Rankings and Seedings Aside, Eagles Settle Debate on the Field

Ranked No. 1 but seeded fifth, Eastern hosts Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 4 as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs begin 

Click here for a complete .pdf version of this week's release  


Eastern Washington Univ. "Eagles"
versus
Southeast Missouri State University "Redhawks"

Saturday, December 4 • 1:05 p.m. Pacific
Roos Field (8,600/Sprinturf) • Cheney, Wash.

EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington '96)
School Record: 23-11/18-6 Big Sky (3rd Season)
Career Record: 33-14 (4th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009)
2010: 9-2/7-1 Big Sky Conference (co-champions)
Last Game:  EWU 34, Idaho State 7 (Nov. 20 in Cheney, Wash.)
TV: None locally.
Radio: 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 20th season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen.
Internet Radio: www.espnnorthwest.com
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays, 6 p.m. at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. . . 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" in Spokane and www.espnnorthwest.com
Webcast: www.ncaa.com


Regardless of the debate over rankings and seedings, the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision determines its national championship the right way -- with a playoff.

Eastern Washington University’s quest for a long playoff run begins this week when the No. 1 ranked and fifth-seeded Eagles host Southeast Missouri on Dec. 4 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern will be making its eighth FCS Playoff appearance while the Redhawks are making their first. It will be the first meeting between the two schools.

“We’re the fifth seed -- so we’re not the No. 1 team in the country,” explained Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “That’s where we stand and we have a little chip on our shoulder because there are still four teams ahead of us. Don’t get me wrong -- we’re excited about it and it’s an honor for our team to be ranked first in the country. But at this level it’s all about seeding and finding a champion through a true tournament rather than the polls.”

The game will not be televised locally, but will be available via webcast at www.ncaa.org. The radio broadcast of the game, featuring play-by-play announcer Larry Weir, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" and via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com.

Following a 9-2 finish in the regular season and co-championship in the Big Sky Conference with a 7-1 mark, the Eagles were rewarded with a No. 1 ranking in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. An hour after that poll was released, the FCS selection committee gave Eastern a No. 5 seed and a first-round bye.

Southeast Missouri, featuring 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back Henry Harris, was ranked ninth in the final regular season Sports Network poll. The Redhawks were only 2-9 a year ago, but finished the regular season 9-2 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference title with a 7-1 record. The school, located in Cape Girardeau, Mo., lost its season opener 27-10 to Ball State and its final game 29-27 to eighth-ranked Jacksonville State on Nov. 13.

“They really grind it in terms of how they run the football,” said Baldwin of the third-best rushing offense in FCS (271.1 yards per game). “They don’t turn it over and they find ways to force turnovers. They haven’t given up more than 29 points in any game and in close games they find ways to be on top at the end. They have a workmanlike attitude to their approach and style of play. They aren’t going to do anything to beat themselves, they stay patient and they find a way to be the better team in the fourth quarter and win.”

This week’s game will be a stellar match-up between a pair of Walter Payton Award candidates -- Harris and EWU junior Taiwan Jones. Harris leads FCS in all-purpose yards (219.8 per game), and the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jones is right behind (195.1 per game). Harris is second nationally in rushing (147.9) and has 18 total touchdowns; Jones is fourth in rushing (134.4) and has 14 total TDs.

A major difference in the two backs are the amount of touches -- Harris averages 25.9 rushes per game and 5.7 yards per carry, and Jones averages 17.6 carries and 7.6 per carry. Including receiving and returns, Harris has touched the ball 328 times (7.4 per play) and Jones has had the ball in his hands on 213 occasions (9.2 per play).

“He’s a very good running back -- he’s not huge but he runs tough and he gets a lot of carries,” said Baldwin of Harris. “He can carry the load and he’s also able to break a big one on you. He’s the whole package. He runs with a lot of physicality for a smaller back.”

If the Eagles win their opener and advance to the quarterfinals, they may end up playing at fourth-seeded Montana State, which was the last team to defeat Eastern, 30-7 on Sept. 25 in Bozeman, Mont. Montana, after 17-straight years of appearances in the playoffs, was not in the 2010 field. The Grizzlies were the 2009 FCS runner-up.

The Eagles wrapped-up a 9-2 finish by defeating Idaho State 34-7 Nov. 20 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., and earning a share of the Big Sky Conference title with Montana State. It was EWU’s fifth Big Sky title, having also won in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005.

With seven-straight victories, the Eagles ended the regular season with the fourth-longest winning streak in FCS and best among the 20 playoff teams (Lehigh has now won eight in a row after a first-round playoff victory). Eastern has out-scored its last seven opponents 234-138.

This year’s squad has surpassed the 1997 team -- which was sixth to end the regular season and fourth after the FCS Playoffs -- for the school’s highest ranking ever. That squad won a pair of playoff games to advance to the semifinals and finish 12-2.

But Eastern hasn’t overwhelmed opponents this season. Seven of Eastern’s nine wins this year have come by an average of just under seven points per game, including five decided by seven points or less. Of those seven games, the Eagles have trailed or been tied in the fourth quarter of four of them, in one they trailed in the third quarter and in the other two they were scoreless in the final stanza.

Even Southeast Missouri has squeaked out wins this season. Of its nine wins, four were by seven points or less.

“We found ways to win close games and grind out victories,” said Baldwin. “A lot of the 20 teams in the playoffs did that same thing. We’re riding a seven-game winning streak and our players have earned that. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished this season.”

 

Tickets: Tickets for the game are now available via TicketsWest.com and 1-800-325-7328. Links will also be available via www.goeags.com (http://goeags.com/tickets/ewas-fbticketcentral.html). Prices range from $10-20, and RV/tailgating passes and 2011 season tickets are also available. Current season ticket holders have until Dec. 2 to purchase their playoff tickets, and after that those seats will be available for the general public to purchase.

The Associated Students of Eastern Washington University (ASEWU) will be subsidizing discounted tickets for Eastern students with valid and up-to-date identification cards. Cost will be $2 per ticket for the first 1,000 students and may be purchased at the customer service desk at the EWU Bookstore or the Athletic Ticket Office at Reese Court (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). After the first 1,000 tickets are distributed, student tickets are $5 each.

Ticket information is also available by calling 509-359-4339.

 

Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show: Eastern Washington University football fans are invited to view weekly video and hear commentary from Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at Northern Quest Resort and Casino near the Spokane airport. The sessions, which include giveaways and other special guests, take place each Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant. Baldwin will show video from the previous game and provide commentary prior to his appearance on the Eagle Coaches Show at 6 p.m., live from the "Q" at Northern Quest. Both events will take place in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant.  Fans will be able to order food and beverages and listen to the show from that location, as well as watch Monday Night Football and other sporting events. The show is aired on 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket” and via the internet at www.espnnorthwest.com. For more information on the show and directions to Northern Quest, go to: http://goeags.com/genrel/releases/10atOct15

 

Interactive NCAA Tournament Bracket: http://www.ncaa.com/brackets/2010/ncaa_bracket_FCS_football.html

 

PDF Link to Fact Book: The complete version of the 2010 EWU football fact book may be found at:
http://goeags.com/trads/ewas-factbooks.html.

 

More Eagle Football Links and Headlines:
EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
Big Sky Conference Football - http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=football&path=football
Spokane Spokesman-Review EWU Football Page - http://www.spokesman.com/sections/eagles
The Sports Network (FCS Football) - http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=cfoot2/indexpic.htm
NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/index.php?s=&url_channel_id=36&change_well_id=1
NCAA Statistics - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2010
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
Championship Subdivision News - http://www.championshipsubdivisionnews.com

RECENT EWU FOOTBALL HEADLINES:
November 23, 2010 - Sherritt & Jones are Big Sky Players of the Year
November 22, 2010 - Sherritt Earns Big Sky POW Award for Third Time This Season
November 21, 2010 - Top-Ranked Eastern Receives No. 5 Seed and Will Host Southeast Missouri State Dec. 4
November 20, 2010 - Eagles Secure Share of Big Sky Title!
November 15, 2010 - Hoffman Big Sky POW as Eagles Garner Highest Ranking Ever
November 13, 2010 - No. 5 Eastern Makes Plays Late - Again - to Defeat Southern Utah 31-24
November 12, 2010 - Q and A: Football Player Matt Martin
November 11, 2010 - Seniors Honored as October Scholar-Athletes of the Month
November 4, 2010 - Minnerly, Sherritt Selected District VIII All-Academic
November 1, 2010 - Eagles Leap to No. 6 in Rankings as Jones Earns Honors
October 30, 2010 - Jones Propels No. 8 Eagles to 50-17 Win Over Vikings
October 25, 2010 - Matt Johnson Big Sky Player of the Week Again
October 23, 2010 - No. 8 Eagles Squeak Out a 28-24 Win Over Sac State
October 18, 2010 - Thanks to Key Plays, Sherritt Wins POW Honor Again
October 16, 2010 - No. 12 Eagles Score Twice in the Last 3:08 to Beat Bears 35-28
October 11, 2010 - J.C. Sherritt Earns National & Big Sky Player of the Week Accolades
October 9, 2010 - No. 13 Eagles Survive for 21-14 Victory Over No. 26 Lumberjacks
October 7, 2010 - Q and A: Standout Football Player J.C. Sherritt
October 2, 2010 - No. 16 Eastern Surge Past Wildcats 35-24
September 25, 2010 - No. 17 Bobcats Romp Past No. 9 Eagles 30-7
September 20, 2010 - Taiwan Jones Wins National Accolades as Eagles Climb to No. 9
September 18, 2010 - Late Scores Lift No. 18 Eagles Past No. 6 Grizzlies 36-27
September 16, 2010 - Q&A: Football Player Zach Johnson
September 15, 2010 - Pair of Events Help Inaugurate Red Turf
September 15, 2010 - Eagles Schedule Another Game Versus UW for 2014
September 13, 2010 - Red Turf Inaugurated as No. 18 Eastern hosts No. 6 Montana
September 11, 2010 - No. 17 Eagles Gear-Up for Red Turf Debut With 35-32 Victory
September 9, 2010 - Q and A: Football Coach Zak Hill
September 6, 2010 - Payton Award Candidate Wins First Award of 2010 Season
September 2, 2010 - Taiwan Jones Has Big Day, But Eastern Falls to Wolf Pack 49-24
September 1, 2010 - Eagles-Grizzlies Reserved Tickets Sell Out in 23 Minutes
August 27, 2010 - Eagles Open 2010 Season at Powerful Nevada
August 27, 2010 - Red Turf Gets Overwhelming Approval from Eagle Players
August 16, 2010 - Eagles 13th in The Sports Network Preseason Poll
August 13, 2010 - Red Turf is Exciting, But Eagles Have Lots of Work Ahead
August 3, 2010 - Red Sprinturf Arrives; Installation Probably Starts Wednesday
July 27, 2010 - Red Sprinturf Set to Arrive Aug. 3
July 26, 2010 - More Preseason Honors for Eagle Trio
July 21, 2010 - Buck Buchanan Watch List Includes Eastern J.C. Sherritt
July 20, 2010 - Eagles Picked to Finish Second Behind Grizzlies
July 19, 2010 - Sherritt is Big Sky’s Choice as Preseason Defensive POW
July 13, 2010 - Taiwan Jones on Walter Payton Watch List
June 28, 2010 - Eastern Games to Air on 700 ESPN The Ticket
June 12, 2010 - “Turfbreaking” Begins Excavation Work for Red Turf Project
June 5, 2010 - 2009-10 Awards Presented to Eastern Student-Athletes at “EeeWoos”
May 20, 2010 - With Addition of New Turf, a New Name for Eastern’s Football Field

 

PLAYOFF NOTES

A Second Bye Week: In what was essentially Eastern’s second bye week in a month, Baldwin had his team practice twice before taking three of the next four days off for Thanksgiving. The Eagles begin final game preparations on Monday (Nov. 29), but there was a lot for Beau Baldwin to talk with his team about prior to that.

 “You talk about the little things it’s going to take to win, and the fact playoff football is always a little tighter and you play in colder weather,” he said. “You keep re-emphasizing some of the things we have been concentrating on like turnovers and running the football. When the weather starts to go bad, you’re at the end of the year and you’re a little bit sore, you have a lot to work through. There are a lot of little factors that come into play when you hit playoff football. A lot of our veteran players have done a good job showing our younger players what it takes and what it’s all about late in the year. Our team is very mature in how they handle things, so I’m not concerned with how they are going to approach this. They are excited and will approach it very professionally.”

Southeast Missouri, by contrast, hasn’t played since Nov. 13.

 

On Pace for Attendance Record, Eagles Enjoy Home Field Advantage: A perfect 5-0 on the new red Sprinturf surface at the “Inferno,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin knows his team would rather be at home than on the road this week.

Eastern is on pace to set the single season attendance record, with a current average of 7,492 fans per game. Included was a Roos Field record crowd of 11,702 against Montana on Sept. 18. That crowd broke the previous school record of 11,583 set in a 2006 game versus the Grizzlies, helping the Eagles to an average of 7,116 fans per game that currently stands as the school record.

“We feel like we have a home field advantage this year, and our goal is to go undefeated at home,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We have our home fans who will be out here supporting us. And to be honest, it’s easier. We have all the factors that make playing at home a little bit smoother and a little bit cleaner. Going on the road is a tougher challenge -- we love that challenge and are excited for that when we have to -- but if you give anybody their choice they would rather play at home than on the road. It gives us the little advantages that come with it.”

 “Being able to play at home where you are used to your surroundings is important,” added Baldwin. “Playing at home is an advantage, but we know all 20 teams are very good no matter where you play.”

 

Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern will be making its eighth appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2010, ranking the Eagles among a select group of 25 schools with at least that many berths.

It is also the fifth berth in a seven-year span as EWU’s appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances until this year. Last year, the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round.

The only other five teams to have qualified five of the last seven years are Appalachian State (2005-06-07-08-09-10), Montana (2004-05-06-07-08-09), New Hampshire (2004-05-06-07-08-09-10), Richmond (2005-07-08-09-10) and Southern Illinois (2004-05-06-07-08-09).

Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-7 record in seven playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009). Only 17 teams have made more playoff appearances than the Eagles.

In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU’s first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.

Until 2004, Eastern hadn’t appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.

Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school’s only other postseason experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.

Here is a complete list of EWU’s playoff games (EWU received a first-round bye in 2010, the first year the playoffs were expanded to 20 teams):
2010 - Southeast Missouri State - (Second Round/Cheney)
2009 - at Stephen F. Austin - L, 33-44 (First Round)
2007 - at Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)

 

More About SEMO: Southeast Missouri head coach Tony Samuel was named Coach of the Year and senior running back Henry Harris was named Offensive Player of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference, the league announced Nov. 23. Southeast had a total of 10 players receive all-conference recognition, including eight with first team honors. The eight first team selections for the Redhawks are the most in a season in school history.

Samuel led the Redhawks to an overall record of 9-2 and 7-1 in the OVC during his fifth year at Southeast. Samuel is the third coach to win the OVC Coach of the Year Award at Southeast and first since Tim Billings accomplished the feat in 2002.

Southeast, which finished the regular-season ranked ninth in the The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll and eighth in the coaches poll, clinched its first-ever OVC title and NCAA Playoff berth. The Redhawks also went undefeated at home (5-0) and reeled off nine-straight wins after their loss to Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Ball State on Sept. 2.

Southeast posted its first winning season since 2002 and third winning season since joining the NCAA Division I ranks in 1991. After finishing 2-9 last season, the Redhawks have recorded a 7.0-game improvement which ties for the fourth-best turnaround in FCS history (since 1978).

Harris, a Walter Payton Award candidate, rushed for 1,627 yards and 17 touchdowns on 285 carries in 11 starts this season. He ran for over 100 yards nine times and finished with a FCS single-game high 293 yards vs. Southwest Baptist on Nov. 6. A four-time OVC Offensive Player of the Week, Harris broke Southeast's single-season records in rushing yards, all-purpose yards (2,418), rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns (18).

Harris enters the postseason ranked first in the nation in all-purpose yardage (219.8 ypg), second in rushing (147.9 ypg) and fourth in scoring (9.82 ppg).

Harris, also a first team selection, is Southeast's first OVC Offensive Player of the Year. Prior to this year, Doug Berg (DL) and Angel Rubio (DT) garnered OVC Defensive Player of the Year accolades in 1994 and 1997, respectively.

Quarterback Matt Scheible, who was named Preseason All-OVC, threw for 1,177 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 starts. He also ran the ball 155 times for 833 yards and seven touchdowns, and threw only one interception in 167 pass attempts. Scheible is the first Southeast quarterback to garner first team laurels.

Southeast Missouri’s offensive success this season came by way of an outstanding offensive line. Four linemen -- center Sean Middleton, guard Bryan Curry, guard Frank Knights and tackle Evan Conrad -- made the first team. This year marks only the second time in OVC history and first time since 1956 (Middle Tennessee) that one team had four first team offensive line selections.

Middleton, Knights, Curry and Conrad are part of a Redhawk offense which ranks nationally in sacks allowed (1st, 0.45/game), least yards penalized per game (1st, 31.7 ypg), third down conversion percentage (2nd, 49.7 percent), rushing (2nd, 271.9 ypg), fewest penalties (2nd, 4.09 per game) and fourth down conversion percentage (3rd, 73.3 percent).

 “They incorporate their quarterback in their run game too, and that makes it tricky,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “You have to defend a lot of different runs and they will do a lot of different things we haven’t seen. We have to be disciplined and read keys, and our front seven have to be really saavy in how they play. They can break some big runs on you and get you off-balance. They don’t throw the ball a lot, but they challenge the heck out of you in terms of what they bring to the table running the football.”

Defensive lineman J.J. Sanchez and defensive back Tylor Brock rounded out Southeast's first team picks. Sanchez, a Preseason All-OVC selection, registered 45 tackles in 11 starts. He ranks third on the team in sacks (2.0) and tackles for loss (6.0). Brock leads the OVC and ranks tied for 10th in the nation with six interceptions. He returned two of his picks for touchdowns. In addition, Brock posted 53 tackles and accumulated 174 interception return yards.

Linebackers Joshua Jackson and Justin Woodlief were Southeast's second team honorees. Jackson is the team’s leading tackler with 70 tackles, including 37 solo stops. He also has one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Meanwhile, Woodlief is tied for second on the team in tackles (64) and interceptions (4). He also has a team-high two forced fumbles and recorded double-digit tackles twice.

 

Turnovers a Key For Both Teams: Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin has continually preached the importance of turnover margin, and the Eastern defense has apparently taken it to heart.

The Eagles rank second nationally in interceptions (total of 20, ranking only behind the 21 of New Hampshire) and is third in turnovers gained (33). Eastern is now 19th nationally in turnover margin (.73 less turnovers per game than their opponents) after ranking sixth a year ago (1.25 less). However, the Eagles are 92nd out of 117 FCS schools this season in turnovers lost (25).

In the last two years, Eastern is 12-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. This year, the Eagles are 6-0 (8-0 including ties in turnovers with Sacramento State and Portland State) after going 6-0 a year ago when it won the turnover battle. In those 12 games, Eastern has had a 45-15 advantage in turnovers (23-11 this season and 22-4 last year).

Southeast Missouri is second in turnover margin in FCS (1.36 less per game), with rankings of sixth in turnovers lost (12), 14th in turnovers gained (27) and third in interceptions (19).

 

More About The Playoffs: This year’s field for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs includes 20 teams for the first time. The Northeast and Big South Conferences sent their regular-season champions to the postseason for the first time. Those two leagues join the Big Sky, Colonial, Southern, Southland, Patriot, Ohio Valley, MEAC, and Missouri Valley as leagues with automatic bids to the playoffs. Two conferences choose not to participate in the football championship, the Ivy League and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The other 10 bids go to at-large teams. Eight teams played first-round games on Saturday, Nov. 27. Twelve teams receive first-round byes, and play in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 4. The quarterfinals are Saturday, Dec. 11, with the semifinals the following week. Five teams are seeded, meaning they will play home games unless playing a higher-seeded team or if they did not meet the NCAA’s minimum guarantee to host.

Frisco, Texas, is the new host city for the 2010 NCAA Division I Football Championship game, which will played at Pizza Hut Park on Jan. 7, 2011. The 23,500-seat multi-purpose stadium will be the host site for the championship game for the next three years.

 

More Coach/Player Comments . . .

Head Coach BEAU BALDWIN

“It’s great to be No. 1, but it all comes down to proving where we are ranked in the polls. It’s a great achievement for our players and coaches, and you can’t be ranked any higher than that at the end of the regular season. You can make a lot of arguments about which teams should be seeded one through five, but we’re thankful we are in the playoffs and we have a home playoff game. We’re just excited about that.”

“Because we do it right at our level, we have a playoff to decide it. All 20 teams have an opportunity to win a national championship, and they all think they have a legitimate shot.”

 “It’s a good spot to be in to get a bye and be guaranteed a home game. That’s huge. But like everybody else, we’re excited to be in the playoffs and we all think we have a shot.”

“A lot of people have put in a lot a lot of time, effort and money to change and improve things here. And our players stepped it up a notch in January. We had a great season in 2009, and they all wanted to see what we could do in 2010. A lot of people thought it would be a rebuilding year, but our program took it on as a challenge. We have tried to accomplish more this year than we did in 2009. We have done that this season, but we can still prove it a lot more in the playoffs.”

 

Linebacker J.C. SHERRITT

“We’re just happy to still be playing. There are only 20 teams that get this shot. We’re excited to play another game, and getting a bye just makes it better. This is the first time I can be part of playing a playoff game at home, and we get to play it on our new red field.”

“They have the same record as we do, so we know they are going to be a great team. In the playoffs you go against good opponents regardless -- we know that from past history.”

“It’s really cool for the program to be No. 1. The best part about the playoffs is that in our division you get to find out the rankings on the field. We’ll find out if we really are No. 1 or not.”

 

Defensive Tackle TYLER JOLLEY

“It feels really good. I haven’t been part of a team to win a Big Sky Conference title until now -- this was four years in the making. It’s exciting.”

“Our senior class has played across the country in the playoffs before. But it’s nice to play at home and have another team have to come to our house.”

“I’m super proud of what this team has accomplished -- I couldn’t be happier. A lot of new players and a lot of young players have stepped up for us this year.”

“We had a bye week a few weeks ago, and we came back from that healthy and flying around. Hopefully we’ll do that again. It’s nice to be able to relax (on Thanksgiving) and then come back and get back to work.”

“It’s pretty nice to get the No. 1 ranking. But it doesn’t mean anything unless we go out and prove it.”

 

Running Back TAIWAN JONES

“This feels good and we’re excited about being in the playoffs. We haven’t been in this position before with a home game, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”

“Regardless of who we play and where we play, we have to win four games to win the national championship. We have a lot to prove and that’s what we have to go out and do. We have the home field advantage and we have received good support from our fans this season.”

“We’re peaking and are playing our best football. But we still make a lot of mistakes, so we have to watch film and keeping on working hard to improve. We hope we can keep getting better each week.”

“It will definitely help a lot having a week off. We have a lot of aches and bruises that need to heal. Having the week off will help.”

 

GAME NOTES

Seniors Honored Before ISU Game: A total of 14 seniors, including seven four-year letter winners, were honored in pre-game ceremonies before the Idaho State game on Nov. 20. In the last four seasons, Eastern has gone 32-15 with a 24-8 record in Big Sky Conference games in that span, but the class didn’t win a Big Sky Conference title until this season. Of the seven four-year letter winners, Ashton Gant, J.C. Sherritt, Dante Calcote, Will Edge, Tyler Jolley and Matt Martin all redshirted the 2006 season after graduating from high school earlier that year. Only Jesse Hoffman, who redshirted in 2007, played as a true freshman in 2006 when Eastern finished 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the league. Eastern has had winning seasons ever since. Seven of the seniors have been full-time starters in the 2010 season. Here is a complete list of the seniors and the number of letters each has won (including this season; #indicates 2010 starter):
2 - #Ashton Gant - WR - 5-10 - 180 - Sr. - 4L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)
4 - #J.C. Sherritt - LB - 5-10 - 220 - Sr. - 4L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)
18 - Jason Harris - TE - 6-1 - 215 - Sr. - 2L* - Sammamish, Wash. (Skyline HS ’06)
21 - #Jesse Hoffman - DB - 6-2 - 210 - Sr. - 4L* - Seattle, Wash. (Shorecrest HS ’06)
23 - Ethen Robinson - DB - 5-10 - 200 - Sr. - 1L* - Spokane, Wash. (Lewis & Clark HS ’06)
28 - #Dante Calcote - DB - 5-8 - 160 - Sr. - 4L* - Seattle, Wash. (Renton HS ’06)
36 - Will Edge - DB - 6-0 - 180 - Sr. - 4L* - Tacoma, Wash. (Mount Tahoma HS ’06)
45 - Cameron Zuber - P - 6-0 - 180 - Sr. - 2L* - Chehalis, Wash. (W.F. West HS ’06)
49 - #Tyler Jolley - DL - 6-3 - 285 - Sr. - 4L* - Nine Mile Falls, Wash. (East Valley HS ’06)
58 - Clint Moquist - OL - 6-3 - 280 - Sr. - 2L* - Spokane, Wash. (University HS ’06)
63 - Levi Reynolds - DL - 6-3 - 295 - Sr. - SQ* - Tacoma, Wash. (Foss HS ’06)
72 - #Nikolai Myers - OL - 6-4 - 295 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Ingraham HS ’06)
79 - Brice Leahy - OL - 6-7 - 295 - Sr. - 3L* - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS ’06)
82 - #Matt Martin - TE - 6-2 - 240 - Sr. - 4L* - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS ’06)

 

Ranking and Record Has 1997 Feel: The Eagles steadily climbed up the ladder in the Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, eventually finishing the regular season as the No. 1 team. The Eagles eclipsed the previous highest rankings ever by Eastern set in 1997 when that team was sixth in the regular season and finished fourth overall.

Eastern's 1997 team finished the regular season 10-1 and ranked a best-ever sixth, then received a No. 3 seed into the playoffs. The lone loss in the regular season for EWU was 17-7 at Montana State, the same school that defeated Eastern 30-7 earlier this season in Bozeman.

The 1997 team went on to win two playoff games before falling to eventual champion Youngstown State 25-14 in the semifinals. That EWU squad, coached by Mike Kramer and led by Big Sky Conference Players of the Year Harry Leons (offense) and Chris Scott (defense), finished the season 12-2 and ranked fourth in the final poll following the playoffs.

The Sagarin computer rankings have illustrated the league’s strength thus far, with the Big Sky the top-rated FCS conference in the country for two weeks earlier this season (the Colonial is now first followed by the Southern and the Big Sky). Nevada, a team Eastern lost to 49-24 on Sept. 2, is 18th nationally among all FCS and FBS schools, while Eastern is 79th to rank fifth among all FCS schools. Other 2010 Eagle opponents and their FCS/overall rankings include Montana State (ninth/89th), Sacramento State (10th/94th), Northern Arizona (15th/104th), Montana (23rd/119th), Weber State (27th/127th), Southern Utah (28th/128th), Southeast Missouri State (30th/130th), Portland State (59th/172nd), Northern Colorado (68th/185th) and Idaho State (92nd/211th).

Eastern’s 9-2 record overall thus far is its best record since winning the Big Sky Conference title in 1997 as the Eagles were the last team other than Montana to win the league title outright. Eastern’s 7-1 league mark equals its best league finish ever. Eastern finished the 1997 regular season 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the league before advancing to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. Eastern was 6-1 in the league and 8-3 in the regular season in 2004 when EWU advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

 

Eastern 5-0 at the “Inferno”: Now 5-0 at home this season, the Eagles are trying to become the first Eastern team to go undefeated at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) since 1999 when EWU was 4-0. But it hasn’t been easy -- in one game the Eagles trailed in the fourth quarter (Sacramento State), in two they were tied in the final stanza (Montana and Southern Utah) and in the other game the Eagles were scoreless in the fourth (Northern Arizona).

Other years Eastern has been unbeaten at its current stadium site in Cheney came in 1997 (6-0), 1979 (5-0), 1974 (3-0) and 1967 (4-0). The 1985 team was 4-0 and the 1984 squad was 5-0 when all of EWU’s home games were played at Albi Stadium in Spokane. In 1982, Eastern was 5-0 at home -- 3-0 in Cheney and 2-0 in Spokane. In 1966, the year before Roos Field opened for the first time, Eastern was 4-0-1 at Albi.

Eastern had a successful debut on its new red synthetic Sprinturf surface Sept. 18 in Cheney, Wash., defeating rival Montana 36-27 in the first game at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett, then added a fumble return for a touchdown on the final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game against the 12-time defending league champions.

Eastern followed that with a 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona three weeks later on Oct. 9, needing a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to hold-off the Lumberjacks. The Eagles had five turnovers in the game and NAU had 30 more offensive plays and a 10-minute edge in time of possession, but EWU stopped NAU three times on downs in its final three possessions of the game. Those drives ended at the Eastern 36, 3 and 38 yard lines, with 17:45, 11:33 and 3:37 left in the game.

The third victory was just as suspenseful, as Eastern led 21-0 early in the second quarter against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but was out-scored 24-0 to fall behind mid-way through the fourth quarter. But the Eagles responded with a key defensive stop that was highlighted by a third down sack by sophomore defensive end Paul Ena followed by a 35-yard scoring drive that was capped by a Brandon Kaufman 6-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell with 33 seconds to play.

The fourth win was also a great escape, this time by a 31-24 score over Southern Utah on Nov. 13. Eastern was out-gained in total offense 484-366, and was shredded for 434 passing yards. But Eastern survived to win thanks to a pair of scoring plays of at least 62 yards, two huge touchdown catches by Brandon Kaufman, two interceptions in the last six minutes by Jesse Hoffman and a 4-1 advantage in the turnover department. Kaufman scored the winning points with 3:39 to play.

Finally, the Eagles had a breather against Idaho State in a 34-7 win. Tied at seven early in the second quarter, Eastern scored three touchdowns in the last 12:01 of the quarter -- all on touchdown passes from Bo Levi Mitchell. The Eagles led 28-7 at halftime and added a pair of field goals in the second half while holding the Bengals scoreless.

 “It’s only the beginning, but we’re very happy to have it,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of its home-field advantage. “It’s something that our players have really grabbed onto as their own. It’s their home and they take pride in it.”

Eagles Play Nine of 11 Games on Synthetic Turf: With the addition of its own red Sprinturf surface this fall, Eastern will play all but two games on synthetic turf this fall. The only games on grass were against Weber State on Oct. 2 and Northern Colorado on Oct. 16.

“We’re going to practice on it every day we can,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We’ll be on turf more than we ever have before we play a turf game. It will be an advantage when we get the chance to practice it on it all week heading into a game on turf.”

 

Eastern Debuts: Besides quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, just four other players made their starting debuts as Eagles in Eastern’s opener against Nevada. The three players on offense were freshman redshirts Steven Forgette at left guard and Brandon Murphy at right tackle, as well as junior running back Darriell Beaumonte. On defense, sophomore Jeff Minnerly made his starting debut as a free safety after playing the last two seasons as a quarterback.

Five more players made starting debuts in Eastern’s next game against Central Washington on Sept. 11 -- freshman Anthony Larry at defensive end, sophomore Will Post at right tackle, sophomore Artise Gauldin at cornerback, freshman redshirt Zack Gehring at tight end and Nick Gauthier at quarterback. Gauldin had a memorable starting debut for the Eagles with a sack, a forced fumble and nine total tackles. His forced fumble came following an Eastern punt as he timed his hit on the punt returner perfectly, and the fumble was recovered by EWU snapper Jake Potter at the CWU 12-yard line and led to an Eagle touchdown.

The lone starting debut in the Montana game was by sophomore Josh Antonson at fullback. Normally an offensive lineman, Antonson filled in for injured senior tight end/fullback Jason Harris (concussion). There were no new starters against Montana State, but David Gaylord made the first start of his career against Weber State at defensive end. Paul Ena also started at the other defensive end -- his starting debut at that position after starting a pair of games at middle linebacker to end the 2009 season.

True freshman Ryan Seto started as EWU’s second tight end against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. He later had his first career touchdown, a 9-yard catch in the third quarter that turned out to be EWU’s final points in the 21-14 win.

Jerry Ceja, a sophomore from Aurora, Colo., made the first start of his career at Northern Colorado on Oct. 16. He had the team’s defensive play of the game, forcing a fumble on a sack late in the game that led to EWU’s winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play. Earlier in the season, he had a forced fumble on a sack on the final play of the game that was returned for a score and secured EWU’s 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies.

More recently, senior walk-on Clint Moquist started at right guard for the Eagles as an injury replacement against Sacramento State on Oct. 23. The 2006 graduate of University High School in Spokane, Wash., was selected as the team’s offensive player of the game for his efforts. And against Southern Utah on Nov. 13, freshman redshirt Allen Brown started at safety and had five tackles. True freshman Mario Brown started versus Idaho State on Nov. 20, and finished the game with 51 rushing yards on 11 carries and caught three passes for 24 yards.

Several redshirt freshmen made their first EWU game appearances at Nevada. All but two true freshman are redshirting, as Brown had four rushes for 18 yards and a kickoff return for 20 yards in his debut versus Nevada. In two fall scrimmages, he rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries. The only other true freshman currently playing is Seto.

A total of 24 players with starting experience (total of 196 starts) returned for the 2010 season. Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2010 roster:

Defense (233 starts by 21 players): Matt Johnson 34, J.C. Sherritt 31, Tyler Jolley 27, Renard Williams 25, Zach Johnson 22, Tyler Washburn 15, Dante Calcote 14, Evan Cook 13, Jesse Hoffman 12, Jeff Minnerly 9, David Miles 8, Paul Ena 9, Jerry Ceja 3, David Gaylord 3, Anthony Larry 2, Will Edge 2, Allen Brown 1, Artise Gauldin 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Grant Williams 1 (includes one start on offense in 2009).

Offense (205 starts by 21 players): Chris Powers 23, Nikolai Myers 22, Gabriel Jackson 22, Nicholas Edwards 22, Taiwan Jones 20 (includes four on defense in 2008), Matt Martin 16, Brandon Kaufman 16, Brice Leahy 12, Steven Forgette 10, Bo Levi Mitchell 10, Will Post 9, Ashton Gant 7, Zack Gehring 4, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 2, Clint Moquist 2, Brandon Murphy 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Josh Antonson 1, Ryan Seto 1, Mario Brown 1.

 

Injury Report: Eastern held out three players from the Idaho State game -- Darriell Beaumonte (ankle), Domonic Shepperd (concussion) and Anthony Larry (knee). Nose tackle Tyler Jolley (concussion) and tight end Ryan Seto (shoulder) missed the Portland State game, and the bye week was a big help in resting those players -- and others for EWU's stretch run. Seto missed four-straight games after suffering his injury against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 in the first start of his career.

A pair of Eagles missed Eastern’s game against Sacramento State after suffering injuries versus Northern Colorado -- starting guard Nikolai Myers (groin/hamstring) and defensive lineman Evan Cook (ankle). Myers returned to start against Portland State, but Cook is lost for the season. With his season over, he had shoulder surgery right away after previously planning to delay that until the end of the year.

Backup offensive tackle Caleb Worthington (knee) missed games against Northern Colorado and Sacramento State after suffering his injury against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. Prior to that, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound freshman redshirt was seeing significant action behind starter Gabriel Jackson at left tackle in recent games while Jackson continues to nurse an ailing neck.

Running back Taiwan Jones had a difficult time staying healthy early in the season, and Eastern is hoping the old Timex adage proves to be true -- “it takes a licking, but keeps on ticking.” Jones had 24 total touches against Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 -- including 21 rushes for 168 yards and three touchdowns -- after suffering back and hip spasms late in EWU’s win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. He was held out of EWU’s game at Weber State because of pain from a pelvic contusion suffered in Eastern’s 30-7 loss against Montana State on Sept. 25. After just one touch in the second half on a rushing attempt midway through the third quarter, he finally departed the MSU game for good. Two games earlier, Jones sat out the final 11:39 of the game versus CWU after getting tackled during a 65-yard drive that ended when EWU came up empty on a fake field goal attempt. What was originally thought to be a minor concussion was actually dehydration from the game and being sick earlier in the day.

Freshman defensive end Anthony Larry, who made his first career start against Central Washington but suffered a dislocated patella early in the game, missed three games. He was expected to be back for the Weber State game, but his knee continued to build up fluid and needed to be drained. He returned to play limited snaps against Northern Arizona.

A trio of safeties -- all returning letter winners -- missed Eastern’s first five games, including Billy Lechtenburg (high ankle sprain), Ethen Robinson (knee) and Domonic Shepperd (knee). Shepperd returned to play against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, while Lechtenburg, who played as a true freshman in 2009, will redshirt and Robinson isn’t expected to return.

Reserve tight end and fullback Jason Harris suffered a concussion against Nevada is not expected to play the remainder of the season. Backup running back Chase King, whose knee injury in the preseason turned out to be an injured anterior cruciate ligament, is also expected to be lost for the season with probable surgery.

Players who didn’t take part in spring practices because of injuries include Matt Johnson (shoulder), Robinson (shoulder), Jakob Pugsley (knee) and Jakob Scott (collarbone). All-American Taiwan Jones, who had surgery in December to repair a sports hernia, saw limited action in the spring as he continued to build strength from injuries to both shoulders and a hand during his debut as a running back in 2009. Johnson and Zach Gehring (shoulder) also had surgeries following the season.

 

2010 HONORS

Sherritt & Jones Big Sky Players of the Year: With seasons that defined Eastern Washington University’s football success on both sides of the ball, senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt and junior running back Taiwan Jones have been selected as Big Sky Conference Players of the Year in voting by the league’s nine head coaches, it was announced on Nov. 23.

It was the third time since 1997 that Eastern players have been honored with both player of the year honors in the same year.  Quarterback Harry Leons and defensive tackle Chris Scott were honored in 1997, and quarterback Erik Meyer and linebacker Joey Cwik won in 2005.

Eastern players have now earned the offensive award eight times -- including seven of the last 10 seasons since 2000 -- and five have been honored on defense.

“They worked hard for those two honors,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Individual honors are in direct relation to your team’s success and the players around them. Even though they honored J.C. and Taiwan as players of the year, they would be the first to say that in a way, those are still team honors. Everybody is excited for those two players.”

Both players were among the seven Eagles who earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors, including junior defensive tackle Renard Williams, who also earned first team accolades as a sophomore. The others were sophomore wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, junior center Chris Powers, junior safety Matt Johnson and junior special teams standout Darriell Beaumonte.

Johnson’s twin brother, linebacker Zach Johnson, was among the trio of second team selections. The others were junior offensive tackle Gabriel Jackson and senior cornerback Dante Calcote. Eastern’s 12 honorable mention selections included offensive guard Steven Forgette, senior wide receiver Ashton Gant, senior tight end Matt Martin, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, offensive guard Nikolai Myers, senior defensive tackle Tyler Jolley, sophomore safety Jeff Minnerly, senior punter Cameron Zuber and senior return specialist Jesse Hoffman.

A total of 19 players were honored. The Eagles continue their season in the NCAA Football Subdivision Playoffs on Dec. 4 when Eastern hosts Southeast Missouri State at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles will take a seven-game winning streak into that game.

“It’s amazing and well-deserved,” said Baldwin of having 19 players honored. “These players have worked hard all year, and a lot of time more players are honored when your team has success. All of these honors are a reflection of what the team did.”

Jones has 1,344 yards this season to rank as the fourth-best performance in school history, ahead of the 1,216 he had last season. He has recorded the 15th 1,000-yard rushing performance in school history this season, including 11 in the last 16 seasons (1995-2010).

Jones enters the NCAA FCS Playoffs with a string of five-straight 100-yard rushing performances, with a total of 778 yards (155.6 per game), an 8.3 average per rush and eight touchdowns in those five games. He now has 13 100-yard rushing performances in 22 career games as a running back, and seven this season. After rushing for 455 yards in his first three games, injuries limited him to 111 in the next two games he played (in addition to one game missed).

He now has an average of 134.4 yards per game that ranks fourth in the NCAA Championship Subdivision. After leading the nation in all-purpose yards per game for several weeks early in the year, Jones is currently second with an average of 195.1 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He is also 15th in scoring (8.49 per game with 14 total touchdowns).

Jones, who averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore, was named to the initial 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List this past summer by The Sports Network and is on the voting list. He’s lived up to that billing with a current average of 7.6 yards per rush to lead FCS (among the top 44 rushers averaging at least 75 yards per game), giving him a 7.6 average per rush in his career.

Sherritt is EWU’s leading tackler thus far with 125 for the season, an average of 11.36 per game that ranks 10th in FCS. Last season, the 2006 graduate of Pullman, Wash., High School led FCS with an average of just over 14 per game.

Sherritt is second in school history in career tackles with a total of 381, and the senior strong-side inside linebacker needs just 19 more to break the school record of 399 held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). Sherritt already holds school and league records with 170 tackles in the 2009 season and 24 tackles against Weber State on Oct. 10, 2009. He also has six career interceptions to go along with 11 passes broken up, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a pair of sacks, with a total of 31 1/2 tackles for loss totaling 72 yards in losses.

A year after finishing second in the voting, Sherritt was selected to the 20-player watch list for the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award awarded by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He is on the voting list for this year’s award.

Williams, who had nine sacks to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, had his first sack of the season against Weber State on Oct. 2. He added another versus Southern Utah on Nov. 13 and Idaho State on Nov. 20, and has 3 1/2 for the season.

He now has 14.5 in his career as he nears Eastern’s all-time leaders list. Currently 12th, with 15.5 sacks, is Brandon Moore (1999-02). Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, Williams has 95 tackles in his 34-game career, including 29 for losses totaling 167 yards.    

The Johnson twins have had big games for seven consecutive weeks. In those seven -- all victories -- they have combined for 119 tackles, four interceptions and eight passes broken up.

Matt now ranks fourth in school history in interceptions with 14, and he is now just four interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) with 17 each.

Matt now has 257 tackles in his career to move into ninth all-time at Eastern, and has had four interceptions this season to help Eastern rank second in FCS (20). So far this season, Zach is second on the team with 96 tackles and Matt is right behind with 73. Zach currently has 192 tackles in his 22-game career for an average of 8.7 per game compared to the 7.6 average for his brother (34 games).

Kaufman is proving to be Eastern’s go-to receiver, catching a team-leading 55 passes for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far. He has caught touchdown passes in nine of 11 games this season, including his last seven with a pair of fourth-quarter game-winners.

He ranks 20th in FCS in receiving yards per game (83.8), is 46th in receptions per game (5.00) and his 12 touchdown catches are the fourth-most in FCS. Kaufman has had 100-yard receiving performances against Montana on Sept. 18 (five catches for 119 yards), Weber State on Oct. 2 (five catches for 138 yards), Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 (five catches for 117 yards) and Southern Utah on Nov. 13 (nine catches for 192 yards).

Powers represents the 19th time an Eastern offensive lineman has earned All-Big Sky Conference honors in the last 18 years since 1993. Eastern currently ranks 20th in FCS in total offense (404.3 yards per game), as well as rankings of 22nd in passing (245.6), 46th in rushing (158.6) and 22nd in scoring (30.6). Three of his linemates -- Jackson, Myers and Forgette -- were also honored by the league this year.

Beaumonte was once a blocking fullback in Eastern’s offense, but now he’s doing a different kind of blocking. After leading 28-10 at intermission against Portland State on Oct. 30, the Eagles turned a blocked punt by Beaumonte into a recovery for a touchdown by T.J. Lee to increase the advantage to 18. He also had a huge special teams play in EWU’s 36-27 victory over Montana on Sept. 18 by blocking a punt that he returned himself six yards for a score to wipe out Montana’s last lead of the day. It was EWU’s first blocked punt returned for a TD since 2004.

Also a kickoff and punt coverage special teams standout, Beaumonte has been credited with 23 tackles in his career. He had three in 2008, eight in 2009 and 12 thus far in 2010.

A former quarterback, Minnerly had a team-high eight tackles in his starting debut as a safety versus Nevada on Sept. 2. He then had four tackles, a forced fumble and his first career interception in a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct 9. His other interception came on Oct. 23 versus Sacramento State.

Mitchell, a Southern Methodist University transfer, has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,583 yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 134.7. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 20th in passing offense (234.8 yards per game), 26th in total offense (239.0) and 25th in efficiency (134.7).

Martin is the only senior to have played in all 47 games for the Eagles in the past four seasons, helping the Eagles to a 32-15 record overall and 24-8 Big Sky Conference mark. He has started 16 games at tight end, and has 13 catches for 116 yards this season to go along with career totals of 39 receptions for 349 yards and three touchdowns.

Jolley has played in 43 games in his career, including 27 as a starter. He has 44 tackles with a team-leading 4 1/2 sacks this season, giving him career totals of 126 tackles, 10 sacks, three blocked kicks and nine passes broken up.

Gant, a former high school teammate of Sherritt’s at Pullman High School, is second on the team with 36 receptions for 321 yards and four touchdowns. In his 33-game career, he has 52 receptions for 529 yards and five scores.

Zuber has a 40.52 average this season to rank 23rd in FCS, with 18 of his 50 punts downed inside the 20. Zuber currently has a 40.2 career average, good enough to rank fifth in EWU history. Last year he had a 39.9 average with 14 of his 43 punts downed inside the 20.

Hoffman has returned a pair of kickoffs for scores this season and would rank second in FCS in average per kickoff return (32.17) if he had enough attempts (1.2 per game) to qualify. Hoffman’s career average of 26.3 yards on 24 career returns now ranks fourth in school history. Hoffman also has four passes broken up, giving him nine for the season. He added six total tackles and ranks fifth on the team with 49 stops.

 

Co-Offensive Player of the Year

22 - Taiwan Jones - Running Back - 6-1 - 200 - Jr. - 2L* - Antioch, Calif. (Deer Valley HS ’07)

 

Defensive Player of the Year

4 - J.C. Sherritt - Linebacker - 5-10 - 220 - Sr. - 3L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)

 

First Team

22 - Taiwan Jones - Running Back - 6-1 - 200 - Jr. - 2L* - Antioch, Calif. (Deer Valley HS ’07)

1 - Brandon Kaufman - Wide Receiver - 6-5 - 205 - So. - 1L - Denver, Colo. (Heritage HS ’09)

78 - Chris Powers - Center - 6-2 - 270 - Jr. - 1L* - Black Diamond, Wash. (Tahoma HS ’07)

5 - Matt Johnson - Safety - 6-2 - 220 - Jr. - 2L* - Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07)

4 - J.C. Sherritt - Outside Linebacker - 5-10 - 220 - Sr. - 3L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)

98 - Renard Williams - Defensive Tackle - 6-2 - 300 - Jr. - 2L* - Port Orchard, Wash. (South Kitsap HS ’07)

30 - Darriell Beaumonte - Special Teams - 5-11 - 205 - Jr. - 2L* - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS ’07)

 

Second Team

60 - Gabriel Jackson - Offensive Tackle - 6-4 - 275 - Jr. - 2L* - Tacoma, Wash. (Mount Tahoma HS ’06)

28 - Dante Calcote - Cornerback - 5-8 - 160 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Renton HS ’06)

10 - Zach Johnson - Outside Linebacker - 6-1 - 225 - Jr. - 1L* - Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07)

 

Honorable Mention

70 - Steven Forgette - Offensive Guard - 6-4 - 280 - Fr. - HS* - Vancouver, Wash. (Heritage HS ’09)

2 - Ashton Gant - Wide Receiver - 5-10 - 180 - Sr. - 3L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)

82 - Matt Martin - Tight End - 6-2 - 240 - Sr. - 3L* - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS ’06)

9 - Bo Levi Mitchell - Quarterback - 6-2 - 210 - Jr. - TR - Katy, Texas (Katy HS ’08 & Southern Methodist)

72 - Nikolai Myers - Offensive Guard - 6-4 - 295 - Sr. - 2L* - Seattle, Wash. (Ingraham HS ’06)

49 - Tyler Jolley - Defensive Tackle - 6-3 - 285 - Sr. - 3L* - Nine Mile Falls, Wash. (East Valley HS ’06)

7 - Jeff Minnerly - Safety - 6-1 - 190 - So. - 1L*  - Spokane, Wash. (Ferris HS ’08)

45 - Cameron Zuber - Punter - 6-0 - 180 - Sr. - 1L* - Chehalis, Wash. (W.F. West HS ’06)

21 - Jesse Hoffman - Return Specialist - 6-2 - 210 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Shorecrest HS ’06)

 

Minnerly, Sherritt Selected District VIII All-Academic: Local products Jeff Minnerly and J.C. Sherritt have been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). Their names are now forwarded to the national ballot for Academic All-America honors.

Minnerly is a 2008 graduate of Ferris High School in Spokane where he was a 4.0 student, and is currently an accounting major at EWU with a 3.91 grade point average. The sophomore free safety will be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the second time in 2010.

Sherritt, a 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School, was a consensus All-American on the field in 2009 and is a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in FCS. The senior linebacker is a secondary physical education/health and fitness major with a 3.46 GPA, and will be selected to the Big Sky All-Academic team for the fourth time this fall.

Eastern football players have now been honored 52 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and seven players have gone on to win nine Academic All-America honors. Last season, defensive end Jacob Kragt from Ritzville, Wash., earned first team Academic All-America honors after being selected to the All-District VIII team for the third-straight season.

The qualifying standards include having a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and being a significant contributor to the team.

The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

A converted quarterback playing free safety for the first time, Minnerly is sixth on the team with 44 tackles and also has a pair of interceptions, three passes broken up and two forced fumbles. He has helped Eastern rank second in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with 20 interceptions, and the Eagles are third nationally in takeaways with 33.

Minnerly had a team-high eight tackles in his starting debut versus Nevada on Sept. 2, then had four tackles, a forced fumble and his first career interception in a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct 9. His other interception came on Oct. 23 versus Sacramento State.

Interestingly, Minnerly’s high school classmate (as well as football and basketball teammate), Jared Karstetter, was honored on the All-District VIII team as a receiver for Washington State University.

Sherritt currently is 10th in FCS in tackles per game (11.4, total of 125) after leading FCS in 2009 (14.1) when he finished second in voting for the Buchanan Award. He also has three interceptions, four passes broken up, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 2 1/2 sacks, 10 total tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hurries.

Sherritt was EWU’s scholar-athlete for September, and in back-to-back weeks was the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week and a College Sporting News National All-Star. He had 16 tackles, an interception and sack versus Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, then had 14 tackles, a sack and an interception versus Northern Colorado a week later. Eastern is currently 39th in FCS in rushing defense (131.8), in addition to third in interceptions (18) and third in takeaways (29).

Here are EWU’s 2010 nominees (only one Eastern player per position was nominated among those who met the criteria):
4 -J.C. Sherritt  - LB - 5-10 - 220 - Sr. - 3L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06)
7 - Jeff Minnerly - DB - 6-1 - 190 - So. - 1L*  - Spokane, Wash. (Ferris HS ’08)
76 - Will Post - OL - 6-6 - 295 - So. - 1L*  - Portland, Ore. (Southridge HS ’08)
82 - Matt Martin - TE - 6-2 - 240 - Sr. - 3L* - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS ’06)
1 - Brandon Kaufman - WR - 6-5 - 205 - So. - 1L - Denver, Colo. (Heritage HS ’09)
44 - Paul Ena - DL - 6-2 - 230 - So. - 1L - Kenmore, Wash. (Inglemoor HS ’09)
92 - Mike Jarrett - K - 5-9 - 165 - Jr. - 1L* - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS ’07)

 

Others Meeting Criteria but Not Nominated . . .
48 - Grant Williams - LB - 6-1 - 225 - So. - 1L*  - Puyallup, Wash. (Rogers HS ’08)
43 - Rusty Haehl - LB - 5-11 - 205 - So. - 1L*  - Bellevue, Wash. (Bellevue HS ’08)
47 - Bobby Gentry - LB - 5-11 - 200 - Jr. - 2L* - Seattle, Wash. (Kennedy HS ’07)
68 - Kevin Miller - K - 6-2 - 195 - So. - 1L - Portland, Ore. (Centennial HS ’09)

 

MORE PLAYER NOTES

Payton Award Candidate Has Five-Straight 100-Yard Games: Junior running back Taiwan Jones enters the NCAA FCS Playoffs with a string of five-straight 100-yard rushing performances, with a total of 778 yards (155.6 per game) with an 8.3 average per rush and eight touchdowns. He has 13 100-yard rushing performances in 22 career games as a running back, including seven this season.

Prior to ending the regular season with 108 yards versus Idaho State, Jones scored on a 62-yard run on Eastern’s first offensive play of the game, and finished with 158 yards in Eastern’s 31-24 win over Southern Utah on Nov. 13. The 62-yard run by Jones on EWU’s first offensive play of the game was more than double the longest rush Southern Utah had allowed all season (27 yards).

Jones 1,344 yards this season to rank as the fourth-best performance in school history, ahead of the 1,216 he had last season. He has recorded the 15th 1,000-yard rushing performance in school history this season, including 11 in the last 16 seasons (1995-2010).

He now has an average of 134.4 yards per game that ranks fourth in the NCAA Championship Subdivision. After leading the nation in all-purpose yards per game for several weeks early in the year, Jones is currently second with an average of 195.1 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He is also 15th in scoring (8.49 per game with 14 total touchdowns).

Jones, who averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore, was named to the initial 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List this past summer by The Sports Network. And he’s lived up to that billing with a current average of 7.6 yards per rush to lead FCS (among the top 44 rushers averaging at least 75 yards per game), giving him a 7.6 average per rush in his career.

Jones is only the 12th Eagle to rush for over 2,000 yards in his career, and is currently sixth with 2,557. He also has a career average of 156.9 all-purpose yards per game to currently rank as the school record, 34 total touchdowns to rank third, his total of 4,551 all-purpose yards are second, his 1,080 kickoff return yards are sixth and he ranks fourth in points scored with 204.

He now has five plays in his career of at least 80 yards, 10 of 70 or more, 14 of at least 60, 18 of at least 50 and 33 of at least 32 yards. He had a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Ten times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has 13 rushing performances of at least 100 yards.

 "He's just one of those players that can break it at any time, and that makes it tough on a defense," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "He's a playmaker and you better know where he is on every single snap. And even then, he's hard to stop."

After rushing for 455 yards in his first three games, injuries limited him to 111 in the next two games he played (in addition to one game missed).

"He went through a stretch where he didn't play a ton, but since that stretch of time he's found a way to get better and better," added Baldwin. "He's done a great job of taking care of his body and doing the right things to put him in this position. From the standpoint of how healthy he is right now, he's in a lot better position than where he was last year at this time."

Jones rushed for 196 of his 199 yards in the first half in EWU’s easy 50-17 win at Portland State on Oct. 30. The Eagles led 28-10 at halftime as Jones had a 71-yard TD and then added a 65-yarder a few minutes later as he averaged 15.3 yards on 13 carries in the first half. Coupled with three receptions for 62 yards, he had 261 yards of all-purpose yards on just 17 touches (15.4 yards per touch). It was his 10th career performance of 200 or more yards. His 199 rushing yards was the second-best performance of his career, ranking only behind the 221 he had earlier this season against Montana. Besides earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades for the third time this season and fourth time in his career, Jones was also recognized as the FCS national running back of the week by College Football Performance Awards.

Jones rushed for 145 yards in Eastern’s 28-24 win over Sacramento State on Oct. 23, including a 77-yard touchdown run in which he broke five tackles on his way to his 10th career play of at least 70 yards. After ailing for nearly a month with a painful pelvic contusion, Jones returned to form a week earlier in EWU’s 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 by rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns in the narrow win. He had nearly half of his yards on a 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He had a 15-yard run followed by a 24-yard TD scamper on EWU’s game-winning, two-play, 39-yard drive with 41 seconds left to play. He also added a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter. As an Eastern cornerback as a freshman in 2008, Jones returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown versus Northern Colorado in Greeley.

Jones earned Big Sky Conference and national accolades for his career-high 221-yard rushing performance in Eastern’s 36-27 victory over Montana Sept. 18 in the inaugural game on EWU’s new red synthetic Sprinturf surface at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Jones was honored nationally as one of five College Sporting News All-Stars for the week, and was also the FCS performer of the week at running back by College Football Performance Awards. In addition, he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time in his career and second time this season, having also won the award following EWU’s game at Nevada on Sept. 2.

His total of 305 all-purpose yards against the Grizzlies (second-most in his career behind the 322 against Nevada) was his ninth career performance of at least 200 yards. His 27 carries were also a career high by nine as Eastern finished with 503 yards of total offense. Jones scored on a 72-yard run in the second quarter and also had a 45-yard pass reception. But perhaps the biggest run of the day for Jones was a 13-yard run during Eastern’s final scoring drive, including a brilliant spin move that got him the extra yards needed for an important first down. It was on a third-and-10 play, and was just Eastern’s second third down conversion of the day in 14 attempts -- including a string of nine-straight misses to start the game. Jones accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on that 12-play drive.

He added 235 yards and three touchdowns against Central Washington on Sept. 11. He finished the game with 14 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 63 yards (including a 46-yard score) and had 83 yards in returns.

En route to earning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, Jones had a career-high 322 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) in Eastern’s season-opening 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2. His performance included an 82-yard touchdown reception and a non-scoring 74-yard run. Jones rushed 12 times for 145 yards, had another 92 yards on two receptions and 85 yards on four kickoff returns. His previous career high was 279 yards against Sacramento State on Sept. 26, 2009. Jones also received honorable mention nationally by College Football Performance Awards and was the team’s offensive player of the week after the Nevada game.

 “It’s almost to a point where I’m not surprised, but he made a few more plays against Nevada that make you marvel at how he can make plays,” praised Baldwin following the Nevada game. “Even when things aren’t there he is able to make them. He has a toughness and grit to him -- he bangs it up in there so he’s not just a fast guy. He’s a special football player and obviously the big-play guy in our offense.”

A cornerback as a freshman at Eastern in 2008, Jones scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back in 2009. Jones started and ended his season with a 100-yard game, finishing with a total of six for the season to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He was a third team selection on The Sports Network’s FCS All-America Football Team, and was a third team choice as an all-purpose back on the Associated Press All-America squad.

Jones, who is from Antioch, Calif., and graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007, finished with 1,213 rushing yards in 2009 to rank as the sixth-most in school history. He ranked in the top 10 in FCS in rushing (ninth, 101.1 per game), scoring (sixth, 9.50 per game) and all-purpose yards per game (second, 195.4). His 2,345 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) were the second-most in school history, and his 19 touchdowns and 114 total points both rank fourth.

His talent has been augmented by the addition of a synthetic turf surface at Roos Field. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Woodward Field in 2008, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU’s other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.

The Walter Payton Award is given annually to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Big Sky Conference players have captured the honor six times, most recently by Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer in 2005. Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols finished fourth in the voting as a senior in 2009.

There were 20 players on the initial Watch List, including five from the Big Sky Conference. This year’s award is being sponsored by Fathead.com. The winner will be announced on the eve of the Division I National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.

 

­­­ Buck Buchanan Candidate 19 Tackles From Breaking EWU Record for Career Tackles: Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt is second in school history in career tackles with a total of 381, and the senior strong-side inside linebacker needs just 19 more to break the school record of 399 held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). Sherritt already holds school and league records with 170 tackles in the 2009 season and 24 tackles against Weber State on Oct. 10, 2009. He also has six career interceptions to go along with 11 passes broken up, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a pair of sacks, with a total of 31 1/2 tackles for loss totaling 72 yards in losses.

Sherritt is EWU’s leading tackler thus far with 125 for the season, an average of 11.36 per game that ranks 10th in FCS. Last season, the 2006 graduate of Pullman, Wash., High School led FCS with an average of just over 14 per game.

Sherritt, one of 14 seniors who were honored in pre-game ceremonies prior to EWU’s 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Nov. 20, led the Eagles against the Bengals with eight tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up. His force and recovery came in the second quarter at the EWU 5-yard line to squelch a Bengal scoring threat, and led to a 95-yard EWU drive and 28-7 halftime lead.

He had 11 tackles in his previous outing versus Southern Utah, but was coming off a 15-tackle effort in EWU’s 50-17 win over Portland State on Oct. 30 to give him 11 performances in his career of at least 15 stops. He had 11 tackles and a half sack against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, and in the two games before that had nearly identical games that led to identical honors both weeks in being selected as a national Sporting News All-Star and the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

He had 14 tackles with an interception and sack in EWU’s 35-28 win over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16. With the game knotted at 28, he had his sack on the ensuing Bear possession that kept UNC out of field goal range in a third-and-14 situation, which ended with a forced fumble that led to the go-ahead score for the Eagles. On UNC’s final possession of the game and with the Bears at the EWU 43-yard line, Sherritt intercepted a pass at the Eastern 21 with eight seconds to play and alertly put his knee down to not risk a fumble.

A week earlier in EWU’s 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, Sherritt had 16 tackles in the win over the Lumberjacks. He also had an interception, a sack and a quarterback hurry.

“He’s already had a couple of key interceptions and he’s gotten better in his pass defense," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "When he needs to step up and make tackles he does it, and time after time he’s tough to block. All the way back to last year he has been playing like a Buck Buchanan Award candidate. I think that sometimes when you are a little bit better as a whole on defense certain individual stats might go down a little bit. But that takes nothing away from how he is playing -- he’s doing other things that sometimes don’t get noticed even that much better.”

Sherritt had an interception and 11 tackles to go over the 300-tackle mark in his career in Eastern’s 35-14 victory over Weber State. His interception against the Wildcats was one of three the Eagles had that their offense turned into touchdowns. Sherritt returned his pick at the goal line 33 yards to help lead to a 67-yard drive and a 35-17 advantage. Interestingly, on the previous possession middle linebacker Tyler Washburn also had an interception on the goal line that he returned 32 yards to set-up a 68-yard drive.

Sherritt also had 11 tackles against Montana State, 12 in Eastern’s 36-27 victory over sixth-ranked Montana, 11 and a pass broken up versus Central Washington and he had five tackles and broke-up two passes in Eastern’s opener against Nevada on Sept. 2.

A year after finishing second in the voting, Sherritt was selected to the 20-player watch list for the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award awarded by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.

Sherritt, a 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School, averaged 14.17 tackles per game (170 total) as a junior in 2009 to lead FCS and catapult him into contention for the Buchanan Award. Arthur Moats from James Madison won the award last year, and in 2008 the winner was Eastern’s Greg Peach (now playing for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League).

Since 2000 when the Big Sky and FCS began keeping statistics as a record, Sherritt’s total was a league record and the seventh-most in FCS, and his average of 14.17 was also a league record and 13th in FCS history. Besides his 170 tackles, Sherritt had 14 tackles for loss, four passes broken up, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception he returned for a touchdown.

Sponsored by Fathead.com, the Buchanan Award is in its 16th season and will be presented on Thursday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas -- the night before the championship game of the FCS Playoffs. The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton and Eddie Robinson awards, which are also sponsored by Fathead. The Payton Award honors the FCS player of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. Those two awards, like the Buchanan, will be presented at the national awards banquet.

 

Hoffman Big Sky Special Teams Players of the Week After Huge Game on Defense and Special Teams: A senior starting cornerback who joins Taiwan Jones as EWU’s kickoff return threats, Jesse Hoffman has been selected as the Big Sky Conference co-Special Teams Player of the Week after his 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Nov. 13 versus Southern Utah.

Hoffman has returned a pair of kickoffs for scores this season and would rank second in FCS in average per kickoff return (32.17) if he had enough attempts (1.2 per game) to qualify. Hoffman’s career average of 26.3 yards on 24 career returns now ranks fourth in school history.

Hoffman had an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown versus Southern Utah on Nov. 13 in the third quarter, but he saved the real fireworks for the fourth quarter with a pair of interceptions on the final two possessions of the day for the Thunderbirds. Hoffman’s first interception came with 6:01 left in the game, followed by Eastern’s game-winning drive. Hoffman’s second pick came at the 2:58 mark, and Eastern’s victory was sealed with a fake field goal attempt on fourth-and-four. Hoffman also had four passes broken up, giving him nine for the season. He added six total tackles and ranks fifth on the team with 49 stops.

Hoffman returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in EWU’s 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16. Hoffman also had six tackles (one for loss) and a pass broken up against the Bears. It equaled the 13th longest kickoff return in school history, and was the longest in just over 10 years. It was also the first for the Eagles since Taiwan Jones returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in Greeley two years ago on Nov. 8, 2008. Jones also had a kickoff return for a TD against Northern Colorado in 2009, but it was called back because of a penalty.

Hoffman, who rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman for EWU in a 34-0 win at Northern Colorado in 2006, is a 2006 graduate of Shorecrest High School in Seattle.

 

Kaufman Gathers In Pair of Game-Winners: Sophomore Brandon Kaufman is proving to be Eastern’s go-to receiver, catching a team-leading 55 passes for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far. He has caught touchdown passes in nine of 11 games this season, including his last seven with a pair of fourth-quarter game-winners.

He ranks 20th in FCS in receiving yards per game (83.8), is 46th in receptions per game (5.00) and his 12 touchdown catches are the fourth-most in FCS. Kaufman has had 100-yard receiving performances against Montana on Sept. 18 (five catches for 119 yards), Weber State on Oct. 2 (five catches for 138 yards), Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 (five catches for 117 yards) and Southern Utah on Nov. 13 (nine catches for 192 yards).

Against Southern Utah on Nov. 13, he caught a career-high nine passes for 129 yards with a long of 43, and had touchdown catches of 25 and 24 yards that were of the “how did he make that catch?” variety. His latter TD catch came with 3:39 left and provided the winning points in Eastern’s 31-24 victory. In the next game against Idaho State, he scored EWU’s first two touchdowns in the 34-7 victory with TD catches of 10 and 30 yards.

Among his three catches at Portland State on Oct. 30 was a 15-yard touchdown grab. He had just four catches for 34 yards against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but he had a 17-yard touchdown to start the scoring and a game-winning 6-yard scoring grab with 33 seconds in the game. One game prior, he had a five-catch, 94-yard performance against Northern Colorado, which included a 4-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 left that knotted the score at 28. He is a 2009 graduate of Heritage High School in the Denver, Colo., area, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley. His family was at the game in force, reportedly purchasing 80 tickets for the game.

 

Ena Returns to End After 2009 Move to Linebacker: One of Eastern’s most versatile players, sophomore defensive end Paul Ena made big plays early and often in EWU’s 50-17 victory over Portland State on Oct. 30.

On PSU’s first possession of the game, he had two quarterback hurries, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing third down play on one of six three-and-outs (plus a four-down turnover on downs) for the Eagles. Three of those three-and-outs came on PSU’s opening three possessions as Eastern jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and at one point had a 183-5 advantage in total offense. Later in the half, he had a 13-yard tackle for loss that led to a punt and a 65-yard scoring run by Taiwan Jones that gave EWU a 28-3 advantage. Ena also combined with J.C. Sherritt for another tackle for loss on that possession, and finished with four tackles in the game, including 2 1/2 for loss.

After starting the season at linebacker, this is his second tour of duty at defensive end for the Eagles, and he started at that position against Weber State on Oct. 2. For the season, Ena has 41 tackles with seven for loss including 2 1/2 sacks. He also has five quarterback hurries, an interception and two fumble recoveries.

Ena played in 2009 as a backup defensive end as a true freshman, then started at middle linebacker in the regular season finale against Northern Arizona (11/21/09) and finished with a team-high 16 tackles. He started again in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs against Stephen F. Austin (11/28/09) and had 20 tackles to rank as the sixth-most in recorded school history. He finished the season fifth on the team with a total of 63 tackles.

He was Eastern’s fourth player to be on EWU’s depth chart as a starter at middle linebacker in 2009. Returning starter Zach Johnson did not play because of a blood clot that developed following knee surgery during the summer, then Kyle Wilkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice before Eastern’s seventh game. Freshman redshirt Tyler Washburn started four games until he also suffered a knee injury.

Ena was a linebacker at Inglemoor High School in Seattle, finishing his senior season in fall 2008 with 162 total tackles (65 solo, 97 assisted) and two sacks. His father Tali Ena was a standout running back at Washington State University and went on to play for the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Twins Keep Producing Big Numbers in Victories: Junior strong safety Matt Johnson and his twin brother Zach Johnson, a starting weak-side linebacker, have had big games for seven consecutive weeks. In those seven -- all victories -- they have combined for 119 tackles, four interceptions and eight passes broken up.

Matt now ranks fourth in school history in interceptions with 14, and he is now just four interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) with 17 each.

Matt now has 257 tackles in his career to move into ninth all-time at Eastern, and has had four interceptions this season to help Eastern rank second in FCS (20). So far this season, Zach is second on the team with 96 tackles and Matt is right behind with 73. Zach currently has 192 tackles in his 22-game career for an average of 8.7 per game compared to the 7.6 average for his brother (34 games).

Zach had a career-best 18 tackles in Eastern’s 34-21 victory over Southern Utah in which he also had a sack and broke-up a pass. Matt chipped in five stops.

Matt was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season and third time in his career following EWU’s 28-24 win over Sacramento State on Oct. 23. He finished with nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and had three passes broken up for the Eagles. Matt returned his first-quarter interception 42 yards to set-up EWU’s first score en route to a 21-0 lead. Later in the quarter he broke-up a pass on third down that led to Sac State turning the ball over on downs. His third pass broken up came on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the day, a play that he could have secured for his 15th career interception but instead safely batted the ball to the ground to end the game.

Zach had 12 tackles and a pair of passes broken up in the win over Sac State as he recorded double figures in tackles for the eighth time in his now 20-game career. Zach had 13 tackles and an interception in a 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16, while Matt finished with nine stops. In a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, Zach helped make a stop on a fourth-and-12 play at the EWU 38-yard line with 3:37 to play to help preserve EWU’s victory. Zach finished with 11 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss and Matt added nine tackles and a pass broken up.

In Eastern’s 35-24 victory over Weber State, Matt had the 13th interception of his career that led to a first-quarter scoring drive for the Eagles. Matt also had six tackles versus Weber State and Zach finished with 10 tackles.

Matt also was huge against Montana on Sept. 18, finishing with eight tackles and a pair of interceptions to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career. His second interception versus Montana came with 7:31 left in the game after Montana had driven to Eastern’s 27-yard line while trailing by three.

Zach also had a big game against Montana with 11 total tackles and a forced fumble on UM’s final kickoff return of the game. The Johnson twins are both 2007 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School, but a blood clot in Zach’s leg sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.

As freshmen in 2008, the brothers combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up, and Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008, and Matt repeated on that squad in 2009. Matt earned his first Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor after tying the Big Sky Conference record with four interceptions in 47-10 win over Portland State on Oct. 31, 2009, in the “Showdown on the Sound” at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash.

 

Mitchell Ranks 20th Nationally in Passing Yards After Impressive Outing Versus ISU: Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,583 yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 134.7. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 20th in passing offense (234.8 yards per game), 26th in total offense (239.0) and 25th in efficiency (134.7).

Mitchell earned high praise after passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns in EWU’s 34-7 win over Idaho State. Mitchell was 20-of-25 for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone as he directed the Eagles on scoring drives of 55, 63, 71 and 95 yards. He closed the game 26-of-38 (68.4 percent) for 256 yards and no interceptions.

“He played really well,” Baldwin said. “I worry less about the numbers he put up and more about what he was doing with the football on each snap. It was snap after snap he was taking what the defense was giving him. He threw it away when he needed to throw it away, he went downfield when he needed to go downfield and he checked it down to the backs when he needed to do that. He played his best football game to date in terms of operating within the offense. He’s 7-1 as a starter in the Big Sky. He’s an incredibly good quarterback who is going to keep getting better with every game he plays in an Eagle uniform.”

In EWU’s 31-24 win over Southern Utah, he was 21-of-34 for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to Brandon Kaufman. He directed Eastern on a game-winning 55-yard drive, capped by Kaufman’s 24-yard TD catch.

In EWU’s 35-28 win over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16, Mitchell completed 16-of-25 passes for 172 yards, a touchdown and one interception, including an impressive 7-of-8 for 57 yards in EWU’s game-tying drive late in the game in which he utilized five different receivers.

In games against Weber State on Oct. 2 and Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, he completed  69 percent of his passes (43-of-62) with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an average of 312.5 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 181.61. In his first four games of the season, he completed 51.4 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, four interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 236.8 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 113.07. Mitchell had a 20-of-26 performance for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Northern Arizona.

Mitchell had his first 300-yard passing performance as an Eagle in EWU’s 35-24 victory at Weber State on Oct. 2, completing 23-of-36 passes (64 percent) for 337 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He led the Eagles on scoring drives of 66, 65, 80, 68 and 67 yards, including the final three during a 21-0 scoring run in the second half that turned a 17-14 deficit into a 35-17 advantage. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.

In Eastern’s opener against Nevada, he was a respectable 19-of-35 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that by going 16-of-27 for 188 yards and a pair of scores against Central Washington, and was 17-of-37 for 234 yards versus Montana. In EWU’s loss versus Montana State, he was 24-of-49 for 272 yards as his 49 attempts equaled the 14th-most in school history.

Mitchell secured the starting quarterback position with outstanding performances in three spring scrimmages, and was named the starter on April 29 -- barely three weeks into spring drills.

Mitchell came to Eastern from Southern Methodist where he started all 19 of the games he played. In his career, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell completed 385-of-676 passes (57.0 percent) for 4,590 yards (241.6 per game) with 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. He was also 29-1 as a high school starter at Katy (Texas) High School.

“He’s performed extremely well considering he had to learn a new system,” Baldwin said before the season began. “He has all the tools to be a great collegiate quarterback at any level. He can make every throw in our offense and do them all well -- and a lot of them are not easy.”

Eastern had entered the spring taking a look at six players competing for the starting quarterback position. Returning letter winners Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett were in the mix, as well as 2009 redshirts Nick Gauthier and Anthony Vitto. Minnerly and Burgett are both sophomores, but had only 10 pass attempts between them as redshirt freshmen in 2009. Gauthier is a junior who transferred from Bakersfield College in California, and Vitto is a freshman. The sixth was Greg Panelli, a strong-armed, 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns at Modesto Junior College and twice earned All-Golden Gate Conference honors.

Minnerly, however, was moved to safety during spring practice, and is now Eastern’s starter at free safety. Vitto and Gauthier are the backups behind Mitchell on the depth chart.

In three spring scrimmages, Mitchell completed 24-of-36 passes (67 percent) for 352 yards and three touchdowns -- all to sophomore Nicholas Edwards -- with just one interception. He helped the White to a 20-0 victory over the Red in EWU’s Spring Game, completing a pass for 61 yards to Greg Herd on the game’s first play before scoring on an 8-yard scamper.

In his lone scrimmage of fall practices, Mitchell was 10-of-16 for 151 yards as he led the offense on two long touchdown drives. He capped a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to open the scrimmage, then later ended a five-play, 70-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Herd.

In six total scrimmages in the spring and fall, Vitto was 32-of-58 for 352 yards, one touchdown and had two interceptions. Gauthier was 33-of-63 for 304 yards, two TDs and four picks. Burgett and Panelli played in four scrimmages each, and Burgett was 12-of-20 for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Panelli was 8-of-13 for 91 yards and a touchdown.

 

Jerry Ceja Makes Dreams Come True for Defensive Tackles: Thanks to huge plays made by sophomore defensive end Jerry Ceja, Eastern defensive tackles have some great memories. And Eastern has two wins in the book as a result too.

Jerry Ceja, a sophomore from Aurora, Colo., made the first start of his career at Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 and he had the team’s defensive play of the game. He forced a fumble on a sack late in the game that was picked up by teammate Tyler Jolley and returned 17 yards. That gave EWU the ball 39 yards from the end zone and led to EWU’s winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play in the 35-28 victory.

Earlier in the season, Ceja forced fumble on a sack on the final play of the game that was returned 34 yards for a score by Renard Williams and secured EWU’s 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies.

Ceja, whose older brother Dominique Ceja is a backup offensive tackle for Northern Colorado, is a 2009 graduate of Grandview High School in Aurora, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley, Colo.

 

Williams Up to 14 1/2 Career Sacks: Eastern defensive tackle Renard Williams, who had nine sacks to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, had his first sack of the season against Weber State on Oct. 2. He added another versus Southern Utah on Nov. 13 and Idaho State on Nov. 20, and has 3 1/2 for the season.

He now has 14.5 in his career as he nears Eastern’s all-time leaders list. Currently 12th, with 15.5 sacks, is Brandon Moore (1999-02). Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, Williams has 95 tackles in his 34-game career, including 29 for losses totaling 167 yards.    

 

Zuber’s Average 23rd in FCS: Senior punter Cameron Zuber has a 40.52 average this season to rank 23rd in FCS, with 18 of his 50 punts downed inside the 20. Zuber currently has a 40.2 career average, good enough to rank fifth in EWU history. Last year he had a 39.9 average with 14 of his 43 punts downed inside the 20.

In a 28-24 victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 23, Zuber had four punts for a 39.2 average with a long of 58 on a touchback. His other three punts were downed inside the 20 at the Sac State 11, 7 and 9 yard line. His last two punts came in the final 10 minutes, including a 30-yarder with 5:42 to play that pinned the Hornets deep in their own territory and eventually resulted in a Sac State punt and EWU’s game-winning 35-yard drive.

“He’s been a huge player for us the last two years,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He’s done a great job and keeps getting better every week. I’ve been very happy with the way our punt unit has performed.”

He averaged 50.0 yards in seven punts at Weber State on Oct. 2, including a long of 60 and one punt downed inside the Wildcat 20-yard line. His 60-yard effort at WSU -- which equaled the 18th-longest in school history -- was the second-longest of his career behind the 64-yarder he had last year that ranks eighth all-time at EWU.

A bad snap led to a 10-yard punt for senior on his first punt of this season at Nevada, but he averaged 48.8 yards on his next four punts. He finished with a 41.0 average on five punts, with a long of 51 and one punt downed at the Wolf Pack 4-yard line. He followed that with a 45.0 average on three punts against Central Washington Sept. 11, including a pair downed inside the 20.

Zuber had been attending EWU since he graduated in 2006 from W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash., but 2009 was his first season as an Eagle football player. He originally walked-on in spring 2007 but did not make the team. He then returned in fall 2009 through the recommendation of Eastern tight end Nathan Overbay, who was a 2005 graduate of W.F. West.

 

Miller Boots Them Long: Strong-legged Kevin Miller is now 2-of-2 kicking field goals for the Eagles after booting a 48-yarder in the third quarter of EWU’s 34-7 win over Idaho State. The boot equaled the 23rd-longest in school history after kicking a 44-yarder at Portland State on Oct. 30.

A 2009 graduate of Centennial High School in Portland, Ore., also averaged 58.7 yards on six kickoffs against ISU and its dangerous kickoff returner Tavoy Moore, who had five returns for 93 yards with a long of 38. ISU started possessions inside its own 20 four times, with an average field position of its own 24-yard line. He is averaging 64.8 yards on 41 kickoffs this season with nine touchbacks. As a freshman in 2009, he averaged 63.0 yard per kick with 14 touchbacks on 47 kickoffs.

 

Blocking Beaumonte: Eastern junior running back Darriell Beaumonte was once a blocking fullback in Eastern’s offense, but now he’s doing a different kind of blocking.

After leading 28-10 at intermission against Portland State on Oct. 30, the Eagles turned a blocked punt by Beaumonte into a recovery for a touchdown by T.J. Lee to increase the advantage to 18. Beaumonte, a 2007 graduate of Clover Park High School in Tacoma, Wash., also had a huge special teams play in EWU’s 36-27 victory over Montana on Sept. 18. He blocked a punt that he returned himself six yards for a score to wipe out Montana’s last lead of the day. It was EWU’s first blocked punt returned for a TD since 2004.

Also a kickoff and punt coverage special teams standout, Beaumonte has been credited with 23 tackles in his career. He had three in 2008, eight in 2009 and 12 thus far in 2010.

He was a fullback in 2008 as a redshirt freshman, then proved to be more valuable with the ball in his hands and moved to running back the following season. As EWU’s backup running back behind All-American Taiwan Jones, he rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown a year ago and has 214 yards and a pair of rushing TDs this season. When Jones was sidelined because of an injury on Oct. 2 versus Weber State, he responded with a 78-yard rushing performance, scoring once on a rush and another on a TD reception in EWU’s 35-24 win.

 

 Thanks to a Wager, Twins Easier to Tell Apart: A friendly wager between teammates has helped make it easier for people to tell identical twins Zach and Matt Johnson apart this season. Zach has a friendly wager with starting free safety Jeff Minnerly and redshirt Ronnie Hamlin as to who will cut their hair first. Although Minnerly is also sporting a healthy beard, facial hair is not included in the yet-to-be-determined wager, because Zach admits he can’t grow any. Meanwhile, Zach’s twin brother Matt Johnson continues to sport a short-cropped haircut as both players had for their careers until this season. Even their jersey numbers can be confusing, having changed their numbers in 2009 after wearing entirely different numbers as freshmen in 2008. Then, in the middle of last season Matt moved from No. 5 to No. 10 as a tribute to his brother, who was lost for the season with a blood clot in his leg. They’ve returned to their normal numbers this season.

 

Brice Leahy Returns for First Action Since Catastrophic Injury: Senior Brice Leahy, a 2008 honorable mention All-Big Sky performer, saw his first action in nearly two years in Eastern’s 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. Since then he has seen regular action as an additional lineman in Eastern’s goal-line offense, and received a start at right tackle when the Eagles honored its 14 seniors against Idaho State on Nov. 20.

The imposing 6-foot-7, 295-pound tackle suffered a catastrophic injury just below his knee in a non-football related accident in June 2009 and missed the 2009 season and most of 2010 spring practices.

“Just the fact he battled through winter conditioning was impressive,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin before the season began. “Considering the accident and the injury that occurred, it’s amazing in my opinion. I would love it if he can get all the way back to where he was in 2008. But if he does everything he can to get better every day, anything he can give us is going to be better than Brice not being back. He’s a great leader, a hard worker and he’s shown that he wants to be back and around his teammates.

“It would have been very easy for him to just move on and finish school,” Baldwin continued. “Instead, he’s busted his butt in the weight room and has done everything he can to put himself back on the field. My hope and belief is that if he keeps on his current path, he will be back to where he was in 2008. Even if he’s still not quite there, he’s going to add a lot to our team.”

 

Five Players Selected as Co-Captains: In voting conducted by members of this year’s squad, five players have been selected as EWU’s co-captains for the 2010 season. Senior captains on defense include tackle Tyler Jolley and linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who was also a captain in 2009. The players selected on offense were senior tight end Matt Martin, senior offensive guard Nikolai Myers and junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.

Three of the captains are local products who graduated from state of Washington high schools in 2006 -- Jolley from Spokane’s East Valley High School, Sherritt from Pullman HS and Martin from La Crosse-Washtucna HS. Myers is a 2006 graduate of Ingraham High School in Seattle, and Mitchell is a transfer from Southern Methodist University and a 2008 graduate of Katy, Texas, High School.

 

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