Big Sky Conference Season Begins in Bozeman
Sept. 18, 2006
A 0-0 record has never looked better.
That's how the Eastern Washington University football team needs to look at the situation after an 0-3 start has left the Eagles searching for a way to regain their winning ways. This week, the Eagles will open Big Sky Conference play at Montana State, a team whose pre-season performance has also been puzzling. Kickoff at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont., is 12:05 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised live in the Spokane area on KSKN Channel 22.
Eastern's hopes for a third-straight Big Sky football title -- as well as MSU's hopes for a second-straight title -- are very much alive. However, recent results haven't exactly given either team much confidence.
"League play starts, but this football team has to learn how to win," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "They have to learn how to win a play, then win a series, win a quarter and win a half -- we haven't even done that. That's the discouraging thing at this point. There are going to be some changes. What we're doing isn't working, so there needs to be some personnel changes."
The Eagles are coming off a disappointing 21-14 loss to NCAA Division II Central Washington, spoiling EWU's home opener that was witnessed by a record crowd of 7,943. It was the largest crowd to witness an Eastern home opener at Woodward Field, and the fourth-largest overall.
Prior to that, Eastern didn't fare well against two NCAA Division I-A opponents to open the 2006 season. After absorbing a 56-17 thumping at the hands of Oregon State of the Pacific 10 Conference, Eastern stepped up another notch to play sixth-ranked West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va. The Mountaineers won 52-3 as they out-gained Eastern in total offense 591 to 185.
Already this season the Eagles have been outscored 129-34 and have just 629 yards of offense compared to 1,413 yards for their opponents.
"We need players that can make plays on offense," said Wulff. "It isn't like they haven't been put in a position to make plays -- they just haven't made them. Coaches don't make plays. The coaches put them in spots to make plays and now they have to make them. That has not been done on offense, and it's the same thing on defense. There are some plays that are out there that haven't been made. In the first three games this team has not made enough plays."
Montana State opened the season with a 19-10 upset of I-A Colorado that catapulted the Bobcats to 11th in the I-AA rankings. The Bobcats fell to 20th after a 35-24 loss to Division II Chadron State before getting thumped 45-0 by UC-Davis. Both of those games were also played at Bobcat Stadium.
From now until Nov. 11 when the season concludes, Eastern will have to improve considerably if it hopes to make a third-straight appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Only league games remain on its schedule, with the league champion getting an automatic playoff berth.
Right now, Wulff said his focus is on his own team rather than the opponent.
"Every game has to be that way," he said. "We aren't good enough to spend too much time focusing on anything but ourselves. We have enough of our own issues to deal with -- even more now. We still have some questions that need to be answered. We'll find out this week in practice, and hopefully we'll get a few answered."
Last season, Eastern garnered the automatic berth with a 7-4 record overall and 5-2 conference mark following an eventful final two weeks of the regular season. The 21st-ranked Eagles defeated the 11th-ranked Bobcats 35-14 on Nov. 12 and the following week MSU upset Montana 16-6 to force a three-way tie for the title and give EWU the automatic berth by virtue of a season sweep over the Montana schools.
Eastern lost at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the opening round of the playoffs to start what is now a four-game losing streak. The Eagles haven't won since beating UC Davis 24-7 on Nov. 19 last year -- the same day the Bobcats knocked off the Grizzlies.
In the Big Sky Conference preseason polls, Eastern was picked to finish second by the coaches and sixth by the media. Montana State was picked third by the coaches and second by the media. Montana, which shared the conference title last year with EWU and MSU, was picked first in both polls.
Central snapped a seven-game losing streak against EWU, with its last victory over the Eagles coming in 1977 and the last win in Cheney occurring in 1972. It is only Eastern's second 0-3 start since 1983 when EWU lost its first five games and then won its next five to finish 5-5. That was the last time EWU has lost four-in-a-row to start the season.
Eastern will have to win six of its next eight games if the Eagles are to continue their current streak of seven- straight winning seasons. That streak started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern has never overcome a 0-3 start to finish with a winning record.
Former Office Mates Wulff and Kramer Share 2005 Coach of the Year Honor: They probably don't feel like it right now, but former co-workers Paul Wulff and Mike Kramer were riding high a year ago after each won a share of the Big Sky Conference title as well as the league's Coach of the Year honor.
Wulff directed the Eagles to their second-straight Big Sky Conference co-championship in 2005 and a second-straight NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth. Kramer, a former Eastern head coach and assistant, led Montana State to a season-ending 16-6 victory over Montana as the Eagles, Bobcats and Grizzlies shared the 2005 title.
Back in 1993 when Wulff was a first-year volunteer assistant coach and Kramer was the team's offensive line coach, that duo shared an office and coached the line together. When Kramer took over as EWU's head coach in 1994, Wulff became his offensive line coach. Wulff took over as Eastern's offensive coordinator under Kramer in 1998 and 1999, then took over as head coach in 2000 when Kramer left for Bozeman.
"It's great to share the honor with him," said Wulff. "He's a great friend and does a great job at Montana State. He has done wonders for my career since the day I became a coach at Eastern. He gave me a lot of leeway and helped me out so much."
Wulff also won coach of the year honors in 2004 and 2001. In six-plus years at the helm, Eastern is 41-31 overall and 25-18 in the Big Sky Conference. In the last two years alone, Eastern is 11-3 in the Big Sky and 15-12 overall.
In six seasons from 1994-99 at Eastern, Kramer was 37-32 (24-22 in the Big Sky). In his six-plus seasons at MSU, he has gone 33-40 (23-20 in the Big Sky) for a collective record of 70-72 (47-42 in the Big Sky) in 12-plus seasons as a collegiate head coach. He is the only coach in the history of the Big Sky to win league titles and Coach of the Year honors at two different schools.
Eagle Tidbits: Senior co-captain David Eneberg has had a great run of big plays versus Montana State. As a freshman in 2003, he intercepted a pass that helped seal Eastern's 35-25 win at Albi Stadium in Spokane. A year later, he batted-down a fourth-and-goal pass in overtime to secure Eastern's come-from-behind 51-44 victory that gave Eastern a NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth. He had four tackles and broke-up a pass in last year's 35-14 victory at Woodward Field . . . Rover Brandon Keeler already has 26 tackles this season, giving him 202 in 35 games as an Eagle. He ranks 23rd in Eastern history, and needs just six tackles to move into a tied for 19th with current South Kitsap High School head coach D.J. Sigurdson (1986-89). At his current pace of 8.7 tackles per game (currently eighth in the Big Sky), Keeler would finish with 95 tackles this season and 271 in his career. Those marks would rank 22nd and seventh, respectively, on Eastern's all-time leaders lists. The senior also has four interceptions (one this year versus Central Washington) and seven passes broken up . . . Punter Ryan Donckers has been consistent in his three seasons as Eastern's punter with a 39.0 average in both 2004 and 2005, and a current average of 39.3 this season. His career average of 39.1 currently ranks fifth in school history . . . Running back Ryan Cole went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his career versus Central Washington. He now has 1,036 yards in 15 career games with 17 total touchdowns (16 rushing) . . . Freshman redshirts Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce hooked-up for a 9-yard touchdown pass against Central Washington. It was the first career touchdown pass for Nichols and the first career touchdown reception for Boyce. Another redshirt freshman receiver, Tony Davis, is still looking for his first career touchdown reception. His first career touchdown was a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Oregon State in his first game as an Eagle . . . Eastern has had four interceptions already this season, including two by junior Anthony Dotson. The other two have been recorded by Ira Jarmon and Brandon Keeler . . . Eastern has just one sack in three games, and that was by linebacker David Eneberg versus West Virginia . . . Sophomore Julian Stewart has seen significant action at left tackle this season and is pushing for a starting position. As a result, starting left tackle Rocky Hanni has seen action at guard.
Eagles in NCAA Statistics: For a program that ranked fourth in NCAA Division I-AA in total offense each of the last two seasons, the Eagles are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory in this week's I-AA statistics.
The Eagles are 112th out of 116 I-AA teams in total offense (209.7), and are 110th in rushing (55.7), 69th in passing (154.0) and 103rd in scoring (11.3).
Defensively, Eastern is 111th in total defense (471.0) while ranking 114th in rushing defense (260.0), 97th in passing efficiency defense (153.4) and 112th in scoring defense (43.0).
Backup defensive back Anthony Dotson is the lone Eagle to rank in the top 25 individually. He has two interceptions (0.67 per game) to rank 12th in I-AA. Punter Ryan Donckers, coming off a 45.8 average in six punts against Central Washington, is 31st in punting with a 39.3 average.
Montana State has relied on the pass for the majority of its offense as the Bobcats rank fifth nationally with an average of 267.7 per game. However, MSU is just 113th in rushing offense (46.3), 90th in scoring offense (14.3) and 58th in total offense (314.0). Defensively, the Bobcats are 76th in total defense (357.0) while ranking 58th in rushing defense (146.0), 80th in pass efficiency defense (135.0) and 88th in scoring defense (30.0).
Individually, quarterback Cory Carpenter is 17th in I-AA in total offense (224.3) and Michael Jefferson is 12th in receiving (6.0 per game). Jeff Hastings has kicked five field goals to rank 10th nationally (1.67 per game).
Eagles at a Glance: Eastern is coming off back-to-back seasons in which it won a share of the Big Sky Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern returned 41 letter winners from that team, including 19 on offense, 20 on defense, its kicker and its punter. In all, 14 starters are back, with experience heaviest at safety and along the offensive and defensive lines.
But replacing the incredible contributions of eight amazingly productive seniors will prove to be difficult indeed. Eastern lost the 2005 Walter Payton Award winner and Big Sky Offensive MVP (quarterback Erik Meyer), the Big Sky Defensive MVP (middle linebacker Joey Cwik), a two-time All-America receiver (Eric Kimble), three other wide receivers and a pair of starting cornerbacks.
Wulff has replaced Meyer with junior Chris Peerboom and freshman redshirt Matt Nichols. They were to split playing time early in the season to see which quarterback leads the offense the best, but Peerboom missed two games with a concussion suffered in the opener against Oregon State. Replacing the play-making abilities of Kimble will be equally difficult.
"They are two of the best players to ever play in this conference," said Wulff. "But in the game of football there are 11 players on the field, and we feel like we have a program that can be extremely successful with whatever 11 players we put out there. That's not going to change."
Among the players returning are 11 players who earned All-Big Sky Conference accolades in 2005. First team selections included safety Bryan Jarrett and offensive guard Matt Alfred, who also earned a pair of All-America accolades as well.
Second team choices returning include former OSU running back Ryan Cole, who rushed for 879 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Eagles last year. Safety Brandon Keeler, tight end and Tim Calhoun, defensive lineman Harrison Nikolao were also second team picks, but Nikolao has moved over to a starting offensive guard position for his senior season.
Honorable mention All-Big Sky picks a year ago included Rocky Hanni (offensive guard), Nick Denbeigh (outside linebacker), David Eneberg (inside linebacker), Sheldon Weddle (kicker) and Shea Emry (special teams). As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was honored as an All-American after earning Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year honors -- the only offensive lineman in the history of the award to win that honor. He has moved to tackle this season.
"Our goals are to win the conference championship, get to the playoffs and make a run for the national championship," said Wulff before the season began. "Our seniors sure as heck want to push it as long and far as we can take it. We expect that and our players know what it takes to get there. Anything other than that is contrary to what our goals are."
"Is it going to happen? . . . you never know. But it is a realistic goal for us."
Only Five Players Make Debuts Against OSU: Just five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- made their starting debuts against Oregon State. None of them were linemen.
Sophomore Shea Emry started at middle linebacker where he replaces 2005 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Joey Cwik, who started 40 games and never missed a game in his EWU career. The other debut on defense was made by junior Ira Jarmon at cornerback. Emry is a 2004 graduate of Vancouver College Prep in Vancouver, B.C., and Jarmon is a 2003 graduate of Clover Park High School in Lakewood, Wash.
On offense, quarterback Chris Peerboom filled the starting position held for 35 games the past three seasons by 2005 Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer. Freshman redshirt wide receiver Aaron Boyce and sophomore fullback Alexis Alexander also made their starting debuts. Peerboom is a 2003 graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., Boyce graduated in 2005 from Kentwood HS in Kent, Wash., and Alexander is a 2001 graduate of nearby Medical Lake, Wash., High School. Alexander transferred from Washington State where he was a scout team linebacker and prior to that played three seasons of minor league baseball.
In all, the Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them. Five players entered with between 22 and 24 starts each.
Last year, the Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern's 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2006 season:
Defense (136 starts by 15 players): Nick Denbeigh 27, Brandon Keeler 27, David Eneberg 18, Bryan Jarrett 11, Greg Peach 8, Gene Piffero 7, Keith Grennan 7, DeNique Ford 6, Jason Belford 5, Gregor Smith 4, Charles Searcy 4, Lance Witherspoon 3, George Lane 3, Shea Emry 3, Ira Jarmon 3.
Offense (155 starts by 18 players): Harrison Nikolao 27 (includes 23 on defense), Rocky Hanni 26, Matt Alfred 25, Tim Calhoun 17, Zach Wasielewski 15, Ryan Cole 13, Chris Carlsen 11, Tyler Coleman 5, Tom McAndrews 3, Aaron Boyce 3, Matt Nichols 2, Charlie Wulff 2, Dezmon Cole 1, Toke Kefu 1, Dale Morris 1, Alexis Alexander 1, Chris Peerboom 1, Tony Davis 1.
Peerboom and Nichols Have Shared Quarterback Duties Thus Far: Much like they did in the 2003 season, the Eagles have utilized two quarterbacks during the pre-season in hopes of finding a full-time starter. Junior Chris Peerboom started against Oregon State and directed Eastern's offense in six possessions before leaving the game early in the second half with a concussion. Freshman redshirt Matt Nichols saw action in nine possessions, then played most of the West Virginia game when Peerboom was left home to recover. Nichols played the entire Central Washington game as Peerboom missed his second-straight game.
In three games thus far, Nichols is 40-of-77 (52 percent) for 420 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 91.7. He passed for 90 yards against West Virginia and led the Eagles on a 73-yard scoring drive that culminated in a field goal. Eastern scored just twice versus Central Washington on first-half drives of 76 and 86 yards.
Nichols was 9-of-18 for 117 yards against the Beavers but couldn't get the Eagles in the end zone. He had an interception and fumbled away the ball twice, and his other possessions yielded five punts and a lost possession on downs.
Against OSU, Peerboom completed 3-of-8 passes for 23 yards, and his possessions yielded a touchdown on a four-play, 51-yard drive in the second quarter, a field goal after an OSU turnover, a fumble on a botched handoff and three punts.
"They have done a nice job to get themselves better," said Wulff before the Oregon State game. "It really isn't about out-doing the other person -- it is about themselves getting better as individuals."
Eastern utilized two quarterbacks at the start of the 2003 season when Erik Meyer and Skyler Allen were battling for the job. They shared possessions and each started one game before Meyer, then a sophomore, won the job against Central Washington and started his last 34 games for the Eagles (35 total). He concluded his record-breaking career by winning the 2005 Walter Payton Award as the top quarterback in NCAA Division I-AA.
EWU Injury Report: Eagle head coach Paul Wulff reports that safety Bryan Jarrett (ankle) is expected to miss the Montana State game after getting injured against Central Washington. In his place, Brandon Keeler will probably start at free safety and junior Anthony Dotson could make his first career start at rover. Suffering concussions against Central were Lance Witherspoon and Robert Pearson -- both players are questionable this week.
Eastern came out of its matchups with I-A teams pretty healthy. Wulff reported injuries in the West Virginia game to Gregor Smith (groin), Brady Smith (shoulder) and Jacob Kragt (concussion). At Oregon State, injuries were suffered by quarterback Chris Peerboom (concussion) and center Chris Carlsen (knee) as both players did not make the trip to West Virginia. Kragt and Brady Smith both played against Central, and the other three are listed as probable for this week's game at MSU.
Safety Nick Denbeigh suffered a broken bone in his hand versus OSU, but was still able to start against West Virginia. Dale Morris (foot), who was injured during the pre-season, is the lone Eagle out for an extended period of time.
Eagles 0-2 Start Rare, 0-3 Even Rarer: Only four times since 1963 have the Eagles started the season 0-3. Eastern has never overcome a 0-3 start to finish with a winning record.
In 1998, Eastern lost its first three games of the season after going a school-record 12-2 the year before and advancing to the semifinals of the I-AA Playoffs. The Eagles started the 1988 season with a tie, then lost their next two games en route to a 2-8-1 finish. In 1983, EWU lost its first five games then won its last five to finish 5-5. Before 2004, the 1982 season was the last time Eastern started 0-2 and finished with a winning season as the Eagles won their final eight games to finish 8-2.
This is just the third time since 1983 that the Eagles have started the season 0-2 (EWU became a member of NCAA Division I-AA in 1984). The last time came in 2004 when the Eagles opened with losses at Nicholls State and Humboldt State. The Eagles went on to win nine of their next 10 games -- starting with a victory over Central Washington -- to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.
Eagle head coach Paul Wulff has lost his opening game in six of his seven seasons at the helm, but five of those games were against NCAA Division I-A opponents. In 2001, Eastern opened the season with a 35-17 win at I-A Connecticut.
Paul Wulff QUOTES
On Focus During Pre-Season Games: "We want to do everything we can to get our players more experienced than they are now. Even our veterans need that experience because there isn't a player that can't get better than they already are today. Our goal is to give players a lot of opportunity to play so that we are a much better football team in our fourth game than we are in our first."
On Playing I-A Opponents: "All of the coaches in our conference take pride in playing I-A programs. At the end of the game those opposing players and coaches realize we are well-coached and play good football. Generally we garner a lot more respect after we played them than entering the ballgame. At the same time you want to take care of your team first and get better."
On Needing Improvement from Running Game: "We have to. Between Ryan and the rest of our running back corp, we have to have those guys really perform well for us. The running game really has a chance to be our strength, at least for the first few weeks as we develop and allow those younger, inexperienced players to mature a little bit."
On Inexperienced Players: "It's one of those situations where it's going to be baptism by fire, and we'll just have to find out. I think our players will go in, play well, compete and learn a lot. We are going to make plays and we're going to make mistakes too. But I'm excited, and in the big picture, those games will help us once we get into conference play."
On Secondary: "I think our safety position is the best it's ever been at this university. We have some great players there. We feel very comfortable with one cornerback and need to develop one more, but I think our safeties are outstanding."
On Big Sky Race: "This is going to be a year where some teams are going to emerge halfway to three-quarters through the season. I'll be honest, I think it can be any one of eight teams -- I don't think anybody knows. Teams change throughout the season."
On Legacy Left by Erik Meyer and Eric Kimble: "They provided a different level of play in terms of performance, excitement and higher expectations. They left a mark that will never be taken away. The provided expectations and competitiveness that other players can look up to. They can see what it takes to be a great player and what it takes to be a trendsetter. Those guys were."
On Offensive Line: "I think there is potential to be really good, but to be honest, they have yet to prove that they are really good. It's all based on speculation and returning veterans with experience. They have not gelled and they have not had the opportunity to really do great things yet. And this season we need them to and we are really hoping they develop into a fine unit. Ultimately we need them to help us win ballgames."
On Opening League Play at Montana State: "It will be the second year in a row we've opened league play on the road. Playing at Montana State is a big game for us -- they are tough and that is a tough place to play. It will be a very challenging ballgame. Our first league game is a very critical game for us. If we lose it we still have a chance to win the conference. But it's always nice to get off on the right foot."
On Defense in the Big Sky: "We have some very good defenses this year. I think defense is going to be the strong point of this conference."
On Building Streak of Seven-Straight Winning Seasons: "It's what you work a lot of long hours for over the course of time to develop your program. By no means we where we want to be, but we have definitely made some steps and we are going in the right direction. We've made some strides and we need to keep moving forward."
On Standouts from First Game: "For a freshman, Tony Davis did some nice things. So did Aaron Boyce and Shane Eller. These are players who never played college football in their lives, and they had the opportunities to make a few big plays in the game. Brandon Keeler had a solid game and we need him to play well all season. He did some good things in the ballgame and that was encouraging. Alexis Alexander did well playing in his first game since high school (in 2000) and was our offensive player of the week and special teams player of the week. We had a lot of players getting their first taste of college football against Oregon State and they did some darn good things. Now they need to take it to the next level and improve on their first-game experience."
SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
Series History: Eastern has pretty much had its way with the Bobcats in the 29-game history of the series with a 21-8 record overall. The Eagles are 11-5 in Bozeman, 9-3 at home and 1-0 at neutral sites.
The 2004 game was perhaps the most memorable game of the series as the 16th-ranked Eagles rallied from a 21-point second-half deficit -- and a touchdown deficit in the final minute -- and went on to stun 23rd-ranked Montana State 51-44 in overtime in Bozeman. On a day led by sensational juniors Eric Kimble and Erik Meyer, junior Craig McIntyre gathered in a 22-yard touchdown pass to start overtime that provided Eastern's winning points. Then-sophomore linebacker David Eneberg batted down a fourth-and-goal pass from the EWU 4-yard line to secure the win. Kimble finished a record-setting day with 10 catches for 196 yards and three scores. Meyer completed 25-of-41 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns, finishing with what was then the 14th-most yards in a single game in school history. Montana State's Travis Lulay passed for 432 yards and rushed for 110 to finish with 542 yards of total offense. Eastern finished with 536 yards of total offense, and MSU had a school-record 683.
In a 2003 meeting at Spokane's Albi Stadium, a 36-yard rush on a third down play by Erik Meyer led to a game-winning touchdown late in the game as the Eagles beat MSU 34-25. Meyer completed 18-of-33 passes for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and rushed six times for a net gain of 17 yards. The Eagles finished with 371 yards of total offense going against an MSU defense ranked third in NCAA Division I-AA in scoring defense (12.44) and 13th in total defense (281.44). The game was a defensive struggle for the most part, but turned into a shootout in the fourth quarter. Just 16 points were scored in the first 42:02 of the game (19 possessions). But in the last 17:58 (10 possessions), a whopping 43 points were scored by the two teams. Trailing 23-20, Meyer's 36-yard draw play set up a two-yard touchdown run by Eric Kimble as Eastern regained a 27-23 lead. The Eagles iced it with a pair of interceptions, first by Javid Shoemaker and then by David Eneberg.
In 2002, a 76-yard fumble recovery on an errant Eastern Washington lateral in the fourth quarter spelled doom for the Eagles as Montana State scored the final 22 points for a 25-14 victory in Bozeman. Eastern took a 14-3 lead in the first half, but Montana State shut down the Eagles after that, holding EWU to just 277 yards of offense for the game. Montana State held an 18-14 lead late in the game when Eastern drove 44 yards in six plays to the MSU 24-yard-line before the game-deciding turnover. Eastern receiver Eric Kimble had seven catches for 100 yards, and including returns and a rush for 12 yards, he finished with 193 all-purpose yards versus the Bobcats. Defensive tackle Brandon Myers led the Eagles with nine tackles, and linebackers Doug Vincent and Joey Cwik added eight and seven, respectively.
In 2001, the 16th-ranked Eagles were stunned by the Bobcats 48-38 on Oct. 6 at Albi Stadium. At the time the Eagles had won four of their last five games dating back to the end of the 2000 season, and were coming off a double-overtime loss to Montana. The Bobcats were 2-2 after a winless 2000 campaign in Mike Kramer's first season as head coach. Eastern needed just seven minutes and 43 seconds to score all 38 of its points, including only 3:26 to score its first 31. But when the Eagles weren't scoring, they were in a giving mood with four turnovers, a punt return for a touchdown and a punt attempt that went awry and gave MSU the ball at the Eagle 4-yard-line. The result was 14-straight Bobcat points to end the game. The lead changed hands six times during the game, and the loss spoiled a record-breaking day for Eastern's Lamont Brightful and Jesse Chatman. Brightful opened the second half with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave him five in his career to equal the NCAA Division I-AA record shared by two other players. Chatman had 176 rushing yards, including a pair of 22-yard touchdown runs that gave him a school-record 198 points scored in his career.
In 2000, a blocked field goal by Julian Williams was returned 67 yards for a touchdown by Alvin Tolliver to account for the only scoring in the second half as 23rd-ranked Eastern Washington escaped with a 20-14 victory in Bozeman. The Bobcats held Eastern's injury-riddled offense to 250 yards of total offense, but the Eagle defense held MSU to 325 yards, including just 110 yards and no points in the second half. Montana State nearly doubled Eastern in time of possession (39:34 to 20:26), and had 86 offensive plays to Eastern's 49. But Eastern stopped MSU on four fourth-down plays, including three in the second half. The biggest came on a sack and forced fumble on a blitz by backup linebacker Adam Zeiger with 3:08 to play and MSU at the Eagle 6-yard line.
In 1999, Chris Samms threw for a career-high 282 yards as Eastern used its passing attack to register a 45-23 victory over MSU in Bozeman. Samms completed 13-of-23 passes for three touchdowns and one interception as he had his best day as an Eagle. Samms had touchdown passes of 51 and 49 yards to Lamont Brightful, and a third score to Joe Levens. Brightful finished the game with four receptions for 169 yards, Levens caught four for 60 and Rich Naccarato led the Eagles with five catches for 79 yards. Sophomore running back Jovan Griffith went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Two of his scores came in the middle of the game when Eastern turned a 10-10 tie into a 31-10 blowout in the third quarter.
It was a 31-24 loss in Cheney in 1998 that started the downward slide for the Montana State program, culminating in the retirement of Cliff Hysell at the end of the 1999 season. The Bobcats were 6-2 and ranked 14th in the nation at that point, and then lost 22 of their next 28 games before knocking off the Eagles in 2001. In that 1998 game, seniors Bashir Levingston and Mike MacKenzie scored two touchdowns apiece and led Eastern to a the thrilling win over the Bobcats. Levingston caught touchdown passes of 58 and 43 yards from quarterback Griffin Garske, including the game-winner with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter. MacKenzie had what was then the third-best rushing game in Eastern history with 226 yards on 31 carries and touchdown runs of 17 and 43 yards.
In a 1997 meeting played in Bozeman, the Bobcats handed Eastern its only regular season loss of the season. That 17-7 decision snapped Eastern's six-game winning streak in the series. Eastern's offense was held to 296 yards and the Eagles had four turnovers in the game. One of them was an interception returned 23 yards for a touchdown by Jeff Alexander that provided the final points of the game with 13:15 left in the fourth quarter. Griffin Garske threw the interception after being hurriedly inserted into the game without even a warm-up toss after a concussion was suffered by starter Harry Leons. Eastern rushed for just 84 yards on the ground on 36 carries.
It was a different story in 1996 in Cheney as the Eagles won 20-13. Eastern's defense held the Bobcats to 169 yards of total offense, including just 61 passing. Eastern had 346 yards of offense as Garske completed 8-of-19 passes for 129 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Like the 1997 game, he was an injury replacement for starter Harry Leons, who left the game with a season-ending knee injury. And like the 1997 game, Garske's interception was returned for a touchdown, this time 49 yards by Omar Turner.
Last Year - #21 Eastern Washington 35, #11 Montana State 14: Quarterback Erik Meyer passed for 206 yards and rushed for another 48 before leaving the game with a mild concussion in the third quarter, and 21st-ranked Eastern Washington closed its Big Sky Conference football schedule with a 35-14 romp past 11th-ranked Montana State Nov. 12 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles scored 35 unanswered points and held MSU scoreless for a span of 25:45 in finishing its conference season with a 5-2 mark.
"It was a great win for us -- we needed it," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "The kids played great tonight."
Meyer completed 13-of-22 passes and had two touchdown passes to Raul Vijil. The Payton Award candidate also rushed 12 times for 84 yards in gains, but was sacked five times for a loss of 28 yards, giving him a total of 262 offensive yards in just 34 plays. On the fifth sack, he suffered his concussion and left the game with 1:59 left in the third quarter and the Eagles ahead 28-7.
That's when the EWU defense took over, and provided the Eagles a huge cushion that even the comeback artist, MSU quarterback Travis Lulay, couldn't overcome. Less than two minutes after Meyer left the game, Eastern safety Bryan Jarrett intercepted Lulay and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown that gave Eastern a 35-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Lulay finished the game 25-of-50 for 237 yards and one touchdown, and also rushed for 72 yards. But the 309 yards he finished with were a far cry from the 542 yards he had a year earlier in Eastern's 51-44 overtime victory over the Bobcats.
"We played so much zone coverage that it probably took about half of their playbook away," said Wulff. "Our kids played smart and we were consistent on defense. We did a good job of flushing Lulay to the sideline."
Montana State finished with 380 yards of offense in 81 total plays, and was just 9-of-19 on third down and 0-of-3 on fourth down. Senior linebacker Joey Cwik led the defense with 12 tackles, and Nick Denbeigh finished with nine tackles and a pass broken up.
"We played a lot more zone coverage tonight and just made sure we kept Montana State's offense in front of us," Wulff added. "That is something that hasn't worked very well in the past for us, but our defense did great for us tonight. I don't think any other team has slowed their offense down this much all year."
Eastern had just 350 yards of offense after entering the game leading NCAA Division I-AA with an average of 508.4. Meyer accounted for 254 of those yards as Ryan Cole added 56 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Eric Kimble caught four passes for 86 yards and no touchdowns, rushed twice for 13 yards and completed an 11-yard pass to Meyer. Vijil's touchdown catches -- both in the second half -- covered 17 and 6 yards as he finished with four catches for 37 yards.
"We had some determined players and some veterans helped carry the load," Wulff said. "Raul Vijil has done great for us all year and he did great for us again tonight."
After a scoreless first quarter, Montana State took a 7-0 lead that Eastern erased with scoring drives of 65 and 62 yards. Ahead 14-7 at halftime, the Eagles then scored the first two times they had the ball on drives of 93 and 55 yards.
"We made some adjustments at halftime and started making some different throws," added Wulff. "We tried different things that would fit us better and that would work better against Montana State's defense."
PRE-SEASON RANKINGS & INDIVIDUAL HONORS
Eagles Unranked in Pre-Season Poll: After spending the entire 2005 season and most of 2004 nationally-ranked, Eastern Washington started the 2006 season out of the Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Top 25 Poll. That snapped a string of 20-straight polls in which EWU was ranked by the media members and sports information directors who vote in the TSN poll.
However, the Eagles received enough votes to rank 26th. Eastern was ranked 23rd in the AGS (Any Given Saturday) pre-season poll and was also ranked 23rd in the pre-season by the Football Gazette. Eastern's 2006 opponents in the TSN pre-season poll include Montana (2nd) and Montana State (17th).
The Eagles finished 13th in the final Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Poll of the 2005 season. Eastern entered 2005 ranked fourth nationally, but slipped to sixth after losing its season-opener at San Jose State. Eastern was fifth for two-straight weeks before a loss at Idaho State dropped it to 14th. Eastern spent one week at 15th before moving up to 12th prior to knocking off Montana, which catapulted the Eagles into sixth. But a 28-23 home loss to Weber State on Oct. 22 dropped the Eagles eight spots to 14th before jumping up to 11th a week later. A 40-35 loss at Cal Poly dropped Eastern to 21st -- the lowest ranking for the Eagles all season. Eastern moved to 19th after a 35-14 home win over 11th-ranked Montana State, then was 15th after closing the regular season with a win over UC Davis.
Eastern finished the 2004 season ranked a season-high seventh, thanks to a victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern ranked in the top 25 seven times in the 2004 season, including the last six times the poll was released.
Coaches Pick Eagles Second: The Eastern Washington University football team has been picked to finish anywhere from second to fifth as the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls were released July 17 at the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
The Eagles, who shared Big Sky titles the last two years and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs both seasons, were picked second by the coaches and fifth by the media. In 2005, Eastern was picked to win the title it eventually shared with Montana.
The uncertainty, however, is created by the fact the Eagles lost Payton Award-winning quarterback Erik Meyer, four receivers including record-breaking Eric Kimble, a pair of cornerbacks and middle linebacker Joey Cwik, who was the Big Sky's Defensive Player of the Year. But with 41 letter winners back -- including 10 who earned All-Big Sky Conference recognition a year ago -- the Eagles expect to contend for the title once again in 2006.
"I think this will be a year where we will surprise a lot of teams," said Eagle lineman Harrison Nikolao, who was Eastern's player representative at the Summer Kickoff. "Everyone has lost a lot of players throughout the conference. People look at us and see that we lost Erik Meyer, Eric Kimble and the core of our wide receivers. Teams are going to look at us as being suspect in certain things and weak in certain areas, which we are. But we're going to be stronger as a team this year than in the past three years."
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Nikolao will be a key figure in that strength. He was a second team All-Big Sky defensive lineman last year, but has moved to an offensive guard position heading into his senior season. The 2002 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., has a team-high 24 games of starting experience as an Eagle, including a stint as a two-way player in 2004.
"We thrive on competing and that is not going to change," Nikolao added. "We are only going to improve. That's what Eastern Football is all about."
In the coaches poll, Montana was picked to win the title and received eight of the nine first-place votes. Montana State was picked third and plays the Eagles in the league opener for both teams on Sept. 23 in Bozeman, Mont. Portland State was picked fourth followed by Idaho State, Weber State, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and league newcomer Northern Colorado.
The media poll also had Montana on top, with the Grizzlies receiving 28 of 32 first-place votes. Montana, which plays at Eastern on Oct. 7, was followed by Montana State, Weber State, Portland State, Idaho State, Eastern, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado.
Alfred and Hanni Earn Pre-Season All-America Honors From The Sports Network and I-AA.Org: After two productive seasons as underclassmen, Eastern Washington University offensive linemen Matt Alfred and Rocky Hanni have been selected as pre-season All-Americans by The Sports Network and its NCAA Division I-AA executive director Matt Dougherty. Later, that same duo earned the same honor as first team All-America selections by I-AA.Org.
Alfred, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound guard from Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03), was selected to the first team. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni earned honorable mention, and is from Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03).
Alfred was a first team All-America and All-Big Sky pick in 2005 after helping the Eagles rank fourth nationally in total offense with an average of 477.8 yards per game. He has started as either a guard or tackle in Eastern's last 22 games the past two seasons as EWU has won a share of two Big Sky Conference titles, made two appearances in the I-AA Playoffs and has a 16-9 record.
As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was the first-ever offensive lineman to win Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni also earned All-America honors that season and has started all 23 games as an Eagle. He moved from tackle to guard as a sophomore, but is expected to return to tackle in 2006.
Football Gazette Honors Seven In-State Eagles: Seven Eastern Washington University football players -- all from the state of Washington -- have been selected to the Football Gazette preseason NCAA Division I-AA All-America team.
The remainder of players recognized received honorable mention. They included tight end Tim Calhoun from Zillah, Wash., offensive tackle Rocky Hanni from Sumner, Wash., linebacker David Eneberg from Mukilteo, Wash., defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash., and Brandon Keeler from Federal Way, Wash.
Trio of Eagles on Preseason All-Big Sky team: Eastern Washington senior tight end Tim Calhoun, junior offensive guard Matt Alfred and junior safety Bryan Jarrett have been selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by members of the media.
All three players received All-Big Sky recognition a year ago when Calhoun was selected to the second team and Alfred and Jarrett were both first team selections. Alfred also earned All-America honors.
Calhoun is a 2002 graduate from Zillah, Wash., High School, and has caught 46 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns in his career. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a true freshman before missing the 2003 and 2004 seasons because of injuries.
Alfred has started 22 career games as a guard and tackle, and is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School. In each of the last two years, Eastern has ranked fourth in NCAA Division I-AA in offense with averages of nearly 500 yards per game. His younger brother Kenny is an offensive lineman at Washington State University.
Jarrett transferred to Eastern after playing one season at Western Washington University, and is a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School. He had 59 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception as an eight-game starter in his first season as an Eagle in 2005.
Those players helped lead the Eagles to a second-straight league title and NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth in 2005.
Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: At Eastern's Red-White Spring Football game, head coach Paul Wulff announced that junior guard Matt Alfred and senior linebacker David Eneberg will serve as co-captains in the 2006 season. Alfred is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School, and Eneberg graduated in 2002 from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash.
Also at the game, Wulff handed out strength and conditioning awards to Alfred, running back Ryan Cole, cornerback Adam Macomber and defensive end Jason Belford. Selected as most improved were cornerback Anthony Dotson and offensive guard Julian Stewart. Winning the "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement during the year were tight end Tom McAndrews and defensive back Bryan Jarrett.
OTHER NOTES & QUOTES
EWU Play in Front of Largest Crowd in School History: Eastern's game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State is now the third-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 12 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - :L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Wulff on West Virginia Crowd: "It was loud, but I thought it was a good crowd. Our players handled it extremely well. We play in a very loud environment too at the University of Montana. More and more the last few years our players have been exposed to these types of crowds and so they are able to adapt to it."
Eagles Versus I-A Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a I-AA team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus I-A teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus NCAA Division I-A members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
Nichols and Wulff Get First Starts Against Sixth-Ranked Mountaineers: Quarterback Matt Nichols and center Charlie Wulff couldn't have asked for a tougher assignment in their first starts of their careers against sixth-ranked West Virginia.
Nichols started in place of Chris Peerboom, whose concussion suffered in the Oregon State game kept him from making the trip to Morgantown, W.Va. Wulff started in place of Chris Carlsen, who suffered a minor knee injury against the Beavers and also didn't play at WVU. Wulff is the nephew of Eagle head coach Paul Wulff.
Matt Nichols on Starting Debut Against West Virginia: "It's easy when you have a great offensive line and good players around you. I had confidence from the coaches and that makes it easy to have confidence in the game plan. Our offensive line played absolutely amazing. They gave up no sacks and we moved the ball. Our running game was a lot better than Oregon State. We did what we were taught on our (scoring) drive. We just have to finish them."
Eastern Surrenders Lots of Points, But Doesn't Cough Up Ball Against Mountaineers: Although Eastern was out-scored 108-20 in the two games against I-AA opponents, the Eagles improved significantly in turnovers from one game to the next.
Against Oregon State, Eastern fumbled away the ball on the second offensive play of the game, then had three more turnovers in its next six possessions. The Beavers turned three of them into touchdowns en route to a 35-0 lead after the first 19 minutes of the game.
Eastern had just one turnover against West Virginia, and none of them were fumbles. An interception thrown by Matt Nichols was Eastern's only miscue as EWU made the Mountaineers earn their points.
"We'll see how we respond from it as the season goes along," Wulff said of playing at West Virginia a week after playing OSU. "I think it was great for our players. I'm a big picture kind of guy -- I'm not always looking at whether we win all the time because there are a lot of other factors in life. Our players had a great experience coming across the country, and played good, hard football and lost."
"We are going to learn from it," he added. "We have a chance to win a conference championship and compete for a national championship in I-AA. Those are our program goals, and this game gave us a flavor of how to play at a high, high level. We need to do that."
Eagles Play Nationally-Ranked I-A Opponent for Second Time: Playing the likes of a nationally-ranked West Virginia was virtually uncharted territory for the Eagles. Eastern is 7-13 all-time versus NCAA Division I-A schools, and the only other time the Eagles played a ranked I-A opponent came in 1990 when Eastern fell 84-21 to Houston. That game was played in the Houston Astrodome as the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll.
Eastern lost 52-3 to a West Virginia team that was 11-1 last year and defeated Georgia 38-35 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl after winning the Big East Conference title with a perfect 7-0 record. The win over the Eagles was the 28th in 32 games for the Mountaineers.
Eastern played in Morgantown at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.
Incidentally, Eastern's two trips to Morgantown are half of the four the Eagles have made previously East of the Mississippi River. The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of I-A, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Matt Nicols on Playing I-A West Virginia: "We just played a top-five team that has a chance to win the national championship. That will help when we drop back down and play in our division. It helps us get used to the speed of the game, especially for myself and our redshirt freshmen wide receivers. It's a great experience to see how major college football is played."
Ryan Cole on EWU's Performance at OSU: "We came in prepared, but we didn't execute. We had some mistakes and physical errors in the first quarter, and it snowballed from there. We weren't really able to come back and rebound. But it's a first game of the season. We knew we weren't going to play our best football because I don't believe any team plays its best football in the first game of the season. But it was a harsh loss and we made them look good.
Ryan Cole on Returning to OSU Where He Previously Played: "It was great to see some familiar faces after the game. I applaud Oregon State because they played a heckuva game. I wish them the best of luck and hopefully they can be successful in the Pac 10 and be league champs. I always wish them the best."
Rule Change Means Quicker Games: In a rules change designed to speed up play -- but as a result will provide for less plays in the game -- the game clock will be started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock will start on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It will also start when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play.
Wulff on Rule Changes Regarding Game Clock for 2006: "They expect there will be anywhere from 20 to 25 less plays in a game, and that's a big impact. You have to be that much more efficient and maximize your plays. I think it will affect the game."
Term I-AA Eliminated in December: At the conclusion of this season, the term I-AA will no longer be used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in I-AA Football. The NCAA Board of Directors approved on Aug. 3 two new labels for NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A will now be referred to as the "Football Bowl Subdivision" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels.
The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.
"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs was the school's fifth berth in school history, and the first time the Eagles have made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern's 2004 appearance in the second round was the third time Eastern advanced past the first round. Eastern now has a 4-5 record in five playoff appearances after losing at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern hadn't appeared in the I-AA playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
Eagles in I-AA Statistics in 2005: After leading NCAA Division I-AA in offense much of the year, the Eagles finished fourth with an average of 477.8 yards per game.
Quarterback Erik Meyer was second in I-AA in individual total offense as the Payton Award candidate averaged 352.0 yards per game, just behind Grambling's Bruce Eugene at 367.0 per game. Meyer also finished fourth nationally in passing efficiency with a 169.3 rating, and his average of 333.6 passing yards per game was second. Meyer became just the 12th player in I-AA history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a single season (he finished with 4,003).
Eastern finished second in I-AA in passing offense at 341.8, just behind Grambling (357.7). Eastern finished the season as the I-AA leader in total offense in both 1997 (505.6) and 2001 (514.5), and has now led the Big Sky Conference in total offense in four of the last five years.
Eastern was also 14th in scoring (35.0) and seventh in passing efficiency (161.4). The Eagles were 69th out of 116 I-AA teams in rushing (136.1 per game), up from 96th (104.0 per game) after three games.
Defensively, Eastern finished 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense (103.3) after entering the playoffs ranked fifth (97.3). The Eagles finished 62nd overall in defense (363.2), 60th in rushing defense (160.1) and 45th in scoring defense (23.4).
Eagle receiver Eric Kimble finished fifth in receiving yards (118.3) and fifth in receptions (7.3) per game. Raul Vijil was right behind Kimble, ranking 12th in receiving yards (90.0) and 16th in receptions (6.0). That duo ranked first and second in the Big Sky in both categories. Kimble also closed the year ranked 13th in all-purpose yards with an average of 142.2 per game.
Defensively, cornerback Jesse Hendrix was 10th in passes defended with a total of 16 (1.33 per game), with 14 passes broken up and two interceptions.
Injury Epidemic in 2005: A total of 20 key players -- 15 of them starters at one time during the season -- lost playing time and practice time after being injured since the season started in September. In all, those 20 players missed a total of 90 games and a total 55 starts. Early in the year the injury rate was severe, with nine players suffering injuries in Eastern's first three games (three in each game) that kept them out of practice and games.
Here is a list of the injured players in 2005 that are on EWU's 2006 roster.
Name -Played/Starts -Games/Starts Missed
TOTALS (20 Players) - 90/55
LB David Eneberg (ankle) - 11/10 -1/2 (UCD, UNI)
NG Harrison Nikolao (sternum) - 12/10 - 0/2 (Sac, CP)
TE Tom McAndrews (knee) - 7/1 - 5/0 (Sac, CP, MSU, UCD, UNI)
RB Dale Morris (knee) - 9/1 - 3/0 (UM, WSU, Sac)
S Gregor Smith (knee) - 7/4 - 5/8 (NAU, UM, WSU, Sac, CP)
DE Jason Belford (calf) - 3/2 - 9/9 (lost for season after PSU game)
DT Keith Grennan (back) - 10/4 - 2/0 (PSU, Sac)
DE Jacob Kragt (shoulder) - 2/0 - 10/0 (redshirted)
QB Chris Peerboom (finger tendon) - 3/0 - 8/0 (WOU through CP)
Eagles Close, But Last Shutout Back in 1987: Eastern Washington hasn't recorded a shutout in their last 211 games (208 entering 2006) dating back to a 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin in 1987. But twice recently -- Nov. 19, 2005, at home against UC-Davis and Oct. 23, 2004, at Weber State, the Eagles have held their opponents without an offensive score. Versus UC Davis, the Aggies scored on a 50-yard interception return in the third quarter. Against Weber State, the Wildcats scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery with just 4:43 left to play.
Eastern has held opponents to single digits in 23 games since the last shutout, but haven't been able to shut them out. On Sept. 18, 2004 in a 39-8 victory, Eastern held Central Washington to eight points as the Wildcats scored with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Holding Idaho scoreless for the final 54:29 in an 8-5 victory in 2003 was about as close as Eastern has come to a shutout, as well as a 1994 game when Cal Poly scored with 21 seconds left in Eastern's 61-7 blowout win. The five points Idaho scored were the fewest Eastern has allowed since beating Idaho State 37-3 in 1992. The 13 combined points were the fewest in an EWU game since the 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin.
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years - including 2005 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 21-10-1. Eastern is 4-11-1 in Missoula, 5-9 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Seven recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 21 times in 32 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 653 yards of total offense in 1997 in a 40-35 win, and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 21 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.4 points. In six of those 21 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2004 Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002 Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's NCAA Division I-AA record-tying winning streak 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 Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 10 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34, at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
Eagles Fall Short of 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has now had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 11 seasons from 1995-2004, including six different players. In 2005, the Eagles just missed having a running back finish with 1,000 as Ryan Cole finished with 879.
Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games in the 2004 season. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games.
The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington's season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern's second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott's single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern's season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern's other 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded - 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games: After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)