Experienced Playoff Teams Square Off in the Inferno

Eagles host their third-straight NCAA FCS Playoff game, but this time they must face defending champion Villanova in EWU's second trip to the semis

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Eastern Washington Univ. "Eagles"
versus
Villanova University "Wildcats"

Friday, December 17 • 5:05 p.m. Pacific
Roos Field (8,600/Sprinturf) • Cheney, Wash.

EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington '96)
School Record: 25-11/18-6 Big Sky (3rd Season)
Career Record: 35-14 (4th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009)
2010: 11-2/7-1 Big Sky Conference (co-champions)
Last Game:  EWU 38, North Dakota State 31/Overtime (Dec. 11 in Cheney, Wash.)
TV: ESPN2
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.espn3.com


Both teams are playoff experienced and battle tested. But only one team has a ring.

Eastern Washington University tries to dethrone the reigning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision champions this Friday (Dec. 17) when the Eagles host the Villanova Wildcats at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is 5:05 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised live on ESPN2 on the new red Sprinturf surface at the "Inferno," where Eastern is 7-0.

Dave Neal will provide the play-by-play for the ESPN2 broadcast, with Jay Walker serving as analyst. The producer is Steve Melton, and the broadcast is also available at www.espn3.com. 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.

Because the Eagles are seeded fifth, Eastern received another home game in the semifinals against unseeded Villanova, a 42-24 winner last Saturday over No. 1 seeded Appalachian State. The Eagles, ranked No.1 to end the regular season in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, enter the game with an 11-2 record and riding a nine-game winning streak. Villanova, ranked 10th to end the regular season, is 9-4 and knocked off Montana in last year's FCS title game.

The other semifinal pits Georgia Southern (10-4) at third-seeded Delaware (11-2). The Georgia Southern Eagles ended the regular season ranked 20th and have won three-straight playoff games. The Blue Hens, who received a first-round bye, were ranked fifth to end the regular season.

After receiving its eighth berth in the playoffs, the Eagles are now 7-7 in the FCS Playoffs and will be making their second appearance in the semifinals after winning for the second time in five trips to the quarterfinals. Villanova is making its ninth appearance and has now won six-straight playoff games now. The Wildcats are 10-7 overall, with a 1-1 mark in the semifinals and 3-2 record in the quarterfinals.

In 1997, Villanova lost in the quarterfinals 37-34 to eventual champion Youngstown State. The week after that, Eastern fell to YSU 25-14 in the semifinals.

 "They are going to be as advertised," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "They are a tremendous football team -- they are national champs and have proven they are one of the top teams again this year. It just keeps getting tougher. We've played a couple of really tough opponents up to this point. Each week it gets to be a tougher battle, and I expect the stakes to just keep rising when we face a team like Villanova.

"We need to take our game to another level," continued Baldwin, who is now 9-6-1 in 16 post-season playoff games he has been a part of at the FCS, NCAA Division II and NAIA levels. "But that's okay -- it's exciting and it's always great to be in that position. Our players are excited about it and feel strongly that we're a great team too. When you get down to the final four, you definitely have four great teams. There should be great battles on both sides of the bracket this week."

His team was nearly eliminated by North Dakota State, but came to life late in the game. After struggling with five turnovers in the second half during a snowstorm, the Eagles Eastern put together a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, had entered that drive with just 38 yards passing.

"No matter what happens, you have to focus on the next play or the next series, and not something that has happened in the past," Baldwin said of his team's offensive turnaround. "They did a good job with that -- they went in there with a mindset that we had to throw and it was going to be a four-down situation. It makes it a little easier knowing you have four downs each time. Give them credit -- they went out and made those plays at the end."

Tyler Hart gathered in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell on the first play of overtime, then linebacker J.C. Sherritt forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Zach Johnson to end the game with NDSU at the Eastern 1-yard line.

It was the fifth time this season the Eagles have won after trailing or with the game tied in the fourth quarter. Eastern is now 7-4 all-time in overtime after playing its first game in extra periods since 2004.

"I haven't been in anything quite that crazy that had so many momentum swings," said Baldwin. "We just have a bunch of guys in all facets of our team that don't ever give up the idea that it's a 60-minute game. And it came down to that. They know if we keep responding and keep fighting they'll have a chance.

"It's not so much magical as it's just a lot of guys believing in each other even in the toughest of situations," he added. That's the key. You can't stop believing no matter how grim it feels, otherwise you'll never have a chance to operate in those situations."

Despite the loss of All-America running back Taiwan Jones to a broken bone in his foot, the Eagles are a confident bunch of players who rely on being loose through the direst of circumstances.

"Our crew, at times, has what I call a loose focus," Baldwin explained. "But honestly, I think that has helped them in a lot of these tough situations. They haven't gotten tight and haven't worried or been afraid to be in a challenging spot. They'll have fun this week. Granted, we'll be getting a lot of work in. But to be at this point of the season and having the opportunity to practice in December, they'll have a blast because you don't have these moments very often.

"It feels good," Baldwin added of his team's playoff run. "It's been a lot of hard work and players persevering through a lot of adverse situations to find ways to win. It's really special and special to see these players enjoying the fruits of a lot of labor up to this point."

With nine-straight victories, the Eagles now have the third-longest current winning streak in FCS (Jacksonville and Dayton from the Pioneer Football Conference have each won 10). Eastern has out-scored its last nine opponents 309-186, and its seven-game winning streak to end the regular season was the best among the 20 playoff teams (Lehigh won eight in a row after a first-round playoff victory).

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.

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.

 

Eagles Hoping For Big Crowd in Third-Straight Playoff Game at the Inferno: Tickets for the game are available via TicketsWest.com and 1-800-325-7328. Links are also 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. 15 to purchase their playoff tickets and retain their own seats, and after that those seats will be available for the general public to purchase.

Tickets for Eastern Washington University students are $5 each and will be available at the Athletic Ticket Office at Reese Court (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Ticket information is also available by calling 509-359-4339.

"It's awesome," Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said of playing a third-straight playoff game at home. "Anytime you play at home it's a great thing. It's great for the community, Eastern Washington, the fans and our players. We are familiar with our surroundings when we get to stay at home instead of going on the road. We'd be going on the road if we had to, and we'd jump right on it and love it.''

Baldwin is hoping the final appearance by the Eagles at the "Inferno" will attract more fans this week and add to the home-field advantage for his team. Eastern is 7-0 this season at home, including its last four games overall dating back to Nov. 13.

"We need them to come out and support us -- we love it when they are here," pleaded Baldwin. "The fans that were here against North Dakota State were awesome. I usually don't pay any attention to it, but I felt the noise when we were on defense and in the overtime. The more the merrier -- it's going to help us. When you get into this situation the home-field advantage becomes huge in the playoffs."

 

J.C. Sherritt Breaks Career Tackles Record: In the victory over North Dakota State, All-America senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt finished with a team-high 15 tackles -- the 12th performance of his career of 15 or more -- giving him 406 in his career to break the school record of 399 previously held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). He capped his record-breaking night by forcing the fumble that was recovered by teammate Zach Johnson to end the game with NDSU at the Eastern 1-yard line.

 

Jones has Fracture in His Foot: Eastern Washington University All-America running back Taiwan Jones has a fractured bone in his foot and is not expected to play this Friday (Dec. 17) when Eastern hosts Villanova in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

Jones, who ranks second this week in FCS in both rushing yards (145.2 per game) and all-purpose yards (201.8), suffered a fracture to the base of his fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in EWU's 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State Saturday (Dec. 11) in the quarterfinals. He finished with a career-high 230 yards rushing in that game, including 203 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Eastern head athletic trainer Brian Norton said Jones probably have surgery Wednesday (Dec. 15) to insert a screw in the bone. Norton said there is a slight possibility that Jones could return for the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, if Eastern advances. Interestingly, this type of fracture is generally referred to as a "Jones Fracture," named after Sir Robert Jones, who first described this fracture pattern in 1902.

"I'm disappointed most for Taiwan," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "He's worked so hard, and without Taiwan Jones we wouldn't be in this position. We feel that way about a lot of players on our team, and Taiwan is a part of that. It's always disappointing when one of your players is not able to go, especially one so instrumental in our success this season."

"His performance was great once again," Baldwin added of Jones' performance against the Bison, which gave the junior from Antioch, Calif., 1,742 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns for the season. "You can practice all you want and prepare by watching film, but until you go against him live, you don't understand the angles you need to take. It's not just the big runs. It's the running through tackles and how hard he runs. We knew it would be a physical game."

Baldwin said one of Jones' backups -- true freshman Mario Brown or junior Darriell Beaumonte will start at running back this week. Brown has 214 yards and a touchdown this season and Beaumonte has 216 yards and a pair of scores. Jones is averaging 7.9 yards per carry this season and 7.7 in this career, while Brown and Beaumonte are averaging 3.5 and 2.7 this year, respectively.

"Our other players have to step up," Baldwin said. "This will be a challenge that our players need to attack and go after. But it's going to be disappointing to not see that young man play this Friday."

 

The Silver Lining -- Eagles Beat Weber State Without Jones: Despite not playing with its biggest playmaker and yardage machine, Eastern Washington University found plenty of big plays and plenty of offense at Weber State on Oct. 2 at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah, when running back Taiwan Jones missed the game with a painful pelvic contusion.

Eastern scored 21-straight second-half points after falling behind 17-14 to surge past the Wildcats 35-24 in a crucial Big Sky Conference football game. Junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell passed for 337 yards and four touchdowns and the defense had three interceptions that led to scores. He directed Eastern on touchdown drives of 66 yards (9 plays), 65 yards (13 plays), 80 yards (6 plays), 68 yards (9 plays) and 67 yards (4 plays).

Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense, and most importantly for the Eagles, Eastern had leads after all four quarters -- including an 11-point winning margin. Mitchell was 23-of-36 as he finished with his first 300-yard passing game for the Eagles. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.

 

Kickoff Return Streak Ends for Eagles: North Dakota State's Mike Sigars returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to open the second half on Dec. 11, ending an incredible streak for the Eagles. Eastern had not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in more than 10 years  -- a total of 599 touchdown-less returns. The last time Eastern had allowed one happened on Sept. 25, 1999, when Terrence Jones from Cal State Northridge returned a kickoff 86 yards for a score. Since that time, Eastern has returned nine kickoffs for touchdowns, including two this season by Eagle Jesse Hoffman. Hoffman made it three when he returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a TD after the return by Sigars.

 

More About the Wildcats: A year ago, Villanova was on top of the FCS world when Matt Szczur ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns and had another 68 yards receiving in a 23-21 victory over Montana and a 14-1 finish to the season.

This season, with Szczur (pronounced "see-zer") sidelined for six games and part of a seventh with a high ankle sprain, the Wildcats were just 6-4 before ending the regular season with a 28-21 overtime victory over then top-ranked Delaware. Since then, they have out-scored two playoff opponents 96-48 in dominating No. 3-ranked Stephen F. Austin 54-24 and No. 2-ranked and top-seeded Appalachian State 42-24.

In the win over the Mountaineers, Szczur had 104 rushing yards and three touchdowns, completed 2-of-2 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, and caught five passes for 45 yards and another score. Against SFA, he had a career-high 11 catches for 128 yards and a TD, as well as nine rushes for 68 yards.

"What Szczur does on the field speaks for itself," said Baldwin. "He's anywhere and everywhere, and he proved that again last week against an Appalachian State team that is a former national champion as well. He's a player we are going to have to have our eyes on, and as a defense we have to know where he is and be aware of him. Much of their offense will run through him."

A 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior who is also an outstanding baseball player, Szczur received national plaudits for his off-the-field generosity in spring of 2010. He joined the national "Be The Match" registry as a freshman at Villanova in one of the football team's annual testing drives for potential bone marrow donors. Last spring, he donated peripheral blood cells to a young leukemia patient who only had a 1-in-80,000 chance of finding a match. He missed 10 games during the baseball season due to medication taken in advance of making his donation.

The Wildcats also feature one of the top collegiate offensive linemen at any level in Ben Ijalana (pronounced "eye-ja-lawn-a"). He was included on the voting list for this year's Walter Payton Award given to the top offensive player in FCS and is projected to be the first FCS player taken in the NFL Draft. He finished 10th in the voting for the Outland Trophy given to the top lineman in the country at any level. He has started every Villanova game of his four-year career for the Wildcats and his current games started streak is now at 52 games.

"They have received a lot of notoriety and deservedly so," said Baldwin. "Offensive lineman don't get a lot of the pub when you are watching them on TV, but he's that good to where he's on the Payton voting list. He's the real deal."

Villanova also has an impressive defense, ranking seventh in scoring defense (17.54), seventh in rushing defense (98.5), 22nd in scoring defense (17.5) and 28th in total defense overall (318.0). They also have the nation's third-best passing efficiency rating (154.98) as Chris Whitney ranks eighth individually (149.09). The Wildcats feature the nation's fifth-best punter in Dominic Scarnecchia (43.18 per punt) as they rank eighth as a team in net punting (36.85).

"We'll have our weekly goals and our weekly mindset, and we'll focus all our attention on Villanova," added Baldwin. "We'll do everything we can to prepare because we know how tough of an opponent they are coming in here."

 

In Final Show in December, 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 this Monday (Dec. 13) at 5:30 p.m. at the "Q" Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort and Casino near the Spokane airport. The sessions include giveaways, other special guests and video from the previous game with commentary provided by Baldwin prior to his live appearance on the Eagle Coaches Show at 6 p.m. 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. The show, featuring Baldwin or head men's basketball coach Kirk Earlywine, will resume in January after a break for the holidays. 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:
December 12, 2010 - Eagles To Host Defending Champs Friday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2
December 12, 2010 - Playoff Notes . . . Taiwan Jones has Fracture in His Foot
December 11, 2010 - Eastern Rallies for 38-31 Overtime Win Over North Dakota State
December 10, 2010 - Kaufman and Cook Selected as November Scholar-Athletes of the Month
December 9, 2010 - Q & A: All-America Running Back Taiwan Jones
December 7, 2010 - Coaches Select Taiwan Jones and J.C. Sherritt to All-America Team
December 4, 2010 - Eastern Advances in FCS Playoffs With 37-17 Win Over Southeast Missouri
December 3, 2010 - Q and A: Football Player Renard Williams
November 29, 2010 - Rankings and Seedings Aside, Eagles Settle Debate on the Field
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

Win Over SEMO a "Team Effort": In a 37-17 victory over Southeast Missouri on Dec. 4 in the second round of the playoffs, Eastern held the Redhawks to just 26 yards of total offense and no points in the second half, and out-scored SEMO 23-0 after the Redhawks had taken a 17-14 lead just before halftime. Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt led the charge with 10 tackles, including a key fourth-down stop in the second half.

Junior running back Taiwan Jones led the Eagles offensively with 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and finished with 211 all-purpose yards. He entered the game ranked only behind Southeast Missouri's Henry Harris in FCS in all-purpose yards, and Harris had 108 rushing yards to finish with 191 yards against the Eagles. But 82 of those yards were on three kickoff returns and he was held to minus 1 yard rushing in the second half.

"It was one of those games where it was a total team effort, even more than any game this entire season," praised Baldwin. "When you look at the plays that were made in this game, there were so many different guys stepping up in different positions. That was especially true in the second half, but even in the first half when things weren't going perfect. We still found ways to go down and tie it up just before halftime. In the second half, defensively we were getting a lot of stops and really shut them down, and offensively we converted on a lot of drives and ran the football in the fourth quarter extremely well."

 

Strength, Physical Condition and Depth a Major Difference in 2010: Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin knows exactly why his team advanced past the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs after stubbing its toe at Stephen F. Austin in the first round a year ago. Last year, the Eagles were riddled by injuries heading into the playoffs. This season, thanks to extra work in the weight room and in conditioning, the Eagles are as healthy and as fresh as they could ever expect.

"I think it was huge," Baldwin said of the difference of being stronger and more conditioned this year. "I would point to the attitude, mentality and the approach our players have taken since January to get this far. We walked off the field at Stephen F. Austin last year feeling like we were a team that needed to be stronger and in better physical condition. We also needed to be deeper, and we're all of those things right now. We are stronger physically since January because of the weight room, and we have continued to build on that during the season. I think we've created great depth on this team through recruiting to give us a chance to sub players in-and-out and keep them healthy. I think those are things that have played major factors. When you are stronger and better conditioned, you are going to stay healthier. It all goes hand-in-hand. After walking off the field in Texas last year and then watching some of the playoff games the next few weeks, that is when we decided we needed to make a change and do things a little bit different starting in January."

 

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 began final game preparations on the following 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."

 

Eagles Enjoy Home Field Advantage: A perfect 7-0 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 again this week.

Eastern is just off the pace to set the single season attendance record, with a current average of 6,455 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 that ranks just behind the record of 7,116 fans per game set in 2006.

"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 in the playoffs are very good no matter where you play."

 

Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern is 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. Eastern is now 7-7 all-time, with 2010 marking its fifth appearance in the quarterfinals. Eastern has reached the semifinals once before (1997), but has never advanced to the championship game.

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. 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 five times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007, 2010) and has a 7-7 record in eight playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010). Only 17 teams have made more playoff appearances than the Eagles.

Last year, the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round. 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 Roos Field (formerly 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 FCS playoff games (EWU received a first-round bye in 2010, the first year the playoffs were expanded to 20 teams):
2010 - Villanova - (Semifinals/Cheney)
2010 - North Dakota State - W, 38-31 in OT (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2010 - Southeast Missouri State - W, 37-17 (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)

 

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 first  nationally in interceptions (total of 23, tied with New Hampshire) and is second in turnovers gained (40, behind Bethune-Cookman with 41). Because of five second-half turnovers against North Dakota State, Eastern has slipped to 23rd nationally in turnover margin (.62 less turnovers per game than its opponents) after ranking sixth a year ago (1.25 less). The Eagles are now 111th out of 117 FCS schools this season in turnovers lost (32).

In the last two years, Eastern is 13-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. This year, the Eagles are 7-0 (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 13 games, Eastern has had a 49-17 advantage in turnovers (27-13 this season and 22-4 last year).

Villanova enters this week's game seventh in turnover margin in FCS (1.00 less per game), with rankings of 10th in turnovers gained (29), 12th in interceptions (17) and 21st in turnovers lost (16).

Last week's Eastern opponent, North Dakota State, entered the game sixth in turnover margin in FCS (1.00 less per game), with rankings of fifth in turnovers gained (32), 14th in interceptions (16) and 46th in turnovers lost (19). The Bison won the turnover battle 5-3.

Two weeks ago, Southeast Missourientered the game 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). Eastern forced four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) and had just two itself (one fumble, one interception).

 

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 played 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.

Of the eight quarterfinalists in 2010, there were three teams each from the Colonial Athletic Conference (Delaware, Villanova, New Hampshire) and Southern Conference (Appalachian State, Wofford, Georgia Southern), and one each from the Big Sky Conference (Eastern) and the Missouri Valley Conference (North Dakota State). Appalachian State was the only automatic qualifier left in the playoffs.

The semifinal field features a pair of CAA teams and one each from the Big Sky and Southern. None were automatic qualifiers.

 

More Coach/Player Comments . . .

 Head Coach BEAU BALDWIN

On the Playoffs: "I love it. I talked to (North Dakota State) coach (Craig) Bohl before the game and he feels the same. He's been to the big level and I haven't experienced a bowl. He first was in the playoffs in 1984, and he had a couple of years where they weren't eligible. He told me he's been to bowl games and nothing compares to the feeling his guys were having right now. That was right out of his mouth. For me, it's all I've known. I've never been to the bowl level. I can't think of anything better than the playoffs. It's just a great feeling after a win. Each game is do or die.''

On Close Win Over NDSU: "It's been a roller coaster year like that. We've played a number of close games, but none that I would classify like that. Our guys had to step up and make plays. The weather became a factor. It was a factor for both teams. It turned into a grind for a while where neither offense was able to do a whole lot. Their offense did a better job of going downhill. We were able to find a way to throw the ball late in the game. Bo (Levi Mitchell) played some of his best ball late in the game and in overtime."

On No. 1 Ranking: "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 earned a seed to enable us to host games. We're just excited about that."

On Winning National Title With a Tournament: "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."

On His Program: "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: "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. 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. 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: "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'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."

 

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 34-15 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.

Eastern's 10-2 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 to finish 12-2. 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 7-0 at the "Inferno": Now 7-0 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 two games the Eagles trailed in the fourth quarter (Sacramento State, North Dakota State), in two they were tied in the final stanza (Montana and Southern Utah) and in another 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.

In the playoffs, a 37-17 win over Southeast Missouri State saw the Eagles out-score the Redhawks 20-0 in the second half after the game was tied 17-all at halftime. Against North Dakota State in the quarterfinals, the Eagles had to put together a 90-yard drive to tie the game with 23 seconds left, then won it in overtime with a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play. A Bison fumble at EWU's 1-yard line ended the game.

 "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 freshmen 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. Greg Herd received his first career start in the FCS Playoffs against Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 4, and caught three passes for 28 yards with a 10-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.

Several redshirt freshmen made their first EWU game appearances at Nevada. All but two true freshmen 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 (255 starts by 21 players): Matt Johnson 36, J.C. Sherritt 33, Tyler Jolley 29, Renard Williams 27, Zach Johnson 24, Tyler Washburn 17, Dante Calcote 16, Jesse Hoffman 14, Evan Cook 13, Paul Ena 11, Jeff Minnerly 9, David Miles 8, David Gaylord 5, Allen Brown 3, Jerry Ceja 3, Anthony Larry 2, Will Edge 2, Artise Gauldin 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Grant Williams 1 (includes one start on offense in 2009).

Offense (227 starts by 22 players): Chris Powers 25, Nikolai Myers 24, Gabriel Jackson 24, Nicholas Edwards 24, Taiwan Jones 22 (includes four on defense in 2008), Matt Martin 18, Brandon Kaufman 17, Brice Leahy 12, Steven Forgette 12, Bo Levi Mitchell 12, Will Post 11, Ashton Gant 7, Zack Gehring 5, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 3, Clint Moquist 2, Greg Herd 1, Brandon Murphy 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Josh Antonson 1, Ryan Seto 1, Mario Brown 1.

 

Injury Report: Running back Taiwan Jones is out, and starting wide receiver Ashton Gant (knee) has missed both playoff games thus far and he remains questionable for this week. Three players sat out the Idaho State game -- Darriell Beaumonte (ankle), Domonic Shepperd (concussion) and Anthony Larry (knee) -- but all returned to play against Southeast Missouri State.

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 continued to nurse an ailing neck.

Running back Taiwan Jones had a difficult time staying healthy early in the season, and eventually the old Timex adage proved 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

Coaches Select Taiwan Jones and J.C. Sherritt to All-America Team: Eastern Washington University junior running back Taiwan Jones and senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt were selected to the 2010 AFCA Football Championship Subdivision Coaches' All-America Team announced Dec. 7 by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

The AFCA has selected an All-America team since 1945 and currently selects teams in all five of its divisions. They are chosen exclusively by collegiate coaches nationwide.

 

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.

"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."

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 (401.9 yards per game), as well as rankings of 29th in passing (232.4), 40th in rushing (169.5) and 17th in scoring (31.6). Three of his linemates -- Jackson, Myers and Forgette -- were also honored by the league this year.

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. He has 46 tackles, two interceptions and three passes broken up for the year.

Martin is the only senior to have played in all 49 games for the Eagles in the past four seasons, helping the Eagles to a 34-15 record overall and 24-8 Big Sky Conference mark. He has started 18 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 45 games in his career, including 29 as a starter. He has 52 tackles with 4 1/2 sacks this season, giving him career totals of 134 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.

Other notes and statistics on the honored players are located in the "player notes" section that follows.

 

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 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.

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.

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)

 

PLAYER NOTES

Buck Buchanan Candidate Sets EWU's Career Tackles Record: With 15 tackles against North Dakota State, Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt shattered the school record for career tackles and now has 406 in his career. The senior strong-side inside linebacker broke the previous record of 399 held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). Sherritt ranks second in Big Sky history behind the 471 tackles of Montana State's Kane Ioane (2000-03), with records dating back to 2000 when the NCAA began to recognize tackles as an official statistic.

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 12 passes broken up, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a trio of sacks, with a total of 35 tackles for loss totaling 79 yards in losses.

Sherritt is EWU's leading tackler thus far with 150 for the season (third in school history, one away from second), an average of 11.54 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.

Besides his 15 tackles versus NDSU, Sherritt had a pass broken up, a half-sack and forced a fumble on the final play of the game in overtime that was recovered by the Eagles at the EWU 1-yard line.

Sherritt led the charge with 10 tackles, including a key fourth-down stop in the second half, in EWU's 37-17 playoff victory over Southeast Missouri on Dec. 4. Eastern held the Redhawks to just 26 yards of total offense in the second half and out-scored SEMO 20-0 following a 17-all tie at halftime.

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.

 

Payton Award Candidate Has Seven-Straight 100-Yard Games: Junior running back Taiwan Jones has a string of seven-straight 100-yard rushing performances, with a total of 1,176 yards (168.0 per game), an 8.5 average per rush and 11 touchdowns in those seven games. He now has 15 100-yard rushing performances in 24 career games as a running back, and nine this season.

He had a career-high 230 rushing yards in EWU's 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State, with 138 of those coming on his first four carries of the game as EWU jumped out to a 14-0 lead. He had 203 yards in the first half alone. Jones had a 63-yard run on his first carry to set-up a 1-yard TD pass, then Jones had a 69-yard run to give EWU a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game. Those two runs gives Jones 16 plays in his career of 60 yards or longer.

In a 37-17 win over Southeast Missouri State in the FCS Playoffs, Jones rushed for 131 of his 168 yards (now fifth-best in his career) in the first half, including a 56-yard touchdown run. He also had a 1-yard TD run to open the game's scoring.

Jones has 1,742 yards this season to rank as the third-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 145.2 yards per game that ranks second 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 201.8 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He is also 13th in scoring (8.50 per game with 17 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 was on the voting list. He's lived up to that billing with a current average of 7.9 yards per rush to lead FCS (among the top 45 rushers averaging at least 75 yards per game), giving him a 7.7 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 fifth with 2,955. He also has a career average of 162.0 all-purpose yards per game to currently rank as the school record, 37 total touchdowns to rank third, his total of 5,021 all-purpose yards are second, his 1,134 kickoff return yards are sixth and he ranks fourth in points scored with 222.

He now has five plays in his career of at least 80 yards, 10 of 70 or more, 16 of at least 60, 21 of at least 50 and 36 of at least 32 yards. He had a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Twelve times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has 15 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."

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 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). At the time, his 199 rushing yards were the second-best performance of his career (now third), ranking only behind the 221 he had earlier this season against Montana (now second). 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 Roos Field (formerly 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.

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Hoffman Has Returned Three Kickoffs For Scores: A senior starting cornerback who joins Taiwan Jones as EWU's kickoff return threats, Jesse Hoffman had an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota State, giving him three returns for a TD this season. The starting cornerback also added five tackles, an interception and two passes broken up on defense versus the Bison.

He was 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. His other kickoff return for a TD was a 97-yarder against Northern Colorado on Oct. 16. His three kickoff returns for touchdowns ties the school record shared with Bashir Levingston, who had all three of his against Sacramento State on Oct. 31, 1998.

Hoffman now ranks third in FCS in average per kickoff return (33.1) and his career average of 27.7 on 28 career returns now ranks second in school history behind the record of 30.0 by Lamont Brightful (1998-01). Hoffman also has three interceptions and 11 passes broken up for the season to go along with 60 tackles.

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 and added six tackles.

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: Although he went without a catch versus North Dakota State, sophomore Brandon Kaufman Kaufman is proving to be Eastern's go-to receiver, catching a team-leading 59 passes for 959 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far. He had caught at least one pass in 18-straight games, and the last time he failed to catch a pass was on Oct. 10, 2009, in the third game of his career. He has caught touchdown passes in nine of 13 games this season, including the last seven regular season games of the year with a pair of fourth-quarter game-winners.

He ranks 32nd in FCS in receiving yards per game (73.8), is 70th in receptions per game (4.54) 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 129 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 to go 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 48 tackles with 7 1/2 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 nine consecutive weeks. In those nine -- all victories -- they have combined for 151 tackles, four interceptions and 10 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 271 tackles in his career to move into ninth all-time at Eastern, and has had four interceptions this season to help Eastern lead FCS with 23. So far this season, Zach is second on the team with 114 tackles and Matt is next with 87. Zach currently has 210 tackles in his 24-game career to rank 23rd in school history. Zach's average of 8.8 tackles per game is slightly better than the 7.5 average for his brother (36 games).

Most recently, they combined for 22 tackles in Eastern's 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State. Zach also had a pair of passes broken up and had the fumble recovery on the game's final play that secured EWU's win. 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. 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 22nd Nationally in Passing Yards: Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,902 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 131.8. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 22nd in passing offense (223.2 yards per game), 33rd in total offense (226.5) and 36th in efficiency (131.8).

Most recently, Mitchell had just 38 yards through 37 1/2 minutes of EWU's playoff victory over North Dakota State. But he was 5-of-13 for 78 yards during a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nicholas Edwards. He converted two plays on fourth down on the drive and also had a 40-yard pass to Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, provided the game-winning points with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hart on the first play of overtime,

A week prior, he had a 21-of-34 effort against Southeast Missouri State in which he had a pair of second half touchdowns and 178 total yards. One game earlier, 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 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 became 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.

For the season, Ceja has 21 tackles with three sacks, three forced fumbles and a pair of quarterback hurries. He is a 2009 graduate of Grandview High School in Aurora, just a short distance from the Oct. 16 game played in Greeley, Colo. His older brother, Dominique Ceja, is a backup offensive tackle for Northern Colorado,

 

Williams Up to 16 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, is coming off a two-sack effort against North Dakota State for the fourth multi-sack performance of his career. He now has 16.5 in his career to rank 11th in school history. Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, Williams has 105 tackles in his 35-game career, including 32 for losses totaling 191 yards.    

He 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. He repeated as a first team All-Big Sky Conference first team selection in 2010.

 

Zuber's Average 34th in FCS: Senior punter Cameron Zuber has a 39.81 average this season to rank 34th in FCS, with 19 of his 59 punts downed inside the 20. Zuber currently has a 39.8 career average, good enough to rank seventh 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-3 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. He had a 44-yarder blocked against North Dakota State.

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 64.2 yards on 73 kickoffs this season with 13 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 26 tackles in his career. He had three in 2008, eight in 2009 and 15 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 216 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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