No. 4/3 Eastern Defense Impressive Despite 14-6 Loss to 13th-ranked Weber State

No. 4/3 Eastern Defense Impressive Despite 14-6 Loss to 13th-ranked Weber State

In an offensive-minded conference, the defenses seized the day.

Despite a stellar performance by its defense, the Eastern Washington University football team fell to Weber State 14-6 in a Big Sky Conference game matching nationally-ranked foes Saturday (Oct. 13) at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.

No. 4/3 Eagles held 13th-ranked Wildcats to just 274 total yards and just one offensive touchdown – numbers typically good enough to win. The Eagles held WSU scoreless for the final 51:25 of the game, but fell from the unbeaten ranks in the Big Sky after the fewest combined points in an EWU game since 2009.

However, the Weber State defense held EWU to 247 yards, and for the first time since a 19-3 loss to Montana in 2008, the Eagles did not score a touchdown.

“Our players swung at every pitch thrown,” said Eastern head coach Aaron Best . “Defensively I couldn’t be prouder – our team played their tails off and I can’t say enough about them. We have the ingredients and know we have an outfit that can play defense really well. We were just up against a better opponent today and we have to make more plays on offense.”‘

The game included a combined total of 15 punts and 11 three-and-outs. They also were just a combined 6-of-32 on third down, and combined for 3-of-7 on fourth down.

Eastern’s Roldan Alcobendas punted seven times for a 60.3 average, including a school-record punt of 78 yards and three others of at least 60 yards. He also booted a pair of field goals.

For the second-straight game, junior Eric Barriere was an injury replacement for injured starting quarterback Gage Gubrud (lower leg injury suffered at Montana State on Sept. 29. The sophomore passed for 185 yards, but EWU’s vaunted rushing attack managed just 62 yards in support of him. Barriere was coming off a performance with 331 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in 55-17 victory over defending Big Sky Conference champion Southern Utah on Oct. 6.

In a classic match-up of the Big Sky’s top offense versus the league’s top defense. Eastern entered ranked third in FCS in total offense at 570.2 yards per game, while Weber State was 41st nationally in defense at 374.0 per game. The Eagles were scoring at a league-best 45.3 clip per game (sixth in FCS), while the Wildcats joined EWU as the top defense in the league at 24.8 points per game (36th).

Both teams entered this week’s game nationally-ranked in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Equaling its highest rankings in the past four seasons, Eastern was ranked fourth in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 poll and third by the coaches following a 55-17 home victory over Southern Utah. Weber State was ranked 13th in both polls after a narrow 28-24 loss at Northern Arizona, a team EWU defeated in a non-conference meeting in Flagstaff on Sept. 8 by a 31-26 score.

Records & Rankings . . .

* Now 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky in 2018, Eastern closed the 2017 season with a 7-4 record overall and was 6-2 in the Big Sky Conference in the first season under head coach Aaron Best . Last season was the 11th-straight season the Eagles have finished 5-3 or better in the Big Sky, with an 11th-straight winning season and 20th in the last 22 years. But winning a 10th Big Sky title and making a 13th appearance in the FCS Playoffs is the quest for the 2018 Eagles, who are hungry to make that happen.

* The Wildcats are now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky. While Eastern was picked by both the coaches and media to win the 2018 league title, Weber State was slated to finish second in both. Besides sharing the Big Sky title with Southern Utah last season, the Wildcats beat Western Illinois (21-19) and Southern Utah (30-13) in the FCS Playoffs, then narrowly lost to eventual FCS runner-up James Madison (31-28) in the quarterfinals. Thus, Weber State has won nine of its last 12 games while making steady progress under fifth-year head coach Jay Hill. Weber State was 2-10 overall/2-6 Big Sky in his first year, then 6-5/5-3, 7-5/6-2 and 11-3/7-1 in subsequent seasons.

What It Means . . .

* Eastern came up short of its goal of back-to-back wins versus the defending Big Sky Conference co-champions and becoming just one of two remaining teams in Big Sky games. The Eagles are now 3-1 in the Big Sky and Weber State is 2-1. The other undefeated team in the league will be either Idaho State (3-0) or UC Davis (2-0), which are playing Saturday night. Other one-loss teams in the league are Northern Arizona (2-1) and Montana State (2-1. Eastern is chasing its 10th Big Sky title and 13th appearance in the FCS Playoffs in school history. Since 2010 when EWU won the NCAA Division I title, the Eagles have won league titles five times (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016) and advanced to the playoffs all five of those seasons.

What’s Next . . .

* After a bye week, the Eagles return to action on Oct. 27 on ROOT Sports when the Eagles welcome Idaho back to the Big Sky Conference with a rare meeting with the Vandals in Cheney. The Vandals re-joined the Big Sky in football in 2018, and EWU will play the Vandals in the first meeting between the two schools since 2012 when Eastern won in Moscow 20-3. The last time the former league rivals met in a Big Sky game was in 1995 when the Vandals prevailed 37-10 and the last time they met in Cheney was 1994. Eastern hosted Idaho at Albi Stadium in Spokane six times (1999, 1997, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1984) with a pair of wins, and have played in Cheney just three times (1994, 1992, 1942) with no wins versus the Vandals. The Eagles trail in the all-time series 15-6, but have won the last two and three of the last five.

Keys to Game . . .

* Weber State used a hot start to open a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and held the Eagles to 41 yards on their first 23 plays of the game. After Eastern’s first of four three-and-outs in the first half, the Wildcats scored on a 75-yard punt return by Josh Davis. Eastern’s lone score of the half came on a 31-yard field goal by Roldan Alcobendas , but EWU managed only 83 yards at intermission. Eastern then had 63 yards in the third quarter and 101 in the fourth.