Matt and His Twin Brother Zach Johnson 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 Big Sky Conference football win over Sacramento State last Saturday (Oct. 23).
The 2007 graduate of Tumwater (Wash.) High School finished with nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and had three passes broken up for the Eagles. Eastern, which is ranked eighth for the second week in a row in this week's Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, plays Portland State this Saturday (Oct. 30) in Hillsboro, Ore. Johnson had a Big Sky Conference record four interceptions last season versus the Vikings.
Against Sac State, he 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.
He and his twin brother Zach Johnson, a starting weak-side linebacker, have had big games for four consecutive weeks. In that quartet of games -- all victories -- they have combined for 79 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes broken up.
Matt now ranks fourth in school history in interceptions with 14, and he is now just four interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) with 17 each.
Matt now has 246 tackles in his career to move up five spots last week and now rank 10th all-time at Eastern. He has four interceptions this season, an average of 0.43 per game that ranks 24th in FCS. So far this season, Zach is second on the team with 67 tackles and Matt is right behind with 62. Zach currently has 163 tackles in his 19-game career for an average of 8.6 per game compared to the 7.9 average for his brother.
Matt also had a big game 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. 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.
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 when a blood clot in Zach's leg sidelined him for the entire season.