Grizzlies Visit Eagles in Annual Showdown
Oct. 2, 2006
Better consistency and an improved finish at home are high on the wish list this week for the Eastern Washington University football team and head coach Paul Wulff.
Coming off their second-straight home loss, the Eagles play their biggest Big Sky Conference rival this Saturday (Oct. 7) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., when the fourth-ranked Montana Grizzlies visit. Kickoff is 2:05 p.m. in a game televised in the Spokane area on KSKN Channel 22 and produced by KPAX in Missoula, Mont.
Eastern is just 1-4 this season, and you have to go back to 1983 to find a year when the Eagles had a worse start to the season. That year the Eagles were 0-5 before winning their last five games. Eastern is hoping for a fast finish such as that, starting this week when they take a 1-1 league record into Saturday's game versus the Grizzlies.
Montana is 3-1, with its only loss coming 41-7 to Iowa. The Grizzlies are the lone unbeaten team in conference play with a 2-0 record after beating then 15th-ranked Portland State 26-20 last week in Portland. Eastern is one poor quarter away from also being 2-0 in the Big Sky, but now has little room for error in its quest at winning a third-straight league championship.
The Eagles have shared the last two Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.
Although EWU has appeared in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Eastern's lone victory thus far was a 19-10 triumph at Montana State on Sept. 23.
"Montana is playing good, sound football right now, and they seem to be healthy," said Wulff. "But they are beatable and we just have to get back on track and improve. We are capable of big strides of improvement week to week. We'll be ready for Montana and it will be a good ballgame."
Woodward has been kind thus far to opponents, with EWU falling 21-14 to Central Washington Sept. 16 and 21-20 to Sacramento State last Saturday. Most disappointing was the lack of consistency and the ability to close out potential victories. Eastern had second-half leads in both games, but allowed those two teams to score 36 of their 42 combined points in the second half.
"It was a clear opportunity to be 2-0 in the league," Wulff said of the Sac State loss. "The fortunate part is that after two weeks there is only one team without a loss. The race is still wide open."
"We had the ballgame controlled for three quarters, but our finish was disappointing. We played four solid quarters against Montana State, so we had seven-straight quarters of strong play. But we let down our guard and didn't play well in the fourth quarter against Sac State."
Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense against the Hornets, but had just 67 yards in its last three possessions. Sac State had only 351 yards against EWU's defense, but 171 of those came on scoring drives of 95 and 81 yards in its last two possessions of the fourth quarter. The Hornets had just 76 yards at halftime.
"We went up and down the field and did some nice things," said Wulff. "But we blew several scoring opportunities. Our defense did a good job but for some reason seemed to quit playing. We weren't as crisp and focused."
The Eagles have their work cut out for them if they are to continue their current streak of seven-straight winning seasons. They would have to win five of their next six games -- a feat that might also put them in the hunt for a third-straight league title. The streak of winning seasons 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.
"We need to continue to make progress," Wulff added. "I thought we had been doing that until the fourth quarter against Sacramento State. We had been making progress and improved in a lot of areas. But we just didn't finish and that cost us the game."
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 & Grizzlies 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 I-AA statistics.
The Eagles are 90th out of 116 I-AA teams in total offense (279.0), but last week were 107th and after three games were 112th. Eastern is currently 107th in rushing (85.6), 48th in passing (193.4) and 101st in scoring (14.6).
Defensively, Eastern is 100th in total defense (399.8) while ranking 108th in rushing defense (202.0), 93rd in passing efficiency defense (145.0) and 99th in scoring defense (32.0). Eastern is ranked 23rd nationally in punt return average (14.0 per return) and 45th in net punting (32.8).
Kicker Brett Bergstrom, who is 8-for-8 kicking field goals this season, is seventh in field goals (1.60 per game). Punter Ryan Donckers is 14th in punting with a 41.4 average. Quarterback Matt Nichols, following a 329-yard passing effort against Sacramento State, is 47th in total offense with an average of 183.6 yards per game. Tony Davis is 45th in receiving (4.8 per game), 71st in receiving yards (58.0 per game) and 51st in all-purpose yards (114.0 per game).
Montana enters this week's game ranked 26th in total offense (365.3) and 28th in total defense (277.0). The Grizzlies are 58th in rushing offense (141.5), 21st in passing offense (223.8) and 13th in scoring (32.0). They are 35th in rushing defense (119.5), 14th in pass efficiency defense (100.4) and 39th in scoring defense (20.5). Montana is also first nationally in net punting (40.2) and 22nd in punt returns (14.7).
Washington State transfer Josh Swogger is 31st in passing efficiency (133.9) and 39th in total offense (193.3). Eric Allen ranks 29th in receptions (5.3 per game) and 37th in receiving yards (71.0 per game). Kicker Dan Carpenter is sixth in field goals (1.75 per game) and 15th in scoring (9.0 per game). Also, Tuff Harris is 12th in punt return average (16.9).
Defensive end Kroy Biermann is 26th in I-AA in sacks (0.75 per game) with a total of three in four games. He earned national recognition from I-AA.org this week after he finished with a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, eight tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Montana's win at Portland State. He was the Big Sky's Defensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week as the Grizzlies limited Portland State to 246 yards of total offense.
Two More Players Make Starting Debuts: Two more Eagles made the first starts of their careers in Eastern's loss to Sacramento State. Freshman redshirt guard Ryan Forney started at guard, taking the place of two other players who didn't start for disciplinary reasons. True freshman Jeffrey Solomon started at wide receiver as the Eagles began the game in a four receiver lineup. That brings the total to 16 players in five games this season that have made their starting debuts.
The Eagles had a shake-up in their starting lineup after the team's 0-3 start, with six players make their EWU starting debuts at Montana State on Sept. 23. Some were because of injuries but others were designed to improve Eastern at various positions.
Those six players included wide receiver Brynsen Brown, offensive tackle Julian Stewart, wide receiver Shane Eller, nose tackle Josh Jacobson, rover Anthony Dotson and linebacker Makai Borden. In addition, Davis started at the tailback position but quickly gave way to Toke Kefu, who came off redshirt to play versus the Bobcats.
Prior to that, eight starting debuts were made by Eagles in Eastern's first three games. Five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- made their starting debuts in the opener 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 (158 starts by 18 players): Nick Denbeigh 29, Brandon Keeler 29, David Eneberg 20, Bryan Jarrett 11, Greg Peach 10, Gene Piffero 8, Keith Grennan 9, DeNique Ford 8, Jason Belford 7, Ira Jarmon 5, Gregor Smith 4, Charles Searcy 4, Lance Witherspoon 3, George Lane 3, Shea Emry 3, Anthony Dotson 2, Makai Borden 2, Josh Jacobson 1.
Offense (177 starts by 23 players): Harrison Nikolao 28 (includes 23 on defense), Rocky Hanni 27, Matt Alfred 27, Tim Calhoun 18, Zach Wasielewski 17, Ryan Cole 13, Chris Carlsen 11, Tyler Coleman 5, Aaron Boyce 5, Tom McAndrews 3, Matt Nichols 4, Charlie Wulff 4, Tony Davis 3, Dezmon Cole 1, Toke Kefu 2, Dale Morris 1, Alexis Alexander 1, Chris Peerboom 1, Brynsen Brown 2, Julian Stewart 1, Shane Eller 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.
Nichols Assumes Starting Quarterback Position: Freshman redshirt Matt Nichols has secured the starting quarterback position, helping his cause with an improved performance against Montana State on Sept. 23. He is the first freshman quarterback to start for the Eagles since Griffin Garske in 1996.
Nichols, making just the fourth start of his career, had the first 300-yard passing game in his career as he finished 21-of-42 for 329 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions against Sacramento State. A week earlier against Montana State he completed 10 of his last 14 passes and in the game was 11-of-19 for 176 yards.
In five games thus far, Nichols is 72-of-138 (52.2 percent) for 925 yards, two touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 101.7.
Entering the season, Nichols shared time with junior Chris Peerboom in hopes of finding a full-time starter. 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. 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.
Nichols saw action in nine possessions, then played most of the West Virginia game when Peerboom was left home to recover. He played the entire Central Washington game as Peerboom missed his second-straight game. Nichols was 9-of-18 for 117 yards against the Beavers but couldn't get the Eagles in the end zone. 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.
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.
Eagle Tidbits: Eastern is 0-2 at Woodward Field this season after entering the year with a 35-9 record in the last nine seasons. Of the 11 losses EWU has suffered there since 1997, three of them have been against Sacramento State. The others are Portland State (2), Weber State (2), Montana, Idaho State, Sam Houston State and Central Washington . . . Kicker Brett Bergstrom remained perfect after kicking field goals of 27 and 22 yards versus Sacramento State. He has made all eight of his field goal attempts and all five extra points. He kicked four field goals, including a 53-yarder that was the fourth-longest in school history, against Montana State on Sept. 23 to earn Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week award. He is also averaging 58.9 yards on 19 kickoffs this season, including nine touchbacks . . . Rover Brandon Keeler has 36 tackles this season, giving him 212 in 37 games as an Eagle. He ranks 19th in Eastern history, moving past the 208 that current South Kitsap High School head coach D.J. Sigurdson (1986-89) had. Keeler is just three tackles from moving into a tie for 17th with Anthony Griffin (1998-01), who now plays for the Spokane Shock in Af2. At his current pace of 7.2 tackles per game (currently 12th in the Big Sky), Keeler would finish with 86 tackles this season and 262 in his career which would rank eighth on Eastern's all-time leaders lists. The senior also has four interceptions (one this year versus Central Washington) and seven passes broken up . . . Linebacker David Eneberg is also on the verge of breaking into the top 25 in career tackles in EWU history. With a team-leading 37 this season, he now has 181 in his career. He needs just 18 to move into 25th. At his current pace of 7.4 per game (currently 10th in the Big Sky), he would finish with 81 this season and 225 in his career to rank 15th . . . 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 41.4 this season. His career average of 39.6 currently ranks fifth in school history . . . Since coming off his redshirt year versus Montana State, Toke Kefu has rushed for a team-leading 191 yards and two touchdowns. He had 98 yards against Sacramento State and 93 versus Montana State, giving him four performances in his 25-game career of between 89 and 98 yards . . . Running back Ryan Cole went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his career versus Central Washington. Although he hasn't carried the ball since Sept. 16, he now has 1,036 yards in 17 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, who has caught both of the TD passes Nichols has had thus far. Another redshirt freshman receiver, Tony Davis, is still looking for his first career touchdown reception. He came within inches of scoring against Montana State on a 28-yard pass from Nichols. He is the team's leading receiver with 24 catches for 290 yards. His first career touchdown was a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Oregon State in his first game as an Eagle . . . Boyce, Davis and Brynsen Brown -- all redshirt freshmen receivers -- combined for 18 catches for 262 yards versus Sac State. Brown caught five passes for 104 yards . . . Eastern has had six interceptions already this season, including two by senior DeNique Ford and junior Anthony Dotson. The other two have been recorded by Ira Jarmon and Brandon Keeler . . . Eastern has four sacks in five games, but only one by a defensive lineman. Linebacker David Eneberg has two and Marcus Walker has one, and Greg Peach had the first by a defensive lineman on Montana State's final offensive play of the game.
EWU Injury Report: Eagle head coach Paul Wulff reported no new injuries from Saturday's game against Sacramento State. Three players remain questionable this week, including starting free safety Bryan Jarrett (ankle) and linebacker Shea Emry (hip flexor). Both have missed the last two games after suffering injuries against Central Washington. Center Chris Carlsen (knee) is also questionable and hasn't played since suffering his injury at Oregon State.
Running back Dale Morris (foot), who was injured during the pre-season, is the lone Eagle out for an extended period of time. Safety Nick Denbeigh suffered a broken bone in his hand versus OSU, but was still able to start against West Virginia and has played ever since with a heavily-wrapped hand.
2006 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."
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.
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.
SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
More Series History: Eastern scored 20 or more points in the fourth quarter to pull out Eagle wins in 1990 and 1997, and the Grizzlies scored with 30 seconds left to pull out a win in 1996 to preserve their No. 1 ranking nationally. And the 1986 meeting will go down in history as a Montana win even though television replays showed that officials erred in ruling that a last-minute Eagle touchdown pass was caught out of bounds.
Three of the top nine total offense performances in EWU history (697, 658, 603) have come against the Grizzlies. In addition, three of Eastern's top five individual passing performances (486, 448, 423), two of the top three receiving performances (264, 217), and two of the six longest pass plays in Eagle history (99, 86) have come versus Montana.
In 2004 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Montana's Shane MacIntyre blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by Sheldon Weddle with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in the Big Sky Conference Oct. 16 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. A stadium record crowd of 10,754 attended the WestCoast Ridpath Hotel Governor's Cup presented by TicketsWest. Eastern rallied in the fourth quarter after Montana had taken a 31-21 lead with 5:45 to play. Junior quarterback Erik Meyer fueled a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive in the next two minutes as he tossed an 11-yard scoring strike to Eric Kimble with 3:44 left. Meyer completed 27-of-41 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown, and was intercepted twice. Kimble and Raul Vijil had six catches each, with Kimble finishing with a team-high 91 yards in receptions. Darius Washington rushed for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Linebacker Doug Vincent led the Eagle defense with 16 tackles. Eastern finished with a 446-387 edge in total offense, but there were some lopsided quarters. Eastern had a 174-18 advantage in the first quarter when it took a 1f0-0 lead, and Montana had a 172-44 advantage in the second quarter as it took a 14-10 lead at halftime. In the second half, Eastern had a slight 228-197 advantage.
In 2003 in Missoula, Eastern was able to generate just 168 yards and no offensive touchdowns in a 41-10 loss. Montana finished with 491 yards of offense including 356 rushing yards. The Eagles managed just two field goals and 104 yards of offense through the first three quarters, yet late in the third quarter found themselves only behind 20-10. However, Grizzly touchdown drives of 80, 82 and 50 yards turned the game into a rout. Eastern finished with its lowest offensive output in its last 96 games since finishing with just 132 against Idaho in 1995. Erik Meyer finished just 6-of-16 for 61 yards, and was the team's leading rusher with 18 yards. Joey Cwik and David Eneberg each added nine tackles, and Isaiah Trufant had an interception he returned 41 yards for EWU's lone touchdown of the day.
In 2002 in Spokane, senior quarterback Josh Blankenship passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns, and senior running back Jovan Griffith rushed for 199 yards as Eastern Washington ended its season with a thrilling 30-21 victory over the No. 1 ranked Grizzlies. The loss snapped Montana's I-AA record-tying 24-game winning streak, as well as the school's 25-game Big Sky Conference winning streak. In addition, Montana head coach Joe Glenn lost his first Big Sky game in 21 tries. The Eagles finished with 541 yards of total offense while holding the Grizzlies to 385. Jesse Hendrix led the Eagles with 11 tackles and a pair of passes broken up. A record 17,142 fans attended the game.
In 2001, missed opportunities -- including three empty trips in the red zone and a missed field goal attempt in overtime -- spelled doom for 15th-ranked Eastern Washington as it fell 29-26 in double overtime to third-ranked Montana. Eastern out-gained the Grizzlies in total offense 522-475, but four Eagle turnovers and a pair of missed kicks limited EWU to just 26 points after scoring 85 points in its first two outings of the season. Down 23-9 in the fourth quarter, Eastern scored twice to send the game into overtime tied at 23. In the first overtime after Montana failed to score, a low snap resulted in Eastern's Troy Griggs missing a 36-yard field goal that would have won the game. Griggs, who also missed an extra point after Eastern's first touchdown of the day, kicked a 42-yard field goal to begin the second overtime. But Etu Molden caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Edwards that won the game for the Grizzlies. Just prior to the game-winning score, the officials ruled against the Eagles on an apparent game-ending fumble by the Grizzlies. Eastern's defense allowed Montana 15 points and 247 yards of offense on 27 plays (9.1 yards per play) in the first quarter, but just 14 points and 228 yards on 55 plays (4.1 per play) in the final three quarters plus overtime.
In 2000, despite two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Lamont Brightful, ninth-ranked Montana used the arm of Drew Miller en route to a 41-31 victory over the 18th-ranked Eagles in a Big Sky showdown at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. With Miller completing 25-of-42 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the game, the Grizzlies took the lead for good in the second quarter and held off Eastern's late surge. The Grizzlies had 411 yards of total offense, but they were aided by a sluggish Eastern offense that managed just 234 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times. Montana had 23 more offensive plays in the game, and out-gained the Eagles in the second half 202-96. Eastern's three turnovers led to three short scoring drives and 17 points by the Grizzlies. A crowd of 15,678 watched the showdown, breaking Eastern's previous home game record of 10,213 set Oct. 20, 1984 against Idaho at Albi Stadium.
In a 25-7 loss to Montana in Missoula in 1999, Eastern Washington was held to just 276 yards of total offense. The Eagle defense did a commendable job in holding Montana to half of its season scoring average, but the Eagles could not capitalize on offense. Of Eastern's 16 possessions, eight ended in punts, seven ended with interceptions and one was an eight-play, 79-yard drive that cut Montana's lead to 13-7 in the second quarter. Six of Eastern's interceptions came in the second half, including the last four possessions of the day for the Eagles. The seven interceptions tied the school record set against Western Oregon on Oct. 15, 1974. Eastern's vaunted running game, ranked 21st in I-AA entering the game, was held to just 86 net yards in the loss to the Grizzlies. Running backs Jovan Griffith (61 yards) and Jesse Chatman (46 yards) were held to a collective total of 107 yards as the Eagles had 129 yards less than their season average and more than 200 less than their average in Big Sky Conference games.
In the 1998 meeting, freshman kicker Nick Reynolds missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 57 seconds remaining in the game as Eastern suffered a wild 30-27 loss to Montana at Albi Stadium in Spokane. The miss by Reynolds came after a blocked punt by Julian Williams with 1:32 to play that gave the Eagles an excellent chance to tie or win the game. Less than one minute earlier with 2:05 remaining, a Montana interception after a tipped pass spoiled another potential scoring drive for the Eagles. Eastern's Griffin Garkse completed 18-of-29 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns with long completions of 51, 45, 42 and 35 yards. Joe Levens, who had the first touchdown catch of his career with a 19-yarder in the second quarter, caught five passes for 57 yards. Mike MacKenzie rushed for 152 yards on 19 carries, and had five catches for 104 yards in a rare 100-100 performance. Lamont Brightful finished with three catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns. The three-point setback was one of four Big Sky Conference losses of the season by four points or less.
The Eagle-Grizzly game in 1997 in front of 19,019 fans was largely viewed as the game that catapulted Eastern to the Big Sky Conference championship and the NCAA Division I-AA "Final Four." Montana entered the game ranked second in the nation and Eastern was 17th. Down 28-20 after three quarters, Eastern exploded for 20-straight points in the fourth quarter and pulled out the impressive win. The way the Eagles rallied was similar to a 1990 victory in Missoula in which Eastern scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to stun the Grizzlies 36-35. Harry Leons completed 20-of-33 passes for 424 yards and four touchdowns in the 1997 win, with Jeff Ogden catching six passes for 217 yards and three of the scores. Their 67-yard hook-up with 9:11 left to play gave the Eagles the lead for good, and then a monster drive minutes later capped the victory. Taking over after a Montana punt with 7:32 to play, the Eagles drove 76 yards on 12 plays, taking a whopping 5:36 off the clock as they ran nothing but running plays. The Eagles snapped Montana's 30-game home winning streak dating back to the 1993 I-AA playoffs, and Montana also saw its string of 32-straight regular season home wins end, a streak that dated back to Eastern's 1992 victory over the Grizzlies.
In the 1996 meeting in Cheney, Montana scored with 30 seconds left for a 34-30 win and spoil Eastern's upset bid against the top-ranked Grizzlies. Eastern was ranked 20th entering the game versus the defending I-AA champions. Montana's Brian Ah Yat completed 32-of-48 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns against EWU. All four touchdown passes -- including a game-winning 39-yarder with 56 seconds left -- were to Joe Douglass, who finished with 14 catches for 279 yards.
Last Year - #12 Eastern Washington 34, #2 Montana 20: Redemption, retribution, revenge or retaliation -- whatever you want to call it, Erik Meyer and his teammates received a little of each Oct. 15 in front of 23,732 boisterous Montana fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont.
Eastern's Payton Award candidate passed for 395 yards and five touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Eagles beat the second-ranked Grizzlies 34-20 in a Big Sky Conference showdown between the reigning regular season league co-champions.
Eastern snapped a two-game losing streak to the Grizzlies, and won in Missoula for the first time since 1997 when Eastern won the Big Sky title outright and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.
"Two years ago we were playing with (a lot of) freshmen and sophomores, and I said we're just not ready," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of a 41-10 loss at Montana in 2003. "We came into this game with some injuries and some players who are still growing, but our program has really matured a lot. We just came out and played football -- nothing too magical."
It was the sixth time in the last 10 meetings that the two teams both entered the game nationally-ranked, but only the second time the Eagles have won. The 14-point victory over the Grizzlies was Eastern's biggest at Montana, and the largest overall against Montana since a 52-19 home victory in 1985.
"It's nice to come in here and get a win," said Wulff. "It's a good win against a good team at a tough place to play. We played these guys tough, but we know we are a good team and a good program."
Meyer completed 28-of-40 passes and had one interception as he finished with the ninth-most yards in school history with his third-best performance as an Eagle. He added 42 rushing yards, giving him 437 yards of total offense. It was the 13th 300-yard passing game for Meyer, who entered the game ranked second in NCAA Division I-AA in total offense with an average of 342.4 per game.
Eastern out-gained the Grizzlies 541-361 and converted 9-of-14 third down conversions compared to just 1-of-11 for Montana. That was a far cry from two years ago at Montana when Eastern had just 168 total yards and no offensive touchdowns as Meyer was just 6-of-16 for 61 yards. He was also the team's leading rusher with 18 yards.
Eagle senior receivers Eric Kimble, Craig McIntyre and Raul Vijil combined for 22 catches for 376 yards and all five touchdowns from Meyer. Kimble caught 10 for 168 and one score, McIntyre had six for 134 yards and three TD grabs and Vijil added six grabs for 74 yards and a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.
For Kimble, it was the third-best yardage total of his career and his 15th with at least 100 yards. His touchdown grab gave him 40 in his 40-game career to rank fourth in I-AA history.
Running back Ryan Cole added 99 yards on 31 carries.
The Eagles held Montana's talented running back Lex Hilliard to 53 yards rushing. Safety Bryan Jarrett led EWU with nine tackles and a forced fumble, and senior middle linebacker Joey Cwik finished with eight stops.
Eastern scored on its first possession of the game after forcing a Montana three-and-out. It was a part of Wulff's strategy to minimize the effect Montana's crowd would have on the game.
"Normally we always take the ball," he explained. "But we wanted to put our defense on the field first and maybe take the sting of the crowd out of it early, instead of having them all revved up for our first offensive series. We wanted the ball early in the second half because usually the crowd isn't as strong at the start of the second half."
The Eagles drove 80 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 30-yard pass from Meyer to McIntyre on a post route. But EWU missed the extra point, then allowed Montana to take a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter on an 80-yard drive.
Later, after a Montana punt, Eastern drove 72 yards on seven plays to regain a 13-7 advantage. Eastern scored on a 34-yard inside screen pass to Kimble.
Montana punted again, and after a penalty on the punt, Eastern took over on Grizzly 45-yard line. Three plays later, Meyer found McIntyre for a 32-yard touchdown on a fly pattern and a 20-7 advantage at intermission.
Eastern had the ball to start the second half, and drove 80 yards to the Montana 6-yard line. But Meyer had a string of 86 passes without an interception snapped when linebacker Tyler Joyce stepped in front of an Eagle receiver and intercepted at the 3.
"We had an opportunity to put a dagger in them and we didn't do that," said Wulff.
Montana followed with a long drive, and kicked a field goal that pulled the Grizzlies to within 20-10. Eastern's offense followed with its first and only three-and-out of the game -- but the Eagle defense and offense responded.
After a fourth-down pass was ruled incomplete, Eastern drove 66 yards on seven plays to move ahead 27-10. McIntyre gathered in a 31-yard scoring pass from Meyer on third down for his third touchdown of the game.
After the Grizzlies cut the lead to 27-17, Montana's Quinton Jackson was involved in a trade of turnovers. He forced a fumble on the kickoff that UM recovered at the EWU 25, but on the next play a lateral intended for him was recovered by EWU's Nick Denbeigh.
Eventually Montana would kick a field goal to cut the lead to 27-20 with 6:09 to play. But the Eagles followed with their most impressive drive of the game -- a nine-play, 80-yard drive that gave Eastern a two-touchdown advantage with 2:13 remaining. Meyer was 4-of-5 for 70 yards with a pair of third-down conversions on the drive, including a game-clinching 8-yard touchdown pass to Vijil.
Paul Wulff QUOTES
On Ryan Cole Moving from Starting Tailback to Backup Fullback: "He's handled it as well as anybody could. He's a good team player and got an opportunity to play some fullback (against Montana State). He's going to play more and more, but it's a new position for him. He's not done carrying the ball -- there will probably be some opportunities for him to run the football for us."
On Running Game Helping Passing Game Versus Montana State: "There is no question that the running game loosens up the other team's defense. Their pass rush isn't as effective and gives our quarterback more time to throw the ball. It gave Matt Nichols some confidence. What he didn't do against Central but did against Montana State was step up in the pocket. It's a credit to him that he stepped up and made plays."
On Offensive Line After MSU Game: "They are still not where we need them to be. They have to play better for this football team to win tough football games. We have yet to be dominant in our offensive front."
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 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 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."
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
Eneberg and Bergstrom Win Big Sky Honors: A week earlier, Eagle senior linebacker and team co-captain David Eneberg helped organize a closed-door, players-only team meeting. On Sept. 23, he and kicker Brett Bergstrom were reveling in the results.
Eneberg was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 25 and Bergstrom earned the same award on special teams. Eneberg had 13 tackles and Bergstrom kicked four field goals in Eastern's 19-10 league victory at Montana State Sept. 23.
Eneberg is from Mukilteo, Wash., and is a 2002 graduate of Kamiak High School. Bergstrom is from North Bend, Wash., and graduated the same year from Mount Si High School before playing two seasons at Shasta Junior College in California.
The honors were the first player of the week honors for both players. Eneberg was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last year and Bergstrom is in his first year as Eastern's placekicker after previously spending time at safety, wide receiver and defensive end in the Eagle program.
"Both are deserving of those awards," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "David had a great week of practice and it showed in the ballgame. Without a question he's one of our best team leaders."
Eneberg also had a sack and pass broken up against the Bobcats, and both came on third down plays that forced punts in the first half as EWU opened a 9-0 lead at halftime it wouldn't relinquish. Eastern won for the fourth-straight time over MSU and the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Eneberg has played big roles in all four.
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.
Eneberg's performance helped Eastern's defense allow just 10 points and 235 yards versus MSU. In the first three games, Eastern allowed an average of 43.0 points and 471.0 yards per game.
"Our defense was much-improved," added Wulff. "We're still not playing championship football yet. But it was an improved effort and now we need to step it up that much more going into game five."
A senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to this season, Bergstrom kicked field goals of 21, 53, 39 and 30 yards versus the Bobcats, with his 53-yarder ranking as the fourth-longest in school history. Three of the kicks came in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime. His fourth helped Eastern re-gain a nine-point lead in the second half.
Bergstrom Finally Finds His Niche: It took a few years and a few positions, but Eagle senior Brett Bergstrom has found his niche.
A senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to this season, Bergstrom kicked four field goals in Eastern's 19-10 victory at Montana State on Sept. 23. He kicked field goals of 21, 53, 39 and 30 yards versus the Bobcats, with his 53-yarder ranking as the fourth-longest in school history. Three of the kicks came in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime.
"He's a veteran player and has a strong leg," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We really feel like we have a player that can help us win games. And he did against Montana State."
Not bad for a player who came to Eastern three years ago and went through three positions before finding his calling. He redshirted as a safety in 2004, moved to receiver and even tried defensive end before earning the kicking job.
"It was very frustrating because I thought I had a chance at playing as a safety," Bergstrom said. "But things happen, so I changed positions."
Bergstrom was a kicker at Mount Si High School in North Bend, Wash., then went to Shasta Junior College in California for two seasons. He kicked there too, but initially didn't ask his Eastern coaches to give him an opportunity to kick until about a year ago.
"I never really showed them that I could kick," he said. "But last year I asked them if I could try it, and now I have the chance."
The strong-legged Bergstrom specialized in kickoffs in 2005 before edging out fellow senior Sheldon Weddle for this year's placekicking chores. He averaged 61.0 yards per kickoff as a junior with 23 touchbacks.
Kicking camps in Texas, California and Boise, Idaho, helped him hone his skills in summer 2006. His improvement has turned the kicking game into a strength for the Eagles.
"It does feel good," he said. "At first I didn't really like it because it wasn't that much fun. But I finally got into it this past summer and worked hard at it. I have a lot more things to work on and I just want to get better from here."
Eastern's field goal record is 57 yards set by Eric Stein in a 1986 game at Montana State. That record could be in jeopardy if game situations give Bergstrom the opportunity.
"He kicked a 58-yarder in the rain and wind in our practice at Montana State," added Wulff. "He is certainly capable of kicking it from 60."
"It's all about confidence," added Bergstrom. "You just can't have any doubt that you're going to make it. If you do, you are going to miss it."
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.
Thus far, there have been an average of 122.6 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). Last year, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
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."
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.
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 Nichols 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."
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 213 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.
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)
Former Office Mates Wulff and Kramer Share 2005 Coach of the Year Honor: 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."