Two Eastern Washington football games have come down to the final, dramatic plays this season.
In both moment s, it was the Eagles’ defense on the field.
And in both moments, Ely Doyle was there to make a play.
“He’s really a difference maker,” Doyle’s teammate, senior Ty Graham, said Monday. ‘He’s gone from being a pretty good safety in the Big Sky to being an elite safety in the Big Sky.”
The fourth-ranked Eagles (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Sky) boast the top offense in the nation – which, at 613 yards per game, has gained 53 more per contest than the second-best offense by that metric, Presbyterian – and they are led by a quarterback, Eric Barriere, who has the fourth-best passing efficiency rating in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But their defense, led by the senior trio of Calin Criner, Jack Sendelbach and Ty Graham has been solid. And in big moments, like at the end of the UNLV game in the season opener and on the last play of the Montana game on Saturday, the defense has held.
“When we watched that Montana game, Montana is a really good, well-coached football team,” said Ed McCaffrey, coach of Northern Colorado (2-3, 1-1), Eastern Washington’s opponent on Saturday .
“They took it to them a little bit, and that was an impressive win for their program,” McCaffrey said, “but that defense has talent. They were flying around and making plays all over the place. Don’t sleep on their defense. They’re really good.”
Just ‘bat the ball down’
Leading by two points, 35-33, in the second overtime, the Eagles defense lined up against a Rebels offense in need of one more two-point conversion to extend the game.
As Doug Brumfield scanned the field, he saw Zyell Griffen come across the middle at the 2-yard line, Eagles cornerback Tre Weed a step behind.
When Brumfield threw the ball, Doyle – a redshirt sophomore making just his second start with the Eagles – was five yards into the end zone. Moments later, Doyle met Griffen at the goal line, stopped his progress and brought him down short of the end zone.
“Right when (Brumfield) raised his hand to throw the ball, I broke on the receiver and came downhill,” Doyle said.
Graham was a few yards away when it happened.
“A lot of people cannot do what that kid did,” he said. “He shot out like a cannon. There was so much raw natural talent that exploded out of him on a 5-second play.”
That was on display again last weekend, when Montana quarterback Kris Brown threw from the 25-yard line to the end zone, looking for 6-foot-4 tight end Cole Grossman, his team trailing by 6 and no time left on the clock.
When Graham watched the film of the play the next day, he realized that Grossman had the ball in his hands.
“That really could’ve been it,” Graham said.
But there again was the 6-foot-1 Doyle, who along with Graham crunched Grossman, who lost his grip on the football. It fell to the ground, and the Eagles celebrated their 19th consecutive home victory.
“I went up, and I just tried my best to bat the ball down,” Doyle said. “It was amazing, the ending. That was the best game I’ve been a part of in college football. That was very big for us.”
Doyle is ‘dialed in’ at Eastern
Doyle, who grew up in Southern California, first committed to Arizona State out of Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills.
Bishop Alemany is the same school current Eagles receiver Johnny Edwards IV attended. It is also where Vernon Adams Jr. played high school ball, and it was where his best friend, Chris Ojoh, went as well.
Out of high school, Ojoh chose Eastern Washington, and he played for the Eagles as a true freshman in the fall of 2017. He finished with 105 tackles the following season and redshirted in 2019 after an injury ended his season after three games.
Doyle, a year younger than Ojoh, played in five games for the Sun Devils in 2019 but then decided to transfer.
Doyle reached out to Ojoh to talk about Eastern Washington, and Doyle sent film to the Eagles’ coaches.
“(Ojoh) took me around on a visit. The coaches made it feel like home,” Doyle said. “It was a great fit, and I appreciate coach (Aaron) Best for giving me an opportunity.”
They played three games together last spring, but that marked the end of their reunion on the football field. Midseason, Ojoh entered the transfer portal and eventually ended up at New Mexico State.
This season at New Mexico State, an FBS independent, Ojoh ranks second on the team with 32 tackles and leads the team in tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (four).
Doyle played in six games last spring, starting once, and finished with 36 tackles. He said he likes Cheney because there is nothing else in his orbit besides school and football. In short, Doyle said, at Eastern, “I’ve been more dialed in.”
Doyle gave a lot of credit to Criner, the other starting safety, as well as the linebackers Graham and Sendelbach, for bringing together the defense this year and for helping him improve as a safety.
Graham said he has seen Doyle make big strides, noting that Doyle is just 11 games into his career at Eastern.
“He’s a very gifted football player,” Graham said. “He has a great nose for the football. He’s tough. He’s fast. He’s just a ballhawk at the end of the day. I think in the spring with him and the playbook, there were a few mental lapses, but you really saw him develop last summer. Maturity-wise, he is approaching things as a pro.”
Doyle said much the same as far as his grasp of the playbook, and that over the summer he took advantage of the time to watch more film and to understand the defense more thoroughly.
“I’m trying to be that impact player on the defense,” Doyle said.
Through five games this fall, Doyle ranks fourth on the team in tackles (26) and has three pass breakups.
He was also in on those two game-ending plays – the kind of plays Doyle said he can’t wait to make more of.
“Our whole defense, it’s all coming into one,” Doyle said. “That’s what makes our defense stand out. When we have all our pieces (come) together, we’ll be elite.”