The Easterner

No. 8 EWU Football Thumps Sacramento State, 52-31

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

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As EWU football’s sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. stood in the makeshift postgame interview area at Roos Field on Saturday, he uttered a simple yet irrefutable statement.

“[It] always feels good to win on The Red.”

Roos Field. The Red. The Inferno. No matter the title it’s given, the testament remains the same. It always feels good to win on The Red.

On Saturday afternoon, the Eagles did just that. In the first Big Sky Conference home game of the season, the EWU Eagles clobbered the Sacramento State University Hornets, 52-31. Let’s break it down.

After the defense forced Sacramento State into an early punt, junior quarterback Gage Gubrud completed a reception to sophomore wide receiver Jayson Williams, who maneuvered 59 yards to the Hornets’ 11-yard line. A couple short passes, including the six-yard touchdown to redshirt freshman tight end Talolo Limu-Jones made it 7-0 Eagles. The five-play, 73-yard drive took just 1:22.

But they were just getting started.

On the next EWU possession, Gubrud lateraled to junior running back Sam McPherson, who threw it crossfield back to Gubrud, who used his blockers to take it 43 yards to the house. 14-0, Eagles. Just like that.

The Hornets had to punt again and the Eagles humming offense took over. Gubrud threaded the defense for a couple more completions before Custer took a pass 33 yards for another touchdown and the 21-0 lead with 2:20 left in the quarter.

However, Sacramento State had no intentions of getting shut out.

After averaging just 15.7 yards on their first three drives, junior quarterback Kevin Thomson led the Hornets on a five-play, 75 yard drive that made it 21-7 to end the first quarter. Still, it was all EWU at this point as they had already totaled 271 yards.

Then the teams switched ends. The Eagles next three possessions went as follows: senior kicker Roldan Alcobendas missed a 32-yard field goal, punt, punt. In the meantime, Sacramento State knocked in a 39-yard field goal and scored a touchdown to close the gap to 21-17. Granted with prime field position, the Hornets were threatening again.

But the Eagles defense stepped up, forcing their opposition into a field goal try. And luck was finally back on their side as Sacramento State’s junior kicker Devon Medeiros missed the 22-yard field goal wide right.

EWU had to punt again, but the defense held strong and forced their first three-and-out in what felt like forever. That gave Gubrud 1:16 remaining in the half to go 76 yards. He only needed a minute. A 17-yard Custer catch gave the Eagles first and goal and junior wide receiver Zach Eagle’s four-yard reception made it 28-17 just before the half.

After two quarters of play, the Eagles had 360 total yards, but just 89 in the second quarter. Seventy-six of those came in the final drive. Sacramento State had 33 rushing attempts for 207 yards in the half, while EWU had 10 for negative three yards. Gubrud was 22-30 passing for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

Sophomore running back Antoine Custer celebrates a touchdown. Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner.

On the first possession of the second half, the Eagles took it 75 yards, capped off by a three-yard touchdown run from Custer, to seize the 35-17 lead. Head coach Aaron Best, for one, liked the team’s resiliency after the brief lull in the second quarter.

“We scored late in the second quarter and got on the board again to start the third quarter on our first drive,” said Best. “That’s what Eastern football is about and will always be about.”

After a couple empty possessions, Sacramento State’s Thomson faked a handoff, kept it himself and took it 54 yards for the score to make it 35-24.

But sophomore wide receiver Dre’ Sonte Dorton returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards, McPherson broke off a 38-yard run and junior wide receiver Nsimba Webster capped the drive off with a 13-yard touchdown catch to put the score out of reach.

A week after throwing for a school record 549 yards, Gubrud put up another stellar stat line. The reining co-offensive Big Sky MVP finished with 447 yards on 35-50 passing and five touchdowns. To top it off, he also added a 43-yard touchdown reception. Custer ended up with 196 total yards and two touchdowns, including 81 rushing yards and five catches for 115 yards.

Webster had eight receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, while senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio had seven catches for 69 yards. In all, Gubrud had touchdowns to five different Eagles.

On defense, junior defensive end Keenan Williams had 10 tackles (three solo), while senior defensive end Albert Havili finished with nine tackles (four solo) and junior safety Mitch Fettig had eight tackles (three solo). Senior safety Jake Hoffman picked off a Thomson pass in the third quarter.

With the win, the Eagles move to 3-2 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. EWU football will travel to Davis, California next Saturday, Oct. 7 to take on UC Davis.

“This team knows what it takes to win. We’ve done it three times now, but we don’t want to change up the script too much,” Best said following the game.

“We’re in a groove and we want to stay in the groove. We’re going to be on the road, so we have to get in our road manner and mind frame.”

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No. 8 EWU Football Thumps Sacramento State, 52-31