Judging from recent scores, Eagles versus Vikings will be another down-to-the-wire game
Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
Portland State “Vikings”
Saturday, October 30 • 5:05 p.m.
Hillsboro Stadium (7,825/FieldTurf) • Hillsboro, Ore.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington ‘96)
School Record: 20-11/16-6 Big Sky (3rd Season)
Career Record: 30-14 (4th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009)
2010: 6-2/5-1 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: EWU 28, Sacramento State 24 (Oct. 23 in Cheney, Wash.)
2009: 8-4/6-2 Big Sky Conference
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.
Let the nail-biting continue.
With all four league games going down to the wire last week, the eighth-ranked Eastern Washington University Eagles find themselves in another tussle to remain on top of the Big Sky Conference football standings when they play at Portland State this Saturday (Oct. 30). Kickoff at Hillsboro Stadium in Hillsboro, Ore., is 5:05 p.m. Pacific time.
The game is not televised, but Eastern’s 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.
The Vikings are coming off a 44-41 road loss at Weber State as PSU fell to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big Sky. Portland State also fell to Montana 22-21 and at Montana State 44-31 after knocking off Idaho State 38-3 in its league opener.
Eastern, meanwhile has needed to come up with a huge defensive stops and offensive scores in the final minute to win its last two games over un-ranked opponents -- 28-24 over Sacramento State last week and 35-28 at Northern Colorado a week earlier.
Eastern is tied with Montana on top of the league standings at 5-1, with MSU right behind at 4-1. The Eagles have won their six games this season by an average of just 6.8 points per game and have been out-scored by an average of 24 points in its two losses.
The Eagles remain ranked eighth in this week’s Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. It equals Eastern's highest ranking since finishing the 2007 season ranked eighth.
“It’s the biggest game of the year -- again,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of this week’s contest, which will be followed by a bye week for EWU. “Portland State, like every team in this conference this year, is better. Portland State could have easily beaten Montana, so obviously they are a very good football team.”
All four league games last week were decided by four points or less -- Montana edged Northern Arizona 24-21 and MSU knocked-off Northern Colorado 37-35 in the other two games last week.
The Sagarin computer rankings have illustrated the league’s strength thus far, with the Big Sky the top-rated FCS conference in the country the past two weeks (the Colonial is first this week followed by the Big Sky). Nevada is 25th nationally among all FCS and FBS schools, while Northern Arizona is 80th to rank seventh among all FCS schools. Eastern is right behind in eighth and 83rd overall, followed by MSU (10th/91st), Montana (14th/97th), Sacramento State (18th/105th), Southern Utah (28th/124th), Portland State (34th/136th), Weber State (37th/142nd), Northern Colorado (60th/173rd) and Idaho State (86th/205th).
“We better be ready to go and ready for a battle,” he continued. “Unless something changes, it’s probably going to take all 60 minutes to get a win. That’s what we will tell our team and try to do.”
Eastern’s defense has been the driving force behind EWU’s 6-2 record overall thus far -- 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 5-1 league mark is its best six-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.
“At the end of the day we’re 5-1 in the conference and that’s huge -- we haven’t been 5-1 in a long time,” said Baldwin. “Our players seem to find a way at the end of games in the fourth quarter. I’m hoping that at some point, when we do get a halftime lead, we’ll find a way to put teams away in the third quarter.”
Last season at Seattle’s Qwest Field, Eastern had a 545-278 advantage in total offense in a 47-10 romp over the Vikings. But the previous season in 2008 in a 47-36 Portland State win, the Vikings passed for 623 yards and five touchdowns.
More on Portland State: Portland State’s new head coach is Nigel Burton, who is a former defensive coordinator at Nevada. Although he coached the other side of the ball for the Wolf Pack, he has installed the “pistol” offense at PSU and has had positive results thus far. The Vikings are 15th in FCS in rushing offense (220.0 per game) and 26th in total offense (394.3), and are 45th in scoring (25.9) and 77th in passing (174.3). Cory McCaffrey is 16th nationally in rushing (108.9), and quarterback Connor Kavanaugh is 29th in total offense (71.3 rushing and 158.4 passing for 229.7 total).
“They’ve improved dramatically in a number of areas and Coach Burton has done a great job,” Baldwin said. “They may not have won some of the games they would have liked, but you can see the competitive level rising. I said it last week about Sac State and I can say it again about Portland State, but they can very easily have a winning record at this point in the Big Sky if a few things would have gone this way or that way. They are going to be a very tough opponent.”
Eastern lost to Nevada 49-24 to open the season, but despite the familiarity, Baldwin knows his team has work to do to prepare for such a high-powered offensive attack.
“It’s never easy to play against,” Baldwin said. “When they run as well as they have lately, it’s a very tough offense to stop. Having played Nevada gives us a little bit of a leg up, but that was quite awhile ago and we’ll have to revisit that offense. But even if you know what’s coming and you’ve played against it, it’s a challenge to stop. They have good players running it.”
Following Eastern’s bye, the Eagles return home to Roos Field for their final two home games of the season. After a non-league game versus Southern Utah on Nov. 13, Eastern closes the regular season versus Idaho State on Nov. 20. Both games begin at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time.
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 100-81 (.552) 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) + 87 regular season NFL Games (5+ seasons) +2 NFL Playoff Games (2007 & 2008) +1 NFL Pro Bowl Game (February 2009) =150-Straight Starts as of 10/24/2010
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 the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Casino and Resort. The sessions, which include giveaways and other special guests, takes place each Monday (except for Nov. 1) 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:
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 Three 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 second nationally in interceptions (total of 15, ranking only behind the 18 of New Hampshire) and is third in turnovers gained (23, ranking only behind New Hampshire and Jacksonville with 24). However, the Eagles are 105th out of 117 FCS schools in turnovers lost (20), and are only 38th nationally in turnover margin (.38 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 had fewer turnovers than its opponent. This year, the Eagles are 4-0 (5-0 including a tie in turnovers with Sacramento 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. Last week was the main indication, 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 three games have been strange to say the least. Eastern won all three by margins of seven, seven and four points, but opponents had 76 more plays than the Eagles, an average difference of just over 25 plays per game. Additionally, opponents have had a 107:26 to 72:34 advantage in time of possession -- a difference of nearly 12 minutes per game.
However, Eastern has averaged 6.3 yards per play (1,058 total yards) compared to just 4.4 for opponents (1,077 yards). In rushing, the Eagles have averaged 5.1 per carry (457 yards) compared to just 2.5 for opponents (335 yards). For the season, Eastern ranks 57th nationally in rushing defense (142.6 per game and 3.49 per rush).
In Eastern’s 28-24 triumph over Sacramento State, 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.
A week earlier in a 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16, 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.
A season-high five turnovers led to 30 less plays against Northern Arizona (87 to 57), 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.
Eastern 3-0 at the “Inferno”: Now 3-0 at home this season, 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, 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 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. 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 (200 starts by 20 players): Matt Johnson 31, J.C. Sherritt 28, Tyler Jolley 24, Renard Williams 22, Zach Johnson 19, Evan Cook 13, Tyler Washburn 12, Dante Calcote 11, Jesse Hoffman 9, David Miles 8, Jeff Minnerly 8, Paul Ena 6, David Gaylord 2, Jerry Ceja 2, Artise Gauldin 1, Anthony Larry 1, Will Edge 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Grant Williams 1 (includes one start on offense in 2009).
Offense (172 starts by 20 players): Chris Powers 20, Nikolai Myers 19, Gabriel Jackson 19, Nicholas Edwards 19, Taiwan Jones 18 (includes four on defense in 2008), Matt Martin 13, Brandon Kaufman 13, Brice Leahy 11, Steven Forgette 8, Bo Levi Mitchell 7, Will Post 7, Ashton Gant 6, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 2, Zack Gehring 2, Clint Moquist 1, Brandon Murphy 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Josh Antonson 1, Ryan Seto 1.
Injury Report: 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 is expected to return soon, if not this week, then following Eastern’s bye. Cook, however, is lost for the season, which will enable him to have shoulder surgery right away after previously planning to delay that until the end of the year.
Backup tight end Ryan Seto (shoulder) and backup offensive tackle Caleb Worthington (knee) have both missed the last two games. Seto will be further evaluated this week, but Worthington could return for the PSU game or following the bye week. Before Worthington’s injury against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, 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. Seto made the first start of his career against the Lumberjacks.
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 -- all 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 probably 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.
Matt Johnson Big Sky Player of the Week Again as 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.
He finished with nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and had three passes broken up for the Eagles. Matt returned his first-quarter interception 42 yards to set-up EWU’s first score en route to a 21-0 lead. Later in the quarter he broke-up a pass on third down that led to Sac State turning the ball over on downs. His third pass broken up came on a hail mary pass on the final play of the day, a play that he could have secured for his 15th career interception but instead safely batted the ball to the ground to end the game.
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.
Most recently, 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 19-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 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. 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.
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 347, moving him past Derek Strey (346 from 1994-97) and tied with Jason Marsh (347 from 1991-93). The senior strong-side inside linebacker needs 53 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 -- including one in each of his last three games -- to go along with 10 passes broken up and a pair of sacks.
Sherritt is EWU’s leading tackler thus far with 91 for the season, an average of 11.38 per game that ranks 12th 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 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 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 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 was updated on Oct. 4 and will be revised again on Oct. 25. 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.
Payton Award Candidate Taiwan Jones 121 Yards From Another 1,000-Yard Season: Thanks to his 10th 100-yard rushing performance in his 19 games as an Eagle running back, junior Taiwan Jones is now just 121 yards from his second-straight 1,000-yard season.
The Walter Payton Award candidate 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. That gives him 879 yards for the season, an average of 125.57 yards per game that ranks sixth 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 fourth with an average of 194.1 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He is also 20th in scoring (7.71 per game with nine total touchdowns).
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.
“Taiwan played his best game probably since the Montana game,” said Baldwin of Jones, who missed one game after suffering a pelvic contusion nearly a month ago at Montana State. “I don’t question Taiwan’s heart -- he’s one of the toughest players we have pound-for-pound. He was just getting past an injury that made it hard for him to even function the past couple of weeks. And he’s still fighting through that. I love the kid and love the way he works, and he made a strong effort to practice every day. We felt like it was important that he got a lot of reps in practice.”
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 7.3 yards per rush.
Jones became only the 12th Eagle to rush for over 2,000 yards in his career, and is currently 11th with 2,092. He also has a career average of 152.3 all-purpose yards per game to currently rank second in school history, 29 total touchdowns to rank fourth, his total of 3,959 all-purpose yards are eighth, his 1,049 kickoff return yards are seventh, his average of 22.8 yards per kickoff return is 11th and he ranks ninth in points scored with 174.
He now has 10 plays in his career of 71 yards or more, 15 of at least 50 and 29 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. Nine times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has 10 rushing performances of at least 100 yards.
Jones earned Big Sky Conference and national accolades for his career-high 221-yard rushing performance in Eastern’s 36-27 victory over Montana Sept. 18 in the inaugural game on EWU’s new red synthetic Sprinturf surface at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Jones was honored nationally as one of five College Sporting News All-Stars for the week, and was also the FCS performer of the week at running back by College Football Performance Awards. In addition, he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time in his career and second time this season, having also won the award following EWU’s game at Nevada on Sept. 2.
His total of 305 all-purpose yards against the Grizzlies (second-most in his career behind the 322 against Nevada) was his ninth career performance of at least 200 yards. His 27 carries were also a career high by nine as Eastern finished with 503 yards of total offense. Jones scored on a 72-yard run in the second quarter and also had a 45-yard pass reception. But perhaps the biggest run of the day for Jones was a 13-yard run during Eastern’s final scoring drive, including a brilliant spin move that got him the extra yards needed for an important first down. It was on a third-and-10 play, and was just Eastern’s second third down conversion of the day in 14 attempts -- including a string of nine-straight misses to start the game. Jones accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on that 12-play drive.
“He’s huge,” praised Baldwin. “He comes up big in big games -- that’s the type of player he is. At the same time, he’s an amazing teammate. He cares about his teammates and his team first more than anything else. He never ceases to amaze me. You put him in that position and he’s one of those guys who have talent but he also has a huge heart. He’s not afraid of any situation.”
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.
Mitchell Ranked 15th Nationally in PassingYards: Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell has completed 57.0 percent of his passes for 1,885 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 130.97. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 15th in passing offense (235.6 yards per game), 23rd in total offense (245.0) and 33rd in efficiency (130.97).
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 the two games prior to that, 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 38 passes for 675 yards and seven touchdowns thus far. He ranks 17th in FCS in receiving yards per game (84.4) and is 56th in receptions per game (4.75).
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).
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.
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 28.1 yards per return, while Jones is averaging 20.4 with a long of 30. Hoffman’s career average of 23.8 yards on 21 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 86 tackles in his 30-game career, including 25 for losses totaling 142 yards.
Zuber’s Average 22nd in FCS: Senior punter Cameron Zuber has a 40.95 average this season to rank 22nd in FCS, with 14 of his 37 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.
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.
Ena Returns to End After 2009 Move to Linebacker: Continuing as one of Eastern’s most versatile players, sophomore Paul Ena is back at defensive end for the Eagles, and started at that position against Weber State on Oct. 2. David Gaylord was another first-time starter at that position for the Eagles against the Wildcats. Their insertion into the starting lineup was partly due to the lingering knee injury of Anthony Larry, whose patella was dislocated against Central Washington on Sept. 11 and fluid continued to build up and needed to be drained. Larry returned for limited snaps against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9.
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.
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.”
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 last two meetings have been in stark contrast to each other as the Eagles trail in the all-time series 18-13-1. Eastern is 6-9 against the Vikings in Portland, including a 27-24 win in 2000 at Hillsboro Stadium. Eastern is 6-9-1 at home against them and 1-0 in neutral site games. The road team has won six of the last 12 meetings, not including last year’s neutral site game in Seattle.
Last season at Seattle’s Qwest Field, Eastern had a 545-278 advantage in total offense in a 47-10 romp. But the previous season in 2008 in a 47-36 Portland State win, the Vikings passed for 623 yards and five touchdowns.
The meeting in 2008 was the third-straight victory in the series for PSU, which lost three-straight to EWU before that from 2003-05. The longest winning streak by either team was by Portland State in the first four games of the series from 1968-71.
The teams have played every year since 1990 when PSU was a member of NCAA Division II. The Vikings became a member of the Big Sky in 1996, and the series is deadlocked at seven wins apiece since then.
Last Season . . . Eagles Down Vikings 47-10 on Record-Tying Day for Matt Johnson and Matt Nichols -- Sophomore strong safety Matt Johnson and senior quarterback Matt Nichols each tied records as the Eastern Washington University football team rolled over Portland State 47-10 Oct. 31, 2009, in the “Showdown on the Sound” at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash.
Johnson intercepted four passes, tying the Big Sky Conference record shared by two other players. The most recent was 1989 as Johnson came one pick short of EWU’s school record of five set in 1986 by Mark Cordes against Boise State -- a year before Eastern became a league member.
Nichols completed 21-of-30 passes for a season-high 413 yards and four touchdowns as he tied the school’s career touchdowns passes record of 84. He shared the record with the quarterback he replaced, Erik Meyer (2002-05).
Johnson helped Eastern’s defense hold PSU without a touchdown, and Nichols helped Eastern to a 545-278 advantage in total offense. In 2008 in a 47-36 Portland State win, the Vikings passed for 623 yard and five touchdowns.
“It was a huge win,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “Our defense did a great job and our coaching staff put together a great plan. Early on, our offense sputtered in our first couple of drives, so it was our defense that found a way to get turnovers and stop them. Once our offense started clicking and our defense kept playing solid throughout, I felt pretty good about the way we played as a team.”
Nichols had his fourth 400-yard passing performance in 44 career games, and his 16th with at least 300 yards. He completed passes to eight different receivers, with six catching at least three passes. Tony Davis, one of 17 Eagle seniors honored in pre-game ceremonies, caught three passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Senior tight end Nate Overbay had four catches and a touchdown and running back Tyler Hart caught three passes with a pair of scores.
In addition, Taiwan Jones rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns, including a 47-yarder that gave EWU a 19-2 lead early in the second quarter. Eastern eventually led 33-4 at halftime and finished with 132 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“Our goal every game is to be as balanced as we can,” said Baldwin. “When we’re mixing it up and spreading the ball around, that is when we are at our very best.”
Johnson also had two tackles, and EWU’s three linebackers combined for 24 stops. True freshman Tyler Washburn led the Eagles with nine and senior Makai Borden had eight, while J.C. Sherritt finished with seven. Sherritt entered the game as the leader in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 14.9 tackles per game.
It was a happy homecoming for a total of 48 players on EWU’s 90-man roster who are from the Puget Sound area, as well as another 10 from West of the Cascade Mountains.