Eastern Washington edges UC Davis in FCS playoff thriller

(STATS) - If the Big Sky wanted to showcase its conference with the FCS quarterfinal between Eastern Washington and UC Davis, the best fourth quarter of this year's playoffs delivered on Saturday.

Sam McPherson scored on a 35-yard run with 26 seconds left to lift third-seeded Eastern Washington past sixth-seeded UC Davis 34-29 and into the national semifinals.

The final minutes were even hotter than Eastern Washington's famed red turf. The game-winner came just 47 seconds after UC Davis' Ulonzo Gilliam scored his third touchdown and Namane Modise took a pitch in for a two-point conversion to give the Aggies a 29-28 lead.

Eastern Washington (11-2) next hosts No. 7 seed Maine (10-3), the CAA Football champ, in a first-time meeting next Saturday. The Eagles will appear in their sixth semifinal and seek to get back to the championship game in Frisco, Texas, for the first time since they won the 2010 FCS title.

"Nothing perfect. We embrace adversity, we fight adversity and we're better because we're in adverse situations," Eastern Washington second-year coach Aaron Best said afterward. His program improved to 8-0 all-time against UC Davis.

McPherson, one of the Eagles' 28 seniors, rushed the ball 24 times for 143 yards, tip-toeing along the sideline to stay in-bounds for his game-winning touchdown. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Eric Barriere completed 21 of 25 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, adding a scoring run.

On the first play of the game-winning drive, Barriere avoided a sure sack to scramble 29 yards into UC Davis territory. He also rallied the Eagles from a 21-14 deficit early in the fourth quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run followed by a 55-yard pass to Andrew Boston to set a 7-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Nsimba Webster.

The nip-and-tuck game was in direct contrast to Eastern Washington's 59-20 rout of UC Davis on Nov. 10. That result helped create a three-way share of the Big Sky title along with Weber State.

Gilliam, a freshman, gained 167 yards from scrimmage, while Keelan Doss was quarterback Jake Maier's favorite target with nine receptions for 143 yards. UC Davis committed four turnovers.

Six players had at least 10 tackles, led by Eastern Washington linebacker Ketner Kupp with 16. UC Davis' Mason Moe had 10 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss and two of the Aggies' five sacks.

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