Eastern had to rally for 31-24 victory on its way to NCAA Division I title, and this year’s meeting in Cedar City will be no easier for top-ranked EWU
Eastern Washington Univ. “Eagles”
Southern Utah University “Thunderbirds”
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 • Noon Pacific
Eccles Coliseum (8,500) • Cedar City, Utah
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington
School Record: 39-17/28-9 Big Sky Conference (5th Season)
Career Record: 49-20 (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: 6-1/5-0 Big Sky Conference
2011: 6-5/5-3 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: Eastern 31, Sacramento State 28 (Oct. 20 in Cheney, Wash.)
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: http://www.suutbirds.com
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).
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 the Eagles Pub in Cheney.
Two years later and the Eastern Washington University football team has its work cut out for it again against Southern Utah and Brad Sorensen.
The highly-regarded Thunderbird quarterback will try to lead his team to an upset victory against the top-ranked Eagles when EWU travels to Cedar City, Utah, for a Big Sky Conference game that starts at noon Pacific time. Southern Utah enters the game 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky, while the league-leading Eagles are riding a five-game winning streak and are 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the league.
The radio broadcast of this week’s game, featuring Larry Weir, Paul Sorensen and Keith Osso, 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.
“It will be an extremely tough game,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “They have one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the nation. He can really throw it from the pocket and he’s consistent. They do some great things and this road game will be a huge challenge for us.”
Two years ago, during Eastern’s march to the NCAA Division I title, Sorensen completed 34-of-53 passes for 434 yards and two touchdowns, and he had his team primed for an upset against the then fifth-ranked Eagles. In the third quarter alone, Eastern was out-gained 161-4 and the game was tied at 24 in the fourth quarter.
But thanks to a pair of interceptions by Eastern’s Jesse Hoffman on SUU’s final two possessions, the Eagles were able to prevail 31-24. Eastern won the turnover battle 4-1 against a team that had only had eight turnovers in its first 10 games of the season. And Eastern recorded six sacks and had 11 passes broken up.
That was one of 10 games Eastern has won the last three seasons when trailing or tied in the fourth quarter.
Last week, Sorensen completed 33-of-47 passes for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but SUU’s rally came up short and the Thunderbirds fell at home to previously winless Weber State, 24-22. Southern Utah, which converted just 3-of-14 third down conversions, trailed 21-6 before scoring 16 of its points in the final 21:49. The Thunderbirds missed on a potential game-tying two-point conversion with 54 seconds left.
Earlier this season, the Thunderbirds lost by just seven points to Montana State and knocked off Montana 30-20.
“They are very solid at what they do,” said Baldwin. “They understand their schemes and what they do best. Their offense plays fast because of that. They are a very good football team.”
Eastern, meanwhile, held off Sacramento State for a 31-28 victory at home at Roos Field, further improving Eastern’s best-ever Big Sky start. Eastern survived in its first outing since reaching the top spot in the Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll.
“The Big Sky Conference, apparently, is nothing but nailbiters,” said Eastern quarterback Kyle Padron, who transferred to EWU from Southern Methodist. “So we’ll take the victory – a win’s a win. We’re 5-0 in the conference and it’s on to next week.”
The Eagles have made close victories commonplace thus far, and their only loss came in a narrow 24-20 setback at Washington State on Sept. 8 when EWU had a chance to win on the game’s final play. Despite having a 454-288 advantage in total offense against Sacramento State, the Eagles have now won their last two Big Sky games by three points, and two other league outings by six.
“There is such a fine line in the league when it comes to wins and losses,” added Baldwin. “Southern Utah is right there with the great teams in the conference we’ve played.”
Eastern remains the top team in the Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll, with a 27-24 victory over then second-ranked Montana State catapulting the 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.
“Like Coach (Beau) Baldwin says, every game is a playoff game,” said starting quarterback Vernon Adams. “We just want to keep winning games and get to the national championship – that’s our goal.”
After this week’s game at Southern Utah (Oct. 27), Eastern returns home to face No. 11 Cal Poly (Nov. 3) and UC Davis (Nov. 10), then ends the regular season at Portland State (Nov. 17).
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EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
EWU Football News & Notes - http://www.goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/2012-13/news
EWU Season Outlook - http://www.goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/2012-13/Releases/12fbSEASONOUTLOOK1
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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
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NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/DivisionIFCS.aspx
NCAA Statistics (2012) - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2012
NCAA Statistics (2011) - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2011
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
College Sports Journal - http://www.college-sports-journal.com
College Football Performance Awards – http://www.collegefootballperformance.com
* Eastern remains the top-ranked team 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. Because of a loss by second-ranked James Madison, the Eagles increased their first-place votes from 92 to 125 and its total votes from 3,982 to 4,014. Still, seven different teams received first-place votes, with Georgia Southern now ranking No. 2 in FCS. 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 for the second-straight week. Other Big Sky Conference schools in the top 25 include Montana State (4th TSN, 4th coaches), Cal Poly (11th TSN, 11th coaches) and Northern Arizona (13th TSN, 13th coaches). Eastern’s 27-24 victory over Montana State on Oct. 13, as well as losses by the top three ranked teams, catapulted EWU to the top of the rankings. The Eagles are also No. 1 in the most recent polls released by College Sports Journal and College Sports Madness.
* The Eagles fell from a season-high second to fifth among FCS schools in the Jeff Sagarin computer ratings. North Dakota State is first, followed by Georgia Southern, Eastern’s Big Sky rival Cal Poly and Sam Houston State. Eastern is 86th overall in the ratings, with Cal Poly ranking 82nd. Other highly ranked Big Sky schools include Northern Arizona (10/102), Montana State (14/111), North Dakota (29/134), Montana (30/135), Southern Utah (38/149), UC Davis (45/156), Portland State (46/161) and Sacramento State (48/166).
* The weekly Gridiron Power Rankings are released every Wednesday by College Sporting News (www.collegesportingnews.com), and last week the top six teams were North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Georgia Southern, Cal Poly, Montana State and Northern Arizona. This week’s ratings should be released by Oct. 24.
* This week’s game will be a match-up of two of the top four teams in the nation in red zone offense. Southern Utah is 25-of-26 in the red zone to rank second nationally, and EWU is right behind at No. 4 with a 21-of-22 performance thus far. Eastern, which led FCS with a perfect 18-of-18 performance through the first five games, has scored six rushing touchdowns, six passing TDs and has kicked nine field goals this season the 22 times it has reached inside the opponent 20-yard line. The 25 scores for the Thunderbirds in the red zone include 13 touchdown passes, four rushing TDs and eight field goals.
* By design, Eastern used both of its quarterbacks in a 31-28 victory over Sacramento State, as Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron combined for 342 yards and three touchdowns, and also had 62 rushing yards. Adams started the game, and finished 17-of-21 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and also rushed for a team-leading 38 yards. Padron played some in the first half and most of the second half, and completed 9-of-16 for 173 yards and a score, and added 24 yards on the ground. Adams is a redshirt freshman and Padron is a junior after transferring from SMU.
*Among the thrilling runs Vernon Adams has already had as a freshman, perhaps his finest work led to a touchdown pass to Greg Herd in EWU’s 31-28 win over Sac State. Facing a six-man rush from the Hornet 10-yard line, Adams avoided as many as eight tackles as he back-peddled side-to-side to the 35, then side-stepped a defender to pass to Herd in the end zone. The play was captured by a fan and posted to YouTube, and may also be viewed at www.lukensatlarge.com.
* Senior kicker Jimmy Pavel continues to be perfect kicking field goals, booting three in EWU’s 31-28 victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 20. Pavel made field goals of 24, 40 and 47 yards and is now 11-of-11 on the season. Pavel made a field goal on EWU’s first possession of the game, then made a 40-yarder with 15 seconds left in the second quarter to give EWU a 13-7 halftime lead. Pavel’s career-long 47-yard field goal gave EWU a 10-point cushion late in the third quarter. For his effort, he received honorable mention Performer of the Week accolades in FCS by College Football Performance Awards. Pavel, who ranks fifth in FCS with an average of 1.57 field goals per game, is one of only three players in FCS with more than seven attempts this season to be perfect (the others are 9-of-9 and 7-of-7). Pavel, who handled kickoff duties a year ago, takes over for Mike Jarrett, who was 16-of-18 kicking field goals as a senior in 2011.
* Senior linebacker Grant Williams, filling in for the fourth-straight game for the injured Zach Johnson (hamstring), had a team-leading 12 tackles in EWU’s 31-28 victory over Sacramento State. He had four unassisted stops, and one was for a loss of one yard. He had 11 of his tackles through the first three quarters when EWU held the Hornets to 162 yards of total offense. Sac State finished the game with 288 – EWU’s second-best defensive performance of the season.
* The Eagles continue to lead the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing only 21.14 points per game, which ranks 32nd in FCS.
* This is the first time the Eagles have started the Big Sky Conference season 4-0, and the Eagles have since bettered that with a 5-0 start. 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 until this season 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 their win-loss record after September. Since 2010, EWU is 20-1 after Oct. 1, including an 11-0 mark two years ago, 6-1 last year and 3-0 this season. The lone loss was a 43-26 home setback in 2011 versus Portland State. In November and beyond, Eastern is 8-0 since 2010 and 17-3 since 2007.
* Starting defensive end Jerry Ceja remains fourth in FCS and leads the league with an average of 1.14 sacks per game (total of eight). Ceja has had seven of his sacks in EWU’s last four games, including two each versus Montana State on Oct. 13, North Dakota on Oct. 6 and Weber State on Sept. 22. As a team, the Eagles are fourth in the league and 14th nationally with an average of 2.86 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).
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 39-17 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 64-39. His .757 winning percentage in Big Sky Conference games (28-9) is the best-ever by an Eastern head coach and currently ranks seventh in the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference.
* Junior Brandon Kaufman has 36 catches for 711 yards (19.8 per catch) and eight touchdowns thus far. Kaufman has gone over the 100-yard mark five times this season and 13 times in his career. The 2010 All-American is second in the Big Sky and ranks 10th in FCS in receiving yards per game (101.6). 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 164 career catches (eighth in school history) for 2,592 yards (fourth) and 25 touchdowns (sixth).
* Eastern is now 61st in FCS in rushing defense (154.4), having given up only 336 rushing yards total in its first three games and just 70 versus Montana State. Eastern is also 58th in total defense (363.6). 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).
* Eastern and Southern Utah both rank in the top 20 in turnover margin, net punting and field goals. The Eagles are 19th in turnover margin (+0.86) per game, while the Thunderbirds are fourth (+1.5). Eastern is 19th in net punting (37.61, including opponent returns), and SUU is ninth (38.57). Southern Utah’s Brock Miller is ranked 10th in FCS in punting (43.39), with Eastern’s Jake Miller right behind in 11th (43.35). In field goals, SUU’s Colton Cook is fourth (1.62 per game, 13-of-15 total), and EWU’s Jimmy Pavel is fifth (1.57, 11-of-11).
* The Eagles are fifth in the league and 18th in FCS in passing offense (269.0 per game), with Vernon Adams ranking 15th in FCS in passing efficiency (146.26). In five games as a starter and one as a sub, he has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 893 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. The Eagles are sixth in the Big Sky and 31st in FCS in total offense (415.4), and are 38th in passing efficiency (134.56) and 29th in scoring offense (31.0).
* This week the Eagles face a Southern Utah team that relies on the pass, ranking 17th nationally in passing offense (269.9) and just 114th out of 121 FCS teams in rushing (77.9). Quarterback Brad Sorensen is 12th in FCS in passing yards (269.9) and 50th in efficiency (129.68), with a 60.7 percent completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 2,159 total yards.
* Freshman Shaquille Hill, who had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota on Sept. 6, ranks 10th in FCS with a league-leading average of 28.0 yards per kickoff return. Eastern is fourth in FCS with a 26.94 average.
* 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 118 games worth of experience (85 starts), and have collective totals of 486 catches for 6,762 yards and 68 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 138 games of experience (86 starts) in their careers, with a collective total of 788 tackles. Zach Johnson (33 games played/33 starts) has 274 tackles, Tyler Washburn (44/29) has 223, Ronnie Hamlin (18/15) has 154 and Grant Williams (43/9) has 137. 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 99 tackles, three interceptions, six passes broken up and 1 1/2 sacks in his 27-game career.
* Redshirt freshman Jordan Tonani has made his mark in three starts as an injury replacement for safety Jeff Minnerly, who suffered a broken collarbone against Montana on Sept. 29. Most recently, Tonani had five tackles and a pass broken up in EWU’s 31-28 win over Sacramento State on Oct. 20. One game earlier, with EWU clinging to a 20-17 lead over Montana State, 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 their 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 probable this week after undergoing surgery and missing the Montana State and Sacramento State games. 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’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.
* Eastern’s running game is much-improved in 2012, with the Eagles ranking 59th in FCS with an average of 146.4 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 186 yards thus far, including sophomore Quincy Forte with a team-leading 315 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore starter Jordan Talley, despite missing two games with a concussion, has rushed for 218 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 197 for the season (5.6 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 186 yards (4.5 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 23 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.
* The Eagle family grew on Oct. 11, 2012, when Ryan Sawyer and his wife, Heidi, had their first child – a boy named Colton Thomas. Interestingly, he was born on the 21st birthday of one of Sawyer’s players, Dylan Zylstra, who in EWU’s next game had a blocked punt that resulted in the go-ahead score in a 27-24 victory over second-ranked Montana State. Colton Thomas 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.
* Starting offensive tackle Clay DeBord missed the Sacramento State game with an ankle injury, and is probable this week. Linebacker Cody McCarthy is questionable after missing the Sacramento State game with a knee injury. He originally hurt the knee in practice and missed the Montana game, but returned to play the next week versus North Dakota. Defensive lineman Andru Pulu (ankle) is questionable after getting injured versus Sac State. Backup safety McKenzie Murphy broke his thumb against North Dakota and subsequently had surgery, and is probable this week after missing the Montana State and Sacramento State games. Linebacker Zach Johnson (hamstring) remains 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 four games (total of 23 in his career). His backup, J.C. Agen, who started in 2011 after Johnson was lost for the season with a knee injury, will be out the rest of the season. He missed the first two EWU games with a torn pectoral muscle, but made his season debut in limited action versus Weber State. However, he has missed the four games since and will undergo surgery soon. Starting running back Jordan Talley missed the North Dakota and Montana State games with a concussion suffered in practice, but returned to carry twice versus Sacramento State on Oct. 20. Senior safety Jeff Minnerly suffered a fractured collarbone suffered against Montana and remains out. 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.
* The Eagles and Thunderbirds have met just five times previously, with Southern Utah winning the first game and Eastern the last four. The lone games in the series played in Cheney came in 2003 when Eastern prevailed 49-21 and in 2010 when the Eagles came from behind to win 31-24. Eastern lost 43-21 in Cedar City in 1998, but won there in 2002 (49-14) and 2009 (41-28).
* In the 2010 meeting, senior Jesse Hoffman intercepted passes on the final two defensive possessions of the game for the fifth-ranked Eagles as they broke a 24-all tie in the fourth quarter to defeat Southern Utah 31-24. Hoffman also had four passes broken up and returned a third-quarter kickoff return 82 yards for a score. Junior running back Taiwan Jones rushed for 158 yards, including a 62-yard score on EWU’s first offensive play of the game. Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman had two touchdown grabs (nine receptions, 129 yards), including the game-winning points with 3:39 to play. The Thunderbirds had a 484-366 advantage in total offense, as SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen completed 34-of-53 passes for 434 yards and two touchdowns. Zach Johnson had a career-best 18 tackles (seventh-most in school history) and also had a sack and a pass broken up. Safety Allen Brown made the first start of his career against Southern Utah (11/13/10) and had five tackles to go along with two of the three passes broken up he had during the season. Thanks to Hoffman’s two interceptions, Eastern won the turnover battle 4-1 against a team that had only had eight turnovers in its first 10 games of the season. And Eastern recorded six sacks and had 11 passes broken up.
* In the 2009 win in Cedar City, a career-long 52-yard touchdown run was just part of a sensational day for Eastern senior quarterback Matt Nichols as he broke the Big Sky Conference career record for total offense in 18th-ranked EWU’s 41-28 victory over the Thunderbirds. Nichols passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns to finish with 455 yards of total offense and account for five TDs on the day. That gave him 12,440 yards in his 45-game career, breaking the 17-year-old record of 12,287 held by Weber State’s Jamie Martin (1989-92). Eastern opened a 21-0 lead on his three touchdown passes to tight end Nathan Overbay, and his scoring rush late in the third quarter gave EWU a 28-7 cushion. Eastern finished the Southern Utah game with 608 yards of total offense, which was EWU’s most since finishing with 626 in 2007 in a FCS Playoff victory over McNeese State. Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones finished with 222 all-purpose yards -- 77 rushing, 75 receiving and 70 on kickoff returns.
Eagle-Southern Utah Connections
* Southern Utah has two players from the state of Washington on its travel roster. Junior tight end Jacob Allie is from Renton (Lindberg HS) and linebacker freshman Zak Browning is from Vancouver (Union HS). Eastern has just one player from Utah -- defensive lineman Will Katoa from Salt Lake City, Utah. (Judge Memorial HS ‘09).
* Southern Utah linebacker Zak Browning and Eastern offensive lineman T.J. Boatright were high school teammates, and ended their careers playing in the 4A/3A East-West All-State Game, which took place July 1, 2011, on EWU’s red Sprinturf surface at Roos Field. They helped lead the East to a 19-0 victory over the West, as Browning rushed for 106 yards to earn the game’s Offensive MVP award. Boatright finished with three tackles as a starting linebacker and also saw action as a tight end. As seniors in 2010, Browning and Boatright helped lead Union High School to a 7-3 record and into the State 4A Playoffs, where they lost to Bothell in the first round. They also played on the 2009 Union team that lost to Bellevue in the State 3A semifinals and finished 11-2 after winning the GSHL 3A title. Browning leads the Big Sky and is seventh in FCS in tackles (11.6 per game, with 81 total), and Boatright started his first game as an Eagle last week in place of injured Clay DeBord. Besides Browning and Boatright, Eastern Jordan Tonani, Jay Deines and Branson Schmidt played in the 2011 All-State game, and Todd Raynes was selected but couldn’t play. Tonani caught five passes for 30 yards for the East.
* Eastern receiver Brandon Kaufman will turn 22 one day before Eastern plays at Southern Utah.
* Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman has 164 catches in his career to rank eighth in school history, and is just two grabs away from moving into seventh. He is fourth all-time in EWU history with 2,592 reception yards, and is only 21 yards away from third (Tony Brooks, 1990-93, 3,013). Kaufman’s 25 touchdown catches are sixth, four away from the No. 2 position of 29 held by teammate Nicholas Edwards and Aaron Boyce (2006-09).
* Wide receiver Nicholas Edwards is just 50 receiving yards away from moving into seventh all-time in Eastern history (he currently has 2,394), and is three points away from moving into eighth in points scored (currently he has 176). His 192 career catches ranks fourth in school history (No. 3 has 213) and his 29 TD receptions are second (the record is 46). Greg Herd (130 catches for 1,776 yards and 14 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 20th with 223. He is one from ranking 19th all-time, two from the No. 18 position, three from No. 17 and eight from No. 16.
* 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.
* Senior defensive end Jerry Ceja is ninth all-time in career sacks with 19 1/2, and needs only 1 1/2 from moving into eighth and 2 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
* Responding with touchdowns the first three times Sacramento State scored, the Eastern also used three Jimmy Pavel field goals to escape with a 31-28 victory Oct. 20 in a Big Sky Conference game at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The game ended with Sacramento State at the Eastern 45-yard line, but the Eagles did enough up to that point to pull out a win in EWU’s 86th Annual Homecoming Game, with EWU now owning a 51-32-3 record in those contests.
* Jimmy Pavel made field goals of 24, 40 and 47 yards for the Eagles, as he remained perfect for the season (11-of-11). Quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Kyle Padron combined to complete 26-of-37 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. They also combined to rush for 62 yards. Senior Greg Herd caught nine passes for 109 yards and a pair of scores, and junior Brandon Kaufman added six grabs for 102 yards and a TD. Linebacker Grant Williams, filling in for the fourth-straight game for the injured Zach Johnson (hamstring), had a team-leading 12 tackles. Defensive end Jerry Ceja had a sack for the Eagles as he increased his season total to eight. Ronnie Hamlin, who entered the game with a team-leading 61 tackles, chipped in eight stops.
Quoting Coach Beau Baldwin
On Finding Ways to Respond: “Our guys do such a good job of responding. Things are not always going to be perfect, but we are always finding ways to respond. I can’t think of one moment right now in this one (when the tide turned against Sacramento State). We thankfully made enough plays to win.”
On Another Close Win After Sac State Victory: “We’ve played a lot of games like that. You have to credit Sac State. They are a team that came in here 5-2 and had beaten Colorado. They were 3-1 in the conference, so we knew it would be a battle. We still have to go back and look at some things we can do to try to put ourselves in a better spot, but any time you have games like that against a great opponent, it is going to come down to the wire.”
On Playing Both Quarterbacks Versus Sac State: “I went into the game (wanting to play both quarterbacks). Padron has been making incredible strides in practice and has been doing some of the things that I didn’t think he did quite as well in the beginning of the season. He has been doing incredibly well behind the scenes but no one else sees it. I went into the game knowing that. Those two young men are there for each other, and I said we are going to find a way to go win and both of you guys are going to be a part of it. We’re going to be that much better for it.”
On Sacramento State: “They are a team that gets in your face and they hit you. They are a physical outfit and they are coached really well. We always have battles with them. Almost every year we have to battle with them so it didn’t surprise me at all.”
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. 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.”
Defense (244 starts by 19 players): Zach Johnson 33, Paul Ena 30, Tyler Washburn 29, Jeff Minnerly 21, Evan Cook 21, Allen Brown 19, Ronnie Hamlin 15, T.J. Lee 14, David Gaylord 13, Grant Williams 9 (includes one start on offense in 2009), Ronald Baines 8, Jerry Ceja 7, Andru Pulu 7, Cody McCarthy 5, J.C. Agen 4, Evan Day 3, Jordan Tonani 3, Will Katoa 2, Rusty Haehl 1.
Offense (241 starts by 23 players): Nicholas Edwards 40, Brandon Kaufman 29, Will Post 29, Steven Forgette 24, Zack Gehring 18, Greg Herd 16, Brandon Murphy 16, Jordan Talley 9, Drew Reynolds 8, Ashton Miller 8, Mario Brown 5, Clay DeBord 6, Ashton Clark 5, Quincy Forte 6, Vernon Adams 5, Ryan Seto 3, Jake Withnell 2, Cody Humphrey 2, Kyle Padron 2, Demitrius Bronson 2, Daniel Johnson 2, Jase Butorac 2, Cory Mitchell 1, T.J. Boatright 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, Jordan Tonani against North Dakota on Oct. 6 and offensive tackle T.J. Boatright against Sacramento State on Oct. 20. 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. Boatright started as an injury replacement for Clay DeBord (ankle).