Cheney Free Press -

Eastern, Montana State means possibility of wild shootout


October 12, 2017

The “other Montana” as in Montana State travels to Roos Field this Saturday.

Two of the top teams in the Big Sky Conference in recent years pair off this week when the No. 10/9 Eastern Washington University football team hosts Montana State this Saturday. Kickoff is 1:05 p.m. at sold-out Roos Field on Military and Veterans Appreciation Day.

The Bobcats and Eagles resume what has been a rivalry maybe not as intense as Eastern and Montana, but in recent times, for the most part, it’s been equally entertaining. Particularly the 2014 and 2015 match-ups where a total of 208 points were scored, yet the margin of victory was just six points as Eastern survived 52-51 and 55-50 shootouts.

Those wins helped preserve a string of recent success that has seen Eastern win the last five and 12 of 14.

The Eagles are now 3-0 in the Big Sky Conference standings after a come-from behind, 41-38 win at UC Davis, just ahead of Northern Arizona and Weber State each at 2-0.

Winners of their last 11 league games — three shy of the school record — the Eagles have won 43 of their last 49 Big Sky games since a 0-2 start in 2011.

The Bobcats are one of many much-improved teams in the Big Sky, sporting a 2-3 record overall and 2-1 Big Sky mark after beating Portland State 30-22 last week.

“The guessing game will continue and I’m sure they’ll come up with a master plan to try to knock us off,” Eastern head coach Aaron Best said. “We have to just concentrate on continuing to improve ourselves, and take what they give us on Saturday. But it is good to be back home and play them in front our home crowd.”

Montana State opened the year with a 31-0 loss to nationally-ranked FBS opponent Washington State, then fell 31-27 to fourth-ranked FCS foe South Dakota State when MSU passed for 311. The Bobcats then began league play versus No. 17 North Dakota (win, 49-21) and No. 18 Weber State (loss, 17-25), followed by the victory over PSU.

Quarterback Chris Murray, the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year last season, has rushed for a team-leading 543 yards (108.6 per game to lead the league) and three touchdowns, and passed for another 646 and eight scores. The Bobcats are 10th in FCS in rushing, averaging 250.6 yards per game.

The Bobcats are coming off a 4-7 finish in 2016 under then first-year head coach Jeff Choate, including a 2-6 league campaign.

With a four-game winning streak, EWU remains 10th in this week’s STATS FCS Top-25 rankings. Eastern is rated ninth this week by the coaches. Defending FCS champion James Madison is No. 1.

Eastern rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 and went on to spoil the upset hopes of UC Davis last Saturday at Davis, Calif.

Quarterback Gage Gubrud engineered scoring drives of 71, 55 and 75 yards in the final quarter, and finished with six touchdown passes and 452 yards passing. He passed 6 yards to Nic Sblendorio for a game-winning TD with 1:37 to play, followed by a missed 49-yard field goal by the Aggies that could have knotted the game.

The Aggies finished with a 551-501 advantage in total offense, but Eastern had 205 in the fourth quarter alone. The Eagles managed only 13 points in the first 41 minutes of the game, having five three-and-outs in that span. Eastern, however, had five touchdown drives of 73 yards or more, and another of 55.


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