After a close first half, second-ranked North Dakota State got on a roll.
Eastern Washington University suffered its second-straight defeat on the young season as NDSU used a 35-3 scoring run and 375 rushing yards to roll past the No. 7/6 Eagles 40-13 at sold-out Roos Field in Cheney, Wash, on Saturday (Sept. 9).
Eastern led in the second quarter 10-9, but the Bison scored the final 10 points of the half to lead 19-10 at intermission. An Eastern field goal cut the advantage to 19-13, but NDSU scored on three-straight possessions to take a 40-13 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Eastern scored on an eight-play, 75-yard drive in the first quarter, highlighted by a 50-yard passing connection from junior Gage Gubrud to junior Terence Grady. Gubrud scored on a 2-yard rush. Senior Roldan Alcobendas added field goals of 38 and 22 yards.
"All in all, our players fight and they will continue to fight – they are Eastern Washington Eagles," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best. "We'll look at the film closely and get better from it because there is no choice."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The Bison are now 2-0 and EWU is 0-2. While NDSU opened its season with 72-7 home romp past Mississippi Valley State, Eastern lost 56-10 against Texas Tech of the Big 12 Conference on Sept. 2 to mark the head coaching debut of Best. The Bison outgained MVSU 683-58 in total offense, including a massive 498 to minus-31 advantage in rushing and 85-89 in passing. Meanwhile, Eastern faced the top offense in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and were out-gained 626-301 in total offense and 449-220 through the air.
What It Means . . .
* The showdown with the five-time NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Champions was the second game of a home-and-home series against the Bison. Eastern, which won the national title in 2010 prior to NDSU's incredible run of five-straight, lost 50-44 in overtime on Sept. 10, 2016, in Fargo. Eastern knocked off NDSU 38-31 in overtime in the only previous meeting with the Bison on Dec. 11, 2010, in the FCS Playoffs in Cheney. Both teams advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs last season, but losses enabled current No. 1 ranked James Madison to become the first team other than EWU or NDSU to win the national title since 2009.
What's Next . . .
* A trip to New York City follows for the Eagles against a 1-1 Fordham team which closed the 2016 season with an 8-3 record, and finished as the Patriot League runner-up with a 5-1 mark. The Rams lost to Army 64-6 in their opener, then beat Central Connecticut 38-31. This will be the first-ever meeting for EWU against the Rams, a collegiate football power in the 1930's known for the "Seven Blocks of Granite" featuring the famous Vince Lombardi. Fordham was defeated by Lehigh 58-37 late in the 2016 season, costing the Rams their fourth-straight trip to the FCS Playoffs. Fordham has been in the playoffs five times overall (2002-07-13-14-15) and are 3-5 all-time. Eastern hasn't played any current member of the Patriot League. The game at Fordham will be just the eighth occasion all-time that EWU has played east of the Mississippi River, The last time came in 2013 in Ohio when Eastern fell at Toledo 33-21. That was only EWU's fourth game ever in the Eastern time zone.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern's defense, after allowing NDSU to convert just one of its first seven third downs, allowed the Bison to convert six of their last seven. The Bison finished 7-of-14 on third down, while EWU was 4-of-13.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud completed 10-of-30 passes for 134 yards and was intercepted twice.
* Senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio caught four passes for 30 yards, and junior Terence Grady had two for 66 yards, including the longest play of the season of 50 yards. That came on EWU's only touchdown
* Sophomore running back Antoine Custer Jr. rushed 11 times for 48 yards.
* Sophomore linebacker Jack Sendelbach, making his second start as an injury replacement for Ketner Kupp, had a career-high 13 tackles for the Eagles. He also had two fumble recoveries and contributed on a sack.
* Junior safety Mitch Fettig had 11 tackles, a week after having a team-high eight versus Texas Tech. He also broke up a pass and one of his tackles was for a loss of six yards.
* Junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun had nine tackles and a forced fumble.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern was out-gained in total offense 532-204, including a 436-73 advantage after the first quarter when EWU led 131-96. North Dakota State had a 175-15 advantage in the second quarter and 261-58 in the second half. The Bison rushed for 375 and had 157 passing, while EWU finished with 134 through the air and had 70 on the ground.
Turning Point . . .
* Trailing just 19-13 after a 22-yard field goal by Roldan Alcobendas, Eastern had the Bison in a second-and-21 situation on the ensuing possession. But NDSU converted on third-and-11 and went on to score on touchdown drives of 75, 72 and 40 yards to break the game open.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles tied NDSU 2-2 in the turnover department. Eastern forced back-to-back fumbles in the second quarter, with one leading to a field goal. Jack Sendelbach recovered both fumbles, including one forced by fellow linebacker Kurt Calhoun.
* In what was the 50th game on the famed red turf of Roos Field and was a repeat match-up between top 10 ranked teams, a crowd of 10,231 were on hand for EWU's home opener. It was the 15th-most in school history as EWU now has had 21-straight regular season sellouts (crowd of 8,600 or more) and 33 overall.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Kicker Roldan Alcobendas made his only extra point attempt in the game and is now one away from a school record. With a current streak of 65 extra points in a row, Alcobendas is one from equaling the record of 66 set by Jason Cromer from 1988-90. Alcobendas made his last 63 in a row last season to shatter the previous season record of 47.
Notables . . .
* Eastern was ranked seventh in this week's STATS FCS Top-25 rankings and is rated sixth by the coaches. North Dakota State was No. 2 in both polls, behind defending FCS champion James Madison. Eastern has now been ranked by STATS in 72 of its last 73 polls, including a current streak of 15-straight weeks in the top 10. The only schools with longer streaks are NDSU, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State.
* Eastern was 6-2 versus ranked teams last year, and was No. 8 when it fell to top-ranked NDSU. EWU is now 17-42 all-time versus top 10 teams and 8-34 versus teams in the top 5, but are 8-7 and 3-6, respectively, since 2010. Overall, EWU is 25-13 since 2010 versus ranked teams, and 54-67 all-time.
* In an effort to publicize current matchups and promote future non-conference scheduling between two of the premier FCS conferences, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Big Sky Conference have announced a Challenge Series between the two leagues. The eight-game series will begin Sept. 9 and conclude Oct. 7. Over the past four seasons, institutions in the two conferences have played one another 35 times. The MVFC has the advantage in that span, although the Big Sky and MVFC split last year's eight meetings, 4-4. This year, institutions in the two leagues will play one another eight times, including six times at Big Sky sites.
Head Coach Aaron Best Comments . . .
On Positives: "There were some positives on both sides. We were better for longer periods on defense at times. We tackled better, but third down and eight-plus yards was kind of our nemesis. We have to get off the field at some point. We'll look at and improve."
On Two Fumbles in First Half: "Getting two turnovers was huge, and whenever you get the ball back for the offense it's big. We got one on fourth down which was important."
On Offense: "Offensively we made some plays and stretched the field at times. There were a few plays, but at times we were inconsistent. We had balls that were put on receivers and we just have to execute better. We'll find the players we can get our first win with. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and find a way – any way – to win next week."
On Injuries: "We sustained a few bumps and bruises, and there were a fair amount of bodies who weren't available at the end of the game. North Dakota State is fabulous football team. They are very well-coached on both sides of the ball, and their special teams played outstanding. Our fans deserve better and that's our mission. We'll get back on the saddle again and begin our work for Fordham tomorrow."
On Next Week's Priorities: "We have to make sure our competitive juices continue to flow. We talked about it last week, but the hardest thing in sports is losing. One team wins every week and one team loses, and doing it twice in a row is difficult. We have to find out who we do have for next week's game and ride those guys. Defensively we have to get off the field on third and long, and still build on the tackling piece. We ran the ball well at times, similar to Texas Tech. We had some runs that were solid, and some that were not. We allowed too many pressures on our quarterback. We have to change protections and do some different things when we get in obvious passing situations."