September 27, 2008

Nichols and No. 11 Eagles Dominate in Fourth Quarter Again

Sept. 27, 2008

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It was déjà vu Saturday (Sept. 27) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., for the 11th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team as they pulled away from Idaho State for a 45-31 Big Sky Conference victory.

Quarterback Matt Nichols passed for 382 yards and five touchdowns on 25-of-40 passing, with Aaron Boyce catching nine passes for 135 yards and three scores. However, in the fourth quarter alone, Nichols was 7-of-8 for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Eagles scored the final 17 points of the league opener for both teams.

"We just stayed after it," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team improved to 2-2. "That's the thing about our guys. They are just going to work and work and work. We take pride in the fact that if it's tied in the fourth quarter, then we feel real confident that we're going to win the fourth quarter."

A week after owning a 197-27 advantage in the fourth quarter of a 52-31 home win over Western Washington, the Eagles had a similar showing to pull away Saturday. Eastern had 221 four-quarter yards compared to minus-16 for the Bengals, meaning Eastern has out-gained its last two opponents 418-11 while out-scoring them 35-0.

Eastern had five quarterback sacks in the game -- including three for the second-straight game by senior Greg Peach. The Eagles had a pair of sacks in the fourth quarter as ISU completed just 2-of-8 passes for 12 yards, and had minus 28 rushing yards, in the final stanza.

"We take pride in just being relentless," Baldwin added, pointing out the performance of EWU’s senior-dominated defensive line. "Those guys up front, they set the tone of our defense. With what they do is how we go on defense. They just kept coming, and two weeks in a row they have kept coming in the fourth quarter. My hat's off to those guys."

Boyce caught touchdown passes for 25, 10 and 35 yards in the first three quarters from Nichols, a candidate for this year’s Payton Award. But thanks to ISU’s 409 yards of offense through three quarters, Eastern trailed 31-28 late in the in the third quarter. That’s when Nichols found Brynsen Brown for a 61-yard score before the Eagles iced it with a 15-yard pass play from Nichols to Alexis Alexander.

Brown finished with four catches for 104 yards, and now has 19 grabs for the year. Boyce, an All-American last year and a preseason All-American this year, had just 13 catches in his first three games, but now has 22. Tony Davis, who caught two passes for 30 yards against the Bengals, had 28 catches in his first three outings.

"They played great," Baldwin said of the players in his team’s passing game. "All of the receivers made plays. In a sense, everyone is saying, ‘Why isn't Boyce catching balls?’ and this and that, and I just said be patient. I feel like we are a well-rounded offense with a lot of weapons. So each week could be someone else's week.

"I wasn't worried about him and Aaron wasn't worried about it," added Baldwin. "All Aaron cares about is that we win football games, because he knows that if he just lets the game come to him, we are going to have games like this."

Senior Dale Morris rushed for 94 yards for Eastern, which finished with 507 yards of total offense.

Defensively, linebacker J.C. Sherritt had 12 total tackles, including 4 1/2 for losses. Besides the three sacks by Peach, a candidate for the Buck Buchanan award who had eight total tackles against ISU, sacks were recorded by Jason Belford and Zach Johnson. Belford also had an interception he returned seven yards for a score and a pair of quarterback hurries.

Johnson, Adam Macomber and Makai Borden all finished with nine tackles for EWU, and Johnson’s twin brother Matt Johnson finished with seven. Nose tackle Tyler Jolley had three tackles and batted down two passes.

Saturday’s game matched the first-year EWU head coach against his mentor for six years at Central Washington, John Zamberlin. The roots of Saturday’s Baldwin vs. Zamberlin match-up started back in 1992-94 when Zamberlin was an assistant coach at Eastern. In 1997, he became head coach at Central Washington and for six years Baldwin was his quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.

Baldwin would leave to become Eastern’s offensive coordinator for four seasons, including 2006 when a youthful Eastern team finished just 3-8. One of EWU’s losses that season was a 21-14 loss to the NCAA Division II Wildcats, a victory that helped secure Zamberlin the job at ISU for the 2007 season. And it was Baldwin who filled the head coaching vacancy at CWU.

Finally, when Eastern’s Paul Wulff left to become head coach at Washington State University, Baldwin returned as head coach at Eastern.

Zamberlin also knows most of Eastern’s coaching staff from his days at Central -- include John Graham, Ryan Sawyer, Torey Hunter and Nat Conley who were either coaches, players or both under him. Likewise, the ISU coaching staff is a who’s who of former Eastern assistants, including Steve Amrine, Mike Orthmann and Brian Strandley.

"They are great guys," said Baldwin. "I have so much respect for head coach Zamberlin and the rest of their staff, that once you get into competition you kind of forget about that and it becomes up to the players. My hat's off to them. It was a battle all the way to the end -- I told people it was going to be that. The Big Sky this year is going to be a battle every week. Anyone who thinks differently is wrong."

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