Sept. 9, 2006
Morgantown, W.Va. - The outcome wasn't unexpected, but at least now the Eastern Washington University football team can get down to the most important business at hand.
Sixth-ranked West Virginia scored the first three times it had the ball and went on to defeat the Eagles 52-3 in a non-conference game Saturday (Sept. 9) at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. The game was a match-up between the NCAA Division I-AA Eagles and the I-A Mountaineers.
"There were a lot of areas I thought we did some good things," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We moved the ball well on offense at times but we just couldn't get it in. I'll be honest, there are some things we're pretty disappointed in. There are things we can definitely do better that have very little to do with West Virginia."
A crowd of 59,504 watched the game, making it the biggest crowd an Eastern football team has ever played in front of. The previous record was 39,581 at Arizona State on Aug. 31, 2002, in 38-2 loss. It was only the fourth time Eastern has ever played an opponent East of the Mississippi River.
After back-to-back games against I-A foes to open the season, the 0-2 Eagles now set their sights on winning a third-straight Big Sky Conference title. Eastern plays its final non-conference tune-up at home next Saturday (Sept. 16) at 6:05 p.m. versus Central Washington at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. The following week, Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at Montana State.
"A lot of players got an opportunity to play," said Wulff of the team's challenging way to start the season. "It's making those players better and it is helping us build our depth, which we are going to need as the season progresses."
"Players received some valuable playing time and experience, there's no question," he added. "I think our inexperience at certain spots at the skill positions created some of the score differences. But this team will grow a lot in the next few weeks, and when they do we will be an awfully good football team. At the same time we have to improve this week."
West Virginia, meanwhile, plays rival Maryland next Thursday at home. The Mountaineers are 2-0 after going 11-1 a year ago and defeating Georgia 38-35 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. They have now won 28 of their last 32 games.
All-America running back Steve Slaton, MVP of last year's Nokia Sugar Bowl, and quarterback Patrick White were impressive in the first half in limited play for the talented West Virginia sophomores. Slaton rushed for 105 yards on just eight carries, and scored on touchdown runs of 49 and 17 yards. White completed all four of the passes he attempted for 48 yards.
Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown came off the bench to complete 11-of-15 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 29 yards and another score.
"They are a very good football team," praised Wulff. "But I felt in so many areas we matched-up with them. We did, but at the quarterback position they have two good players and their running back is so special. They will give everybody problems."
Freshman redshirt Matt Nichols made his starting debut as an Eagle, and completed 13-of-25 passes for 90 yards and one interception. Junior Chris Peerboom did not make the trip after suffering a concussion in Eastern's season-opener Aug. 31 in a 56-17 loss at Oregon State.
Senior running back Ryan Cole had 60 rushing yards on 17 carries. Senior tight end Tim Calhoun led the Eagles in receiving with three catches for 27 yards. Freshman redshirt Tony Davis also caught three passes, and returned three kickoffs for 56 yards.
"We had opportunities to move the ball and we did, but we have to get the ball in the end zone," said Wulff.
The Mountaineers scored the first three times they had the ball, the first two coming after Eastern three-and-outs. Eastern put together its only scoring drive of the first half when Nichols drove the Eagles the length of the field to the WVU 2-yard line. Two delay of game penalties hurt the Eagles at the goal-line, and after one pass interference call and another that wasn't called, Eastern settled for a 25-yard field goal by Brett Bergstrom to cap the 15-play, 73-yard drive that took 6:44 off the clock.
West Virginia pulled its starters late in the first half, and then scored again just before halftime to take a 28-3 lead at intermission. Eastern had 120 yards of total offense in the first half -- nearly as many as the Eagles had in the entire game a week earlier versus Oregon State when the Eagles finished with 126. The Mountaineers had 287 at halftime.
Eastern finished with 185 yards of total offense compared to 591 for West Virginia. The Mountaineers out-scored the Eagles 24-0 in the second half.
Perhaps most importantly, Eastern came out of their two matchups with I-A teams healthy. Wulff reported injuries to Gregor Smith (groin), Brady Smith (shoulder) and Jacob Kragt (concussion) that appeared to be minor. At Oregon State, minor injuries were suffered by Peerboom and center Chris Carlsen (knee). Dale Morris (foot), who was injured during the pre-season, is the lone Eagle out for an extended period of time.