CHENEY, Wash. (AP) — This wasn’t the first time that Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere threw seven touchdowns in a game. Or even the second.
But both those were in high school.
Barriere threw seven touchdown passes as Eastern Washington beat Maine 50-19 in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs on Saturday, to advance to the national title game against powerhouse North Dakota State.
“This time is way better,” Barriere, who broke the FCS playoff record for touchdown passes in a game, said. “We’re going for a championship.”
The sophomore did not become a starter until midseason, when Gage Gubrud was lost to an injury. But he has improved quickly.
Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said he was “on Cloud 10” after the Eagles broke a three-game losing streak in semifinal playoff games.
“We were in control from the start,” Best said. “We made a statement on offense.’
“Maine didn’t play their A game today. We did.”
Nsimba Webster caught four touchdown passes, which tied the FCS playoff record, for third-seeded Eastern Washington (12-2), which was playing in the national semifinals for the fifth time in nine years. He had nine catches for 188 yards.
Barriere completed 21 of 30 passes for 352 yards and tied the school record for scoring passes in a game.
“I can’t believe he is the backup,” Maine coach Joe Harasymiak said.
Chris Ferguson threw for 325 yards for Maine (10-4), which was making its first appearance in the semifinals. But he also committed some key turnovers early.
“You can’t start that way early in the first quarter,” Harasymiak said. “They were the better team today. I’m proud of these seniors for taking us to a level we have never been to. We’ll be back.”
It was the ninth road game of the season for the seventh-seeded Black Bears of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Maine fell into a hole early.
Eastern’s Josh Lewis intercepted a Ferguson pass deep in Maine territory and was tackled on the 1-yard line. Barriere threw a touchdown pass to Andrew Boston for a 7-0 lead.
Ferguson fumbled near midfield on Maine’s next possession and Eastern recovered. Barriere threw a 3-yard pass to Jayce Gilder for a 14-0 lead.
Barriere’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Webster gave the Big Sky Conference tri-champions a 21-0 lead, still in the first quarter.
Barriere’s fourth touchdown pass, a 16-yarder to Webster late in the second quarter, made it 28-0 at halftime.
Maine finally scored on a safety in the opening seconds of the second half, when a bad snap sent the ball into the Eastern end zone and Barrierre kicked it out the back.
Eastern had to kick off and Maine got a 31-yard field goal from Kenny Doak.
Barriere replied with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Webster for a 35-5 lead.
Maine’s first touchdown came on a 47-yard pass from Ferguson to Andre Miller midway through the third.
Joe Fitzpatrick ran for a touchdown as Maine cut its deficit to 35-19 late in the third.
Barriere replied immediately with a 58-yard scoring pass to Webster, and the 2-point conversion was good, for a 43-19 lead at the end of three.
The Eagles played without Big Sky defensive player of the year Jay-Tee Tiuli, a lineman. Best said Tiuli was benched for a violation of team rules, but declined to provide details.
Maine: The Black Bears have the nation’s top run defense, allowing 68 yards a game, but could not stop the Eagles on the ground or in the air. The Bears can be excused a bit of jet lag after flying home 2,600 miles from a victory over Weber State in Ogden, Utah, last week and then flying 3,000 miles on Thursday to play the Eagles.
Eastern Washington: The Eagles won the national title in 2010, but have lost three times in the semifinals since, in 2012, 2013 and 2016, all at home. The Eagles average 538 yards and 44 points per game. The Eagles went 9-0 on the distinctive red turf of their home stadium this season.
Six quarterbacks threw six touchdown passes in a playoff game, including EWU’s Kyle Padron in 2012 and Vernon Adams in a week later. The last to do it was Dillon Buechel of Duquesne in 2015. ... Webster became the third player with four TD receptions, joining Tony DiMaggio of Rhode Island and Randy Moss of Marshall.
Maine had 47 sacks in its first 13 games, but none against Eastern Washington.
Maine’s defense is known as the Black Hole, but the Black Bears gave up their most points of the season against the Eagles.
Maine’s season is over.
Eastern Washington advanced to the national championship game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, against North Dakota State (14-0). The Bison seek their seventh national title in the past eight years.