With the game finally just around the corner, here are 10 players to keep on eye on. They will play a critical role in their team's success and the outcome of this game.
[divider]EWU VS. NDSU
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10. Cam Pedersen, NDSU K
With EWU’s high-flying offense, the Bison can’t miss any opportunities for points. NDSU’s senior kicker will need to be accurate when asked upon.
9. Ketner Kupp, EWU LB
It’s no secret a middle linebacker is going to have a busy day against NDSU. If the Bison could, they’d run A-gap power for 12 straight plays to score. Kupp is going to be key in forcing the NDSU running attack to go sideline to sideline instead down EWU’s throat.
8. Darrius Shepherd, NDSU WR
Shepherd has 57 receptions for 940 yards and seven touchdowns this year. No other Bison pass catcher has more than 20 catches or 365 receiving yards. If he doesn't have an impact on this game, NDSU’s offense becomes much less explosive.
7. Sam McPherson, EWU RB
While EWU quarterback Eric Barriere is super talented, the Eagles are in trouble if they have to pass more than 40 times this game. While it’ll be the offensive line’s job to create running lanes, McPherson needs to win 1-on-1 battles with defenders and earn those extra yards against a top defense in the FCS.
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6. Jalen Allison, NDSU CB
The Bison’s shutdown corner missed last year’s title game, so you can bet the senior is amped up for Saturday. Facing an explosive passing attack adds to that.
“It’s why you come here, you want to be challenged and go against the best," Allison told HERO Sports. "When we face a team that likes to throw it, that’s money for us."
5. Dylan Ledbetter, EWU DT
As of mid-day Thursday, it is still unknown if Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Jay-Tee Tiuli will play Saturday. The 320-pounder is crucial in EWU's run defense. Ledbetter, at 260 pounds, has played defensive tackle throughout this season but moved over to nose tackle in the semifinals when Tiuli was serving his suspension.
Ledbetter, whether Tiuli plays or not, is going to have to be strong up the middle against NDSU's rushing attack.
4. Beau Byus, EWU LT
Taryn Christion’s dual-threat abilities weren't on display for SDSU in the semifinals because he was constantly being harassed by the NDSU defensive line. Byus will have to contend with All-American defensive end Greg Menard to try and allow Barriere to get into a rhythm.
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3. Jabril Cox, NDSU LB
Cox is one of the most athletic linebackers in the FCS and he'll have a close eye on Barriere, one of the best athletes at the QB position. On passing situations, Cox is likely going to play a spy role on Barriere to make sure he doesn't use his legs to hurt the Bison defense.
2. Easton Stick, NDSU QB
Quarterbacks are obviously the biggest X-factor for every football team. Stick needs to be sharp like he has all season. Whether it’s using his legs like he did against SDSU or getting into an offensive shootout like he did against EWU in 2016, the Bison offense goes where Stick takes them.
1. Eric Barriere, EWU QB
This will be the biggest stage the sophomore quarterback has played on. While his play and demeanor on and off the field suggest he’s mature beyond his years, it’ll be key for Barriere not to get rattled. Christion was a fifth-year senior for the Jacks who’s played the Bison several times, and he was knocked off his game after taking big hits.
Barriere is going to need to be mistake-free and at his best to give the Eagles a shot at dethroning the Bison.
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