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Eagles get out to hot start despite rainy weather during 48-13 rout of Cal Poly

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Fans who took their time getting from their RVs to the stands at Roos Field on Saturday may have missed Eastern Washington’s fastest start of the season.

But at least those who stuck around in the rain until halftime saw one the Eagles’ most prolific quarters of football in program history – and it came against one of the team’s former head coaches.

Eastern Washington used a first-half deluge of points to inundate Cal Poly, and neither team did much in the second half as the Eagles beat the Mustangs 48-13 on a dreary afternoon in Cheney.

“The weather was awful,” Eagles head coach Aaron Best said. “But we fought through it in those first 30 minutes especially.

“Not easy elements to play in. I thought we handled them well.”

Best said the team wanted to get the ball first. When Cal Poly won the coin toss and deferred, Best was happy to have the opportunity to receive the kickoff.

EWU junior Michael Wortham fielded the ball in the end zone, brought it out through the middle of the field and veered toward the right sideline for an 86-yard return. One play later, Tuna Altahir scored the first of his career-high three touchdowns to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

On the fourth play of Cal Poly’s ensuing drive, EWU senior Da’Marcus Johnson skirted around the Mustangs’ offensive line and strip-sacked Sam Huard. Senior linebacker Jaren Banks scooped up the ball for Eastern’s first fumble recovery in its past four games.

Two plays later, Justice Jackson scored on a 19-yard touchdown – the first of his two scores – and just 3 minutes into the game the Eagles led 14-0.

“(We got) to play with momentum, play with the lead, which is something we’ve struggled with,” EWU junior cornerback Cage Schenck said. “So I think that was a good game where we had the lead the whole game and kept building on it.”

Coming into Saturday, the Eagles (4-5, 3-3 Big Sky) had outscored their eight opponents 58-48 in the first quarter, but the second quarter had been more of an issue. In that quarter, their opponents had an 86-69 edge.

But down a couple of scores early, the Mustangs (3-6, 1-5) didn’t mount a comeback. Quite the opposite happened.

Eastern scored 31 points in the second quarter, something the Eagles had done just once before. It was four points shy of the program’s single-quarter total of 35, set in the fourth quarter of a 2001 win over Cal State Northridge and matched by the Eagles in the third quarter of a 2016 win over UC Davis.

Eastern’s 45 first-half points tied for the third most in program history, coincidentally matching the team’s total in a 62-10 victory over Cal Poly on March 27, 2021.

Cal Poly head coach Paul Wulff, who was EWU’s head coach from 2000 to 2007, was an assistant on that Mustangs team.

Eastern is 12-2 all time against Cal Poly and 8-0 in the series at home.

The Eagles ran 29 plays in the second quarter and gained 222 yards, well over half their game total of 374. Altahir and Jackson each caught touchdown passes from redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas, Altahir scored another on a 32-yard run, and Schenck got the fourth touchdown on a 17-yard interception return, the team’s third of the season.

“I saw the (running) back was a little wider than normal, so I was just thinking he was going to come out,” Schenck said. “The second he moved, I was ready to jump (the route).”

It was Schenck’s second interception of the season and the first touchdown of his career.

The Mustangs mustered one touchdown drive in the first half, and they also got their first of three defensive safeties when Tyson Jacobson snapped the ball over EWU punter Nick Kokich and out the back of the end zone.

But neither constituted a real threat to the Eagles, whose defense forced nine punts and got five three-and-outs.

The Mustangs ran 74 plays and gained just 288 yards, the fewest allowed by the Eagles all season and just the second time they’ve held an opponent to fewer than 365.

Cal Poly attempted 40 rushes, its second-highest total of the season. But the Mustangs couldn’t move against the Eagles like Portland State did a week ago, and they gained just 2.8 yards per carry for a total of 112. Huard, who began his college career with the Washington Huskies, completed 14 of 29 attempts for 145 yards.

“The defense seemed like they were in position a lot. A ton of effort,” Best said. “We challenged those guys, and they rose to the challenge today.”

Visperas completed 15 of 25 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran eight times for 33 yards.

Redshirt sophomore Altahir ran 12 times for a season-high 104 yards, the second 100-yard game of his career. He also caught four passes for 36 yards. Jackson, a junior, gained 77 yards on 11 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards.

Eagles redshirt freshman Soren McKee made both of his field-goal attempts, from 30 and 23 yards, and is 11 of 16 on the season.

Eastern Washington has two games remaining, next week at sixth-ranked Montana State (7-2, 5-1), and at home on Nov. 18 against Northern Arizona (3-6, 3-3).

“We’re excited to go down to Bozeman,” Schenck said. “A lot of us haven’t played down there, so it’ll be a great atmosphere. It’s always a competitive game with them, so we’re excited.”