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Sports >  EWU football

Eastern Washington earned a big win over Montana despite growing number of injuries

Oct. 3, 2021 Updated Sun., Oct. 3, 2021 at 9:20 p.m.

EWU wide receiver Talolo Limu-Jones runs the ball against Montana on Saturday, at Roos Field in Cheney. Limu-Jones caught 11 passes for 231 yards before leaving the game with a lower leg injury early in the fourth quarter.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
EWU wide receiver Talolo Limu-Jones runs the ball against Montana on Saturday, at Roos Field in Cheney. Limu-Jones caught 11 passes for 231 yards before leaving the game with a lower leg injury early in the fourth quarter. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

{p dir=”ltr”}{span}Early in the fourth quarter on Saturday at Roos Field, Talolo Limu-Jones again got through and past Montana’s secondary for a big gain, this one for 58 yards down to the Grizzlies’ 2-yard line.

But the Eastern Washington senior didn’t get up right away. After a few minutes, trainers helped him to his feet, and about 20 yards into his journey to the boundary, head coach Aaron Best and receiving coach Pat McCann took over as support and helped the team’s leading receiver to the sidelines.

{p dir=”ltr”}From there, Limu-Jones spent a few more minutes in the injury tent as a parade of teammates popped in to check on him.

The Eagles scored on that drive and eventually won 34-28, a thrilling victory that boosted the sixth-ranked Eagles to 5-0 for the first time since 1984 and dropped fourth-ranked Montana to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern is 2-0 in conference games, along with eighth-ranked UC Davis (5-0 overall) and 11th-ranked Montana State (4-1).

The extent of Limu-Jones’ lower leg injury wasn’t known after the game, but he joined a growing list of injuries to the Eagles, mainly on the offensive side.

“We played down a lot of chips (in) this game,” Best said, and it remains to be seen how many will return before Saturday’s game at Northern Colorado (2-3, 1-1).

At receiver, the Eagles played without sophomore Freddie Roberson, who is now fourth on the team with 16 receptions for 250 yards. They also didn’t have senior Johnny Edwards IV, nor did offensive lineman Matthew Hewa Baddege start as he has all season at right tackle. Instead, Wyatt Hansen moved over from left guard to play right tackle, and redshirt freshman Luke Dahlgren got his first start at guard.

They also played without sophomore kicker Seth Harrison, who Best said last week was dealing with an injury, and instead redshirt freshman Jackson Cleaver made two field goals and two extra points. This is an offense that has played this season without senior running back Tamarick Pierce, the Eagles’ leading rusher last spring.

Even still, the Eagles scored 24 fourth-quarter points against a Montana defense that had only allowed two touchdowns in its first three games. And while Eastern struggled on third down, converting on 5 of 19, it got first downs on 4 of 5 fourth-down attempts.

Defensive leaders step up

The Eagles defense, however, has been much healthier this season, and its leaders spearheaded a strong finish just when Eastern’s offense had finally gotten on a roll.

Seniors Jack Sendelbach and Ty Graham each had 12 tackles, including one sack for Graham. Sophomore Ely Doyle helped break up the final pass attempt of the game, marking the second time this season – including a goal line tackle against UNLV – that the safety has helped secure a victory in the final seconds.

“Everybody’s going to want to talk about their offense, but I thought their defense played really an inspired game (Saturday night),” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said.

Redshirt freshman Soli Paleso’o, who had two sacks earlier this year, blocked a Montana field-goal attempt, and the Eagles defense didn’t allow any points after the opening drive of the third quarter.

Through two Big Sky games, the Eagles have allowed an average of 349 yards per game, recovering from the 643 yards they gave up to Western Illinois on Sept. 18.

“I would definitely like a little bit more respect, and we’re going to continue to strive for that,” Eagles senior safety Calin Criner said. “We’re going to make people respect us.”

More superlatives for Eagles’ offense

The Eagles have won 28 games since 2010 when trailing or tied entering the fourth quarter. Senior Eric Barriere has led five of those comebacks.

Barriere passed Vernon Adams Jr. for second on the Eagles’ all-time career passing yards list with 10,859. He needs another 1,757 to reach Matt Nichols’ record.

“I’ve said it before: When you have three, anything is possible,” Criner said of Barriere, who wears No. 3. “The play that he makes, that fourth-and-7 late in the game, when he scrambled to Montana’s sideline, like, c’mon. He’s just amazing.”

Limu-Jones, who caught 11 passes on Saturday, has 2,176 receiving yards in his career. That ranks 18th on the school’s all-time list.

Offensive tackle Tristen Taylor started his 52nd game, tying him with Chris Schlichting and Cooper Kupp for the most in school history. He needs three more games played to tie Shaq Hill’s record of 55.

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