Playoff Atmosphere as Thunderbirds Visit No. 5 Eagles
Following bye, Eastern takes on future Big Sky member Southern Utah as both teams take five-game winning streaks into the game
Eastern Washington Univ. "Eagles"
Southern Utah University "Thunderbirds"
Saturday, November 13 • 1:05 p.m. Pacific
Roos Field (8,600/Sprinturf) • Cheney, Wash.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington '96)
School Record: 21-11/17-6 Big Sky (3rd Season)
Career Record: 31-14 (4th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009)
2010: 7-2/6-1 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: EWU 50, Portland State 17 (Oct. 30 in Hillsboro, Ore.)
2009: 8-4/6-2 Big Sky Conference
TV: Televised in the Spokane area and regionally by SWX TV
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
Watch Parties: All road games will be available to watch at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.
November certainly has a playoff feel to it for the fifth-ranked Eastern Washington University football team.
A pair of teams with five-game winning streaks square off this week at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., when future Big Sky Conference member Southern Utah visits for a non-conference game. Kickoff at the "Inferno" is 1:05 p.m. Pacific time in the first of two incredibly huge games for the Eagles.
Saturday's game will be televised regionally by SWX, and the radio broadcast of the game may be heard on 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" and via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com. The game may also be viewed at www.bigskytv.org.
Eastern is coming off a bye week, but on Oct. 30 won their fifth-straight game with a 50-17 thrashing of Portland State in Hillsboro, Ore. The Eagles are now 7-2 overall and are atop the Big Sky Conference standings with a 6-1 record -- a win away from a school's fifth league title (1992, 1997, 2004, 2005).
The Thunderbirds, who will join the Big Sky in the 2012-13 school year, are also on a roll after a 1-4 start. Southern Utah has won its last five games to improve to 6-4, including last week's 52-0 thumping of NCAA Division II Dixie State.
The lone common opponent for the Eagles and Thunderbirds has been Northern Arizona, a team SUU lost to 26-23 on Oct. 2 and EWU defeated Oct. 23 by a 21-14 score. Southern Utah won the Great West Conference title with a 4-0 mark, including a 20-7 victory over nationally-ranked Cal Poly.
The Eagles and Thunderbirds are just two of 13 FCS teams with a current streak of five-straight wins or better. A year ago in Cedar City, Utah, Eastern had 608 yards of total offense as it turned a 28-7 advantage in the third quarter into a 41-28 victory.
Southern Utah, which was 0-11 just three years ago, has out-scored opponents 189-65 during its winning streak. Eastern has out-scored its last five opponents 169-107.
"We're going to approach it like a playoff game," Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. "It has huge implications and we know they are a great team. They have played incredibly well this year. Last year we went down there and got off to a fast start, but it turned into a battle in the second half. We know what we are up against and we are going to have to work hard to be prepared for that."
By beating Portland State, the Eagles guaranteed themselves a shot of at least playing for a share of the Big Sky Conference title when they conclude their league slate versus Idaho State on Nov. 20 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
"Southern Utah is extremely good and that is our focus -- you won't catch us talking about Idaho State," said Baldwin. "The bye came at a great time where we could get guys freshened up and rested, and our goal is to certainly play more football than these last two games."
Currently, Eastern and Montana State are both 6-1 in the Big Sky standings, with EWU owning a 7-2 record overall and MSU one victory better at 8-2. The Bobcats travel to Missoula to play Montana on Nov. 20, and the Grizzlies are currently 5-2 in the league and 6-3 overall.
Regardless of what the other teams do, Baldwin is extremely proud of what his team has accomplished this season, Versus Portland State, Eastern finished with a season-high 523 yards of offense, and at one point had a 183-5 advantage over the Vikings en route to jumping out to a 14-0 lead. But the biggest total was the point total -- a season-high for the Eagles by 14 -- as the Eagles played well in all facets of the game.
"It's not easy to get to this point," said Baldwin. "The credit goes to our players -- they've battled through every situation. We've been down in the fourth quarter and they've found a way to win. Against Portland State I thought we put it all together in a sense and we're trying to peak here at the end of the year. When all is said and done, we've put ourselves in a position where we'll play our final Big Sky game in control of our own destiny. It's hard to get to that point. Now we just have to work hard to finish it."
Before winning by 33 against PSU, the Eagles had won their six games this season by an average of just 6.8 points per game and had been out-scored by an average of 24 points in their two losses. Eastern needed to come up with huge defensive stops and offensive scores in the final minute to win recent games against un-ranked opponents -- 28-24 over Sacramento State on Oct. 23 and 35-28 at Northern Colorado a week earlier.
"We knew we had a tough schedule ahead of us and lost some key players from last year," Baldwin added. "But we found a way to come together, keep improving and keep responding whether good or bad. When bad things have happened our players have done a good job of flushing that and moving on to the next week. I'm happy with how the players have stepped up and responded, and have taken each week as its own."
More About the Thunderbirds: Eastern Washington is ranked fifth nationally in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in takeaways with 25, but Southern Utah is the fourth-best school in fewest giveaways with just eight this season. The Thunderbirds feature the nation's eighth-best passing offense, averaging 282.3 yards per game, and are also 11th in total offense (425.8) and 24th in scoring (30.3). Eastern has allowed 273.0 passing yards per game -- only two of 117 FCS teams have a higher average.
Southern Utah is also 18th in rushing defense (112.4 yards per game), and will be going against an Eagle team ranked 45th in rushing offense (161.6) and features All-American Taiwan Jones, who is fourth individually in rushing (134.8) and second in all-purpose yards (202.5).
Individually, SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen is sixth in FCS in passing efficiency (151.6) while ranking seventh in passing offense (272.9) and 11th in total offense (275.4). He has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,729 yards, 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Tysson Poots is fifth in receptions per game (7.7, total of 77) and third in receiving yards per game (112.1, total of 1,121) and has 10 receiving touchdowns.
Ranking and Record Has 1997 Feel: The Eagles moved up one spot to fifth in the Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, one notch better than 1997 when that squad had the school's previous highest ranking ever in the regular season until this year.
Eastern's 1997 team finished the regular season 10-1 and was ranked sixth, then received a No. 3 seed into the playoffs. The lone loss in the regular season for EWU was 17-7 at Montana State, the same school that defeated Eastern 30-7 earlier this season in Bozeman.
The 1997 team went on to win two playoff games before falling to eventual champion Youngstown State 25-14 in the semifinals. That EWU squad, coached by Mike Kramer and led by Big Sky Conference Players of the Year Harry Leons (offense) and Chris Scott (defense), finished the season 12-2 and ranked fourth in the final poll following the playoffs.
The Sagarin computer rankings have illustrated the league's strength thus far, with the Big Sky the top-rated FCS conference in the country for two weeks earlier this season (the Colonial is now first followed by the Big Sky). Nevada is 23rd nationally among all FCS and FBS schools, while Eastern is 75th to rank fourth among all FCS schools. Other 2010 Eagle opponents and their FCS/overall rankings include Sacramento State (8th/85th), MSU (10th/91st), Northern Arizona (13th/97th), Montana (16th/100th), Southern Utah (25th/121st), Weber State (31st/130th), Portland State (42nd/149th), Northern Colorado (72nd/191st) and Idaho State (88th/207th).
Eastern's 7-2 record overall thus far is its best start 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 6-1 league mark is its best seven-game start since 2004. Eastern finished the 1997 regular season 10-1 overall and 7-1 in the league before advancing to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. Eastern was 6-1 in the league and 8-3 in the regular season in 2004 when EWU advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
The Playoff Picture: This year's field for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs will include 20 teams for the first time. The Northeast and Big South Conferences will both send 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 will go to at-large teams. Eight teams will play first-round games on Saturday, Nov. 27. Twelve teams will receive first-round byes, and play in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 4. The quarterfinals are Saturday, Dec. 11, with the semifinals the following week. Five teams are seeded, meaning they will play home games unless playing a higher-seeded team or if they did not meet the NCAA's minimum guarantee to host.
Eastern, if it wins its last two games, has an excellent shot at earning a top five seed, or at least getting a first-round bye. A major factor will be whether or not Montana State wins the league's automatic berth (thanks to a 30-7 victory over EWU earlier this season). Eastern could split its last two games and still have a shot at the playoffs, but would be doing some serious nail-biting when the pairings are announced Nov. 21 at 7 a.m. Pacific time on ESPNU.
Quarterfinal games in the playoffs would take place Dec. 11 and the semifinals would be Dec. 18. 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.
Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show: Eastern Washington University football fans are invited to view weekly video and hear commentary from Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at Northern Quest Resort and Casino near the Spokane airport. The sessions, which include giveaways and other special guests, takes place each Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant. Baldwin will show video from the previous game and provide commentary prior to his appearance on the Eagle Coaches Show at 6 p.m., live from the "Q" at Northern Quest. Both events will take place in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant. Fans will be able to order food and beverages and listen to the show from that location, as well as watch Monday Night Football and other sporting events. The show is aired on 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" and via the internet at www.espnnorthwest.com. For more information on the show and directions to Northern Quest, go to: http://goeags.com/genrel/releases/10atOct15
PDF Link to Fact Book: The complete version of the 2010 EWU football fact book may be found at:
More Eagle Football Links and Headlines:
EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
Big Sky Conference Football - http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=football&path=football
Spokane Spokesman-Review EWU Football Page - http://www.spokesman.com/sections/eagles
The Sports Network (FCS Football) - http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=cfoot2/indexpic.htm
NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/index.php?s=&url_channel_id=36&change_well_id=1
NCAA Statistics - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2010
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
Championship Subdivision News - http://www.championshipsubdivisionnews.com
RECENT EWU FOOTBALL HEADLINES:
November 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 11, 2010 - Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show
October 9, 2010 - No. 13 Eagles Survive for 21-14 Victory Over No. 26 Lumberjacks
October 7, 2010 - Sherritt & Reinstein Initial Scholar-Athletes
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 6, 2010 - Nathan Overbay Signed to Practice Squad by Dolphins
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 26, 2010 - Radio Show Featuring Baldwin Airs Live From Northern Quest
August 25, 2010 - EWU-PSU to Play for the Dam Cup
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
August 2, 2010 - Football Practices Begin Aug. 9
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
EWU in Top Six in FCS in Interceptions & Turnovers Forced as EWU 10-0 Last Two Years When It Wins Turnover Battle: 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 sixth nationally in interceptions (total of 16) and is fifth in turnovers gained (25). However, the Eagles are 105th out of 117 FCS schools in turnovers lost (22), and are only 42nd nationally in turnover margin (.33 less turnovers per game than their opponents) after ranking sixth a year ago (1.25 less).
In the last two years, Eastern is 10-0 when it when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. This year, the Eagles are 4-0 (6-0 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 10 games, Eastern has had a 37-12 advantage in turnovers (15-8 this season and 22-4 last year).
Wacky World of the Big Sky: Even though you couldn't tell in the league standings, parity rules supreme in the Big Sky Conference this season. Games on Oct. 23 were the main indications, as Eastern's 28-24 victory over Sacramento State was the "rout" of the week. The other three games were decided by two (Montana State over Northern Colorado 37-35) or three points (Montana over Northern Arizona 24-21 and Weber State over Portland State 44-41).
"Of course, everybody wants to win going away or easily," commented Baldwin. "But the reality is that there are a lot of great teams in our league and there is a lot of fight in them. Whether you are up or you are down, history has showed this year that it's going to be tight at the end. You just have to be ready for all situations that come and different flows in the game. Sometimes it isn't going to go your way, but you have to find a way to get it back in the fourth quarter. Our team has done a good job with that."
Eastern's last four games have been strange to say the least. Eastern beat Portland State by 33, but won the previous three by margins of seven, seven and four points. Opponents have had 123 more plays than the Eagles, an average difference of just over 30 plays per game. Additionally, opponents had a 145:25 to 94:35 advantage in time of possession -- a difference of nearly 13 minutes per game.
However, Eastern has averaged 7.1 yards per play (1,581 total yards) compared to just 4.4 for opponents (1,527 yards). In rushing, the Eagles have averaged 5.7 per carry (679 yards) compared to just 2.6 for opponents (462 yards).
A season-high five turnovers led to 30 less plays against Northern Arizona (87 to 57) on Oct. 9, but EWU prevailed 21-14 behind a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter. The Eagles had a nearly 10-minute deficit 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 Lumberjacks averaged just 3.6 yards per play, including only 1.1 rushing.
On Oct. 16 in a 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado, the Eagles were out-played for the better part of 52 minutes. Eastern used a late 80-yard touchdown drive and a forced fumble on a sack that led to a TD with 41 seconds to play to overcome a seven-point deficit. With its offense coming up empty in the third quarter and a touchdown and fumble lost on two of its kickoff returns, Eastern had 20 less plays versus Northern Colorado (76 to 56) and a nearly 14 minute deficit in time of possession. The Bears averaged just 4.8 yards per play, including only 2.9 rushing.
In Eastern's 28-24 triumph over Sacramento State on Oct. 23, Eastern's defense was on the field for 82 plays compared to 56 plays for EWU's offense, and had a nearly 12 minute deficit in time of possession. But Eastern's defense recorded three sacks, two interceptions and broke-up nine passes. Eastern led 21-0 early in the second quarter, but was out-scored 24-0 to fall behind mid-way through the fourth quarter. However, a key defensive stop was highlighted by a third down sack by sophomore defensive end Paul Ena, and that led to EWU's game-winning 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 Hornets averaged just 5.2 yards per play, including only 3.5 rushing.
Even the game versus Portland State was wacky. Eastern scored 50 points, but had the ball for only 22:01 and had only 53 total plays compared to 99 versus PSU. The Eagles averaged 9.9 yards per play with scoring plays of 71, 65 and 70 yards, while PSU averaged only 4.6 yards per play.
Eastern 3-0 at the "Inferno": Now 3-0 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 the Eagles were 4-0. 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 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.
"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 nine games on synthetic turf this fall. The only games on grass were against Weber State on Oct. 2 and Northern Colorado on Oct. 16.
"We're going to practice on it every day we can," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "We'll be on turf more than we ever have before we play a turf game. It will be an advantage when we get the chance to practice it on it all week heading into a game on turf."
Eastern Debuts: Besides quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, just four other players made their starting debuts as Eagles in Eastern's opener against Nevada. The three players on offense were freshman redshirts Steven Forgette at left guard and Brandon Murphy at right tackle, as well as junior running back Darriell Beaumonte. On defense, sophomore Jeff Minnerly made his starting debut as a free safety after playing the last two seasons as a quarterback.
Five more players made starting debuts in Eastern's next game against Central Washington on Sept. 11 -- freshman Anthony Larry at defensive end, sophomore Will Post at right tackle, sophomore Artise Gauldin at cornerback, freshman redshirt Zack Gehring at tight end and Nick Gauthier at quarterback. Gauldin had a memorable starting debut for the Eagles with a sack, a forced fumble and nine total tackles. His forced fumble came following an Eastern punt as he timed his hit on the punt returner perfectly, and the fumble was recovered by EWU snapper Jake Potter at the CWU 12-yard line and led to an Eagle touchdown.
The lone starting debut in the Montana game was by sophomore Josh Antonson at fullback. Normally an offensive lineman, Antonson filled in for injured senior tight end/fullback Jason Harris (concussion). There were no new starters against Montana State, but David Gaylord made the first start of his career against Weber State at defensive end. Paul Ena also started at the other defensive end -- his starting debut at that position after starting a pair of games at middle linebacker to end the 2009 season.
True freshman Ryan Seto started as EWU's second tight end against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. He later had his first career touchdown, a 9-yard catch in the third quarter that turned out to be EWU's final points in the 21-14 win.
Jerry Ceja, a sophomore from Aurora, Colo., made the first start of his career at Northern Colorado on Oct. 16. He had the team's defensive play of the game, forcing a fumble on a sack late in the game that led to EWU's winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play. Earlier in the season, he had a forced fumble on a sack on the final play of the game that was returned for a score and secured EWU's 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies.
Most 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.
Several redshirt freshmen made their first EWU game appearances at Nevada. Most true freshman are redshirting, but running back Mario Brown is playing this season and 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 (211 starts by 20 players): Matt Johnson 32, J.C. Sherritt 29, Tyler Jolley 25, Renard Williams 23, Zach Johnson 20, Evan Cook 13, Tyler Washburn 13, Dante Calcote 12, Jesse Hoffman 10, David Miles 8, Jeff Minnerly 9, Paul Ena 7, David Gaylord 2, Jerry Ceja 3, Artise Gauldin 1, Anthony Larry 1, Will Edge 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Grant Williams 1 (includes one start on offense in 2009).
Offense (183 starts by 20 players): Chris Powers 21, Nikolai Myers 20, Gabriel Jackson 20, Nicholas Edwards 20, Taiwan Jones 19 (includes four on defense in 2008), Matt Martin 14, Brandon Kaufman 14, Brice Leahy 11, Steven Forgette 9, Bo Levi Mitchell 8, Will Post 8, Ashton Gant 6, Zack Gehring 3, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 2, Clint Moquist 1, Brandon Murphy 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Josh Antonson 1, Ryan Seto 1.
Injury Report: 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 has missed the last three 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. That will enable him to have shoulder surgery right away after previously planning to delay that until the end of the year.
Backup offensive tackle Caleb Worthington (knee) missed games against Northern Colorado and Sacramento State after suffering his injury against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. Prior to that, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound freshman redshirt was seeing significant action behind starter Gabriel Jackson at left tackle in recent games while Jackson continues to nurse an ailing neck.
Running back Taiwan Jones has had a difficult time staying healthy this season, and Eastern is hoping the old Timex adage proves to be true -- "it takes a licking, but keeps on ticking." Jones had 24 total touches against Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 -- including 21 rushes for 168 yards and three touchdowns -- after suffering back and hip spasms late in EWU's win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. He was held out of EWU's game at Weber State because of pain from a pelvic contusion suffered in Eastern's 30-7 loss against Montana State on Sept. 25. After just one touch in the second half on a rushing attempt midway through the third quarter, he finally departed the MSU game for good. Two games earlier, Jones sat out the final 11:39 of the game versus CWU after getting tackled during a 65-yard drive that ended when EWU came up empty on a fake field goal attempt. What was originally thought to be a minor concussion was actually dehydration from the game and being sick earlier in the day.
Freshman defensive end Anthony Larry, who made his first career start against Central Washington but suffered a dislocated patella early in the game, missed three games. He was expected to be back for the Weber State game, but his knee continued to build up fluid and needed to be drained. He returned to play limited snaps against Northern Arizona.
A trio of safeties -- all returning letter winners -- missed Eastern's first five games, including Billy Lechtenburg (high ankle sprain), Ethen Robinson (knee) and Domonic Shepperd (knee). Shepperd returned to play against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, while Lechtenburg, who played as a true freshman in 2009, will redshirt and Robinson isn't expected to return.
Reserve tight end and fullback Jason Harris suffered a concussion against Nevada is not expected to play the remainder of the season. Backup running back Chase King, whose knee injury in the preseason turned out to be an injured anterior cruciate ligament, is also expected to be lost for the season with probable surgery.
Players who didn't take part in spring practices because of injuries include Matt Johnson (shoulder), Robinson (shoulder), Jakob Pugsley (knee) and Jakob Scott (collarbone). All-American Taiwan Jones, who had surgery in December to repair a sports hernia, saw limited action in the spring as he continued to build strength from injuries to both shoulders and a hand during his debut as a running back in 2009. Johnson and Zach Gehring (shoulder) also had surgeries following the season.
Minnerly, Sherritt Selected District VIII All-Academic: Local products Jeff Minnerly and J.C. Sherritt have been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). Their names are now forwarded to the national ballot for Academic All-America honors.
Minnerly is a 2008 graduate of Ferris High School in Spokane where he was a 4.0 student, and is currently an accounting major at EWU with a 3.91 grade point average. The sophomore free safety will be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the second time in 2010.
Sherritt, a 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School, was a consensus All-American on the field in 2009 and is a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in FCS. The senior linebacker is a secondary physical education/health and fitness major with a 3.46 GPA, and will be selected to the Big Sky All-Academic team for the fourth time this fall.
Eastern football players have now been honored 52 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and seven players have gone on to win nine Academic All-America honors. Last season, defensive end Jacob Kragt from Ritzville, Wash., earned first team Academic All-America honors after being selected to the All-District VIII team for the third-straight season.
The qualifying standards include having a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and being a significant contributor to the team.
The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
A converted quarterback playing free safety for the first time, Minnerly is fifth on the team with 41 tackles and also has a pair of interceptions, three passes broken up and a forced fumble. He has helped Eastern rank sixth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with 16 interceptions, and the Eagles are fifth nationally in takeaways with 25.
Minnerly had a team-high eight tackles in his starting debut versus Nevada on Sept. 2, then had four tackles, a forced fumble and his first career interception in a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct 9. His other interception came on Oct. 23 versus Sacramento State.
Interestingly, Minnerly's high school classmate (as well as football and basketball teammate), Jared Karstetter, was honored on the All-District VIII team as a receiver for Washington State University.
Sherritt currently is eighth in FCS in tackles per game (11.8, total of 106) after leading FCS in 2009 (14.1) when he finished second in voting for the Buchanan Award. He also has three interceptions, three passes broken up, a pair of sacks, nine total tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hurries.
Sherritt was EWU's scholar-athlete for September, and in back-to-back weeks was the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week and a College Sporting News National All-Star. He had 16 tackles, an interception and sack versus Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, then had 14 tackles, a sack and an interception versus Northern Colorado a week later. Eastern is currently 47th in FCS in rushing defense (140.9), in addition to sixth in interceptions (16) and fifth in takeaways (25).
Here are EWU's 2010 nominees (only one Eastern player per position was nominated among those who met the criteria):
4 -J.C. Sherritt - Linebacker - 5-10 - 220 - Sr. - 3L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS '06)
7 - Jeff Minnerly - Defensive Back - 6-1 - 190 - So. - 1L* - Spokane, Wash. (Ferris HS '08)
76 - Will Post - Offensive Line - 6-6 - 295 - So. - 1L* - Portland, Ore. (Southridge HS '08)
82 - Matt Martin - Tight End - 6-2 - 240 - Sr. - 3L* - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS '06)
1 - Brandon Kaufman - Wide Receiver - 6-5 - 205 - So. - 1L - Denver, Colo. (Heritage HS '09)
44 - Paul Ena - Defensive Line - 6-2 - 230 - So. - 1L - Kenmore, Wash. (Inglemoor HS '09)
92 - Mike Jarrett - Kicker - 5-9 - 165 - Jr. - 1L* - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '07)
Others Meeting Criteria but Not Nominated . . .
48 - Grant Williams - Linebacker - 6-1 - 225 - So. - 1L* - Puyallup, Wash. (Rogers HS '08)
43 - Rusty Haehl - Linebacker - 5-11 - 205 - So. - 1L* - Bellevue, Wash. (Bellevue HS '08)
47 - Bobby Gentry - Linebacker - 5-11 - 200 - Jr. - 2L* - Seattle, Wash. (Kennedy HS '07)
68 - Kevin Miller - Kicker - 6-2 - 195 - So. - 1L - Portland, Ore. (Centennial HS '09)
Honored for PSU Game, Payton Award Candidate Taiwan Jones Over 1,000 Again: Junior running back Taiwan Jones rushed for 196 of his 199 yards in the first half in EWU's easy 50-17 win at Portland State. 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.
The Eagles led 28-10 at halftime as Jones had a 71-yard TD that put him over the 100-yard mark for the 11th time in his 20-game career as an Eastern running back, including his 11th career play of at least 70 yards. He added a 65-yarder a few minutes later as he averaged 15.3 yards on 13 carries in the first half.
"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."
The Walter Payton Award candidate carried just once in the second half and finished with 199 yards. He now has 1,118 yards this season, becoming EWU's 15th 1,000-yard rushing performance in school history, including 11 in the last 16 seasons (1995-2010).
Coupled with three receptions for 62 yards, he had 261 yards of all-purpose yards on just 17 touches (15.4 yards per touch). It was his 10th career performance of 200 or more yards. His 199 rushing yards was the second-best performance of his career, ranking only behind the 221 he had earlier this season against Montana.
He now has an average of 134.7 yards per game that ranks fourth in the NCAA Championship Subdivision. After leading the nation in all-purpose yards per game for several weeks early in the year, Jones is currently second with an average of 202.5 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He is also 11th in scoring (9.00 per game with 12 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 so far, he's lived up to that billing with a current average of 8.0 yards per rush, giving him a 7.7 average per rush in his career.
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). However, he has rushed for 512 yards in his last three games alone (170.7 per game) with seven touchdowns.
"He went through a stretch where he didn't play a ton, but since that stretch of time he's found a way to get better and better," added Baldwin. "He's done a great job of taking care of his body and doing the right things to put him in this position. From the standpoint of how healthy he is right now, he's in a lot better position than where he was last year at this time."
Jones is only the 12th Eagle to rush for over 2,000 yards in his career, and is currently ninth with 2,291. He also has a career average of 156.3 all-purpose yards per game to currently as the school record, 32 total touchdowns to rank fourth, his total of 4,220 all-purpose yards are fifth, his 1,049 kickoff return yards are seventh, his average of 22.8 yards per kickoff return is 11th and he ranks sixth in points scored with 192.
He now has 10 plays in his career of 71 yards or more, 17 of at least 50 and 32 of at least 32 yards. Five have been for at least 80 yards, including a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Ten times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has 11 rushing performances of at least 100 yards.
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.
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.
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.
Jones also received honorable mention nationally by College Football Performance Awards and was the team's offensive player of the week after the Nevada game.
"It's almost to a point where I'm not surprised, but he made a few more plays against Nevada that make you marvel at how he can make plays," praised Baldwin following the Nevada game. "Even when things aren't there he is able to make them. He has a toughness and grit to him -- he bangs it up in there so he's not just a fast guy. He's a special football player and obviously the big-play guy in our offense."
A cornerback as a freshman at Eastern in 2008, Jones scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back in 2009. Jones started and ended his season with a 100-yard game, finishing with a total of six for the season to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He was a third team selection on The Sports Network's FCS All-America Football Team, and was a third team choice as an all-purpose back on the Associated Press All-America squad.
Jones, who is from Antioch, Calif., and graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007, finished with 1,213 rushing yards in 2009 to rank as the sixth-most in school history. He ranked in the top 10 in FCS in rushing (ninth, 101.1 per game), scoring (sixth, 9.50 per game) and all-purpose yards per game (second, 195.4). His 2,345 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) were the second-most in school history, and his 19 touchdowns and 114 total points both rank fourth.
His talent has been augmented by the addition of a synthetic turf surface at Roos Field. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Woodward Field in 2008, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU's other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.
The Walter Payton Award is given annually to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Big Sky Conference players have captured the honor six times, most recently by Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer in 2005. Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols finished fourth in the voting as a senior in 2009.
There were 20 players on the initial Watch List, including five from the Big Sky Conference. Besides Jones, the list also includes Montana running back Chase Reynolds, Grizzly quarterback Andrew Selle, Northern Arizona quarterback Michael Herrick and Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins.
This year's award is being sponsored by Fathead.com. The winner will be announced on the eve of the Division I National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.
Buck Buchanan Candidate Moves Into Second in School History in Tackles: Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt has moved into second in school history in career tackles with a total of 362. The senior strong-side inside linebacker needs just 38 more tackles to break the school record of 399 held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). Sherritt already holds school and league records with 170 tackles in the 2009 season and 24 tackles against Weber State on Oct. 10, 2009. He also has six career interceptions to go along with 10 passes broken up and a pair of sacks.
Sherritt is EWU's leading tackler thus far with 106 for the season, an average of 11.78 per game that ranks eighth in FCS. Last season, the 2006 graduate of Pullman, Wash., High School he led FCS with an average of just over 14 per game.
He is coming off a 15-tackle effort in EWU's 50-17 win over Portland State, giving 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 -- the 10th time in his career he has had at least 15 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 at Weber State, 11 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.
Besides Sherritt, other finalists from 2009 on this year's initial watch list include Grambling State senior defensive end Christian Anthony (fourth), Appalachian State senior strong safety Mark LeGree (fifth) and Richmond senior defensive tackle Martin Parker (13th). Two other Big Sky Conference players are on the list -- defensive end Christian Clark of Sacramento State and Montana junior cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
The Buchanan Award Watch List revised twice, and ballots will be sent to a panel of approximately 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 22.
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.
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 38 tackles with six for loss including 2 1/2 sacks. He also has three quarterback hurries, an interception and a fumble recovery.
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 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 and his twin brother Zach Johnson, a starting weak-side linebacker, have had big games for five consecutive weeks. In those five -- all victories -- they have combined for 90 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes broken up.
In the win over Sac State, Matt finished with nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and had three passes broken up for the Eagles. Matt returned his first-quarter interception 42 yards to set-up EWU's first score en route to a 21-0 lead. Later in the quarter he broke-up a pass on third down that led to Sac State turning the ball over on downs. His third pass broken up came on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the day, a play that he could have secured for his 15th career interception but instead safely batted the ball to the ground to end the game.
Zach had 12 tackles and a pair of passes broken up in the win over Sac State as he recorded double figures in tackles for the eighth time in his now 20-game career. Zach had 13 tackles and an interception in a 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16, while Matt finished with nine stops. In a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, Zach helped make a stop on a fourth-and-12 play at the EWU 38-yard line with 3:37 to play to help preserve EWU's victory. Zach finished with 11 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss and Matt added nine tackles and a pass broken up.
In Eastern's 35-24 victory over Weber State, Matt had the 13th interception of his career that led to a first-quarter scoring drive for the Eagles. Matt also had six tackles versus Weber State and Zach finished with 10 tackles.
Matt 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 250 tackles in his career to move rank 10th all-time at Eastern. He has four interceptions this season, an average of 0.44 per game that ranks 34th in FCS. So far this season, Zach is second on the team with 74 tackles and Matt is right behind with 66. Zach currently has 170 tackles in his 20-game career for an average of 8.5 per game compared to the 7.8 average for his brother.
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 17th Nationally in Passing Yards: Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell has completed 57.0 percent of his passes for 2,116 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 134.07. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 17th in passing offense (235.1 yards per game), 25th in total offense (243.6) and 31st in efficiency (134.07).
In his latest outing, he was 13-of-23 for 231 yards and a pair of scores in EWU's 50-17 win at Portland State. In EWU's 35-28 win over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16, Mitchell completed 16-of-25 passes for 172 yards, a touchdown and one interception, including an impressive 7-of-8 for 57 yards in EWU's game-tying drive late in the game in which he utilized five different receivers.
In games against Weber State on Oct. 2 and Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, he completed 69 percent of his passes (43-of-62) with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an average of 312.5 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 181.61. In his first four games of the season, he completed 51.4 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, four interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 236.8 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 113.07. Mitchell had a 20-of-26 performance for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Northern Arizona.
Mitchell had his first 300-yard passing performance as an Eagle in EWU's 35-24 victory at Weber State on Oct. 2, completing 23-of-36 passes (64 percent) for 337 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He led the Eagles on scoring drives of 66, 65, 80, 68 and 67 yards, including the final three during a 21-0 scoring run in the second half that turned a 17-14 deficit into a 35-17 advantage. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.
In Eastern's opener against Nevada, he was a respectable 19-of-35 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that by going 16-of-27 for 188 yards and a pair of scores against Central Washington, and was 17-of-37 for 234 yards versus Montana. In EWU's loss versus Montana State, he was 24-of-49 for 272 yards as his 49 attempts equaled the 14th-most in school history.
Mitchell secured the starting quarterback position with outstanding performances in three spring scrimmages, and was named the starter on April 29 -- barely three weeks into spring drills.
Mitchell came to Eastern from Southern Methodist where he started all 19 of the games he played. In his career, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell completed 385-of-676 passes (57.0 percent) for 4,590 yards (241.6 per game) with 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. He was also 29-1 as a high school starter at Katy (Texas) High School.
"He's performed extremely well considering he had to learn a new system," Baldwin said before the season began. "He has all the tools to be a great collegiate quarterback at any level. He can make every throw in our offense and do them all well -- and a lot of them are not easy."
Eastern had entered the spring taking a look at six players competing for the starting quarterback position. Returning letter winners Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett were in the mix, as well as 2009 redshirts Nick Gauthier and Anthony Vitto. Minnerly and Burgett are both sophomores, but had only 10 pass attempts between them as redshirt freshmen in 2009. Gauthier is a junior who transferred from Bakersfield College in California, and Vitto is a freshman. The sixth was Greg Panelli, a strong-armed, 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns at Modesto Junior College and twice earned All-Golden Gate Conference honors.
Minnerly, however, was moved to safety during spring practice, and is now Eastern's starter at free safety. Vitto and Gauthier are the backups behind Mitchell on the depth chart.
In three spring scrimmages, Mitchell completed 24-of-36 passes (67 percent) for 352 yards and three touchdowns -- all to sophomore Nicholas Edwards -- with just one interception. He helped the White to a 20-0 victory over the Red in EWU's Spring Game, completing a pass for 61 yards to Greg Herd on the game's first play before scoring on an 8-yard scamper.
In his lone scrimmage of fall practices, Mitchell was 10-of-16 for 151 yards as he led the offense on two long touchdown drives. He capped a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to open the scrimmage, then later ended a five-play, 70-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Herd.
In six total scrimmages in the spring and fall, Vitto was 32-of-58 for 352 yards, one touchdown and had two interceptions. Gauthier was 33-of-63 for 304 yards, two TDs and four picks. Burgett and Panelli played in four scrimmages each, and Burgett was 12-of-20 for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Panelli was 8-of-13 for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Kaufman Proving to Be Go-To Receiver: Sophomore Brandon Kaufman is proving to be Eastern's go-to receiver, catching a team-leading 41 passes for 732 yards and eight touchdowns thus far. He ranks 20th in FCS in receiving yards per game (81.3) and is 69th in receptions per game (4.56).
Among his three catches at Portland State on Oct. 30 was a 15-yard touchdown grab. He had just four catches for 34 yards against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but he had a 17-yard touchdown to start the scoring and a game-winning 6-yard scoring grab with 33 seconds in the game. One game prior, he had a five-catch, 94-yard performance against Northern Colorado, which included a 4-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 left that knotted the score at 28. He is a 2009 graduate of Heritage High School in the Denver, Colo., area, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley. His family was at the game in force, reportedly purchasing 80 tickets for the game.
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) and Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 (five catches for 117 yards).
Not Bad for a Backup: A senior starting cornerback who is essentially the backup for Eastern kickoff return specialist Taiwan Jones, Jesse Hoffman returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in EWU's 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado. 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 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. For the season, Hoffman is averaging 28.7 yards per return, while Jones is averaging 20.4 with a long of 30. Hoffman's career average of 24.2 yards on 22 career returns now ranks eighth in school history, bumping Jones' 22.8 average to 11th.
Jerry Ceja Makes Dreams Come True for Defensive Tackles: Thanks to huge plays made by sophomore defensive end Jerry Ceja, Eastern defensive tackles have some great memories. And Eastern has two wins in the book as a result too.
Jerry Ceja, a sophomore from Aurora, Colo., made the first start of his career at Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 and he had the team's defensive play of the game. He forced a fumble on a sack late in the game that was picked up by teammate Tyler Jolley and returned 17 yards. That gave EWU the ball 39 yards from the end zone and led to EWU's winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play in the 35-28 victory.
Earlier in the season, Ceja forced fumble on a sack on the final play of the game that was returned 34 yards for a score by Renard Williams and secured EWU's 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies.
Ceja, whose older brother Dominique Ceja is a backup offensive tackle for Northern Colorado, is a 2009 graduate of Grandview High School in Aurora, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley, Colo.
Williams Has First Sack of 2010 Season: Eastern defensive tackle Renard Williams, who had nine sacks to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, had his first sack of the season against Weber State on Oct. 2. He now has 12.5 in his career as he nears Eastern's all-time leaders list. Currently 12th, with 15.5 sacks, is Brandon Moore (1999-02). Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, Williams has 87 tackles in his 30-game career, including 26 for losses totaling 149 yards.
Zuber's Average 24th in FCS: Senior punter Cameron Zuber has a 40.88 average this season to rank 24th in FCS, with 16 of his 41 punts downed inside the 20. Zuber currently has a 40.4 career average, good enough to rank fifth in EWU history. Last year he had a 39.9 average with 14 of his 43 punts downed inside the 20.
Most recently, he averaged 40.2 yards in four punts, with two downed inside the 20, in EWU's 50-17 win at Portland State. 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.
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 21 tackles in his career. He had three in 2008, eight in 2009 and 10 thus far in 2010.
He was a fullback in 2008 as a redshirt freshman, then proved to be more valuable with the ball in his hands and moved to running back the following season. As EWU's backup running back behind All-American Taiwan Jones, he rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown a year ago and has 214 yards and a pair of rushing TDs this season. When Jones was sidelined because of an injury on Oct. 2 versus Weber State, he responded with a 78-yard rushing performance, scoring once on a rush and another on a TD reception in EWU's 35-24 win.
Thanks to a Wager, Twins Easier to Tell Apart: A friendly wager between teammates has helped make it easier for people to tell identical twins Zach and Matt Johnson apart this season. Zach has a friendly wager with starting free safety Jeff Minnerly and redshirt Ronnie Hamlin as to who will cut their hair first. Although Minnerly is also sporting a healthy beard, facial hair is not included in the yet-to-be-determined wager, because Zach admits he can't grow any. Meanwhile, Zach's twin brother Matt Johnson continues to sport a short-cropped haircut as both players had for their careers until this season. Even their jersey numbers can be confusing, having changed their numbers in 2009 after wearing entirely different numbers as freshmen in 2008. Then, in the middle of last season Matt moved from No. 5 to No. 10 as a tribute to his brother, who was lost for the season with a blood clot in his leg. They've returned to their normal numbers this season.
Brice Leahy Returns for First Action Since Catastrophic Injury: Senior Brice Leahy, a 2008 honorable mention All-Big Sky performer, saw his first action in nearly two years in Eastern's 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona. 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."
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.
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.
Series History: The Eagles and Thunderbirds have met just four times previously, with Southern Utah winning the first game and Eastern the last three. The lone game in the series played in Cheney came in 2003 when Eastern prevailed 49-21. Eastern lost 43-21 in Cedar City in 1998, but won there in 2002 (49-14) and 2009 (41-28).
Last Season . . . Nichols Breaks Big Sky Total Offense Record in 41-28 Victory -- A career-long 52-yard touchdown run was just part of a sensational day for Eastern Washington University senior quarterback Matt Nichols as he broke the Big Sky Conference career record for total offense in 18th-ranked EWU's 41-28 non-conference football victory over Southern Utah Nov. 14, 2009, at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City, Utah.
Nichols passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns to finish with 455 yards of total offense and account for five TDs on the day. That gave him 12,440 yards in his 45-game career, breaking the 17-year-old record of 12,287 held by Weber State's Jamie Martin (1989-92).
Nichols will remember the Southern Utah game not only for the record, but for his long rush as well. Eastern opened a 21-0 lead on his three touchdown passes to tight end Nathan Overbay, and his scoring rush late in the third quarter gave EWU a 28-7 cushion.
Eastern finished the Southern Utah game with 608 yards of total offense, which was EWU's most since finishing with 626 two years ago in a FCS Playoff victory over McNeese State. Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones finished with 222 all-purpose yards -- 77 rushing, 75 receiving and 70 on kickoff returns.
Jones set-up EWU's first score by returning the game's opening kickoff 50 yards, and he added a touchdown both rushing and receiving. Senior wide receiver Tony Davis caught eight passes for 106 yards. Overbay finished with six catches for 59 yards, and now has 11 touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, FCS tackles leader J.C. Sherritt hit his average with 13 tackles, and also recovered a fumble. Fellow linebackers Makai Borden and Bobby Gentry each had 12 tackles, and Matt Johnson had six tackles, a forced fumble and broke up a pass.
"I was proud of both sides of the ball -- we were able to get an early lead," said Baldwin. "Late in the game they scored a couple times, but our defense was able to get a crucial stop on fourth down and we were then able to punch it in. It was a great team effort, and any time you go on the road and beat an undefeated home team, you feel good about your team's overall effort."
In losing to the Eagles, the Thunderbirds suffered their first loss at home after going 4-0 in Cedar City, including wins over Dixie State (36-7), Texas State (38-16), North Dakota (35-10) and UC Davis (56-35).
"We went up against a great team that was 4-0 at home, so we knew it was going to be a tough challenge," added Baldwin. "They just kept coming too -- it felt like a few times we were going to put them away and they came right back at us."
Milestones for Eagles & Roos: Eastern's win over Sacramento State on Oct. 23 was Eastern's 100th Big Sky Conference victory since becoming a member of the league in 1987. The Eagles are now 101-81 (.554) in 24 seasons.
Also, Michael Roos started his 150th consecutive game Oct. 24 in Tennessee's 37-19 win over Philadelphia. Since he became an offensive lineman as a sophomore at Eastern Washington University in 2002, he has started every football game he has played in eight seasons as a collegian or professional. Here's the math: 35 starts at EWU (3 seasons, 2002-04) + 25 preseason NFL Games (6 seasons) + 88 regular season NFL Games (5+ seasons) +2 NFL Playoff Games (2007 & 2008) +1 NFL Pro Bowl Game (February 2009) =151-Straight Starts as of 11/8/2010
Panoramic Print Available to Commemorate EWU Victory Over Montana: A large panoramic print from the inaugural red turf game at EWU's Roos Field on Sept. 18 is now available to purchase via the EWU bookstore at http://bookstore.ewu.edu. The 13 1/2" x 40" print is available unframed for $30 or framed for $89 (standard) or $199 (deluxe). Other items commemorating the red turf debut and EWU's 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies are also available via the bookstore.
Action photos from the game are also available for purchase at: http://www.ewu.printroom.com
The SWX game broadcast and the documentary "Rolling Out the Red Carpet" are also available for purchase via SWX. CLICK HERE for ordering information.
Nichols Signs With Eskimos: Former Eastern All-America quarterback Matt Nichols signed Oct. 13 with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. At Edmonton, he is reunited with his former Eastern teammate Greg Peach (2005-08), a defensive end who won the Buck Buchanan Award in 2008. Former Eagle defensive tackle Dario Romero (1997-2000) also plays for the Eskimos. Nichols, who set numerous EWU and Big Sky passing records including career yards (12,616) and touchdowns (96), originally signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL but was released in the preseason. CLICK HERE for a story on the signing of Nichols by the Eskimos.
Record Enrollment at EWU: For the second consecutive year, Eastern Washington University is experiencing record enrollment to start the academic year, which began Sept. 22. EWU reports its fall 2010 enrollment as 10,750 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, almost 250 more than the record quarter of fall 2009. Eastern also is seeing an increase in new students, led by a freshmen class of 1,543, a 75 student jump from last fall's freshman number and the second largest in school history (Eastern had 1,600 freshmen in 2005). CLICK HERE for more information.
First Six Opponents Nationally-Ranked, Including Top Four Picks in League Race: Eastern started the season against a Nevada team that played in last year's Hawaii Bowl, and the schedule has been difficult ever since.
Eastern lost that game 49-24, and Nevada started the season 6-0 and was ranked as high as 19th in the Associated Press poll of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Central Washington was ranked as high as fifth in NCAA Division II, and was 12th when the Eagles edged them 35-32 at the "Showdown on the Sound" in Seattle on Sept. 11.
After that, Eastern played the top four picks in the league's preseason predictions besides itself, and all four have been nationally ranked this season in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Montana, which Eastern defeated 36-27 on Sept. 18, was ranked sixth in the nation the week Eastern played them, but was No. 1 the week before that. Eastern was ranked ninth after the win over UM, but lost 30-7 to a Montana State team that was 17th at the time and has ranked as high as ninth this season.
The Eagles won their next two games, including a 35-24 victory over a Weber State team ranked as high as 19th this year. On Oct. 9, Eastern defeated a Northern Arizona team ranked 26th in the Sports Network poll and 24th in the coaches poll, then ranked 21st after upsetting Montana State 34-7 on Oct. 16.
Eastern was picked to finish second in the league behind Montana, with Montana State picked to finish third. Weber State was selected fourth and NAU fifth, followed by Sacramento State, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho State.
Even Without Jones, Five Scoring Drives Help Eastern Knock Off Wildcats: Eastern had an offensive performance to be proud of in its 35-24 win at Weber State, especially considering the fact the Eagles didn't have Taiwan Jones available as he continued to nurse a pelvic contusion.
Eastern scored touchdowns on 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. Junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell led Eastern's 465-yard offensive attack by completing 23-of-36 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. He nearly had a fifth, but was intercepted at the goal-line on a 68-yard Eagle drive in the first quarter.
The Eagles also received a 78-yard rushing performance by Jones' replacement, Darriell Beaumonte, who scored once on a rush and another on a TD reception. Receiver Brandon Kaufman caught five passes for 138 yards and Ashton Gant had career highs with four catches for 86 yards.
Start of School Has Sometimes Translated to Setbacks for Eagles -- The start of classes in late September for EWU signals the end of the month-long, football-only period for the Eagles. And in the last 11 years, it's made winning on the field that much more difficult.
From 2000-2010, Eastern is 5-5 in the first game after school begins (includes one bye), including a 30-7 loss at Montana State on Sept. 25. But in the game after the first full week of school, Eastern is 4-7 since 2000, including EWU's 35-24 triumph over Weber State on Oct. 2.
In 2009 the Eagles avoided any start of school pratfalls. The 2009 fall quarter began on Sept. 23, followed by EWU's 56-30 victory at Sacramento State. The Eagles followed that with an equally-convincing 38-3 win at Idaho State on Oct. 3 to improve to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
Special Teams Were Special Versus Griz: Led by the three field goals of junior kicker Mike Jarrett -- including the game-winner for all intents and purposes -- Eastern's special teams were special in Eastern's 36-27 victory over Montana on Sept. 18.
Jarrett was short on his first field goal attempt from 41 yards out, but made a pair of 20-yarders before his clutch 31-yard kick with four seconds to play in the game. His boot broke a 27-all tie, and Eastern added a touchdown on the game's final play to win by nine.
Last season Jarrett was 5-of-10 kicking field goals with a long of 49. A former walk-on, Jarrett's brother Bryan was an All-Big Sky Conference safety while playing for EWU from 2005-07.
"We were struggling a little bit with our red zone offense -- we couldn't punch it in there," said Baldwin. "But I'm so proud of Mike Jarrett for making three field goals, including the last one."
Junior Darriell Beaumonte also had a huge special teams play by blocking a punt and returning it six yards for a score -- EWU's first blocked punt returned for a TD since 2004. Matt Johnson also forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by sophomore Artise Gauldin, and freshman redshirt J.C. Agen recovered a fumble on yet another UM punt return.
"Special teams were huge," added Baldwin. "We've put an emphasis on special teams this year. We're giving out special teams awards and we're doing things like letting them eat first at team meals. We feel like we needed to improve on that, and that was an area in the past that I felt Montana had an edge on us. Based on what I saw live, I felt like we created it to be an advantage for us this year."
Griz-Eagle Matchup Lives Up to Hype: In a series full of drama, the 2010 meeting between Eastern and Montana was the ninth time in the last 15 meetings that both teams entered the game nationally ranked. And it went down to the wire as the Eagles pulled out a 36-27 victory.
The first football game on Eastern's new red Sprinturf surface was a huge success as the 18th-ranked Eagles knocked off the No. 6 Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference opener for both schools on Sept. 18 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Junior Mike Jarrett nailed a 31-yard field goal with four seconds left to give Eastern a 30-27 lead, then the Eagles iced it on the final play of the game with a 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown by junior defensive tackle Renard Williams after a sack and forced fumble by sophomore end Jerry Ceja with additional pressure by senior Tyler Jolley. Junior All-America running back Taiwan Jones had 305 all-purpose yards -- including a career-high 221 rushing yards -- to lead EWU's 503-yard offensive output.
It was Eastern's first victory over Montana since 2005, giving Eastern's seniors their first win over the Grizzlies. Since 1990, Eastern has won four times on UM's home field in Missoula, but Eastern had won just twice at home in that span until this year. The lone win since then at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) came in 1991, and Eastern's change to a red synthetic Sprinturf surface and change of name altered its success in Cheney where the Eagles had a six-game losing streak.
Montana now leads the series 25-11-1, and has still won six of the last eight meetings. Since winning three-straight over Montana from 1990-92, Eastern has won just four times -- 40-35 in 1997 (in Missoula), 30-21 in 2002 (at Albi Stadium in Spokane), 34-20 in 2005 (in Missoula) and 36-27 in 2010 (in Cheney) -- in the last 18 meetings. Overall, Eastern is 4-13-1 in Missoula, 6-11 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites.
The Eagles shared the 2004 and 2005 Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
Nine recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 25 times in 37 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007, 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005 and 503 in a 2010 victory in Cheney. In fact, in the last 25 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.6 points. In seven of those 25 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-34 Grizzly win in Missoula in 2009.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. Besides the late-game heroics by the Eagles in 2010, Eastern knotted the 2009 meeting at 34 with 4:58 to play, only to have the Grizzlies drive for the winning score with 1:18 left in a 41-34 victory. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. Eastern wide receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-best receiving effort in Big Sky Conference history with a school-record 17 catches to earn NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week honors from The Sports Network. His 232 receiving yards were the second-most in school history, and Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 451 yards to rank third all-time at EWU.
In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the eight matchups in the last 14 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally ranked:
2010 - #18 Eastern Washington 36, #6 Montana 27 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2009 - #3 Montana 41, #21 Eastern Washington 34 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2008 - #12 Montana 19, #23 Eastern Washington 3 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34, #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (2 overtimes in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 40, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
A QB Six Months Earlier, Minnerly Leads Eagles in Tackles in Opener: A quarterback last March when spring drills began for the Eagles, less than six months later Jeff Minnerly found himself as the team's leading tackler in Eastern's 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2.
He finished the game with eight tackles, including seven unassisted stops. A sophomore who graduated from Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., in 2008, Minnerly made his first career start at free safety. After earning EWU's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year while redshirting in 2008, Minnerly completed 4-of-8 passes for six yards in 2009 while serving as the backup to All-American and two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year Matt Nichols.
But he was caught in a logjam of quarterbacks last spring, including Southern Methodist transfer Bo Levi Mitchell. Minnerly's move to defense took place on April 13, and he had an interception in a scrimmage that very day. He is also EWU's holder on placekicks and Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said the decision to move from quarterback was to enable the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore a greater chance to use his athletic ability to contribute to the team.
"Few players are gifted enough physically and mentally to make a significant move like that," explained Baldwin. "We thought it would be the best thing for the team and Jeff to make this move, and we feel like he has all the tools to be an excellent safety. He still had a chance to compete for our quarterback position, but he has an even better opportunity to compete and earn playing time at the safety position."
Minnerly earned first team 4A All-State honors as a quarterback from WashingtonPreps.com, and was the Offensive Most Valuable Player in the Greater Spokane League after throwing for 27 touchdowns and just one interception as a senior. Also known for his scrambling ability, he was MVP for the East when he directed his team to a game-winning, 93-yard drive in the final 3:31 for a 17-14 victory in the 4A/3A East-West All-State Game.
Minnerly was also a starter for the two-time WIAA State 4A Champions in basketball, who were 29-0 both seasons. Ferris was the first 4A school to go unbeaten two consecutive seasons. He was a 4.0 student in high school and was his school's male recipient of the prestigious Greater Spokane League Scholar-Athlete award.
"Jeff is a great competitor," Baldwin added. "He's demonstrated his great football skills during agility drills in the winter, as well as his ability as a quarterback to cover ground and move. He'll bring leadership and intelligence to the safety position, and that will be huge."
Starting Over . . . Again: Eastern has been down this road before.
Much like 2005 when quarterback Erik Meyer graduated after winning the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eagle fans are wondering what Eagle Football will be like without 17 Eagle seniors who combined for 350 starts in their careers.
Most notably, the Eagles lose All-American and Big Sky Conference all-time passing leader Matt Nichols, who was the league's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009. Nichols replaced Meyer at quarterback in 2006 and helped the Eagles to 26 victories and a pair of FCS Playoff berths. In all, Nichols broke 14 school records and six Big Sky Conference marks.
"I still remember after the 2005 season that somebody said to me, 'we'll see what you're like in the post-Erik Meyer era,'" said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who concluded his second season as head coach and sixth overall at EWU. "It was tough for a year for sure, but Matt came along after that and proved to be pretty good. We'll get the same questions this year."
Interestingly, neither Meyer nor Nichols locked-up the starting quarterback position during the spring before their starting debuts. Meyer and Skyler Allen were locked in a tight competition in spring 2003, and it wasn't until the third game of the season that Meyer locked up the starting job. Nichols and Chris Peerboom shared snaps early in the 2006 season, and Peerboom started the team's opener before Nichols started the final 10 games that season and 45 of the 47 games he played in his career.
More Position Changes: A trio of returning Eagle letter winners changed positions in the spring, including defensive lineman-turned-linebacker Paul Ena. Ena took over at that position for the final two games of the 2009 season, and will stay there this season. Others making a move include Jason Harris from linebacker to tight end, Tyler Hart from running back to wide receiver and Grant Williams from fullback/running back to linebacker. In the fall, Daniel Johnson was moved from running back to receiver as well, and Allen Brown and Chandler Gayton shifted to safety from cornerback.
Hope Up Front: One of Eastern's hopes for the 2010 season is that a more experienced defensive unit up front will control the line of scrimmage more and, overall, the defensive side of the ball won't be on the field as much as they were in 2009. A productive running game will help Eastern toward that goal after Eastern's quick-strike offense in 2009 helped lead to an average of 76 plays per game for opponents. That was nearly six more per game than EWU, which had a half-minute deficit in time of possession despite out-gaining opponents 462-428 per game.
A year ago, Eastern finished sixth in FCS in turnover margin, averaging 1.25 less turnovers per game than its opponents. That will continue to be an emphasis after Eastern was 6-0 during the regular season when it won the turnover battle, with a 22-4 advantage in those six games.
"We obviously want to expand on that because we thought it was a huge part of our success in 2009," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin.
Eagles Schedule Another Game Versus UW for 2014: The Eagles are making up for lost time.
Eastern Washington University has scheduled a second football game against the University of Washington, giving the Eagles games in both 2011 and 2014 versus the Huskies of the Pacific 10 Conference. The announcement of the agreement was made jointly by EWU and UW on Sept. 15, 2010.
Eastern will open the 2011 season at Husky Stadium on Sept. 3, then will return on Sept. 6, 2014. The Eagles will play at Washington State in 2012 and Oregon State in 2013, giving Eastern four-straight games against Pac 10 opponents. Besides games in 1907 and 1908 against Washington State, Eastern's only other games versus Pac 10 opponents have been against Oregon State (2000 and 2006), Arizona State (2002) and California (2009). Eastern has also played recent Pac 10 recruit Colorado (2008).
Eastern has never played Washington.
"We are extremely excited about scheduling Washington again in 2014," said Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves. "Given the roster makeup of our team, those two games against the Huskies affords the many student-athletes we have from the west side of the state the opportunity to play at 'home' against Washington. That will no doubt be a memorable experience and thrill for not only our players and coaches, but our fans and alumni as well."
Eastern was a member of the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for most of its history before becoming a member of FCS in 1984. But despite playing 26 games against NCAA Football Bowl Division members since 1983 -- including four against the Pacific 10 Conference -- the Eagles have not played Washington State or Washington during that time span.
The Eagles are scheduled to make the short 90-mile trek to Pullman, Wash., on Sept. 8, 2012, to face Washington State University in the first varsity meeting between the two schools in more than 100 years. Eastern lost to the Cougars in 1907 (46-0) and 1908 (73-0), and were 8-10-1 from 1921-46 against WSU's junior varsity or freshman teams.
Washington State is coached by Paul Wulff, who was 53-40 with three NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff berths as Eastern's head coach for eight seasons (2000-2007). He spent a total of 15 seasons at EWU as a coach, and several members of his staff are former Eagle coaches.
Chaves also said the Eagles are scheduled to play at Idaho -- also located about 90 miles from EWU's campus -- in Moscow, Idaho, on Sept. 1, 2012.
The last time Eastern played Idaho was in 2003 when Eastern won 8-5 in the Kibbie Dome. Eastern is 5-15 all-time against its former Big Sky Conference rival, and 2-3 since the Vandals moved to FBS in 1996.
2011 EWU Tentative Schedule -- 9/3 - at Washington; 9/10 - TBA; 9/17 - at Montana; 9/24 - Montana State; 10/1 - Weber State; 10/8 - at Northern Arizona; 10/15 - Northern Colorado; 10/22 - at Sacramento State; 10/29 - Portland State; 11/5 - Bye; 11/12 - at Cal Poly; 11/19 - at Idaho State.
2012 Schedule -- 9/1 - at Idaho; 9/8 - at Washington State; 9/15 - Idaho State; 9/22 - Sacramento State; 9/29 - at Portland State; 10/6 - Montana; 10/13 - at Montana State; 10/20 - at Northern Colorado; 10/27 - Northern Arizona; 11/3 - Cal Poly
11/10 - at Weber State; 11/17 - Bye.
2013 Schedule -- 8/31 - at Oregon State
2014 Schedule -- 9/6 - at Washington
Eagles Versus The Pacific 10 Conference -- Since the early 1980's when it began the move to become a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (in 1984), Eastern is now 7-19 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Against the Pacific 10 Conference, EWU is 0-4. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young - L, 7-42
2008 - at #12 Texas Tech - L, 24-49
2008 - at Colorado - L, 24-31
2009 - at #10 California - L, 7-59
2010 - at Nevada - L, 24-49
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's made its seventh appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2009 when the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round. It was also the fourth berth in a six-year span as EWU's appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances. Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-7 record in six playoff appearances.
In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.
Until 2004, Eastern hadn't appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other postseason experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
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)