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Eastern Washington stifles Northern Iowa, setting up rematch with Montana in 2nd round of playoffs

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Griz vs. EWU 36.JPG (copy)

Montana cornerbacks Omar Hicks Onu (0) and Justin Ford (21) high five during the 34-28 loss to Eastern Washington on Oct. 2 at Roos Field in Cheney, Washington. The Griz and Eagles will rematch in the second round of the FCS playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

MISSOULA — The rematch is on.

Montana and Eastern Washington will play for the second time this season after the Eagles scored a 19-9 win over Northern Iowa in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Washington. The sixth-seeded Griz will host EWU at 7 p.m. Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula as they try to avenge a 34-28 road loss from Oct. 2.

Saturday's game turned when EWU’s Keshaun King intercepted Theo Day and returned the ball 20 yards to UNI 27-yard line midway through the third quarter. Three plays later, Eagles quarterback Eric Barriere escaped a 2-handed sack attempt and weaved through multiple defenders to punch in an 18-yard touchdown for a 16-7 lead. He totaled 18 rushing yards, while Tamarick Pierce paced EWU with 49 rushing yards and Dennis Merritt added 41.

Barriere finished 20-of-34 passing for 283 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His passing score, like his rushing touchdown, was a thing of beauty as he fired a bullet through double coverage to Nolan Ulm for a 26-yard touchdown strike on the final play of the first quarter. It was Ulm’s first college touchdown, and it gave the Eagles a 6-0 advantage.

The Eagles racked up 412 yards but were hampered by missed opportunities. They turned the ball over on downs at the UNI 15-yard line in the second quarter, and the Panthers converted that into a 14-yard touchdown pass from Day to Sam Schnee, cutting EWU’s lead to 9-7 with 34 seconds left in the second quarter. They also turned the ball over on downs at the UNI 26-yard line as Freddie Roberson dropped a potential walk-in score with EWU up 9-7 in the third quarter.

Roberson had an 86-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter, but Andrew Boston was called for illegal touching later in the drive, negating an 11-yard touchdown catch. Jackson Cleaver then missed a 27-yard field goal to end that drive, and he later missed an extra point. The Eagles went to true freshman Wyatt Hawkins, who had never attempted a field goal or extra point in college, and he went 2 for 2 by knocking through field goals of 22 and 30 yards.

Northern Iowa left 14 points on the field when it marched inside the 5-yard line twice, only to come up with a total of zero points. On the first drive of the game, the Panthers were stuffed on three consecutive runs from the 1-yard line and threw an incompletion on fourth down. In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Matt Morrissey threw four straight incompletions from the 3-yard line.

The Panthers went to Morrissey in the second half, and he finished 10-of-28 passing for 126 yards and two interceptions. Day, the starter, was 12-of-22 passing for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

On the first drive of the third quarter, the Panthers missed a 55-yard field goal that would’ve given them a 10-9 lead. Their only points after trailing 9-7 at halftime came late in the fourth quarter when EWU took an intentional safety on a punt out of its own end zone.

Around the FCS

Holy Cross, which has former Montana quarterback Justin Roper (2009-10) as its second-year offensive coordinator, scored a 13-10 home win over Sacred Heart as Matthew Sluka threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Coker with 14 seconds left in the game. The Crusaders, who won the Patriot League title, will play at No. 5 seed Villanova after getting their first-ever playoff win.

UT Martin forced six turnovers in a 32-31 road win over Missouri State — which is coached by Montana native Bobby Petrino — to move on to play at No. 8 seed Montana State at 2 p.m. Saturday in Bozeman. The Skyhawks, who won the Ohio Valley title, picked up their first-ever playoff win despite missing quarterback Keon Howard, the OVC offensive player of the year. 

South Dakota State crushed UC Davis in a 56-24 home win to advance to play No. 4 seed Sacramento State in the second round. Isaiah Davis ran for 217 yards and Pierre Strong rushed for 185 yards as the Jackrabbits pounded out 446 yards on 42 carries.

Kennesaw State ran away with a 48-21 home win over Davidson to move on to face No. 7 seed East Tennessee State in the second round. Quarterback Xavier Shepherd ran for four scores and tossed one touchdown as the Owls piled up 305 rushing yards on 56 carries and had six players run for 29 or more yards.

Incarnate Word scored the final 14 points to rally for a 35-28 overtime home win against Stephen F. Austin to advance to face No. 1 seed Sam Houston in the second round. Quarterback Cameron Ward threw four touchdowns, including the tying score to Taylor Grimes with 38 seconds left in regulation and the winning score to Robert Ferrel in overtime.

Southern Illinois forced four turnovers and made three field goals in picking up a 22-10 road win over South Dakota. The Salukis advance to face No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the second round.

Southeastern Louisiana cruised to a 38-14 win over Florida A&M as quarterback Cole Kelley threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns while spreading the ball to 10 players. The Lions are heading to the second round to face No. 3 seed James Madison.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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