No. 1 Eastern Hosts Sac State in 86th Homecoming
Top-ranked for third-season in a row, Eagles play 5-2 Sac State at Roos Field in a match-up in which the road team has won 10 of the last 12 meetings
Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
Sacramento State "Hornets"
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 • 4:05 p.m.
Roos Field (8,600) • Cheney, Wash.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington
School Record: 38-17/27-9 Big Sky Conference (5th Season)
Career Record: 48-20 (6th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009, 13-2 in 2010, 6-5 in 2011)
2012: 5-1/4-0 Big Sky Conference
2011: 6-5/5-3 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: Eastern 27, Montana State 24 (Oct. 13 in Bozeman, Mont.)
TV: Televised in Eastern Washington by SWX - SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 115; Davis Cable 514/81.2/12; Time Warner 306; Charter 287, Cable One 466; Northland Cable 115 (Greg Heister, Bill Ames)
Radio: 700-AM ESPN in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 22nd season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen and sideline commentary by Keith Osso. Osso will also serve as host of the Eagle Tailgate Show, starting 1 1/2 hours prior to kickoff.
Internet Radio: www.700espn.com or www.tunein.com
Radio iPhone App: Search for “Spokane Radio” and download app. An app is also available for tunein radio.
Live Stats: ewulive.statb.us (web) or ewustats.com (mobile phones)
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays 6 p.m. at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. . . 700-AM ESPN, www.700espn.com & via iphone app. (search for “Spokane Radio” and download app).
It’s a series that defies logic, but the caliber of opponent is what concerns Eastern Washington University head football coach Beau Baldwin the most.
It’s Homecoming this Saturday (Oct. 20) for the top-ranked Eagles, but home-field advantage hasn’t meant a great deal as of late, as Sacramento State visits for a Big Sky Conference game in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. at Roos Field in Eastern’s 86th Annual Homecoming Game, with EWU owning a 50-32-3 record in its previous 85 Homecoming contests.
The game is televised live by SWX (SWX Digital 6.2 in Spokane, 25.3 in the Tri-Cities & 23.3 in the Yakima area; Comcast 115; Davis Cable 514/81.2/12; Time Warner 306; Charter 287, Cable One 466; Northland Cable 115) and via webcast at www.bigskytv.org.
The radio broadcast of this week’s game, featuring Larry Weir, Paul Sorensen and Dennis Patchin, starts 1 1/2 hours prior to kickoff with the Eagle Tailgate Show. It may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for “700 ESPN” and download the free app). The broadcast is also available via www.tunein.com and tunein’s mobile phone app.
Eastern is coming off a 27-24 victory over second-ranked Montana State, giving the Eagles their first-ever 4-0 start in Big Sky Conference play. Thanks to losses to the top three teams in the Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll, the win catapulted the 5-1 Eagles from sixth to the top spot. It’s the third-straight year Eastern has been ranked No. 1 at one point in the season. The lone loss for the Eagles this season was a narrow 24-20 setback at Washington State on Sept. 8.
The Hornets, who earlier this season knocked off a Pac-12 Conference foe for the second-straight year with a 30-28 victory at Colorado, are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky following last week’s 19-14 home victory over Weber State. Sac State is off to its best start in two decades, matching the 5-2 start of the 1992 squad.
In the previous 12 meetings between EWU and Sacramento State, the home team has won only twice (EWU 45-10 in 2004 and 28-24 in 2010). Eastern is 6-0 in Sacramento and 2-4 in Cheney in those 12 meetings. The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 against the Hornets in Sacramento, and lead the all-time series 16-4, including a 28-24 victory in Cheney in 2010.
However, the Hornets have defeated the Eagles four of the last six times they have visited Cheney -- 15-13 in 2008, 21-20 in 2006, 48-41 in 2002 and 25-22 in 2000. Those four Sac State wins were by a combined 13 points, and the last time the two teams met in Cheney in 2010, Eastern survived for a 24-20 win.
No stranger to huge victories, the Hornets recorded a 29-28 overtime win over Oregon State in 2011, but finished the season just 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky. This year’s Sac State team has won its last three road games after a season-opening 49-19 loss at New Mexico State. After knocking off Colorado, the Hornets have defeated Idaho State 54-31 and Southern Utah 27-22 on the road.
Eastern had just 211 yards of offense against MSU, and needed a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown and an interception returned for a TD to pull-out the win over the Bobcats. Both plays occurred within 59 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter, as EWU has now won 10 times since 2010 when trailing or tied in the final stanza.
“We need to find a little bit of rhythm offensively, but I can’t take away from what Montana State did against us,” said Baldwin. “When your team doesn’t have great rhythm, a lot of times you have to credit what the other team is doing. They are a great operation on defense, and offense for that matter. But we’ll have to critique ourselves hard, and watch the video as if we lost the game. We need to keep trying to build and get better.
“We enjoyed the fact we were able to find a way to win in Bozeman,” he added. “But we will have our hands full against a very talented Sacramento State team. We are very well aware of how hard it is to beat them year-in and year-out, especially here in Cheney.
“Sac State is playing really good football, and they are in a good spot in terms of where they sit in the Big Sky standings. It was going to be a huge game regardless of where we are ranked and what our record was at this point.”
Now just past the halfway portion of its regular-season schedule, Eastern plays at Southern Utah (Oct. 27), home versus Cal Poly (Nov. 3), home against UC Davis (Nov. 10) and away at Portland State (Nov. 17).
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* Thanks to losses by the top three ranked teams – and its own marquee victory over second-ranked Montana State -- Eastern moved up five spots to the top position in this week’s Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 Poll as selected by a national panel of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors. The Eagles received 92 first-place votes and 3,982 total votes to edge No. 2 James Madison (42, 3831). Nine different teams received first-place votes after a weekend that saw the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 teams all lose. James Madison was fourth last week, but struggled to beat 2-5 William and Mary 27-26 in overtime. Eastern ended the 2010 regular season with its first No. 1 ranking in school history, and remained in that position after winning the NCAA Division I Championship. The Eagles were also ranked first in the 2011 preseason poll, as well as after the Eagles narrowly lost its opener last season at Washington, 30-27. In the coaches poll this week, the Eagles are also ranked No. 1, after ranking sixth, seventh and ninth the previous three weeks. Other Big Sky Conference schools in the top 25 include Montana State (5th TSN, 5th coaches), Cal Poly (14th TSN, 12th coaches) and Northern Arizona (16th TSN, 15th coaches). Sacramento State, Eastern’s opponent this week, received enough votes to rank 30th in the in the TSN poll and 28th in the coaches poll.
* The Eagles remain a season-high second behind North Dakota State in the Jeff Sagarin computer ratings, despite the fact NDSU lost and EWU won last week. Eastern is 80th overall, with Cal Poly ranking as the next-highest Big Sky school (fifth in FCS, 88th overall). Other highly ranked Big Sky schools include Montana State (14/113), Northern Arizona (15/114), Montana (18/118), Southern Utah (30/138), North Dakota (35/145), UC Davis (37/152), Portland State (39/154) and Sacramento State (40/155).
* The weekly Gridiron Power Rankings are released every Wednesday by College Sporting News (www.collegesportingnews.com), and last week the top three teams were North Dakota State, Montana State and Eastern. This week’s ratings should be released on Oct. 17.
* Eastern is coming off an unconventional come-from-behind victory, beating second-ranked Montana State 27-24 on Oct. 13 in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats out-gained EWU 375-211, but EWU managed to take the lead for good on a blocked punt by sophomore Dylan Zylstra that was recovered for a touchdown by Evan Day. Just 59 seconds later, an interception by freshman redshirt safety Jordan Tonani was returned 21 yards for a touchdown to give EWU a 10-point advantage it didn’t surrender. Because of the two non-offensive scoring plays, Eastern had just 21 1/2 minutes of possession time in the 60-minute game. In the fourth quarter alone, MSU had the ball for 12:24 and EWU for just 2:36.
* En route to being selected by the Big Sky Conference as Root Sports Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, junior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin had a team-leading 15 tackles – the second-best performance in his 17-game Eastern career -- and a key interception in sixth-ranked Eastern’s 27-24 victory at second-ranked Montana State. In addition, Hamlin received national FCS recognition as one of four College Sporting News National All Stars (www.collegesportingnews.com). His diving interception in the third quarter was the first of his career and led to a field goal that cut Montana State’s lead to 10-6. After Eastern took a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, he had six tackles after that, including one for a loss of one yard. In fact, three of his tackles in the quarter – all solos – were for a collective net of one yard. He also had a tackle for loss of six yards in the third quarter. The Eagles held MSU to 375 yards of offense, including just 70 rushing. Earlier this season, Hamlin was honored by the Big Sky after finishing with eight tackles and a pass broken up in a season-opening 20-3 victory over Idaho. Hamlin has started 14 games in his career and has 146 tackles, including a team-leading 61 this season and a team-leading 85 as a sophomore. After redshirting the 2009 season, he was unable to play during Eastern’s national championship season in 2010 because of a knee injury. He is from Lacey, Wash., and is a 2009 graduate of Timberline High School.
* Eastern’s victory over Montana State on Oct. 13 was the seventh for the Eagles over a team ranked in the top three in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. In the 2004 FCS Playoffs, Eastern upset top-ranked and No. 1 seeded Southern Illinois 35-31, and three years later in the playoffs romped past unbeaten McNeese State 44-15. The Cowboys entered that 2007 game seeded second in the playoffs and ranked third nationally. In both first-round upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally. The other four conquests have come against Montana, including victories in 1990, 1997 and 2005 in Missoula, Mont., when the Grizzlies were ranked second. In 2002 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana’s record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana’s record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the season-ending victory for the Eagles opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies. During EWU’s national championship season in 2010, the highest-ranked team the Eagles played in the playoffs was Delaware, which was ranked fifth at the end of the regular season. Eastern won that game 38-31. That season, Eastern beat sixth-ranked Montana, ninth-ranked Southeast Missouri State, 10th-ranked Villanova and 25th-ranked North Dakota State, and lost to 17th-ranked Montana State. Here is the complete list of conquests for the Eagles against teams ranked in the top three in FCS:
2012 - #6 Eastern Washington 27, #2 Montana State 24 (in
2007 - #14 Eastern Washington 44, #3 McNeese State 15 (in Lake Charles, La.)
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34, #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #14 Eastern Washington 35, #1 Southern Illinois 31 (in Carbondale, Ill.)
2001 – Eastern Washington 30, #1 Montana 21 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 40, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1990 - #20 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
* Eastern’s fourth quarter magic – dating back to 2010 -- is alive and well. In the last three seasons (2010-12), the Eagles have had 10 victories when they’ve trailed or been tied in the final stanza. In a 27-24 victory over second-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13, the sixth-ranked Eagles trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter before scoring two non-offensive touchdowns within a span of 59 seconds. The Eagles blocked a punt (Dylan Zylstra) and recovered it for a touchdown (Evan Day), then returned an interception for a score (Jordan Tonani). On Sept. 29, Eastern scored two touchdowns in the final 2:19 as the No. 7 Eagles rallied for a 32-26 victory over the 21st-ranked Montana Grizzlies. A year ago, a touchdown pass by wide receiver Greg Herd sparked Eastern to scores on four consecutive plays (two touchdowns and two conversions) in the second and third overtimes as the Eagles prevailed 53-51 over Cal Poly on Nov. 12. Eastern sent the game into overtime with a 10-play, 80-yard drive to score with 1:51 to play. Just two games earlier, Eastern rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Sacramento State 42-35 in overtime Oct. 22 at Hornet Stadium. The victory kept EWU perfect in 11 tries versus the Hornets in Sacramento. In 2010, Eastern was no stranger to narrow victories, with six victories when trailing in the fourth quarter. In fact, nine of its 13 wins during the national championship season were nail-biters -- 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 over Delaware in the national championship game when the Eagles rallied from a 19-0 deficit to score three touchdowns in the final 16:48.
* The last time EWU defeated both Montana and Montana State in the same year was in 2005 – the only other times in school history that has occurred were in 1985, 1991 and 1992. Eastern scored twice in the last 2:19 to defeat the Grizzlies 32-26 on Sept. 29, then held-off second-ranked Montana State 27-24 on Oct. 13. The Eagles now lead the all-time series versus MSU 26-10, but had lost the last two meetings by a collective score of 66-28. Eastern was out-scored in the second half of those two games 26-7, but in the 2012 meeting the Eagles had a 24-14 advantage after halftime.
* Redshirt freshman Jordan Tonani has made his mark in two starts as an injury replacement for safety Jeff Minnerly, who suffered a broken collarbone against Montana on Sept. 29. With EWU clinging to a 20-17 lead over Montana State on Oct. 13, Tonani stepped in front of a MSU receiver on an out route for an interception he returned 21 yards for a touchdown with 11:15 to play, becoming the winning points in a 27-24 victory over the second-ranked Bobcats. He also had eight tackles, and as a result, was selected as the College Sports Madness National FCS Defensive Player of the Week, as well as the same honor for the Big Sky Conference. One game earlier in his first collegiate start, Tonani had 11 tackles as the Eagles held North Dakota scoreless in the second half of a 55-17 win. Entering the game, UND had 37 plays of 20 or more yards on offense this season, and EWU’s goal was to hold North Dakota to three or less. The Eagles did better than that, holding UND to just one – a 24-yard pass play in the third quarter after EWU had already opened a 34-17 lead. Interestingly, Tonani and Minnerly are from the same high school in Spokane, Wash. Tonani graduated from Ferris in 2011; Minnerly graduated in 2008, along with EWU backup safety McKenzie Murphy. Murphy broke his thumb against North Dakota, and is doubtful this week after undergoing surgery and missing the Montana State game. Minnerly, who is also out indefinitely, was also Eastern’s leading tackler in his first career start, finishing with eight tackles in a 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2, 2010.
* Eastern took the lead for good against MSU after a blocked punt by sophomore Dylan Zylstra that was recovered for a touchdown by Evan Day. The block turned a 17-13 deficit into a 20-17 advantage in the 27-24 victory. Zylstra, a 2010 graduate of Kentridge High School in Kent, Wash., has nine tackles for the season as a backup defensive lineman.
* The Eagles continue to led the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing only 20.0 points per game, which ranks 26th in FCS. Of the top 33 teams in FCS in scoring defense, Eastern has the worst ranking in total defense, ranking 67th (376.2 yards per game).
* This is the first time the Eagles have started the Big Sky Conference season 4-0. The last time EWU was 3-0 in conference play was in 2009, joining 2004, 1996 and 1992 as the only teams to accomplish that feat. Only in 1992 and 2004 did EWU go on to win the Big Sky Conference title, sharing those championships with Idaho and Montana, respectively.
* Overall, since becoming a member of FCS in 1984, Eastern has started the season 5-1 in 1997, 1996 and 1985. However, the only time the Eagles have gone 6-1 came in 1997 when the Eagles were 12-1 before losing to Youngstown State 25-14 in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
* A trend the Eagles hope continues is its win-loss record in October and beyond. Since 2010, EWU is 19-1 after Oct. 1, including an 11-0 mark two years ago, 6-1 last year and 2-0 this season. The lone loss was a 43-26 home setback in 2011 versus Portland State. From November 1 on, Eastern is 8-0 since 2010 and 17-3 since 2007.
* Two of the top kickoff return units in FCS football will be on display this week. Freshman Shaquille Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota on Sept. 6, ranks second in FCS with a league-leading average of 33.63 yards per kickoff return. Eastern is fourth in FCS with a 28.08 average, ranking right behind Sacramento State at 28.17. Sam McCowan for the Hornets has a 27.78 average to rank 11th nationally.
* Starting defensive end Jerry Ceja is fourth in FCS and ranks second in the league with an average of 1.17 sacks per game (total of seven). Ceja has had two in each of his last three games – Montana State on Oct. 13, North Dakota on Oct. 6 and Weber State on Sept. 22. As a team, the Eagles are tied for second in the league and ninth nationally with Sacramento State and Montana State with an average of 3.0 per game.
* With a 6-5 record in 2011, Eastern fell a victory shy of its sixth playoff berth since 2004. Although the Eagles came up short, EWU is one of just seven schools among the 120 in FCS to have advanced to the playoffs five times in the last eight seasons (2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010).
* The Eagle family grew on Oct. 10, 2012, when Ryan Sawyer and his wife, Heidi, had their first child – a boy named Colton Thomas. He weighed in at just over eight pounds, but nowhere near the coaching staff record held by Aaron Best. Aaron and his wife Kim had their first child on April 12, 2008, and the appropriately named – but now slimmed down – Tank Best weighed in at 10 pounds, seven ounces and was 20 1/2 inches long.
More Game Notes
* Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin coached in his 100th Eastern game when the Eagles rallied to beat Montana 32-26. He is now 38-17 in four-plus seasons as a head coach (2008-12), and was 25-22 as an EWU assistant coach for four seasons (2003-06), for a collective total of 63-39. His .750 winning percentage in Big Sky Conference games (27-9) is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach.
* Junior Brandon Kaufman has 30 catches for 609 yards (20.3 per catch) and seven touchdowns thus far. Kaufman has gone over the 100-yard mark four times this season and 12 times in his career. The 2010 All-American leads the Big Sky and ranks 10th in FCS in receiving yards per game (101.5). Because of hand and knee injuries requiring surgery, Kaufman received an injury redshirt in the 2011 season after playing in the first four games of the year. Kaufman, who is from Denver, Colo., and is a 2009 graduate of Heritage HS, now has 158 career catches (eighth in school history) for 2,490 yards (sixth) and 24 touchdowns (sixth).
* After leading FCS last week with a perfect 18-of-18 performance in the red zone, a missed fourth-down conversion attempt against Montana State has knocked the Eagles down to fourth nationally. Eastern has scored six rushing touchdowns, five passing TDs and has kicked seven field goals this season the 19 times it has reached inside the opponent 20-yard line.
* Eastern is now 68th in FCS in rushing defense (159.3), having given up only 336 rushing yards total in its first three games and just 70 versus Montana State. Eastern is also 67th in total defense (376.2). Before Montana rushed for 407 yards against EWU on Sept. 29, the Eagles ranked 25th in FCS and third in the league in rushing defense (112.0 yards per game). A year ago, Eastern was 101st out of 120 FCS schools in total defense (411.9) and 110th in rushing defense (213.2).
* The Eagles are fifth in the league and 29th in FCS in passing offense (256.8 per game), with Vernon Adams ranking 25th in FCS in passing efficiency (141.03). In four games as a starter and one as a sub, he has completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 719 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. The Eagles are eighth in the Big Sky and 34th in FCS in total offense (409.0), and as a team are 55th in passing efficiency (128.39).
* In other national rankings, Eastern’s Jake Miller is ranked 11th in FCS in punting (43.31 average) and kicker Jimmy Pavel is 18th in field goals (1.33 per game, with eight for the season). Pavel has made all eight of his attempts (EWU as a team is 9-of-9), and is one of only three players in FCS with at least seven field goals to be perfect thus far. As a team, Eastern is 13th in net punting (38.17 per punt, including opponent returns), 28th in scoring offense (31.0) and ninth in turnover margin (+1.17 per game, with 15 takeaways and eight giveaways).
* Eastern has perhaps the top wide receiver trio in all of FCS, with three players who have all earned All-America accolades and have 1,000-yard seasons in their careers -- Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd and Brandon Kaufman. They have combined for 115 games worth of experience (83 starts), and have collective totals of 465 catches for 6,480 yards and 65 touchdowns. Edwards and Herd are seniors and Kaufman is a junior after he received an injury redshirt in 2011.
* The Eagles have a quartet of linebackers who have combined for 135 games of experience (83 starts) in their careers, with a collective total of 762 tackles. Zach Johnson (33 games played/33 starts) has 274 tackles, Tyler Washburn (43/28) has 217, Ronnie Hamlin (17/14) has 146 and Grant Williams (42/8) has 125. In addition, Cody McCarthy (13/5, 66 tackles) and J.C. Agen (24/4, 46 tackles) have seen significant action for EWU since last season.
* Junior cornerback T.J. Lee has piled up some impressive statistics already this season, including eight tackles (six unassisted), a pass broken up and a forced fumble on a sack that he also recovered to lead to a field goal versus Weber State on Sept. 22. One game earlier against Washington State, he had six tackles and an interception, as the Eagle defense pitched a shutout in the second half and kept the Eagles in the game. His interception in the fourth quarter came at the Eastern 7-yard line and helped thwart one of two potential scoring drives for the Cougars late in the game. A first team All-Big Sky selection a year ago, Lee now has 92 tackles, three interceptions, six passes broken up and a 1 1/2 sacks in his 26-game career.
* Eastern’s running game is much-improved in 2012, with the Eagles ranking 57th in FCS with an average of 152.2 yards per game. A year ago, Eastern ranked 112th out of 120 FCS teams with an average of 79.0 per game. Only once last year did Eastern have more than 139 yards rushing in a single game and EWU already has performances of 290 (North Dakota), 206 (Weber State) and 162 (Idaho). The 290 yards versus UND are Eastern’s most since it had 307 versus Montana-Western in 2007, and the most versus an FCS opponent since running for 295 against Weber State in 2004. Four players have rushed for at least 159 yards thus far, including sophomore Quincy Forte with a team-leading 280 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore starter Jordan Talley, despite missing two games with a concussion, has rushed for 221 and three touchdowns. They are now augmented by the additional running threat of quarterback Vernon Adams, who scrambled his way to 62 yards in his starting debut versus Weber State and another 54 versus Montana on Sept. 29. He has 159 for the season (5.3 per carry). Junior Demitrius Bronson, who missed EWU’s first two games with a hamstring injury and carried just five times in his first two games of the season, how has 168 (6.0 per rush). He rushed 13 times for a career-high 113 yards and a TD against North Dakota -- a season-high for an Eagle running back.
* This is the first time in school history all 11 Eastern games will be played on artificial surfaces. Eastern played on grass just once in 2010 (Weber State) and 2011 (Cal Poly). Prior to having red Sprinturf installed in 2010, Eastern’s Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) was a grass surface.
* A quartet of Eagle seniors have been selected as Eastern’s co-captains for the 2012 season. They include defensive end Paul Ena, linebacker Zach Johnson, wide receiver Nicholas Edwards and offensive tackle Will Post. Johnson was a senior captain last year before an injury cut short his season, but he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA to complete four years of eligibility. Featured on the school’s schedule poster and in other publications, all four have suffered injuries already this season. Injuries to Edwards (knee) and Ena (hand) caused them to miss the first games of their careers, and Johnson (hamstring) is a sixth-year senior who has now missed 22 games because of an injury-plagued career. Post (high ankle sprain) was injured in practice the week of the North Dakota game, but was able to start versus UND.
* Eastern led the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing offense in 2011, averaging 368.5 yards per game. In Beau Baldwin’s four years as Eastern’s head coach, the Eagles have ranked in the top 10 in FCS in passing offense three times and total offense twice. In EWU’s last eight seasons (1994-2011), including seven with Baldwin on the coaching staff, EWU has ranked in the top 10 in passing six times and total offense on five occasions.
* Despite coming off a 6-5 season, the Eastern Washington University football team has been picked to finish second in the Big Sky Conference. Two-time defending co-champion Montana State has been selected first by the media and the coaches in the polls. MSU, which has finished 7-1 in the conference in each of the past two seasons and advanced to the playoffs, earned seven first-place votes in the coaches poll and a total of 136 points. In the media poll, the Bobcats received 30 of 40 first-place votes and 502 total points. Eastern garnered four first-place votes and 131 total points from the coaches. In the media poll, the Eagles earned three first-place votes and 453 total points. A year ago, the Eagles were picked to win the league title after they had won the 2010 Big Sky championship and went on to win the NCAA Division I title. But an 0-4 start and a rash of injuries led to a 6-5 finish overall and 5-3 mark in the Big Sky in 2011.
* Starting running back Jordan Talley missed the North Dakota and Montana State games with a concussion suffered in practice, and is questionable this week pending evaluation. Linebacker Zach Johnson (hamstring) is questionable this week. He played in just EWU’s first defensive series against Weber State before he had to sit out the rest of the game, and has missed the last three games. His backup, J.C. Agen, who started in 2011 after Johnson was lost for the season with a knee injury, is questionable this week. He missed the first two EWU games with a pectoral injury, but made his season debut in limited action versus Weber State. However, he has missed the three games since. Senior safety Jeff Minnerly suffered a fractured collarbone suffered against Montana, doubtful. Backup safety McKenzie Murphy broke his thumb against North Dakota and subsequently had surgery, and is doubtful this week after missing the Montana State game. Minnerly and Murphy are both 2008 graduates of Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash. Wide receiver Nicholas Edwards returned to play against Montana State after missing two games because of a knee sprain on a pass reception on EWU’s first offensive play of the game at Weber State. Defensive end Paul Ena returned to start versus Montana after a wrist injury in the first half against Washington State sidelined him for the rest of that game, as well as Weber State. Ena, the lone returning starter on the defensive line, started against Idaho on Aug. 30 despite suffering an elbow injury in practice about a week earlier. Wide receiver Greg Herd played against Weber State after suffering a concussion versus Washington State, but probably wouldn’t have played if Eastern would have had a game on Sept. 15. Running back Demitrius Bronson missed the first two games with an injured hamstring, but returned to carry the ball twice versus Weber State. Linebacker Cody McCarthy hurt his knee in practice and missed the Montana game, but returned to play the next week versus North Dakota.
* Hornet Stadium is definitely a home-away-from-home for the Eastern football team. Actually, home-field advantage hasn’t meant much for either team in the past 12 years of the series. Thanks to a record-setting four touchdown receptions by Nicholas Edwards in last year’s meeting, Eastern rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Sacramento State 42-35 in overtime and kept EWU perfect in 11 tries versus the Hornets in Sacramento. The Eagles lead the all-time series 16-4, with all four losses coming in Cheney. But even stranger than being perfect in Sacramento is the fact that in the last 12 meetings between EWU and Sac State, the home team has won only twice (EWU 45-10 in 2004 and 28-24 in 2010). Eastern is 6-0 in Sacramento and 2-4 in Cheney in those 12 meetings. “I don’t know, maybe we’ll wear away jerseys next year against them,” laughed Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin after the 2009 meeting. “I just think it’s a little bit of a fluke -- the outcomes of those games just worked out that way. But I do think our players do a good job of traveling -- I always thought that way back when I was an assistant. They are really mature and locked-in to what they are on the road to do, and I think it shows on the field.”
* In the 2011 meeting in Sacramento, a record-setting four touchdown receptions by Nicholas Edwards helped EWU rally from a 15-point deficit to defeat Sacramento State 42-35 in overtime. True freshman Jordan Talley provided the winning points with a 1-yard TD run to open overtime. Eastern held on a fourth-and-goal play from its own 3-yard line to preserve Eastern’s fourth-straight victory. Edwards finished with 11 catches for a career-high 192 receiving yards, and tied a school record with his four TD receptions. True freshman Quincy Forte added 87 yards rushing on just 11 carries in the first start of his career as EWU finished with 456 yards of total offense. Greg Herd added seven catches for 81 yards for the Eagles. Another true freshman, linebacker Cody McCarthy, led the Eagles with a career-high 12 tackles. Junior safety Jeff Minnerly added nine and sophomore Ronnie Hamlin chipped in seven. The Hornets played the game without injured quarterback Jeff Fleming, but still managed to run for 313 yards and pass for another 232 for a total of 545 versus the injury-decimated Eagles. Sac State pulled ahead with 2:44 left, but Eastern, thanks to a converted fourth-and-five play, tied it with a 68-yard TD drive, capped by a 22-yard diving catch by Edwards for a touchdown with 55 ticks remaining. In overtime, Eastern needed 10 plays to get into the end zone, then Sac State appeared to be on its way to score with a 15-yard run on the first play. But three Hornet plays yielded seven yards before the game ended on a fourth down incompletion from the Eagle 3-yard line.
* The Eagles entered their 2010 meeting ranked eighth in FCS, but needed a late defensive stop and a short touchdown drive to pull-out another victory, 28-24, at Roos Field. The win was one of six victories EWU had that season when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, as the Eagles finished 13-2 and won the NCAA Division I title. 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 -- much like they did all season -- 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. Taiwan Jones rushed for 145 yards, 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. Eastern’s defense, which was on the field for 82 plays compared to 56 plays for EWU’s offense, had three sacks, two interceptions and broke-up nine passes. Zach Johnson led the way with 12 tackles and a pair of passes broken up, and his twin brother Matt Johnson had nine tackles, an interception (the 14th of his career) and broke-up three passes. Eastern had a 212-110 lead in total offense early in the game, but over the span of Sac State’s 24-0 run, the Hornets out-gained Eastern 267-66. Sacramento State finished with 398 yards of offense and EWU had 323.
*In the 2009 meeting in Sacramento, the 19th-ranked Eagles scored 35 first-half points and went on to hold-off Sacramento State 56-30 in sweltering heat at Hornet Stadium. Eastern’s 2009 win over Sac State avenged a 15-13 home setback to the Hornets the previous year. In the 2008 meeting, the Eagles had 363 passing yards and 23 first downs, but had three turnovers, were 0-for-6 on third down and had minus 31 yards rushing. In 2009, Eastern had one turnover, were 10-of-14 on third down and had 283 yards rushing.
Eagle-Sac State Connections
* Eastern running backs coach Kiel (pronounced Kyle) McDonald played 10 games in the 2005 season at Sacramento State before transferring to Idaho. A Big Sky All-Academic selection, McDonald finished his junior season at Sac State with 17 tackles, one interception and four passes broken up before graduating with honors (Cum Laude) in the spring of 2006. He also played at Sacramento City College, earning honorable mention All-NorCal Conference honors as a sophomore.
* Eastern receiver Nicholas Edwards earned a variety of national NCAA Football Championship Subdivision honors, including The Sports Network/Fathead.com co-National Player of Week, after tying a school record with four touchdown receptions in EWU’s 42-35 come-from-behind overtime victory over Sacramento State (10/22/11). He also earned National Performer of the Week and National Wide Receiver of the Week from College Football Performance Awards, and earned Beyond Sports College Network FCS Player of the Week accolades. Edwards, who finished with 11 catches for 192 yards, was named Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week as well.
* Eastern has several players from Northern Colorado, including a pair from Sacramento (Christian Hudnell and Terry Jackson II), and one from nearby El Dorado Hills (Will Boule). Others from the Bay Area include David Delgado (American Canyon), Mario Brown (Berkeley), Quincy Forte (Fairfield), Shaquille Hill (Fremont), Daniel Johnson (San Jose) and Bowe Merin (Stockton).
* Eastern running back Quincy Forte and Sac State defensive back Markell Williams were teammates at nearby Vacaville High School.
* Sacramento State has no players from the state of Washington on its travel roster. In fact, of those 62 players, only two are not from California.
* Eastern wide receivers coach Junior Adams will turn 33 the day Eastern hosts Sacramento State. Backup safety McKenzie Murphy will turn 23 that same day.
* Defensive end Paul Ena recovered a fumble and returned it 40 yards against Montana State on Oct. 13, equaling the school record for career fumble recoveries. He shares the school record of eight with Nicholas Ramos (2006-09) and Steve Mattson (1994-97). Ramos, in fact, was at the MSU game and was a guest on EWU’s pre-game radio show.
* Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman has 158 catches in his career to rank eighth in school history, and is just eight grabs away from moving into seventh. He is sixth all-time in EWU history with 2,495 reception yards, and is only 29 yards away from fifth and 70 from fourth. Kaufman’s 24 touchdown catches are sixth, five away from the No. 2 position of 29 held by teammate Nicholas Edwards and Aaron Boyce (2006-09).
* Wide receiver Nicholas Edwards is just 45 receiving yards away from moving into eighth all-time in Eastern history (he currently has 2,328), and is three points away from moving into eighth in points scored (currently he has 176). His 186 career catches ranks fourth in school history (No. 3 has 213) and his 29 TD receptions are second (the record is 46). Greg Herd (121 catches for 1,662 yards and 12 touchdowns) should also be among EWU’s career leaders before the season has concluded.
* The 43.9 career punting average of sophomore Jake Miller currently ranks ahead of the school record. Jesse Nicassio had a 42.3 average in two seasons from 2002-03. Miller had a school-record 74-yard punt versus Washington State on Sept. 8, breaking the previous record of 71 set in 2006 by Ryan Donckers.
* Linebacker Zach Johnson has 274 tackles in his career, just 14 from moving into eighth all-time at Eastern. He is 67 from ranking fifth and equaling the total of 341 by his twin brother Matt Johnson, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
* Senior linebacker Tyler Washburn is now in the top 25 in career tackles in Eastern history, currently ranking 21st with 217. He is five from ranking 20th all-time, seven from the No. 19 position and eighth from ranking 18th.
* Senior defensive end Jerry Ceja is 10th all-time in career sacks with 18 1/2, and needs only a half-sack to move into ninth all-time in school history. He is 2 1/2 from eighth and 3 1/2 from seventh. Ceja also has five forced fumbles in his career, just one behind the school record of six shared by four players. The players who own the record are Matt Johnson (2008-11), Renard Williams (2008-11), J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Recent Game Summary
* Despite being held to 211 yards of offense, sixth-ranked Eastern Washington used two huge plays within 59 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter to turn a four-point deficit into a 10-point advantage en route to a 27-24 college football victory over second-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.
* The Bobcats out-gained EWU 375-211, but Eastern took the lead for good on a blocked punt by sophomore Dylan Zylstra that was recovered for a touchdown by Evan Day. Just 59 seconds later, an interception by freshman redshirt safety Jordan Tonani was returned 21 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 10-point lead they didn’t surrender. Because of the two non-offensive scoring plays, Eastern had just 21 1/2 minutes of possession time in the 60-minute game. In the fourth quarter alone, MSU had the ball for 12:24 and EWU for just 2:36.
* Eastern freshman redshirt quarterback Vernon Adams led the Eagles on a third-quarter scoring drive, and finished 12-of-29 for 140 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Junior Demitrius Bronson rushed for 41 yards on 10 carries, and senior Greg Herd was Eastern’s leading receiver with three grabs for 54 yards.
* Defensively, Ronnie Hamlin had a team-leading 15 tackles for the Eagles and a diving interception which led to a field goal in the third quarter to cut MSU’s lead to 10-6. Jerry Ceja had two sacks for the Eagles, who finished with six as a team.
Quoting Coach Beau Baldwin
On No. 1 Ranking: “It’s exciting for our program. To be ranked No.1 -- and for the third time in three years -- takes a lot of work from a lot of people. I’m proud of everyone involved in getting us to this point. From here we have to keep focusing on the task at hand, which is the Sacramento State game. But I’m not going to undersell what is special. A lot of programs go a lot of years without being ranked No. 1 for a single season, let alone being ranked No. 1 for three-straight years.”
On Win Over Second-Ranked Bobcats: “It’s huge any time you can beat a great team like Montana State. To beat the No. 2 team in the country on their home field, sometimes you have to find ways to win – extraordinary ways to win. We were struggling offensively in the first half, and the second half was a weird half. You couldn’t say we were struggling in the second half because we didn’t touch the football.”
On Two Non-Offensive Scores in Fourth Quarter: “It was awesome for Dylan Zylstra to make that play and Evan Day to fall on it. And then there was Jordan Tonani’s huge interception return. What that does is that the defense never comes off the field and the offense never goes on.”
On Unconventional Comeback: “It was incredible the way our players found a way to win. It wasn’t like some of the comebacks we’ve had in other games, but this time we just found another way.”
On Getting Big Sky Win on the Road: “It’s as good as it gets. We’re on the road against the No. 2 team in the country – that’s a hard situation to be in. Montana State is the second-ranked team in the country and deservedly so. They are a great team, and we found a way to get it done. Sometimes wild things happen here and there, and it affects a lot in these types of games. Fortunately we were able to make one more play.”
Defense (233 starts by 19 players): Zach Johnson 33, Paul Ena 29, Tyler Washburn 28, Jeff Minnerly 21, Evan Cook 20, Allen Brown 18, Ronnie Hamlin 14, T.J. Lee 13, David Gaylord 13, Grant Williams 8 (includes one start on offense in 2009), Ronald Baines 7, Jerry Ceja 6, Andru Pulu 6, Cody McCarthy 5, J.C. Agen 4, Evan Day 3, Jordan Tonani 2, Will Katoa 2, Rusty Haehl 1.
Offense (230 starts by 22 players): Nicholas Edwards 40, Brandon Kaufman 28, Will Post 28, Steven Forgette 23, Zack Gehring 17, Greg Herd 15, Brandon Murphy 15, Jordan Talley 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Ashton Miller 7, Mario Brown 5, Clay DeBord 6, Ashton Clark 5, Quincy Forte 5, Vernon Adams 4, Ryan Seto 3, Cody Humphrey 2, Kyle Padron 2, Demitrius Bronson 2, Daniel Johnson 2, Jase Butorac 2, Cory Mitchell 1, Jake Withnell 1.
* Four Eagles made starting debuts against Idaho on Aug. 30. On defense, Washington transfer Andru Pulu made his first start at defensive tackle and had one tackle, and sophomore Evan Day had 1 1/2 sacks in his starting debut at an end position. On offense, SMU transfer Kyle Padron completed 13-of-33 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown in his Eagle debut, but previously started 21 games at the NCAA FBS level at Southern Methodist. Also making his starting debut was left offensive tackle Clay DeBord.
* The only other starting debuts since the opener have been made by quarterback Vernon Adams at Weber State on Sept. 22, Jake Withnell against Montana on Sept. 29 and Jordan Tonani against North Dakota on Oct. 6. In an unannounced and surprise start, Adams used his arm and his feet to lead EWU to a 20-3 halftime lead versus Weber State. The redshirt freshman led Eastern to scores on four of five drives in the first half, including a 75-yard touchdown mark on his first drive as an Eagle. He finished the game 7-of-12 for 75 yards, and ran five times for 62 yards, but missed most of the second half with cramping. Of his five rushes, four were for first downs; of his seven completions, four more resulted in EWU first downs. Tonani, starting because of broken collarbone suffered by Jeff Minnerly, had 11 tackles in his starting debut, then had eight with an interception return for a touchdown the next game in a 27-21 win over second-seeded Montana State.