next 10 points.

Eastern capped an eight-play, 73-yard drive with an 18-yard Barriere TD pass to tight end Dylan Ingram, extended by a fourth-down rush by Pierce that would have otherwise been a third-straight three and out for the Eagles.

After the Crosby interception, a third-down 26-yard reception by Chism helped lead to a 31-yard field goal by Jackson Cleaver and a 24-17 advantage with 3:35 remaining in the third period.

Davis stopped the scoring run with a 45-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-20, but Eastern’s defense came up big again with a combined sack by Brock Harrison and Mitchell Johnson to keep the Aggies out of the end zone.

Barriere was 5-of-5 for 63 yards on EWU’s next possession – and breaking the career passing record in the process – to lead EWU on an eight-play, 75-yard TD drive. Isaiah Lewis scored on a 10-yard run to put EWU up 31-20 with 11:21 to play.

After a fourth-down stop by the Eagle defense at the EWU 20-yard line, Eastern was able to score again with an 80-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard TD rush by Pierce.

Coupled with Montana State’s 20-13 victory over Idaho earlier Saturday, Eastern was officially eliminated from the Big Sky Conference title chase. The third-ranked Bobcats are now 7-0 in the league and 9-1 overall heading into next week’s Brawl of the Wild at Montana. Sacramento State beat Portland State to help the Hornets also move to 7-0 in the Big Sky and 8-2 overall under former EWU assistant Troy Taylor.

Eastern’s offense was under the director of interim offensive coordinator Pat McCann, who took over this week after the sudden resignation of Ian Shoemaker. Interestingly, McCann formerly coached at UCD, plus coached against the Aggies in 2018 while he was coaching at Northern Iowa – with a twist.

A family matter sidelined Panthers offensive coordinator John Bond at the end of the season, and McCann filled in. His debut calling plays came in a 37-0 win over Missouri State, then UNI edged Lamar 16-13 in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. However, the Panthers lost 23-16 on the road at UCD, which would go on to lose to Eastern 34-29 in the quarterfinals.

UC Davis also had its league championship hopes dashed on Saturday, and are now 5-2 in the Big Sky and 8-2 on the season. The Aggies close the year by playing Sacramento State next week in the Causeway Classic in Davis.

Eastern’s last 15 teams have now won at least five league games, a streak started in 2007 a year after the 2006 squad finished just 3-6 in the league.

The Eagles are now 4-0 in games in the series played in Davis, and have won 21 of the last 22 games versus FCS opponents from the State of California.

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