Injury-Riddled Eagles Play at Rested NAU
After their first victory of the season, Eagles try once again to overcome a rash of injuries when EWU travels to Flagstaff to face the Lumberjacks
Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
Northern Arizona University “Lumberjacks”
Saturday, Oct. 8 • 3:05 p.m. Pacific
Walkup Skydome (15,300) • Flagstaff, Ariz.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington ‘96)
School Record: 28-15/19-8 Big Sky Conference (4th Season)
Career Record: 38-18 (5th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009, 13-2 at EWU in 2010)
2010: 13-2 (NCAA Division I Champions)/7-1 BSC (co-champions)
2011: 1-4/1-2 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: EWU 27, Weber State 21 (Oct. 1 in Cheney, Wash,)
TV: Televised live regionally on Fox College Sports and delayed on Fox Sports Arizona at noon local time on 10/11/11.
Watch Parties: All road games will be available to watch at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights, the Swinging Doors in North Spokane and Northern Lights Brewery in downtown Spokane.
Radio: 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket” in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 21st season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen.
Internet Radio: www.espnnorthwest.com
Radio iPhone App: Search for “Spokane Radio” and download app
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays 6 p.m. at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. . . 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket”, www.espnnorthwest.com & via iphone app. (search for “Spokane Radio” and download app).
What the Eastern Washington University football team overcame last week, it will have to overcome even more this week.
The injury-riddled Eagles picked up their first win of the season last week with a gut-check 27-21 victory over Weber State, but now look for their first road victory when EWU plays at a well-rested Northern Arizona team this Saturday (Oct. 8).
Kickoff is 3:05 p.m. Pacific time at the Walkup Skydome in a game matching the 1-4 Eagles versus the 2-2 Lumberjacks. Eastern is 1-2 in the Big Sky Conference and NAU is 1-1.
The radio broadcast of the game, featuring play-by-play announcer Larry Weir, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket", via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com and via iPhone application (search for “Spokane Radio” and download the free app). It will also be televised regionally by Fox College Sports.
The Lumberjacks had a bye last week, and haven’t played since beating Idaho State 20-3 on Sept. 24. Northern Arizona opened the season with a 41-10 victory at Arizona, beat Fort Lewis 58-13 and then fell at Portland State 31-29 on Sept. 17.
Last year, Eastern beat Weber State 35-24 in Ogden in the first of 11-straight victories on Eastern’s way to the NCAA Division I Championship. Now, the Eagles are hoping this year’s triumph over the Wildcats will catapult them to a seven-game streak to end the season for EWU to have any hopes of advancing to the FCS Playoffs for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.
But Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin refuses to look that far ahead. Eastern played its first three games on the road and lost all three, then suffered a 36-21 home loss to fellow defending Big Sky co-champion Montana State on Oct. 1.
Eastern leads the all-time series against NAU 18-10, including an 8-6 mark in Flagstaff. The Eagles have won the last three meetings at the Walkup Skydome, averaging nearly 48 points per game (49-45 in 2009, 52-24 in 2007 and 42-14 in 2005).
“We’re excited to go play another football game,” Baldwin said. “We’re not worried about anything but NAU and what we need to do to prepare for that game. And again, our mindset is going to be that if we want to put ourselves in a position to win, it’s going to have to be a great week. So we are going to take that approach this week and there’s one thing on our mind: NAU.”
With wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (broken metacarpal in his left hand), cornerback Alden Gibbs (broken thumb) and linebacker Zach Johnson (knee) the latest casualties, Eastern is reeling from a rash of injuries that has reached epidemic proportions. Eight starters already have suffered injuries that have kept them out of the lineup – including four players lost for the season. In fact, only one offensive lineman – senior tackle Gabriel Jackson – has started all five Eastern games, as a total of nine players have started this season along the offensive line.
Nevertheless, the Eagles have out-gained opponents in three of five games thus far, but are behind 12-5 in the turnover department.
A week after out-gaining Washington 504-250 in total offense, Eastern had a 380-324 edge versus South Dakota. However, the Coyotes rushed for a back-breaking 230 yards, compared to a paltry 11 yards for EWU, which was equally back-breaking. Eastern had 376 total yards – including 139 rushing -- versus Montana, and held UM to 34 yards passing. But the Grizzlies had 316 of their 350 yards on the ground – the first time Eastern has surrendered 300 rushing yards in a game since the 2009 season-opener against California when the Bears finished with 342. Eastern had a 315-287 advantage in total offense through three quarters versus Montana State, but ended up getting out-gained 416-371.
Against Weber State, Eastern opened a 24-7 lead – and a 267-99 advantage in total offense -- before Weber State rallied in the second half. Eastern sealed the victory when Charles Moetului forced a fumble with 21 seconds left that was pounced on immediately by teammate Anthony Larry after the Wildcats had driven to the EWU 17-yard line. Eastern finished with a 377-359 disadvantage in total offense, but was 11-of-15 on third down compared to 7-of-15 for the Wildcats.
Eastern returns 15 starters from last year’s team that finished with a school-record 13 wins and just two losses. Twelve Eagle players garnered preseason honors, including seven who received All-America honors at the NCAA FCS level. Those players include quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, center Chris Powers and tackle Gabriel Jackson on offense, and safety Matt Johnson, linebacker Zach Johnson and tackle Renard Williams on defense.
PDF Link to Fact Book
The complete version of the 2011 EWU football fact book may be
Football Links and Headlines
EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
EWU Football News & Notes - http://www.goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/2011-12/news
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Big Sky Conference Football - http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=football&path=football
Spokane Spokesman-Review EWU Football Page - http://www.spokesman.com/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/DivisionIFCS.aspx
NCAA Statistics - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2011
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
Championship Subdivision News - http://www.championshipsubdivisionnews.com
Mitchell, Edwards, Team Passing are In Top Seven in NCAA Statistics
Eastern’s passing game, featuring quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and wide receiver Nicholas Edwards, rank in the top seven this week in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics. Mitchell is sixth in passing yards (324.6 yards per game) and is seventh in total offense (317.6), and Edwards is third in receptions per game (8.6 with a total of 43). Receiver Brandon Kaufman is 11th in receiving (7.25 with 29 total), and Edwards and Kaufman are 11th and 14th, respectively, in receiving yards per game (96.2 and 93.3). Jake Miller is 15th in FCS in punting (42.17 per punt), helping Eastern rank eighth nationally in net punting (39.06).
The Eagles are ranked seventh in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing offense (324.6 yards per game), but are also just 112th out of 121 FCS teams in rushing offense (73.4). Eastern is 34th overall in total offense (398.0) and 78th in scoring (21.2). Defensively, Eastern is 47th in FCS in total defense, allowing an average of 343.4 yards per game. Eastern is sixth in passing defense (129.4), 106th in rushing defense (214.0) and 68th in scoring defense (26.8). With seven sacks in its last two games, Eastern now ranks 25th nationally (2.6 per game). The Eagles, however, are just 109th in turnover margin (-1.4 per game) after ranking 17th in FCS last year and sixth in 2009.
Northern Arizona is ranked 10th in total offense in FCS, averaging 442.0 yards per game. The Lumberjacks are 25th in passing (254.3), 29th in rushing (187.8) and 41st in scoring (29.3). Defensively, NAU ranks 49th in total defense (344.3), 40th in rushing defense (128.0), 69th in passing defense (216.3) and 32nd in scoring (22.0). In addition, the Lumberjacks have the top average per kickoff return in FCS (35.1), led by the nation’s leading individual kickoff returner in Jamaal Perkins (40.7 with a touchdown). Isaac Bond has five sacks to rank sixth nationally (1.25 per game), and quarterback Cary Grossart is ninth in passing efficiency (155.95) and 40th in total offense (229.5). Matt Meyers has kicked seven field goals to rank seventh (1.75 per game).
Anthony Larry Co-Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week
Capping an impressive game by Eastern’s entire defensive line, sophomore backup defensive end Anthony Larry was selected as the Big Sky Conference co-Defensive Player of the Week for games played on Oct. 1, becoming the first Eagle to be honored by the league in 2011.
Larry, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound graduate of Luther Burbank High School (2009) in Sacramento, Calif., had the game-clinching fumble recovery with 21 seconds left in EWU’s 27-21 victory over Weber State last Saturday (Oct. 1). The Wildcats were at the Eastern Washington 23-yard line and in position for a game-winning touchdown when teammate Charles Moetului forced WSU quarterback Mike Hoke to fumble, and Larry quickly pounced on the ball. Larry finished the game with six tackles – one for loss – a quarterback hurry and the fumble recovery. He has 14 tackles, including a pair of sacks on the season.
Collectively, Eastern’s defensive line was selected as EWU’s defensive player of the week, and finished the WSU game with four sacks and three quarterback hurries. Senior All-American Renard Williams had a sack and two of the hurries. With seven sacks in its last two games, Eastern now ranks 25th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (2.6 per game).
Talley on Inaugural Jerry Rice Award Watch List
Eastern true freshman running back Jordan Talley is one of 15 players on the inaugural Jerry Rice Award Watch List, which was announced on Sept 28.
The Rice Award, presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com, will honor the outstanding freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision. A national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will select the award winner after the regular season. The legendary Rice, who played in the FCS at Mississippi Valley State, will present the award at the national awards banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
Talley is a 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back from Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore. He recorded back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, starting with 114 yards on 19 carries in a 17-14 loss to Montana on Sept. 17. In the first start of his career on Sept. 24 versus Montana State, he gained 108 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns.
In five games thus far, Talley has 68 carries for 300 yards and two touchdowns, and 13 catches for 67 yards.
Mike Jarrett Two Extra Points From School Records
Senior kicker Mike Jarrett is nearing school records for extra points made and attempted, as he ranks second in school history in both categories. He is 116-of-122 in his career, ranking only behind the 120-of-126 performance by Troy Griggs from 1999-01. Jarrett has scored 192 points to rank eighth all-time at EWU (fourth among kickers), including 22 field goals (sixth) and 37 field goals attempted (sixth).
This season, Jarrett has made 7-of-8 field goals with a long of 46, and has made all 11 of his extra point attempts. His brother, Bryan, was an All-Big Sky Conference safety for the Eagles in 2005 and 2007 after transferring from Western Washington University.
Eagles Go From Seldom Leading to Seldom Trailing
Eastern led nearly the entire way in its 27-21 victory over Weber State on Oct. 1, but leads were extremely rare in EWU’s first four games. Eastern led 10-7 for a total of 4:49 in the first and second quarters against Washington on Sept. 3, and 14-10 versus Montana State for 3:52 in the second quarter. Against WSU, Eastern took the lead for good with 5:27 left in the first quarter and took a 24-7 lead at halftime, then held on in the second half for the win.
Record-Tying 18th Interception Proves to Be Elusive for Johnson
The next interception senior safety Matt Johnson gets will be a record-breaker, and he very nearly had a game-clinching pick against Weber State on Oct. 1. On a fourth-and-23 Hail-Mary pass play late in the game, Johnson had the ball barely sail over his outstretched hands for a 51-yard completion for the Wildcats. Eastern, however, forced a fumble with 27 seconds left to preserve the 27-21 victory.
Johnson now ranks second in school history in interceptions with 17, and he is just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. He is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson is also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles is tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Matt has 324 tackles in his career to move into sixth all-time at Eastern – just five from moving into fifth (Joey Cwik had 331 from 2002-05). Johnson had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26. So far this season, Johnson has two interceptions and is second on the team in tackles with 35.
Williams Up to 20 Career Sacks
Eastern defensive tackle Renard Williams had his first sack of the year against Montana State on Sept. 24 and added another a week later versus Weber State, giving him 20 in his career to rank eighth in school history. Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, Williams has 129 tackles in his 43-game career, including 44 for losses totaling 218 yards.
Williams finished with 6 1/2 in the 2010 season to repeat as an All-Big Sky selection and earn All-America honors in the process, as he was selected to the College Sports News “Sweet 63” All-America Team. He had a two-sack effort against North Dakota State on Dec. 11 for the fourth multi-sack performance of his career. He had nine sacks to earn first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors in 2009.
Zach Johnson to Miss Rest of the Season with Recurring Knee Injury
For the second time in three seasons, linebacker Zach Johnson will have a season cut short because of the same knee injury, Eastern head football coach Beau Baldwin announced on Sept. 27.
The senior co-captain has been playing this season with a chronic tear in his left patellar tendon, but the pain became too much to tolerate and he had surgery on Sept. 29. It’s the same injury that required surgery to repair on June 30, 2009. However, Johnson missed the entire 2009 season after a blood clot developed in his leg following the surgery.
Baldwin said Johnson and EWU will appeal to the NCAA in the offseason to grant him a sixth year to complete his four years of eligibility. He will eventually have at least 19 games wiped out because of injuries -- 12 in 2009 and seven remaining regular season games this season.
“He just needed to get it done,” said Baldwin of the surgery. “The silver lining is that he has a very good possibility of getting a sixth year and playing next season. I know he’s going to continue to be a great captain this season by encouraging and helping his teammates.”
Through four games he was tied for the team lead in tackles with 30. He has started all 30 games he has played as an Eagle, with 260 career tackles to rank 10th in school history. A second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection in 2010 and a preseason All-American this season, Johnson’s average of 8.7 tackles per game is fourth-best in school history.
“Zach is a great football player and will be missed,” added Baldwin. “But that’s football, and all the injuries we’ve been dealing with this season are part of the game. Every year is different in those regards and we feel bad for Zach, as well as our other injured players. But we’re excited about the opportunity it provides for somebody else to step up into that role.”
Johnson’s twin brother, Matt Johnson, has also started every game he has played as an Eagle. The Johnson twins are both 2007 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School.
Eagles Lose Running Backs Coach
Chris Hansen, the running backs coach for Eastern, is no longer on the football coaching staff, EWU head coach Beau Baldwin announced on Sept. 30. Baldwin said the team’s other coaches will absorb Hansen’s duties until the end of the current season. Hansen has been a part of the EWU program for a total of 13 years since the mid-1980’s, and in recent years has coached running backs (2009-11), tight ends (2008) and cornerbacks (2003-07). A 1979 graduate of Liberty High School in Spangle, Wash., Hansen received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern in secondary education in 1991. He received his master’s degree from Gonzaga University in 1996, and then returned to Eastern in 2002 as a volunteer assistant coach.
A Win, But No Winning Rallies Yet For Eagles
Although the Eagles finally have a win to their credit, Eastern hasn’t been able to produce the magic that propelled the Eagles to the 2010 NCAA Division I title.
Eastern came an interception away -- with 29 seconds left -- from upsetting Washington on Sept. 3, then a week later failed to rally from a 21-0 deficit in a 30-17 loss to South Dakota. Eastern trailed by 10 against the Coyotes and was driving for a score in the fourth quarter, but an interception and 66-yard return was the big blow in squelching that EWU comeback attempt.
Eastern fell behind 10-0 to the Grizzlies, but rallied to pull within three points in the fourth quarter. The 10th-ranked Eagles held No. 12 Montana scoreless on its final five possessions of the game, but Eastern was unable to score in its last three. An interception with 25 seconds to play iced the win for the Grizzlies.
And Eastern pulled to within 26-21 early in the fourth quarter versus Montana State, but the Bobcats scored the final 10 points of the game and out-gained the Eagles 129-56 in the final stanza.
Eastern out-gained Washington 504-250 in total offense, but lost the turnover battle 4-0 and narrowly lost to the Huskies 30-27 in front of 58,088 fans at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash. The Eagles had a chance to win the game, but Washington’s Desmond Trufant – the younger brother of former Eagle Isaiah Trufant – intercepted a pass in the end zone with 29 seconds left to ruin Eastern’s upset bid. The loss spoiled a remarkable performance by senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who had the second-most passing yards in school history with 473.
A year ago, Eastern was no stranger to narrow victories. In nine of their wins last season, the Eagles trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter of six of them, in one they trailed in the third quarter and in the other two they were scoreless in the final stanza. Included was a 20-19 victory in the national championship game when the Eagles rallied from a 19-0 deficit to score three touchdowns in the final 16:48.
2010 All-America Recap
Six Eagles earned All-America honors in 2010, including four who returned for the 2011 season. Junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman was honored as a sophomore, while center Chris Powers, safety Matt Johnson and defensive lineman Renard Williams earned All-America accolades as juniors.
Kaufman was selected to the College Sports News “Sweet 63” All-America Team and the Phil Steele Publications All-America fourth team. Johnson was also on the “Sweet 63” squad, and earned second-team honors from Phil Steele and third team accolades from the Sports Network. Powers was a first-team choice by the Sports Network and picked to the Phil Steele third team. Williams, a two-time first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection, was selected to the “Sweet 63” squad.
In addition, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Division I Championship game, and Kaufman was chosen by the College Sporting News as its playoffs MVP.
Head coach Beau Baldwin received numerous national accolades as well, including the College Sporting News Coach of the Year and the same honor from the American Football Monthly. He was on the voting list for the 2010 Eddie Robinson Award presented by The Sports Network, and was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.
The only two departed All-Americans were running back Taiwan Jones and linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who won the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award presented by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Sherritt was also selected to six different All-America teams as a first-team selection, and was the College Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Sky Defensive MVP.
Jones, who had a year of eligibility remaining but declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, finished fourth in the voting for the 2010 Walter Payton Award presented by The Sports Network to the top offensive player in the FCS. He was also selected to five different All-America teams as a first-team selection, and was the Phil Steele Publications FCS Offensive Player of the Year, the College Football Performance Awards Running Back of the Year and the Big Sky Offensive MVP.
In addition, the Inland Northwest Sportswriters and Broadcasters (SWABS) selected Eastern as its Team of the Year, Baldwin as its Coach of the Year and Sherritt as the Male Amateur Athlete of the Year.
More Players to Watch
A total of 10 players return who earned All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, including two-time All-Big Sky Conference first-team defensive tackle Renard Williams. Also receiving first-team accolades and back for the 2011 season are junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman, senior center Chris Powers, senior safety Matt Johnson and senior special teams standout Darriell Beaumonte.
Johnson’s twin brother, senior linebacker Zach Johnson, was a second-team selection, as was returning senior offensive tackle Gabriel Jackson. Eastern’s honorable mention selections back for the 2011 season include sophomore offensive guard Steven Forgette, senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and junior safety Jeff Minnerly.
A total of 19 players were honored, including eight seniors. Entering the 2010 season, only five players returned who had earned All-Big Sky honors the year before.
Eastern Returns 30 Players With Combined 335 Starts
The Eagles return 30 players with a combined 335 starts between them entering the 2011 season. Of Eastern’s 19 letter winners lost, 13 combined for 191 starts -- including 22 by Taiwan Jones, who left EWU early to declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
There were 15 players with starting experience returning on both offense and defense, with 168 total starts on defense and 167 on offense. By contrast, 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 2011 roster.
Defense (222 starts by 20 players): Matt Johnson 43, Renard Williams 33, Zach Johnson 30, Tyler Washburn 22, Paul Ena 18, Evan Cook 14, Jeff Minnerly 12, David Gaylord 12, Allen Brown 7, Charles Moetului 5, Grant Williams 4 (includes one start on offense in 2009), Alden Gibbs 4, T.J. Lee 4, Ronnie Hamlin 3, Jerry Ceja 3, Anthony Larry 2, Bobby Gentry 2, Jeremy Chaten 2, Will Katoa 1, Rusty Haehl 1.
Offense (223 starts by 21 players): Chris Powers 31, Gabriel Jackson 31, Nicholas Edwards 31, Brandon Kaufman 23, Bo Levi Mitchell 19, Steven Forgette 17, Will Post 16, David Miles 13 (includes eight career starts on defense), Zack Gehring 11, Mario Brown 5, Greg Herd 4, Brandon Murphy 3, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 3, Caleb Worthington 2, Jase Butorac 2, Jordan Talley 2, Drew Reynolds 2, Patrick Mealey 1, Demitrius Bronson 1, Ashton Miller 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Ryan Seto 1.
Six Eagles Make Starting Debuts Versus Huskies
Six Eagles made the first starts of their careers versus Washington on Sept. 3, including just two on offense and four on defense.
On offense, sophomore Ashton Miller started at right guard, but his debut had a horrible finish. As he was helping Eastern toward a convincing 504-250 advantage in total offense, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon that will sideline him for the rest of the season. He is from Vancouver, Wash., and graduated from Evergreen High School in 2009.
The other starting debut on offense was by offensive tackle Caleb Worthington, who was an injury replacement for injured starter Will Post. Worthington is a sophomore from Boise, Idaho, and graduated from Mountain View High School in 2007. All other offensive players had made at least one start in their careers.
On defense, a pair of senior cornerbacks made their starting debuts – Jeremy Chaten and Alden Gibbs. Chaten is a 2007 graduate of Seattle’s Franklin High School, and Gibbs is a former Eastern basketball player in just his second season of collegiate football. He is from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Senior Charles Moetului started at defensive tackle in his first start in the 30th collegiate game of his career. Senior Bobby Gentry played in his 36th career game, and made the first start of his career at weak-side outside linebacker. Moetului is a 2007 graduate of Mount Si High School and is from North Bend, Wash., while Gentry is a 2007 graduate of Seattle’s Kennedy HS. Eastern’s strong-side linebacker position was manned by junior Grant Williams, who started once before as a fullback in 2009 but made his first start on defense versus UW. He is a 2008 graduate of Rogers High School in Puyallup, Wash.
Against South Dakota on Sept. 10, cornerback T.J. Lee and offensive guard Jase Butorac made their first career starts. Lee is a 2009 graduate of West Seattle High School. Butorac and defensive linemen Evan Day are both 2010 graduates of Skyline High School in Sammamish. Day had his first career sack and forced fumble versus the Huskies, and had another sack the following week versus South Dakota.
Washington transfer Demitrius Bronson made his Eagle debut on Sept. 3 against Washington after playing previously for the Huskies. The 2008 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., made the first start of his career at Montana on Sept. 17. Also making his starting debut against the Grizzlies was sophomore linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, a 2009 graduate of Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash. After missing his redshirt freshman season with a knee injury, Hamlin had a team-leading eight tackles in his collegiate debut versus the Huskies, four against South Dakota and seven in his starting debut at Montana.
Because of injuries, Drew Reynolds received his first career start against Montana State on Sept. 24. He is a 2009 graduate of Foss High School in Tacoma, Wash., and his older brother, Levi, lettered as a senior for the Eagles in 2010. True freshman running back Jordan Talley rushed for 114 yards against Montana on Sept. 17, and a week later received his first career start versus MSU. A 2011 graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., Talley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns in his starting debut.
The most unlikely starting debut occurred on Oct. 1 against Weber State when converted tight end Patrick Mealey received his first career start – at center. When All-America starter Chris Powers was sidelined with a knee injury against MSU, Mealey was inserted into the lineup because all three of the backups for Powers were also sidelined with injuries and lost for the season. Mealey is a 2008 graduate of Central Valley High School in Spokane, Wash. He redshirted at Idaho in 2008, played seven games for the Vandals in 2009 and then lettered as a reserve tight end for the Eagles in 2010.
Washington State transfer Jake Miller and Boise State transfer Jimmy Pavel saw their first action as Eastern’s punter and kickoff specialist, respectively, in Eastern’s opener against Washington.
Turnovers a Key to Eagle Success
Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin has continually preached the importance of turnover margin, and the Eagles took it to heart in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
But this year, so far, the Eagles are down 12-5 in that department and have given up 37 points off turnovers, while scoring 10 off the turnovers they’ve forced. Out of 121 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is just 109th in turnover margin (-1.4 per game) after ranking 17th in FCS last year and sixth in 2009.
Eastern dominated Washington in total offense 504-250, but lost the turnover battle 4-0 as the Huskies capitalized with two short touchdown drives coming after turnovers by EWU’s punt return unit. An interception also led to a Husky field goal, and UW clinched the win with an interception in the end zone with 29 seconds left. South Dakota returned an interception for a touchdown, then turned another interception into a 66-yard return and eventually a field goal that gave the Coyotes a 13-point lead. Eastern had two interceptions and intercepted one versus Montana on Sept. 17, then a week later both teams had two turnovers in the MSU-EWU game. Eastern had two interceptions on Oct. 1 agaisnt Weber State, which had its first and only miscue on its final offensive play of the game with 21 seconds to go to preserve EWU’s 27-21 victory.
In 2010, the Eagles ranked first nationally in interceptions (total of 26) and turnovers gained (47), and finished 17th nationally in turnover margin (.80 less turnovers per game than its opponents) after ranking sixth in 2009 (1.25 less).
In the last two years, Eastern is 14-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. In 2010, the Eagles were 8-0 (11-0 including ties in turnovers with Sacramento State, Portland State and Delaware) after going 6-0 in 2009 when it won the turnover battle. In those 14 games, Eastern has had a 55-19 advantage in turnovers (33-15 in 2010 and 22-4 in 2009).
To illustrate its importance, in four-straight games in the 2010 FCS Playoffs, Eastern played a team ranked in the top seven nationally in turnover margin and significantly higher than the Eagles. Yet, Eastern forced more turnovers in those four games (13) than it committed (10).
“It’s right there in front of you,” said Baldwin. “When you start getting into the playoffs and look at the teams that made it that far, you see what they all have in common are really good turnover margins. That is still the statistic that means the most to us, and it’s what we stress the most to the team. It determines your win-loss record more than any other statistic. It’s something we emphasize on both sides of the ball, and we’ll hit upon it in the spring and again in the fall. You have to try to simulate it and mentally get it into your head during practices. You have to work on drills, but as much as anything, it has to be such a focus mentally that you believe you are going to win that battle week-after-week.”
The Eagles also averaged more than two giveaways per game in the 2010 season – 19 fumbles and 16 interceptions for a total of 35.
“Even though we won the national title, we lacked in some areas,” Baldwin explained. “One of them was our ball security. We ended with a really good turnover margin, but that was because we led the nation in interceptions and takeaways. But the giveaway part on offense and special teams is something we need to improve on.”
With wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (broken metacarpal on his left hand), cornerback Alden Gibbs (broken thumb) and linebacker Zach Johnson (knee) the latest casualties, Eastern is reeling from a rash of injuries that has reached epidemic proportions. Johnson and three offensive linemen have already been lost for the season, and a total of eight starters have suffered injuries that have kept them out of the lineup. In fact, only one offensive lineman – senior tackle Gabriel Jackson – has started all five Eastern games, as a total of nine players have started this season along the offensive line.
Eastern’s offensive line is the hardest hit, with All-America senior center Chris Powers (knee) the latest casualty. He missed most of Eastern’s game versus Montana State and will be out about a month, as he became the fifth Eastern starting offensive lineman to miss action already this year because of injuries. Converted tight end Patrick Mealey took his place, as MSU finished with six sacks and three quarterback hurries. Mealey made an unlikely starting debut on Oct. 1 against Weber State because all three of the backups for Powers were also sidelined with injuries and lost for the season.
Starting guards Steven Forgette (broken fibula) and Jase Butorac (knee sprain) suffered injuries against Montana on Sept. 17 and are lost for the season. Butorac was already taking the place of Ashton Miller, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon in EWU’s opener against Washington. In the middle of the UM game, Eastern pulled former offensive lineman Brandon Murphy away from the defensive line to fill-in for Butorac. Murphy started against Montana State and will now remain on the offensive line for the remainder of the season. Sophomore Drew Reynolds filled in for Forgette and made his Eagle starting debut against MSU.
Tackle Will Post (ankle), who missed EWU’s first two games, fortunately returned to play versus the Grizzlies. Miller is a 2009 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash., and was making his first-ever start for the Eagles in the game versus the Huskies, in which EWU outgained UW in total offense 504-250.
“It’s really interesting with the offensive line, to say the least,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I’m just so proud of the players that have stepped in there. I mean we’re talking about a guy who stepped in from tight end to play center. Do you know the difficulty of that? It’s unreal. And then we’ve got a couple other guys switching positions, whether that be tackle to guard or defensive tackle to guard. It’s not easy. I’ve been proud of those guys, but it’s a challenge.”
Besides the offensive line, Eastern has also had to deal with several injuries at linebacker. Zach Johnson continued to play on his injured knee, but saw limited action versus Montana State before hanging it up for the season. His backup, Bobby Gentry (bicep) played sparingly against MSU and the next game versus Weber State. True freshman linebacker Cody McCarthy had arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason and made his Eagle debut versus Montana on Sept. 17, but since then has seen significant action.
Receiver/returner Tyler Hart (knee) missed EWU’s first three games, but returned to catch a nine-yard pass versus Montana State. He also entered the year expected to be Eastern’s punt returner, and his absence versus the Huskies hurt EWU. Eastern’s punt return unit had two turnovers and a mental error late in the game.
Eastern Entered 2011 Season 8-0 at the “Inferno”
Eastern is now 1-1 at home this season, giving them a 9-1 all-time record on the red Sprinturf surface at the “Inferno.” Eastern’s first-ever loss on the red rug came to fourth-ranked Montana State on Sept. 24, 2011, by a 36-21 score, but the Eagles rebounded the next week for a 27-21 win over Weber State.
Finishing 8-0 at home in the 2010 season, the Eagles were the first Eastern team to go undefeated at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) since 1999 when EWU was 4-0. But it wasn’t easy -- in two games the Eagles trailed in the fourth quarter (Sacramento State, North Dakota State), in two they were tied in the final stanza (Montana and Southern Utah) and in another game the Eagles were scoreless in the fourth (Northern Arizona). They capped the unbeaten season with a 41-31 victory over Villanova on Dec. 17 in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
“We feel like we had a home field advantage in the 2010 season, and our goal was to go undefeated at home,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin.
Other years Eastern was unbeaten at its current stadium site in Cheney came in 1997 (6-0), 1979 (5-0), 1974 (3-0) and 1967 (4-0). The 1985 team was 4-0 and the 1984 squad was 5-0 when all of EWU’s home games were played at Albi Stadium in Spokane. In 1982, Eastern was 5-0 at home -- 3-0 in Cheney and 2-0 in Spokane. In 1966, the year before Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) opened for the first time, Eastern was 4-0-1 at Albi.
Eastern had a successful debut on its new red synthetic Sprinturf surface Sept. 18 in Cheney, Wash., defeating rival Montana 36-27 in the first game at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett, then added a fumble return for a touchdown on the final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game against the 12-time defending league champions.
Eastern followed that with a 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona three weeks later on Oct. 9, needing a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to hold-off the Lumberjacks. The Eagles had five turnovers in the game and NAU had 30 more offensive plays and a 10-minute edge in time of possession, but EWU stopped NAU three times on downs in its final three possessions of the game. Those drives ended at the Eastern 36, 3 and 38 yard lines, with 17:45, 11:33 and 3:37 left in the game.
The third victory was just as suspenseful, as Eastern led 21-0 early in the second quarter against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but was out-scored 24-0 to fall behind mid-way through the fourth quarter. But the Eagles responded with a key defensive stop that was highlighted by a third down sack by sophomore defensive end Paul Ena followed by a 35-yard scoring drive that was capped by a Brandon Kaufman 6-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell with 33 seconds to play.
The fourth win was also a great escape, this time by a 31-24 score over Southern Utah on Nov. 13. Eastern was out-gained in total offense 484-366, and was shredded for 434 passing yards. But Eastern survived to win thanks to a pair of scoring plays of at least 62 yards, two huge touchdown catches by Brandon Kaufman, two interceptions in the last six minutes by Jesse Hoffman and a 4-1 advantage in the turnover department. Kaufman scored the winning points with 3:39 to play.
Finally, the Eagles had a breather against Idaho State in a 34-7 win. Tied at seven early in the second quarter, Eastern scored three touchdowns in the last 12:01 of the quarter -- all on touchdown passes from Bo Levi Mitchell. The Eagles led 28-7 at halftime and added a pair of field goals in the second half while holding the Bengals scoreless.
In the playoffs, a 37-17 win over Southeast Missouri State saw the Eagles out-score the Redhawks 20-0 in the second half after the game was tied 17-all at halftime. Against North Dakota State in the quarterfinals, the Eagles had to put together a 90-yard drive to tie the game with 23 seconds left, then won it in overtime with a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play. A Bison fumble at EWU’s 1-yard line ended the game. The Eagles scored 20 unanswered points to take a 20-7 lead versus Villanova in the semifinals on Dec. 17, and they never trailed or were tied after that.
“It’s only the beginning, but we’re very happy to have it,” said Baldwin of EWU’s 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.”
Eastern finished just off the pace to set the single season attendance record, with an average of 6,473 fans per game that ranks sixth in school history. Included was a Roos Field record crowd of 11,702 against Montana on Sept. 18. That crowd broke the previous school record of 11,583 set in a 2006 game versus the Grizzlies, helping the Eagles to an average that ranks just behind the record of 7,116 fans per game set in 2006.
10 Former Eagles Currently in the NFL or CFL
Eastern has four former players currently playing in the National Football League and another six currently in the Canadian Football League.
A newcomer in the NFL is running back Taiwan Jones (Oakland Raiders), who rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in his debut in a preseason game on Aug. 28 against New Orleans. A veteran in the NFL is offensive tackle Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), who now has 167 consecutive starts (through 10/2/11) dating back to his 2002 season at EWU. The third is cornerback Isaiah Trufant, who is back with the New York Jets -- a team he started his NFL career with in 2009. And tight end Nathan Overbay is now on the practice squad for the Detroit Lions.
After being waived by the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 30, Trufant flew home to the Seattle area, but was then signed by the Jets. Though he made New York’s initial 53-man roster after final cuts, he was waived Sept. 4 before being signed to the practice squad the following day. He was activated to the 53-man roster 24 hours before NBC’s Sunday night national telecast of New York’s season opener versus Dallas on Sept. 11. He had two tackles, and returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown that knotted the score at 24 with 5:08 left in the 27-24 Jets win. Trufant’s older brother, Marcus, plays for the Seattle Seahawks and his younger brother, Desmond, plays for Washington. Desmond had the victory-clinching interception in the end zone with 29 seconds left in EWU’s 30-27 loss to the Huskies.
The week prior to the EWU-Washington game on Sept. 3 was particularly tough for a pair of other former Eagles. Cornerback Jesse Hoffman was with the Seattle Seahawks before being cut on Aug. 29, just four days before Seattle hosted Jones and Oakland (and the night before Eastern played Washington). Overbay (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was also cut that week, but was later assigned to the practice squad for the Detroit Lions.
Current Eastern professionals in the CFL include linebacker J.C. Sherritt (Edmonton Eskimos), who had 11 tackles in his regular season debut and has been among the league leaders in tackles as a rookie. Through 10 games, he had 58 tackles to rank second in the CFL. He is teammates at Edmonton with quarterback Matt Nichols and defensive end Greg Peach, who won the Buck Buchanan Award for Eastern in 2008 – two years before Sherritt won the same award. Also in the CFL are veteran defensive lineman Dario Romero (Saskatchewan Roughriders) and veteran defensive back Ryan Phillips (British Columbia Lions), as well as linebacker Shea Emry (Montreal Alouettes).
Former Eagle Tony Brooks on Commercial for State Farm Insurance
Former Eastern all-time leading receiver Tony Brooks is a State Farm Insurance agent, and he plays one in a popular television commercial for State Farm. In it, he is credited for buying a couple a live falcon because he saved the family so much on insurance. The video may be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7ZpWFTUz34
Brooks lettered for Eastern from 1990-93 and is from Tacoma, Wash., and Mount Tahoma High School. He was a third team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (then known as I-AA) All-American in 1993. He finished his career with a record 167 receptions (now fifth) for 3,013 yards and 26 touchdowns. He played on Eastern’s 1992 squad that shared the Big Sky Conference title with Idaho and advanced to the FCS Playoffs. He signed a contract with Winnipeg of the CFL in 1994 before going into the insurance business. Eastern selected him to its “100 for 100” All-Time Team in 2008. In 1999, Dick Zornes selected him to the "Z" Team consisting of 36 players that he felt were the best players and made the largest contributions toward the 158 games Eastern won in Zornes' 26-year association with Eagle Football.
MORE PLAYER NOTES
Five Eagles Named as Co-Captains for 2011 Season
Five seniors who all earned preseason All-America honors have been selected by their teammates as Eastern Washington University’s co-captains for the 2011 football season, head coach Beau Baldwin has announced.
The players include one returning captain, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell from Katy, Texas. The other two offensive captains include center Chris Powers and tackle Gabriel Jackson. Powers is from Black Diamond, Wash., and graduated from Tahoma High School in 2007. Jackson is from Tacoma, Wash., and graduated in 2007 from Mount Tahoma HS.
Captains on defense are twins Matt and Zach Johnson, who both graduated from Tumwater (Wash.) High School in 2007. Matt is a four-year starter at strong safety and Zach Johnson is a three-year starter at linebacker, with his entire 2009 season wiped out with a blood clot in his leg.
“This team is full of a lot of good leaders,” said Baldwin. “As we get into the early part of the season, we know there are going to be some tough moments. Our goal in each game on our schedule is to be focused and win, but even during great weeks you are going to have a lot of moments of adversity and when things are not going right. I think our good leaders are going to develop into great leaders when we have to battle through some things. I’m excited to see who emerges.”
All five players earned preseason All-America honors as selected by various news services as they entered the season with a combined 131 starts in their careers. Matt Johnson led the way with 38 starts, followed by Powers with 27, Jackson and Zach Johnson with 26 apiece, and Mitchell with 14 in his first season after transferring from SMU. The Johnson twins have started every game they have played as Eagles.
Powers and Matt Johnson were both All-Americans last season when they helped lead Eastern to the NCAA Division I Championship. Mitchell was named as the Outstanding Player in the title game when Eastern rallied for a 20-19 victory over Delaware.
Four Eagles on Watch Lists for Top Honors
Eagle senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and junior wide receiver Brandon Kaufman were selected during the summer as two of the 20 players on the “Watch List” for the 2011 Walter Payton Award given annually by The Sports Network to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
A week later, safety Matt Johnson and defensive tackle Renard Williams were named to the 20-player preseason watch list for the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award given by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in FCS. The Buchanan Award was won last year by Eagle J.C.Sherritt, and two years before that by his former Eagle teammate and current Edmonton Eskimos teammate, Greg Peach.
Both awards are sponsored by Fathead.com.
The Payton Award will celebrate its 25th anniversary this season and be presented at The Sports Network National Awards Banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, on the eve of the NCAA Division I Championship Game. Last season, Eastern won the title in Frisco with a come-from-behind 20-19 victory over Delaware. The Buchanan Award is in its 17th season and will also be presented at TSN’s national awards banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
Both watch lists will undergo revision during the 2011 season. Ballots will be sent to a panel of about 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 21. Three finalists will be announced on Dec. 1 and invited to The Sports Network/Fathead FCS Awards Presentation.
The Sports Network also presents the Jerry Rice and Eddie Robinson awards which are sponsored by Fathead.com. The Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) is also celebrating its 25th anniversary, while the Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year) is in its inaugural season.
Former Eagle Erik Meyer, who is now the starting quarterback for the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League, won the Payton Award in 2005. Jesse Chatman (2001), Matt Nichols (2009) and Taiwan Jones (2010) all finished fourth in the voting for the prestigious award.
Mitchell and Kaufman hooked-up nine times for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the FCS Championship Game, including the game-winning TD with 2:47 left. Kaufman finished the 2010 season with 76 receptions for 1,214 yards and 15 scores, and all but one of his grabs (a non-scoring 11-yard completion) came from Mitchell.
Kaufman received All-America accolades on the College Sporting News “Sweet 63” All-America Team and on the Phil Steele Publications All-America fourth team, as well as earning first-team All-Big Sky Conference accolades. Kaufman, who had 23 receptions for 294 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2009, was selected as the NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoffs MVP by College Sporting News.
Both Kaufman and Mitchell received Big Sky All-Academic accolades in 2010, and Mitchell was an All-Big Sky Conference honorable-mention selection. He then had a triumphant return to his home state when he passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns to earn Most Outstanding Player in the FCS Championship Game.
Mitchell transferred to Eastern from Southern Methodist in spring 2010, and quickly won the starting job. He completed 59 percent of his passes to finish with 3,496 yards, a school-record 37 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a junior.
Mitchell was 13-2 as a starter in 2010, and six times Eastern rallied for victories when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. And most of the time, it was Mitchell who led the Eagles back from the depths of despair. In addition, Eastern was 3-0 in games when All-America running back Taiwan Jones did not play, and Mitchell had 11 touchdowns and 932 total passing yards in those games, with 11 touchdown drives of at least 63 yards.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who graduated from Tumwater (Wash.) High School in 2007, entered the 2011 season with the most starting experience on EWU’s entire roster with 38 career starts. He entered his senior season with 289 tackles, 15 interceptions and 13 passes broken up in his career, including 105 tackles, five interceptions and eight passes broken up in 2010.
A year ago, Johnson was selected to the College Sporting News “Sweet 63” All-America Team, and was a second-team selection on the Phil Steele Publications All-America squad and a third-team pick on The Sports Network’s A-A team. He also earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors after starting all 15 Eastern games at safety.
Williams also earned All-America honors from College Sporting News in 2010 and is a two-time first team All-Big Sky Conference selection. He had 54 total tackles with 6 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles, as a junior after finishing with 9 1/2 sacks as a sophomore.
Featuring his signature celebratory salute following a big play he makes for Eastern, Williams entered the 2011 season with 18 sacks in his career to rank 10th in school history. Constantly drawing double teams from opposing teams, he entered his senior campaign with 116 tackles in his 38-game career (29 as a starter), including 40 for losses totaling 204 yards.
Kaufman Gathers In Trio of Game-Winners in 2010
Brandon Kaufman proved to be Eastern’s go-to receiver as a sophomore in the 2010 season, catching a team-leading 76 passes to rank as the fifth-most in school history. His catches were good for 1,214 yards (fifth in EWU history) and 15 touchdowns (second behind the school-record of 19 set by Eric Kimble in 2004). His TD total was the second-most in the FCS as he caught a TD pass in 11 of 15 games in the 2010 season, including EWU’s last seven regular season games.
In his career, Kaufman has 128 receptions for 1,881 yards and 17 touchdowns, and is nearing Eastern’s top 10 all-time lists in all three categories.
He had caught a pass in 18-straight games before his streak was broken versus North Dakota State on Dec. 11, 2010, as the last time he failed to catch a pass was on Oct. 10, 2009, in the third game of his career. In addition, he had fourth-quarter game-winners against Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Delaware, and had a game-tying catch with 3:08 left in EWU’s come-from-behind win over Northern Colorado.
Kaufman was selected as the FCS Playoffs MVP by College Sporting News, thanks in part to his nine catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-19 win over Delaware in the championship game, in which EWU rallied from a 19-0 deficit. He had a 22-yard TD catch with 16:48 left in the game for EWU’s first score, then had a championship-clinching 11-yard scoring grab with 2:47 remaining. He caught eight passes for 135 yards against Villanova in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, including a 76-yard touchdown catch from Bo Levi Mitchell in the third quarter. Their 76-yard connection equaled the 30th-longest pass play in school history. He also had four receptions for 37 yards in the second-round triumph over Southeast Missouri State.
He finished his sophomore season ranked 25th in the FCS in receiving yards per game (80.9), was 45th in receptions per game (5.1) and his 15 touchdown catches were the second-most in the FCS. Kaufman had six 100-yard receiving performances in 2010, with those coming against Montana on Sept. 18 (five catches for 119 yards), Weber State on Oct. 2 (five catches for 138 yards), Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 (five catches for 117 yards), Southern Utah on Nov. 13 (nine catches for 129 yards), Villanova on Dec. 17 (eight catches for 135 yards) and Delaware on Jan. 7 (nine catches for 120 yards)
Against Southern Utah on Nov. 13, he caught a career-high nine passes for 129 yards with a long of 43, and had touchdown catches of 25 and 24 yards that were of the “how did he make that catch?” variety. His latter TD catch came with 3:39 left and provided the winning points in Eastern’s 31-24 victory. In the next game against Idaho State, he scored EWU’s first two touchdowns in the 34-7 victory with TD catches of 10 and 30 yards.
Among his three catches at Portland State on Oct. 30 was a 15-yard touchdown grab. He had just four catches for 34 yards against Sacramento State on Oct. 23, but he had a 17-yard touchdown to start the scoring and a game-winning 6-yard scoring grab with 33 seconds to go in the game. One game prior, he had a five-catch, 94-yard performance against Northern Colorado, which included a 4-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 left that knotted the score at 28. He is a 2009 graduate of Heritage High School in the Denver, Colo., area, just a short distance from the game played in Greeley. His family was at the game in force, reportedly purchasing 80 tickets for the game.
Having Started Every Game in Their Careers, Twins Produced Big Numbers During 2010 Winning Streak
Safety Matt Johnson and his twin brother Zach Johnson, a starting linebacker, had big performances in the last 11 games of the 2010 season. In those 11 contests -- all victories -- they combined for 189 tackles, five interceptions and 11 passes broken up. In the NCAA Division I Championship game, Zach Johnson had 15 tackles with a pair of sacks, and Matt Johnson added nine tackles and a pass broken up.
They have started every game they have played in their careers, with Matt up to 43 and Zach now with 30. Matt now ranks second in school history in interceptions with 17, and he is just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. He is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson is also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles is tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Matt has 324 tackles in his career to move into sixth all-time at Eastern, and had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26. He had 105 tackles (19th in school history), eight passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the 2010 season.
Zach Johnson finished second on the team with 134 tackles (sixth in school history), and also had 3 1/2 sacks, five passes broken up, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Zach currently has 260 career tackles to rank 10th all-time at Eastern, and his average of 8.7 tackles per game (fourth all-time in EWU history) is slightly better than the 7.5 average for his brother.
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 Has Triumphant Return to Texas
Transfer Bo Levi Mitchell had a triumphant return to his home state, passing for 302 yards and three touchdowns to earn Most Outstanding Player accolades in leading Eastern to a come-from-behind 20-19 victory over Delaware in the NCAA Division I Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2011, in Frisco, Texas. Mitchell is from Katy, Texas, and transferred from Southern Methodist University following the 2009 season. SMU is located in Dallas, about 25 minutes from Frisco, while his hometown of Katy is about five hours away. He completed 29-of-43 passes and directed EWU on scoring drives of 80 (5 plays), 89 (14 plays) and 63 yards (8 plays).
His three touchdowns against Delaware gave him 37 for the season and helped him break the single-season school record of 34 set by Matt Nichols in 2007. Mitchell also broke school records for attempts (505) and completions (300).For the season, Mitchell completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 3,496 yards (fifth in school history), a school-record 37 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 135.8. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he finished ranked 20th in passing offense (233.1 yards per game), 26th in total offense (236.2) and 26th in efficiency (135.8).
Despite playing just two seasons at Eastern, Mitchell already ranks fifth in school history for career passing yards (5,119), and is also fifth in touchdown passes (47), fourth in completions (443), sixth in attempts (741) and sixth in passing efficiency rating (132.3).
Eastern was 3-0 in the 2010 season when it was forced to play without All-America running back Taiwan Jones, and Mitchell was impressive in all three games. He completed a combined 68 percent of his passes (79-of-117) in those three games for a passing efficiency rating of 162.0. Most importantly, in those games he led Eastern on 11 touchdown drives of at least 63 yards.
Besides the Delaware game when EWU had to play without Jones, one game earlier Mitchell completed 27-of-38 passes for 292 yards, no interceptions and four touchdowns in a semifinal win over Villanova on Dec. 17. He directed Eastern on touchdown drives of 63 yards (5 plays), 43 yards (8 plays), 80 (2 plays) and 63 yards (12 plays).
Earlier in the season without Jones, Eastern scored 21-straight second-half points after falling behind 17-14 to surge past Weber State 35-24 in a crucial Big Sky Conference football game. Mitchell passed for a career-high 337 yards and four touchdowns and the defense had three interceptions that led to scores. He led Eastern on touchdown drives of 66 yards (9 plays), 65 yards (13 plays), 80 yards (6 plays), 68 yards (9 plays) and 67 yards (4 plays). Mitchell was 23-of-36 as he helped the team to leads after all four quarters. His final three scoring drives came 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.
Mitchell had just 38 yards through 37 1/2 minutes of EWU’s playoff victory over North Dakota State on Dec. 11. But he was 5-of-13 for 78 yards during a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nicholas Edwards. He converted two plays on fourth down on the drive and also had a 40-yard pass to Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, provided the game-winning points with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hart on the first play of overtime,
A Year Later, Wager Continues Between Minnerly and Hamlin
A friendly wager between teammates is now in year two, but with one less competitor. Safety Jeff Minnerly, linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and linebacker Zach Johnson challenged each other to see who could go the longest without cutting their hair.
After the season ended, Zach cut his hair -- a short-cropped haircut like his twin brother Matt Johnson -- and dropped out of the competition, leaving Minnerly and Hamlin to determine a winner. A year later, neither seems ready to give in, and both have grown hair to their shoulders. Minnerly has also sported a “Grizzly Adams” full beard at times in the last year, although facial hair was not included in the wager.
Initially, the wager helped make it easier for people to tell the identical twins apart in the 2010 season. While Zach grew his hair out during the 2010 season, Matt continued to sport a short-cropped haircut as both players had for their entire careers to that point. 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 the 2009 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 returned to their normal numbers in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, with Matt wearing No. 5 and Zach utilizing No. 10.
Gibbs First to Letter in Both Football and Basketball Since Bob Picard in 1973
After lettering in basketball for Eastern Washington in the 2009-10 season, Alden Gibbs switched to football and lettered on special teams for the Eagles in 2010. Now a starting cornerback, Gibbs is the first Eagle to letter in both sports since Bob Picard in the early 1970’s.
Picard lettered in football in 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1972, and also lettered in basketball in the 1972-73 season. Picard held Eastern’s career receiving record for 21 years with 166 catches (now sixth) that were good for 2,373 yards and 19 touchdowns. His receiving record was broken by Tony Brooks in 1993. Picard had his No. 84 jersey retired, was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003 and was selected to the "100 for 100" All-Time Football Team in 2008 to help commemorate the 100th year of football at Eastern. In 27 career basketball games, Picard averaged 3.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He went on to play three seasons (54 career games) in the National Football League for the Philadelphia Eagles, and ended his career at the first training camp of the expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976.
Several other Eagles have played both football and basketball since Picard, but none have lettered in both. Wide receiver Jerrold Jackson lettered in football from 1993-96, and played one minute for the hoop squad in the 1995-96 season. All-America quarterback Harry Leons lettered in football for three seasons from 1995-97, and was also on the basketball roster for a short time but did not play. Henry Bekkering lettered in basketball for Eastern in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, and was also on the football roster in 2003. He played in four football games that season as a non-lettering squad member, and averaged 56.5 yards on 27 kickoffs, while routinely kicking the ball into the end zone.
Ena Enters Second Full Season at 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, 2010.
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, he began 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 had 55 tackles with 8 1/2 for loss including 2 1/2 sacks. He also had five quarterback hurries, an interception and four fumble recoveries. Two of his fumble recoveries came against Villanova on Dec. 17 in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
As a true freshman in 2009, Ena played as a backup defensive end, 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. 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.
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 those plays helped the Eagles win two games during its trek to the national title.
A sophomore from Aurora, Colo., Ceja 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 a fumble on a sack on the final play of the game that was returned 34 yards for a score by Renard Williams and secured EWU’s 36-27 victory over the Grizzlies.
For the season, Ceja had 23 tackles with five sacks, three forced fumbles and three quarterback hurries. Two of his sacks and a hurry came in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs against Villanova. He is a 2009 graduate of Grandview High School in Aurora, just a short distance from the Oct. 16 game played in Greeley, Colo. His older brother, Dominique Ceja, is an offensive lineman for Northern Colorado,
Eastern junior running back Darriell Beaumonte was once a blocking fullback in Eastern’s offense. But the first-team All-Big Sky Conference special teams selection did a different kind of blocking in the 2010 season.
After leading 28-10 at intermission against Portland State on Oct. 30, the Eagles turned a blocked punt by Beaumonte into a recovery for a touchdown by T.J. Lee to increase the advantage to 18. Beaumonte, a 2007 graduate of Clover Park High School in Tacoma, Wash., also had a huge special teams play in EWU’s 36-27 victory over Montana on Sept. 18. He blocked a punt that he returned himself six yards for a score to wipe out Montana’s last lead of the day. It was EWU’s first blocked punt returned for a TD since 2004.
Also a kickoff and punt coverage special teams standout, Beaumonte has been credited with 26 tackles in his career. He had three in 2008, eight in 2009 and 15 in 2010, as he earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was selected as the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
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 in 2009 and had 219 yards and a pair of rushing TDs in 2010. 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.
In his career, Beaumonte has rushed for 379 yards and three touchdowns, and has caught 16 passes for 132 yards and one more score. So far in the 2011 season, he has five tackles on special teams.
Notes On Other Eagles
Head Coach Beau Baldwin: Baldwin is in his fourth season as Eastern Washington's head coach. After guiding the Eagles to a 6-5 record in 2008, he led EWU to the FCS Playoffs with an 8-4 record in 2009 and a 13-2 mark in the 2010 season that included a co-championship with Montana State in the Big Sky. Baldwin served as the head coach at Central Washington in 2007, leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and the NCAA Division II quarterfinals. He also was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for EWU from 2003-06. In a short amount of time, Baldwin has taken a perennial playoff participant and honed it into a national champion. Ironically, many observers didn't even have EWU ranked as a top 25 team before the 2010 season began, but the Eagles finished both the regular season and playoffs ranked No. 1.
Center Chris Powers: Powers has started 31 career games -- the most among all Eastern players on offense. He represents the 17th time an EWU offensive lineman has earned All-America accolades in the last 18 years (1993-2010), with Eastern offensive linemen winning 19 first-team All-Big Sky honors in that same time period. Eastern finished the 2010 season ranked 22nd in the FCS in total offense (397.1 yards per game), as well as rankings of 26th in passing (241.0), 49th in rushing (156.1) and 18th in scoring (31.5).
Safety Jeff Minnerly: The junior free safety, a 2008 graduate of Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., was awarded the “Elite 88” Award by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He received the award for having the highest cumulative grade point average among the participants in the 2010 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Eastern won that game 20-19, as Minnerly finished with two passes broken up and two tackles. Minnerly was a 4.0 student at Ferris where he excelled in football and basketball, and is currently a finance major at EWU with a 3.83 grade point average. Earlier in the 2010 season, Minnerly was honored as an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection and was also chosen for the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). He was selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the second time in 2010 and was selected as EWU’s Scholar-Athlete for the month of December. He had 48 tackles, three interceptions and four passes broken up for the year.
Kicker Kevin Miller: The Eagles are redshirting the strong-legged Miller, who finished 2-of-3 kicking field goals for the Eagles in the 2010 season and also handled kickoffs for EWU. He booted a 48-yarder in the third quarter of EWU’s 34-7 win over Idaho State on Nov. 20 to equal the 23rd-longest in school history. He also made a 44-yarder at Portland State on Oct. 30 and had a 44-yarder blocked against North Dakota State on Dec. 11. A 2009 graduate of Centennial High School in Portland, Ore., he also averaged 58.7 yards on six kickoffs against ISU and its prolific kickoff returner Tavoy Moore, who had five returns for 93 yards with a long of 38. ISU started possessions inside its own 20 four times, with an average field position of its own 24-yard line. He finished the 2010 season averaging 64.2 yards on 81 kickoffs with 15 touchbacks. As a true freshman in 2009, he averaged 63.0 yard per kick with 14 touchbacks on 47 kickoffs.
Eastern leads the 28-game series 18-10, including victories the last four times the schools have met and six of the last seven. The lone loss for EWU in the last six games was a 44-36 home loss in 2006, but Eastern won 28-13 at home in 2008 and 21-14 in 2010 in Cheney. Eastern is 8-3 all-time against NAU in Cheney, 2-1 in Spokane and 8-6 in Flagstaff. The Eagles have won the last three meetings in Flagstaff, averaging nearly 48 points per game (49-45 in 2009, 52-24 in 2007 and 42-14 in 2005).
Last Season in Cheney . . . No. 13 Eagles Survive for 21-14 Victory Over No. 26 Lumberjacks
The 13th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team overcame five turnovers to hold off Northern Arizona 21-14 in a Big Sky Conference game Oct. 9, 2010, at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern out-gained NAU 354-317 in total offense, but lost the turnover battle 5-3 as NAU had 30 more offensive plays than the Eagles and had a nearly 10 minute advantage in possession time.
“I am always happy to get a win,” said a relieved Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “To be 3-1 (in the Big Sky) at this point is a pretty solid thing after going through the stretch we’ve gone through. Yes, it was ugly -- as ugly as it could be -- and we definitely have a lot of work to do. Both sides of the ball have pride in the way they play.”
Senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt led Eastern’s defense with 16 tackles, and also had an interception, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
Despite two interceptions, Eastern junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was extremely accurate by completing 20-of-26 passes for 288 yards and touchdown passes to Nicholas Edwards, Brandon Kaufman and Ryan Seto.
“We found a way to win and that’s huge,” said Baldwin. “We’ll improve and learn from this because a lot of times you can’t win doing the things we did today.”
Eastern’s defense stepped up big in the second half, stopping NAU on downs in its last three possessions. On the last possession of the game for the Lumberjacks, Eastern’s Zach Johnson and Tyler Washburn made a stop on a fourth-and-12 play at the EWU 38-yard line.
Johnson also had 11 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss, and his twin brother Matt Johnson added nine tackles and a pass broken up. Paul Ena had a sack and Artise Gauldin and Jeff Minnerly each had interceptions. Minnerly’s pick turned into an EWU touchdown.
“I’m proud of the defense for stepping up,” said Baldwin. “I’m still proud of the entire team for staying together and finding a way to win. But our defense was put in a tough spot a number of times and they found a way to get stops. That was great.”
Eastern lost three fumbles, including a pair by Walter Payton Award candidate Taiwan Jones. One of those was recovered for a touchdown in the fourth quarter by NAU.
“Turnovers are such a pet peeve of mine,” said Baldwin. “I harp on it and stress it, and we work on it in practice. So when we have a game like this where we are turning it over, it frustrates me. There were moments where we moved the ball well, but overall we didn’t pay the type of football we need to in order to win a championship.”
Last Time in Flagstaff . . . Matt Nichols Rallies No. 18 Eastern Late for 49-45 Win
The Eastern Washington University football team let an 18-point lead slip through its grasp, but scored the winning touchdown with 3:30 left in the game to conclude the regular season with a 49-45 Big Sky Conference victory over Northern Arizona Nov. 21, 2010, at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Eastern was out-gained in total yards 747-487, but won the important turnover battle 4-0. The Eagles led 28-10 and 35-17 in the first half, and 42-27 late in the game, however, NAU scored three-straight times to take a 45-42 lead with 5:20 left.
But Eastern scored on a five-play, 74-yard drive, with senior quarterback Matt Nichols passing 13 yards to Nathan Overbay for the winning score -- Overbay’s 12th TD catch of the season. The defense did the rest, stopping NAU on a fourth-and-three play at the EWU 32-yard line with 34 seconds to play.
Nichols completed 22-of-33 passes for 408 yards, no interceptions and five touchdowns as EWU wrapped-up a fourth-straight victory and a possible berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Nichols became only the second player in league history to pass for more than 12,000 career yards.
“It was a battle to the end,” said Eagle head coach Beau Baldwin. “We were playing on a good surface and both offenses got on a roll. Sometimes you play them 16-0 and sometimes you get in shootouts, but I’m proud of our team for finding a way.
“In the second half it started getting away from us, but we kept fighting,” he added. “But both sides of the ball won the game for us -- we went down and scored and then we got the final stop. Both were huge.”
Northern Arizona finished with 574 yards through the air and 173 rushing, while the Eagles finished with 486 total yards. The Eagles, however, forced four turnovers, including an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Makai Borden.
“As a team we figured out a way to win it,” said Baldwin. “I’m proud of everybody. It wasn’t perfect, and a lot of times it’s not perfect when you play a good opponent. They were a much better opponent than 5-5 coming into this game.”
Nichols had plenty of help in leading the Eagles to the win. Running back Taiwan Jones finished with 274 all-purpose yards, including 115 rushing to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He also caught a pair of passes for 82 yards and returned four kickoffs for 77 more.
Jones scored Eastern’s first touchdown on an 80-yard catch-and-run from Nichols, then scored on a 71-yard run in the third quarter to give EWU a 42-27 lead.
Prior to that, Nichols had touchdown passes of 8, 10 and 18 yards to freshman redshirt Nicholas Edwards -- his first scores of the season. His third TD catch gave EWU a 35-17 lead with 54 seconds left in the second quarter.
Tony Davis led Eastern with seven catches for 132 yards, including a key 22-yard catch to start the game-winning drive.
True freshman Paul Ena, a defensive end until practice the previous week when he moved to middle linebacker as an injury replacement, had a game-high 16 tackles. Safety Matt Johnson and linebacker J.C. Sherritt each finished with 15. Sherritt upped his season total to 154 tackles, breaking the previous single season record of 151 set by Greg Belzer in 2000.