No. 18 Eagles cruise to seventh win as senior quarterback passes for 380 and rushes for 75 to up his career total to 12,440 yards
A career-long 52-yard touchdown run was just part of a sensational day for Eastern Washington University senior quarterback Matt Nichols as he broke the Big Sky Conference career record for total offense in 18th-ranked EWU's easy 41-28 non-conference football victory over Southern Utah Saturday (Nov. 14) at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City, Utah.
Nichols passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns to finish with 455 yards of total offense and account for five TDs on the day. He now has 12,440 yards in his 45-game career, breaking the 17-year-old record of 12,287 held by Weber State's Jamie Martin (1989-92).
Next Saturday (Nov. 21), Eastern plays its final Big Sky Conference game at Northern Arizona. The following day on Nov. 22 at noon Pacific time, first-round pairings are announced for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
Nichols will remember the Southern Utah game not only for the record, but for his long rush as well. Eastern opened a 21-0 lead on his three touchdown passes to tight end Nathan Overbay, and his scoring rush late in the third quarter gave EWU a 28-7 cushion.
"It felt like it was a 105-yard run to me," said Nichols. "I was pretty tired and had a side ache at the end of it. It was exciting -- we were kind of talking about that play being a possibility. One thing I haven't done enough this year is take off and run a little bit, so it was good to do that successfully today."
Nichols now ranks seventh in NCAA Football Championship history in career total yards, and moved into eighth with 11,747 passing yards. He needs 460 yards to break the career passing record in the 46-year-old Big Sky Conference of 12,207 held by Martin.
"It's pretty awesome," said Nichols, who also broke EWU's career record for rushing yards by a quarterback against USS and now has a current total of 693. "The Big Sky record is one of those things where it's exciting to hear and something I'll cherish, but right now we are just focused on winning one more game and hopefully getting our shot in the playoffs."
"It just shows his toughness and longevity," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "A record like that shows a lot of things. A lot of players have talent but get hurt along the way, or this or that, but Matt has just been constant and one of those guys week-in and week-out just brings it. He deserves the record -- he has worked hard to get that and I am really proud of him."
Eastern finished the Southern Utah game with 608 yards of total offense, which was EWU's most since finishing with 626 two years ago in a FCS Playoff victory over McNeese State. Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones finished with 222 all-purpose yards -- 77 rushing, 75 receiving and 70 on kickoff returns.
Jones set-up EWU's first score by returning the game's opening kickoff 50 yards, and he added a touchdown both rushing and receiving. He is now just 20 yards from the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
Senior wide receiver Tony Davis caught eight passes for 106 yards. Overbay finished with six catches for 59 yards, and now has 11 touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, FCS tackles leader J.C. Sherritt hit his average with 13 tackles, and also recovered a fumble. Fellow linebackers Makai Borden and Bobby Gentry each had 12 tackles, and Matt Johnson had six tackles, a forced fumble and broke up a pass.
"I was proud of both sides of the ball -- we were able to get an early lead," said Baldwin. "Late in the game they scored a couple times, but our defense was able to get a crucial stop on fourth down and we were then able to punch it in. It was a great team effort, and any time you go on the road and beat an undefeated home team, you feel good about your team's overall effort."
Ranked 18th in this week's Sports Network FCS poll after a bye week, the Eagles were coming off a 47-10 thumping of Portland State in the "Showdown on the Sound" on Oct. 31 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash. Southern Utah, meanwhile, was 4-5 after losing at South Dakota 45-21 on last Saturday (Nov. 7). That game concluded SUU's Great West Conference schedule as they finished 2-2.
In losing to the Eagles, the Thunderbirds suffered their first loss at home after going 4-0 in Cedar City, including wins over Dixie State (36-7), Texas State (38-16), North Dakota (35-10) and UC Davis (56-35).
"We went up against a great team that was 4-0 at home, so we knew it was going to be a tough challenge," added Baldwin. "They just kept coming too -- it felt like a few times we were going to put them away and they came right back at us."
Eastern is now tied for third in the Big Sky just behind Weber State at 6-2, with Montana leading the way at 7-0. Montana State joins EWU at 5-2, and Northern Arizona is 4-3. Besides EWU's season-ending game at NAU, another key upcoming matchup is Montana at Montana State on Nov. 21.
The Eagles were ranked as high as 15th in the Sports Network poll before losing 31-13 to then 21st-ranked Weber State (now ranked 19th) and fell to 21st prior to losing 41-34 to the No. 3 Grizzlies (now second). Eastern has won its last three games by a combined 123-62 margin, including a 35-24 Homecoming win over Montana State on Oct. 24.
Eastern is trying to duplicate the season-ending four-game winning streak Eastern had in both 2004 and 2007 when the Eagles also advanced to the FCS Playoffs and registered first-round upsets. In 2004, EWU won its final four regular season games before knocking off Southern Illinois 35-31 in the playoffs. Three years later, another four-game winning streak led to a 44-15 first-round win over McNeese State.
Since the Big Sky was given an automatic berth in the NCAA Playoffs in 1980, only Idaho (8-3 in 1983, 9-3 in 1994) has not been given an at-large berth in the playoffs with a record of 8-3 or better. That compares to 26 at-large berths that were given to league teams 8-3 or better, as well as EWU's 1992 team which was 7-3.
Big Sky Total Offense Yardage Leaders
1. Matt Nichols, Eastern Washington (2006-2009) - 45 games - 12,440 (7th in FCS)
2. Jamie Martin, Weber State (1989-92) - 41 games - 12,287 (8th in FCS)
3. Travis Lulay, Montana State (2002-05) - 47 games - 12,205 (9th in FCS)
4. Doug Nussmeier, Idaho (1990-93) - 39 games - 12,027 (10th in FCS)
5. Dave Dickenson, Montana (1992-95) - 35 games - 11,513
6. Travis Brown, Northern Arizona (1996-99) - 41 games - 11,400
7. Ken Hobart, Idaho (1980-83) - 44 games - 11,126
8. Erik Meyer, Eastern Washington (2002-05) - 42 games - 10,942
Big Sky Passing Yardage Leaders
1. Jamie Martin, Weber State (1989-92) - 41 games - 12,207 (6th in FCS)
2. Matt Nichols, Eastern Washington (2006-2009) - 45 games - 11,747 (8th in FCS)
3. Travis Brown, Northern Arizona (1996-99) - 41 games - 11,400 (11th in FCS)
4. Dave Dickenson, Montana (1992-95) - 35 games - 11,080 (12th in FCS)
5. Doug Nussmeier, Idaho (1990-93) - 39 games - 10,824
6. Travis Lulay, Montana State (2002-05) - 47 games - 10,746
7. Jason Murrietta, Northern Arizona (2003-06) - 46 games - 10,726
T8. John Friesz, Idaho (1986-89) - 35 games - 10,697
T8. Greg Wyatt, Northern Arizona (1986-89) - 42 games - 10,697
10. Erik Meyer, Eastern Washington (2002-05) - 42 games - 10,261