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Sports >  NCAA football

Opening night thriller: Eastern Washington holds off UNLV 35-33 in double overtime

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 3, 2021

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The celebration came later, perhaps, than the Eastern Washington Eagles would have liked.

But eventually – after Tre Weed and Ely Doyle’s victory-sealing tackle inside the 1-yard line – the celebration did come.

Senior Eric Barriere threw touchdown passes in both the first and second overtime frames, Talolo Limu-Jones caught a tipped pass to secure the difference-making two-point conversion, and the Eagles (1-0) scored the second FCS-over-FBS upset of the college football season, 35-33 at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium over UNLV (0-1).

“We left a lot of points on the board,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said in his postgame radio interview. “We found a way to win with about three inches to spare.”

The victory certainly could have been easier for the Eagles.

In the closing seconds of regulation, Eastern set up for a 32-yard field goal that could have ended the game. But sophomore kicker Seth Harrison pulled it wide left. It was his third miss of the game.

Meanwhile, field goals were the UNLV Rebels’ only successful means of scoring points for nearly the whole of regulation: Daniel Gutierrez hit from 48, 22, 47 and then 51 as his team’s offense was repeatedly stymied by the Eagles’ defense.

But after starting quarterback Justin Rogers proved ineffective, Doug Brumfield entered in relief midway through the third quarter, and soon after the game turned for the Rebels.

After Gutierrez’s fourth kick got the Rebels back within eight points, 20-12, Cage Schenck fumbled under the crush of the Rebels’ coverage team, and one play later Charles Williams scored a 16-yard touchdown that drew UNLV within two. They closed the gap entirely with a successful two-point conversion.

Eastern Washington punted after its next drive, and UNLV promptly reached midfield. But then Brumfield threw high, his receiver could only tip the pass, and Weed was waiting eight yards behind for an interception.

Four plays into the next drive and facing 2nd-and-22, Barriere heaved a pass over four members of the UNLV secondary to a waiting Andrew Boston for a 46-yard gain with 1:34 left on the clock, and from there the Eagles drained the clock over five running plays and set up Harrison’s kick.

But the missed kick certainly didn’t throw off Barriere.

In overtime, the Eagles’ quarterback only threw two passes — neither of them to his top receiving targets — and both went for touchdowns near the corner of the end zone. Junior Dylan Ingram caught the first after UNLV had taken a 27-20 lead.

Freshman Blake Gobel caught the second, reaching the corner of the end zone just before he went out of bounds, giving the Eagles a 33-27 edge.

“They do a lot of dirty work,” Best said of the two tight ends, “so when they get a chance to (catch) balls in the end zone, more power to them.”

Then came Limu-Jones’ tip-drill catch in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion, followed on the next possession by the Eagles’ defensive stand on the Rebels’ own conversion attempt.

“It feels awesome,” defensive tackle Joshua Jerome said during a postgame radio interview. “Especially when you do it with diversity like that.”

Barriere, who also threw two interceptions, completed 29 of 39 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns, including the two in overtime. Freshman Efton Chism III caught the first, which came during a third-quarter surge from the Eagles that helped them erase a 6-3 halftime deficit and build, instead, a 20-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The victory for Eastern was its first over an FBS team since a 45-42 win at Washington State in 2016. It improved the program’s record in such games to 11-27.

There were 10 FBS-FCS matchups on Thursday. Eastern Washington and fellow Big Sky team UC Davis, which beat Tulsa 19-17, were the only two FCS teams to complete the upsets.

Boston led the Eagles with 106 receiving yards on six catches, and Limu-Jones added 65 yards on his six receptions. Senior Dennis Merritt led Eastern’s ground game with 58 of its 97 rushing yards.

Defensively, senior Ty Graham led the Eagles with 13 tackles including three behind the line of scrimmage. The sophomore Jerome led the team’s defensive linemen with seven tackles, including a strip sack after which Jerome also recovered the fumble.

Next, Eastern Washington hosts Division II Central Washington on Sept. 11 in the Eagles’ home opener at Roos Field.

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