Central Washington football coach Chris Fisk and Wildcats head to Spokane Saturday.

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Central Washington University will have to stay hot to upset Eastern Washington University.

The NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason favorite Wildcats (1-0 overall) are scheduled to play at Division I Football Championship Subdivision No. 8 Eastern Washington (1-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cheney, a game set to air on ESPN+.

“It all starts with the quarterback up front, and I think our kids are ready for it,” said Central Washington coach Chris Fisk, who remarked that Eastern’s rival Montana upset preseason 20th-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision opener Washington Saturday, Sept. 4, in Seattle. “Their receivers don’t look like the receivers we’ve faced, and we have to find a way to not let him run wild. I think the secret is to replicate what NDSU did and keep him off the field.”

Eric Barriere, a 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound redshirt senior named the preseason all-Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player in August, persisted for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Eagles’ 42-20 first-round FCS Playoffs loss April 24 in Fargo, but the three-time defending national champion Bison kept him to nine yards on 13 carries.

“Our kids look forward to playing Big Sky teams, and we’ve got a big test like it was in Montana,” Fisk said. “We’re ready to kick it off.”

The Wildcats fell 59-3 at Montana in their lone contest of the delayed 2020 season — they were the only GNAC team to play at all in the midst of COVID-19 concerns — and have not beaten the Grizzlies in three road trips since a 38-35 defeat in Missoula in 2008 and a 48-14 road loss in 2014.

Central enters Saturday with a 1-6 record against Eastern Washington since 1999, having beaten the host Eagles 21-14 in 2006 before falling 35-32 in 2010 in Seattle and 58-13 in Cheney in 2018.

In this year’s opener, Barriere helped Eastern upset FBS adversary UNLV 35-33 in double overtime in Las Vegas, throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns including respective 25-yard strikes to redshirt junior Dylan Ingraham and redshirt freshman Blake Gobel in the first and second extra frames, and a pair of interceptions.

The win repaid a 49-24 2010 road loss to the Runnin’ Rebels and was the Eagles’ 11th triumph over an FBS team.

Preseason all-Big Sky teammates Talolo Limu-Jones (a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound redshirt senior wide receiver), Tristen Taylor (a 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound senior offensive tackle) and Mitchell Johnson (a 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound defensive end) return with Barriere.

“What we can do is not be caught off-guard by how hard they play,” Fisk said.


The Eagles also make good use of third-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ian Shoemaker, who led Central to 2017 and 2018 GNAC championships in five years as head coach before his move to Cheney.

“I’m happy for him to be able to coach a quarterback with that talent, and we’ll be friends before the game and long after,” Fisk said. “When we play these Big Sky games, we have less than half the scholarships they do. None of these (Central) kids are on full-ride scholarships.”

Fisk also noted that 6-foot-6-inch right-handed redshirt sophomore quarterback JJ Lemming split time between Wildcats football and baseball this spring as he pitched four innings for a hit, an earned run, three walks, five strikeouts and a 2.25 earned run average.

“There were weeks where he had to turn it down a bit,” Fisk said.

Lemming tied a Central record with five touchdown passes and ran four yards for another in his first collegiate start and a 66-24 win in this season’s opener at Eastern New Mexico Thursday, Sept. 2.

The premiere win was Central’s first since it trounced Texas A&M-Kingsville 34-10, in which Reilly Hennessey threw five touchdowns to set the record, at Humboldt State (Arcata, California), in 2017.

“We’re excited to come off a week one win, and we beat them the way we needed to beat them,” said Fisk as the Wildcats scored their most points since they beat Southwest Baptist (Bolivar, Missouri) 72-17 at home in 2019. “We don’t think we were tested very much.”

Lemming racked up 335 of Central’s 501 total yards through three quarters before redshirt sophomore Zach Matlock spelled him as the Wildcats led 52-24 lead to start the fourth.

“Cool under pressure is what I’d characterize it as,” Fisk said. “He ran the game well and made plays when he needed to.”

Lemming became the eighth Wildcat to throw five touchdowns in a single game as he found six receivers, foremost of whom were redshirt sophomores Darius Morrison (88 yards and a pair of scores) and Tai-John Mizutani (12 yards, two touchdowns) at least twice.

Redshirt sophomore defensive back Jahleel Breland led the Wildcats with 12 tackles, and graduate linebacker Donte Hamilton came up with eight tackles and a sack.

Central held Eastern New Mexico freshman quarterback Nathan Valencia to 183 passing yards — of which senior Justin Manyweather picked up 95 on a long third-quarter touchdown — and -8 rushing yards.

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