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Eastern Washington University Football

Eastern Washington travels to Portland State for pivotal Big Sky Conference game

By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

During the eight football seasons from 2012 through 2019, the one constant on the schedules of Eastern Washington and Portland State was their annual matchup at the end of the regular season.

This fact came to the attention of Portland State coach Bruce Barnum just this week, when he took a quick glance at the team’s travel plans for next season.

Not only are the two teams not playing in November 2024 – last year and this year’s matchups were and are October games – they aren’t scheduled to play at all next season. That hasn’t been the case, pandemic year notwithstanding, since 1989.

“That’s a travesty,” Barnum said Tuesday. “But it is what it is.”

It’s just one more reason why Saturday’s game in Hillsboro, Oregon, is intriguing. The Eagles and Vikings are both 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Big Sky play. Both need the win – and three more after it – to reach the FCS playoffs. And both are capable of putting up plenty of points.

“Offensively, they’re moving the ball against everybody,” Barnum said of EWU. “They’re playing well right now.”

The same could be said of Portland State, which has scored more points than every other Big Sky team except Montana State and has a formidable run game to line up against an Eastern Washington defense that has struggled against the run.

The fact that quarterback Dante Chachere can run and throw effectively creates another layer of difficulty for the Eagles’ defense. The junior quarterback has 382 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns while also completing 92 of 154 attempts for 876 passing yards and another 12 scores.

“He’s really good,” Eagles cornerback Darrien Sampson said of Chachere. “He’s dynamic with running the ball and throwing the ball. It’s a big game for the (secondary).”

Sampson played against the Vikings two years ago, the last time Eastern played at Portland State, when the Eagles ended the regular season with a 42-28 victory. That year’s defense limited the Vikings to 80 rushing yards.

But Davis Alexander, PSU’s quarterback that game, wasn’t the rushing threat Chachere is, something Chachere demonstrated last year when the Vikings beat the Eagles 38-35 in Cheney.

Three plays into the game Chachere broke a 51-yard run for a touchdown as the Vikings built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. They ran 58 times for 427 yards, the sixth-best single-game mark in PSU history, and withstood Eastern’s comeback.

Their leading rusher that game was Jobi Malary, who rushed 19 times for 148 yards. He missed last week’s 38-24 loss to Idaho State, but Barnum said he expects Malary to be back this week.

Malary has 45 carries for 272 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Barnum also said he expects Chachere to be fully healthy after he was “probably half speed” against Idaho State.

Barnum said the Vikings will be without leading rusher Quincy Craig for the second straight game. He leads PSU this year with 66 carries for 410 yards.

Eastern Washington is dealing with its health issues at running back. EWU head coach Aaron Best said Tuesday during media availability that junior Justice Jackson was “progressing” after missing last week’s 31-23 win over Weber State.

Redshirt sophomore Tuna Altahir was the only true running back the Eagles used at the position against the Wildcats, although quarterbacks Jared Taylor and Michael Wortham operated as such much of the game.

Best praised Taylor and Wortham’s ability to run between the tackles, which allows the offense to give opponents some different looks, given that both are capable of throwing the ball.

“They just want reps, and they’ve earned reps, so they are going to get reps,” Best said.

Barnum said the Vikings are preparing for all three of Eastern’s quarterbacks and “you have to have a plan for each one,” but the first order of business is stopping the Eagles’ running game. Otherwise, he said, the Eagles have little incentive to do anything else.

Eastern Washington’s offense ranks sixth in the Big Sky with 152.1 rushing yards per game. Portland State ranks second at 225.3.

The Eagles’ defense ranks 10th in the Big Sky in total yards allowed per game (434); the Vikings rank sixth (368).