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Eastern Washington has rebounded from lopsided losses to FBS programs before

Washington State cornerback Darrien Molton intercepts a pass intended for Eastern Washington wide receiver Nsimba Webster (5) during the first half of a nonconference game on Sept. 15, 2018, in Pullman. The Cougars won the home game 59-24.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

There was not much for the Eastern Washington football team to celebrate Saturday after its 70-14 loss to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.

Statistically, it went down as one of the worst defeats in program history. Just once before – an 84-21 loss to Houston in 1990 – have the Eagles given up that many points in a game.

The Eagles also produced just 187 yards of total offense (on 51 plays), the fewest since Aaron Best became head coach in 2017. Weber State, in 2015, was the last team to hold the Eagles to fewer than 200 yards of offense: Eastern mustered just 189 yards on 48 plays that game in a 14-13 loss.

On defense, the Eagles were dominated like few Division I teams have been dominated before, as Oregon achieved 40 first downs, five shy of the NCAA’s single-game FBS record.

For Eastern, it will prove to be one of the most infamous games in program history. But it also doesn’t mean the Eagles’ 2022 season is doomed. They are 1-1 overall, they remain ranked 14th in the FCS Stats Perform Top 25, and they still have a full Big Sky schedule to go – including their next game, Sept. 24 at home against Montana State.

Historically, too, the Eagles have demonstrated an ability to put big losses behind them. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Eagles lost a game to an FBS team by at least 33 points but rebounded to finish with a winning record each season.

Here’s a look at how those games went, and how those seasons turned out:

Sept. 2, 2017 – at Texas Tech, 56-10

One year removed from having Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback, the Red Raiders struggled out of the gate against the visiting Eagles and punted on each of their first three drives. But Eastern didn’t capitalize, fumbling and punting twice . Tech got its act together late in the first quarter and scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions, with a defensive score mixed in as well.

After the initial stalemate, the closest Eastern got was with the score 7-3, and a Terence Grady 22-yard catch from Gage Gubrud marked the Eagles’ only touchdown. Tech outgained Eastern 626-301 and won the turnover battle 3-0.

The next week, seventh-ranked Eastern hosted second-ranked North Dakota State, the eventual FCS champion that season. The Eagles held a 10-9 lead midway through the second quarter, but didn’t score another touchdown.

Meanwhile, the Bison rumbled for four scores and amassed 375 rushing yards, part of a 532-204 advantage in total offense by game’s end.

Gubrud finished with a worse line against the Bison (10 of 30 for zero touchdowns and two interceptions) than he did against the Red Raiders (22-34-1-1), but he was sharper over the next five games, and the Eagles rallied to get their record to 5-2.

Subsequent losses to eventual playoff teams Southern Utah and Weber State drained their playoff hopes, however, as a 7-4 Eagles squad was left out of the 24-team playoff field.

Sept. 15, 2018 – at Washington State, 59-24

Two years before this game, the Eagles went to Pullman and beat the Cougars in a 45-42 shootout.

Against a more formidable Washington State team led by Gardner Minshew, the Eagles didn’t have enough firepower to keep up in what was the Eagles’ third and final nonconference game.

Eastern’s first five drives netted just 80 yards and three points, allowing Washington State to take a 28-3 lead. It was a bad start in all three phases, as Gubrud threw two interceptions over that stretch, and Washington State scored its third touchdown of the game on a 100-yard kickoff return.

The Eagles drew within 11 points on a Dennis Merritt touchdown late in the third quarter, but Washington State scored the final 24 points of the game and held the Eagles to 54 yards in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles bounced back in a big way the next weekend in their Big Sky opener, trouncing Cal Poly 70-17. They averaged 11.1 yards per play and punted just twice.

Two weeks later, after an injury sidelined Gubrud, junior Eric Barriere started at quarterback and never looked back. The Eagles won five of their final six regular-season games, and Barriere led them past Nicholls State, UC Davis and Maine in the FCS playoffs to advance to the championship game against North Dakota State.

The Bison had their way running the ball against the Eagles, just as they did the previous regular season, rushing for 290 yards in a 38-24 victory.

Aug. 31, 2019 – at Washington, 47-14

The Huskies began with a three-drive burst that led to three consecutive touchdowns, and the Eagles’ offense just couldn’t get going.

Eastern went three-and-out on two of its first three drives, and on the other it failed to convert a fourth-and-2 near midfield.

Eastern finally scored less than a minute before halftime on a 64-yard Andrew Boston touchdown reception to make the score 28-7, but the Huskies scored the first 14 points after half and later added a field goal and a safety.

Washington had more than double the total offense (570 to 274) and held the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than Eastern.

The Eagles bounced back with a 59-31 victory over Division II Lindenwood, but they lost their next two games at Jacksonville State (49-45) and at Idaho (35-27) in what was considered a nonconference game that season even though the Vandals had just rejoined the Big Sky.

They beat North Dakota to end September, but an Oct. 5 loss to Sacramento State put the Eagles at 2-4.

Though the Eagles won four of their final five regular-season games, that wasn’t enough to earn them a playoff spot. They finished 6-2 in the Big Sky and 7-5 overall.

The next season they were scheduled to play at Florida, but that game was moved to this season when the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the Big Sky’s season to the spring and truncated the schedule.

In 2021, Eastern beat UNLV 35-33 in double-overtime, the first of the team’s 10 wins that season.