By WG Ramirez
For the spokesperson-Revue
LAS VEGAS – Former East Washington defensive back Robert Puller was ready to join Eagles fans in Gainesville, Fla. For the 2020 season opener.
The pandemic has ruined these plans.
Puller, known to fans and teammates as “Butter” while playing for the Eagles from 1987 to 1991, wasn’t about to miss a chance to watch the season opener. Thursday less than a mile from the famous Las Vegas Strip.
“The excitement for us to play UNLV, in the Raiders’ stadium, the opening game on a Thursday night to kick off college football – I couldn’t be more excited,” Puller said from the Twitch lounge at inside the Allegiant Stadium.
“Just to be here and be excited about the Eagle Nation and the things we’re doing, hopefully we’ll come to a (victory).”
They did, as the Eagles outlasted UNLV in an exhilarating 35-33 double-overtime victory.
After a slow start, East Washington took a two touchdown lead, taking a 20-6 lead before the Rebels used a late rally to tie the game.
But soaking up the atmosphere with the bright lights of the Strip shining through the doors of the Lanai at the north end of the 61,000-seat, $ 2 billion venue, quarterback Eric Barriere threw touchdown passes in the first game of two overtime, with a score of 2 points. second round conversion providing the final margin.
“This is the first time that I’m really inside an NFL stadium, so just being in that atmosphere, just looking up and seeing the billboards really makes your blood shed “said Barriere.
“It definitely makes the excitement much better.”
Linebacker Ty Graham credited the team’s spring season for their late-game courage and ability to withstand the furious return of the UNLV.
“We had to learn to recover everything – body, mind – and prepare for this rapid turnaround in just three months,” Graham said. “Before the game you didn’t see a lot of falls. Today really showed. We have shown a lot of good talent and a lot of hard work in general. We were able to bond as a fellowship in the spring and I really think that has continued today. “
Barriere, who made 29 of 39 passing attempts for 374 yards and three touchdowns, said the excitement started when the Eagles learned they would have the chance to play inside Allegiant Stadium, also home of the Las Vegas Raiders.
But that wasn’t the only reason the energy was flowing through the locker room.
“We knew it was a chance to let the world know that Eastern Washington is a very good program and that we can compete with the FBS teams,” said Barriere.
Since 2008, the Eagles have traveled 12 times for non-conference games against FBS schools, staying primarily in the Pacific Northwest to face rivals in Washington state and Washington state three times each. The furthest the Eagles have come is Lubbock, TX to face Texas Tech, in 2008 and 2017. They played Reno vs. Nevada in 2010. They also played Oregon, Oregon State and Cal along the way.
Las Vegas was a very different scene. Scattered throughout the announced rally of 21,970 fans, there was a strong representation of EWU supporters.
Among the crowd was Shawn Taylor, father of senior All-American offensive lineman Tristen Taylor, proudly wearing a No.65 jersey with “EWU DAD” plastered across his back. Taylor, of northern California, said he attended every season opener and tried to attend every game during his son’s career. Although he had been to Las Vegas several times, this trip was a no-brainer since UNLV offered his son a scholarship five years ago.
He’s also convinced it won’t be the last time he sees his son set foot on NFL land.
” I believe in him. He’s my son and I believe in him, ”Taylor said. “And I think if he gets the chance he’ll do really well.”
EWU tennis player Zoey Nelson was in Las Vegas with boyfriend Kale Reichersamer and only realized the Eagles were playing UNLV before they arrived.
“We had kind of just come here on a whim and we realized, ‘Hey, Eastern is playing,’ said Nelson, a senior who was named to the Big Sky All-Academic spring squad. “The first thing we did when we got here was buy tickets. We said to ourselves: ‘Let’s go, we’re in it.’ “
The Eagles open the home game of their schedule on September 11 against Central Washington.
WG Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez