After near miss, EWU hosts No. 11 Montana State
Oct. 8, 2007
With all the injuries Eastern Washington University has endured already this season, the Eagles can ill-afford another "stubbed toe" this week at Woodward Field.
Losers of four of their last five Big Sky Conference home games -- including a 28-21 setback to Portland State two weeks ago -- Eastern faces a must-win situation this week when Montana State visits. Kickoff Saturday (Oct. 13) is 2:05 p.m.
Eastern is coming off an extremely disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana that left the Eagles 3-2 overall and 1-2 in the conference. Eastern's two losses thus far have been by a combined eight points.
The Eagles out-gained the Grizzlies 565-289, but Montana kicked a 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds to play to pull-out the win. Eastern held Montana to 2-of-14 on third down conversions and forced the Grizzlies to punt nine times. Eastern attempted five field goals in the game and had two turnovers that led to 14 Montana points. The Eagles also finished with 14 penalties for 127 yards.
The loss spoiled a record-breaking day for the Eagle sophomore passing combo of Matt Nichols to Aaron Boyce. Nichols completed a school-record 37 passes in 59 attempts, and finished with 451 yards to rank as the third-best in school history. Boyce caught a school-record 17 passes from Nichols to rank as the fourth-best performance in Big Sky history. His 232 yards were second-best all-time at EWU.
Montana State is currently 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference and has won its last four games after a 7-3 non-league home victory over Southern Utah last week. The Bobcats are ranked 11th in this week's Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings, while Montana remains as the top-ranked team in FCS.
Ranked 21st at the time, Eastern lost 28-21 to Portland State at home on Sept. 29. That dealt a blow to Eastern's hopes for the FCS Playoffs, but Eastern still could run the table in the conference and be in the hunt for a berth in November. But first, Eastern will have to clean-up the mistakes that plagued them against Montana, and score more points from the yardage they accumulate.
Perhaps of even bigger concern is Eastern's injury situation, with nine Eagles already lost for the season with injuries. Six of them are starters or significant backups. In addition, two other players -- Tony Davis (shoulder) and Chris Carlsen (knee) missed the Montana game with injuries suffered against PSU. A total of eight players were injured against the Vikings, and recently starters Makai Borden (toe) and Lance Witherspoon (ankle) were injured and missed the game versus the PSU and were limited against Montana.
For the second-straight week, the Eagles face one of the best defenses in the country. Montana State is fourth in FCS in pass efficiency defense, allowing opponents just 195.4 yards per game and ranking 11th nationally with 10 interceptions. The Bobcats are ninth in scoring defense (14.6 per game) and 44th in total defense (340.4).
After its 565-yard effort at Montana, Eastern's offense moved from fourth to third in total offense (489.0) and from 10th to fifth in passing offense (322.2). However, Eastern scored just 23 points against UM to fall from 14th to 21st in scoring (34.2).
Eagle Head Coach Paul Wulff on Playing Montana State After Pair of Close Losses: "We have to shake it off because we have a tough Montana State team coming to Cheney this week. We played better against Montana than we did the previous week and we need to build off of that. We have to remember that it's an 11-game season, we only have two losses and there is a lot of football to play. We still have a lot of games that can get us back into playoff contention and all the other things out there. We need to shake these last two losses, play good football and get ourselves ready to play a good opponent this week."
Wulff on Montana Loss: "We held them to 2-of-14 on third down conversions -- when you do that you are going to win a lot of games. We nearly doubled their yardage. We also had 14 penalties for 127 yards -- we haven't played that sloppy yet. But the score on the front of the stat sheet is the only stat that matters."
Nichols and Boyce Produce Record-Breaking Game to Remember: A victory would have made it that much sweeter, but at least the sophomore passing duo of Matt Nichols-to-Aaron Boyce has a couple of school records to show for a disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. But best of all, the pair of sophomores will have two more cracks at the Grizzlies ahead of them in the next two seasons.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- all career highs in just the 15th start of his EWU career. His yardage total was the third-most in school history and just 35 yards from the school record of 486 set by Todd Bernett against Montana in 1994.
Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. The record is 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions.
Boyce finished with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Thanks to a defense that was dominant against the Grizzlies, Eastern had a huge, 565-289 advantage in total offense. Eastern had 26 more offensive plays than Montana and had a six-minute edge in time of possession. But Eastern couldn't establish a consistent running attack and that led to Nichols throwing the ball 59 times while the team rushed just 29 times. The Eagles were scoreless the first six times they had the ball, then scored on four-straight possessions to take a 20-14 lead. However, Eastern managed only a single field goal in its last six times with the ball and came up a single point short in its upset bid.
Only two other times has an Eastern quarterback attempted more passes -- Rick Worman versus Nevada (10/12/85) and Tommy Thompson against Puget Sound (11/16/68). The previous record for completions was by Josh Blankenship against Western Oregon (9/14/02). The only Eastern quarterbacks to throw for more yards were Bernett and the player Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer, who had 470 against Sacramento State (10/29/05).
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Nichols had just 22 yards in the first quarter, but then had 185 in the second quarter, 163 in the third and 82 in the fourth.
Nichols' totals for passing yards and total offense (478) are both the top performances in the Football Championship Subdivision thus far this season. Boyce also has the top performances for catches and yards. Interestingly, No. 2 in passing yards is Portland State's Brian White (442) and second in receiving yards is PSU's Tremayne Kirkland (225 on 14 catches) with performances they had in a one-point, 44-43 loss to Northern Arizona on the same day as the EWU-Montana contest.
Wulff on Receiver Aaron Boyce and Passing Game Versus Montana: "We felt like we could throw the ball if we could protect the quarterback and if Matt figured out where he was hot and where he wasn't. Some of the routes were designed to go to Aaron. When it was there, Matt hit him. Matt is very comfortable with Aaron. When you do that there are going to be some statistical numbers out there, but I'm not a big fan of statistics. I'm a big fan of winning."
Boyce on His Big Day: "With the zone coverage Montana was playing, in film study we saw that we could take advantage of that. We just ran the routes we had practiced all week. Our coaches had a great game plan that put us in spots to make plays. I'm always thinking I can get open, but I wasn't paying much attention (to how many catches I had). I was just running what we practiced. It just happened to be my day today."
Nichols on Performance Against Montana: "I calmed myself down and played like it was practice. I didn't let any of the pressure of the crowd get to me. I just made plays when they were there. Our line protected me well all day and our receivers were getting open. I felt like I had it -- almost every pass I threw was on target."
Nichols on Scoring 20 Points in Four-Straight Possessions: "We felt like our passing game was going well. We felt like we could move down the field whenever we wanted. Momentum was just going our way."
EWU Injuries Mount After Portland State Loss: Eastern has now lost nine players for the season because of injuries, with most of the injuries occurring against Portland State on Sept. 29.
In that game, eight players left the field with injuries. Among them were wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder), center Chris Carlsen (knee), fullback Toke Kefu (hand), tight end Nathan Overbay (hand), long snapper Mark Lathim (shoulder) and free safety Kevin Hatch (shoulder). Even rover Anthony Dotson (knee) and kicker Felipe Macias (knee) were helped off the field with injuries, but both were able to return. In addition, starting strong-side linebacker Makai Borden (toe) was injured in practice before the PSU game and missed that game, as did starting defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon (ankle). Both returned to play sparingly against Montana.
Carlsen and Davis missed the Montana game and are doubtful for the Montana State game this week. But Kefu and Overbay were added to a list of players out for the season that includes several significant starters or backups. Safeties Ethen Robinson (Achilles tendon) and Jesse Hoffman (elbow) were lost for the season with injuries suffered in Eastern's season-opener against Montana-Western. Jesse's brother, wide receiver Shane Hoffman (toe), is also out for the year. Before the season started, senior safety Gregor Smith was lost for the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Sophomore wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon is redshirting after a back injury that has kept him sidelined since practices began in August. The other players lost for the year were freshman redshirt Joe Beitinger (shoulder) and true freshman Chris Powers (shoulder).
Eagles Rise and Fall in National Rankings: Eastern's convincing 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22 helped Eastern move up four spots to 21st in The Sports Network NCAA Football Championships Subdivision top 25 poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors. The Eagles dropped out after losing to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29, but are still receiving enough votes to rank 32nd despite a 3-2 record.
When EWU was ranked 25th on Sept. 17, the Eagles earned their first national ranking since 2005 in the TSN poll. Eastern hadn't been nationally ranked since it finished the 2005 season 13th in the TSN poll.
In the Sagarin computer ratings released after EWU's win at Idaho State, Eastern was No. 6 among FCS schools to rank three spots ahead of No. 9 Montana. Following the PSU loss, Eastern fell to 19th in the Sagarin ratings and are currently 17th after losing by just one point to Montana.
Here is a listing of EWU's 2007 opponents in this week's FCS rankings (four polls are distributed nationally on a weekly basis), in addition to the Sagarin computer ratings:
The Sports Network: 1. Montana; 11. Montana State; 32. Eastern Washington; 43. Northern Arizona; 50. Portland State; 53. UC Davis.
FCS Coaches: 1. North Dakota State; 2. Montana; 12. Montana State; 32. Eastern Washington.
AGS (anygivensaturday.com): 1. Northern Iowa; 4. Montana; 15. Montana State; 35. Eastern Washington.
Football Gazette Top 40 Rankings: 1. Massachusetts; 4. Montana; 15. Montana State; 30. Eastern Washington; 37. Northern Arizona.
Sagarin Computer Ratings (among FCS schools): 1. North Dakota State (54th overall); 12. Montana (105th overall); 17. Eastern Washington (122nd overall); 18. Montana State; 20. UC Davis; 26. Northern Arizona; 29. Portland State; 47. Weber State; 48. Sacramento State; 64. Idaho State; 86. Northern Colorado. Also, 34. (overall) Brigham Young.
Nichols Up to Third Nationally in Total Offense: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols has improved to third in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in total offense after back-to-back career passing games in losses to Portland State and Montana.
He followed a career-high 363 yards versus Portland State on Sept. 29 with 451 versus Montana on Oct. 6. Nichols is third in total offense (332.6), fifth in passing yards (316.0) and 13th in passing efficiency rating (154.9).
The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., has thrown just two interception in 186 attempts this season after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year ago. His ratio last season was an interception every 15.2 attempts and this year thus far it is one for every 93 attempts. With 13 touchdown passes in his first five games this season, he has already far exceeded his total output of eight in 11 games in 2006. His passing efficiency rating thus far is 154.9 compared to a 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards in Eastern's disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards ranks as the 24th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State. Nichols completed 17-of-30 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown in Eastern's 34-7 victory at Idaho State on Sept. 22. On Aug. 31, Nichols earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western.
Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington is averaging 489.0 yards of offense after five games, good for third in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern is also 21st in scoring offense (34.2), fifth in passing offense (322.2) and 45th in rushing offense (166.8). Eastern is also 11th in passing efficiency (155.7) with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that includes four senior starters, has allowed seven quarterback sacks to rank 64th nationally (1.4 sacks per game), down from third after the ISU game when EWU had just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern is 97th in total defense (420.2), 25th in scoring defense (19.8), 31st in rushing defense (118.8), 115th in passing defense (301.5) and 21st in passing efficiency defense (104.0).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Currently, Eastern is fifth after having two giveaways and no takeaways against Montana. Eastern has now had five turnovers this season and opponents have coughed the ball up 13 times (10 interceptions and three fumbles). Last season, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Individually on offense, Aaron Boyce is third in receptions (8.2) and fourth in receiving yards (118.6). Tony Davis is 64th in receptions (4.8) and 49th in receiving yards (70.2) and Brynsen Brown is 84th in receptions (4.4) and 49th in reception yards (69.3). Punter Fritz Brayton ranks 29th nationally (40.9 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias is 52nd in scoring (7.8) and 32nd in field goals (1.2, total of six). Greg Peach is 12th in sacks (.90 per game, total of 4 1/2).
Bobcats Also Feature a Stingy Defense: A week after playing the nation's top defense in points allowed, Eastern faces a Montana State team just as stingy.
Eastern scored 23 points against a Montana defense that entered the game allowing just 10.3 points per game to rank first in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in scoring defense. The Grizzlies have now slipped to third (12.8), but the Bobcats are right behind with an average of 14.6 per game to rank ninth. The Bobcats have allowed just two touchdowns passing and have had 10 interceptions to rank fourth nationally in passing efficiency defense (90.5).
Montana State is also 44th in total defense (340.4), 51st in rushing defense (145.0), and 53rd in pass defense (195.4). On offense, Montana State ranks 58th in total offense (367.8), 54th in rushing offense (158.8), 50th in passing offense (209.0) and 46th in scoring offense (27.2). The Bobcats are also ninth in turnover margin (+1.4 per game), 13th in sacks (3.0 per game) and 20th in punt returns (12.4 per return).
Individually, linebacker Bobby Daly leads the Big Sky and is fifth nationally in tackles (12.0 per game) with 3 1/2 sacks. He had 17 tackles in Montana State's 7-3 victory over Southern Utah to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Michael Beach is 12th in interceptions (.60 per game, total of three), Kory Austin is 13th in punt returns (13.2), Eric Fisher is 19th in punting (42.2) and Demetrius Crawford leads the Big Sky and is 30th nationally in rushing (98.2). Quarterback Jack Rolovich is 52nd in total offense (197.4) and 69th in passing efficiency (115.8).
4.0 Student Tom McAndrews Nominated for Academic Awards: Senior 4.0 student-athlete Tom McAndrews has been nominated by Eastern Washington University for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame National Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship Awards.
The 6-foot, 240-pound tight end is a double major in finance and economics at EWU. He will complete his bachelor's degree in December 2007, and then begin work sometime soon on his master's in business administration.
With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, he has been named to the Dean's List 12 out of a possible 12 quarters at Eastern. He is expected to be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the fourth-straight year in 2007. He will be nominated for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and for a NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
McAndrews was the 2006 recipient of the "Iron Eagle" Award for EWU Football academic and athletic achievement. He was awarded a Trustee's Scholarship (2006), Washington Promise Scholarship (2003) and Red Reese Scholarship (2003). He also became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society (2007).
He scored the first touchdown of his Eastern career against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007, on an 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 41-31 win. Mainly used as a blocking tight end, fullback and on special teams, he entered the 2007 season with 12 catches for 125 yards in 29 games played (five as a starter). In 2005 he was EWU's Most Improved Player and helped Eastern Washington win Big Sky Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, earning berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
His community service activities include serving as a PLUS (Program Leading to Undergraduate Success) Facilitator in business law for the EWU Academic Support Center (2006). He was an intern as Community and Economic Development Assistant for the Cheney community/EWU campus development group called Pathways to Progress (2005). He has also been a volunteer for Harvest Food Bank, Spokane Guild School, Habitat for Humanity and the Cheney School District.
McAndrews was also a 4.0 student at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., where he was the 2003 Valedictorian.
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's returning receiving corp includes a senior and five sophomores who are learning their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches as a true freshman but is redshirting in 2007. So far in their careers, Davis, Brown and Boyce have combined for 200 catches for 2,760 yards and 18 touchdowns in 47 games worth of experience (35 starts).
Those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts).
In 2005, Meyer and those players won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his corp of sophomore receivers. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."
Nichols on Receiving Corp: "We have a great group of receivers, including our starting sophomore corp. They are really talented and find holes, especially with a year under our belts. We know how to work against defenses a lot better than we did last year. I think that really showed in our first few games. We know how to find holes and know where the weaknesses are in certain coverages."
Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles: Just six position players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
Powell is a junior two-year letter winner who graduated in 2004 from Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. Hatch is a sophomore from Freeman (Wash.) High School, and lettered as a backup and special teams player last year. Hosley is a 2005 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
A freshman redshirt, Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, the same school that produced All-America guard Matt Alfred (2003 graduate). Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, is from Chehalis, Wash., and graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School. Martin, a freshman redshirt from La Crosse-Washtucna (Wash.) High School, made his debut when the Eagles started in a two tight end formation.
Hatch and Leahy are taking the place of returning veterans who have to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart is academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith will miss the year with a nagging shoulder injury.
Besides those new starters, Eastern has new special teams players. Taking over at kicker is Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton takes over at punter.
Against UC Davis on Sept. 15, sophomore left tackle Chris Thomas made the first start of his career. Thomas is a 2004 graduate of Sumner (Wash.) High School, the same school senior Rocky Hanni graduated from in 2003.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:
Defense (135 starts by 17 players): Greg Peach 21, Bryan Jarrett 19, Jason Belford 17, Ira Jarmon 16, Lance Witherspoon 10, Gregor Smith 7, Makai Borden 6, Anthony Dotson 7, Josh Jacobson 5, Shawn Powell 5, Kevin Hatch 5, Lonnie Hosley 5, Jared Kuhl 5, Marcus Walker 4, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Dezmon Cole 1 (includes one start on offense).
Offense (220 starts by 21 players): Rocky Hanni 38, Matt Alfred 38, Zach Wasielewski 27, Aaron Boyce 15, Matt Nichols 15, Chris Carlsen 14, Charlie Wulff 12, Brynsen Brown 12, Tony Davis 8, Tom McAndrews 8, Alexis Alexander 7, Dale Morris 6, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, Chris Thomas 4, Nathan Overbay 2, Shane Eller 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.
Series History: Eastern has pretty much had its way with the Bobcats in the 30-game history of the series with a 22-8 record overall. The Eagles are 12-5 in Bozeman, 9-3 at home and 1-0 at neutral sites.
In 2005 in Cheney, 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. 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. Less than two minutes after Meyer left the game, Eastern safety Bryan Jarrett intercepted Travis Lulay and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown that gave Eastern a 35-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
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 Season -- Eastern Washington 19, Montana State 10: On a day when several Eagles made the first starts of their careers, it was the coming out party of kicker Brett Bergstrom, the defense and a quartet of freshmen redshirts in the passing game that led Eastern Washington to a 19-10 victory over Montana State in the Big Sky Conference football opener for both teams Sept. 23 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.
Bergstrom, a senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to the 2006 season, kicked four field goals, including three in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime. Eastern's defense held Montana State to 235 yards of offense and Eastern redshirt freshmen Matt Nichols, Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown added several big plays in the second half.
The victory was Eastern's first of the season in four tries, and the fourth-straight for the Eagles over the Bobcats.
"You never want to be 0-3, but you also have to look at who we played," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We played a couple of good teams and then didn't play well last week. But our kids responded and came back and showed the character we have in our program."
The Eagles finished with 301 yards of total offense and MSU had 235. Eastern converted on 7-of-15 third downs compared to just 4-of-11 for MSU.
"Montana State did some things on defense they haven't shown all year long," said Wulff. "We did a great job of adapting on the run and adjusting our game plan. That's not an easy thing to do."
Eastern dominated time of possession 37:10 to 22:50. At one point the Eagles had a 31:55-15:36 advantage.
"We did a good job stopping the run for the most part and got them in predictable situations," said Wulff. "When you can do that it's tough on the other team. I think our coaches did a great job this week. They got our players going. "
A former Eastern wide receiver and defensive end, the strong-legged Bergstrom had specialized in kickoffs before edging out fellow senior Sheldon Weddle for placekicking chores. 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.
"He's a veteran player and has a strong leg," said Wulff. "We really feel like we have a player that can help us win games. And he did today."
Nichols, making just the third start of his career, completed 11-of-19 passes for 176 yards in the best game of his young career. Davis (six catches, 89 yards), Boyce (two catches, 49 yards) and Brown (two catches, 38 yards) were on the receiving end of several big plays as Nichols completed 10 of his last 14 passes in the final three quarters.
"They are getting better and they need to," said Wulff. "We need that consistency of catching the ball and not dropping balls."
Eastern struck first, forcing a MSU fumble on the first offensive play of the game. Bergstrom made a 21-yard field goal just 4:50 into the first quarter to give EWU a 3-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Eastern took over at its own 1-yard line after a MSU punt. Eastern drove 63 yards on 10 plays -- including a 35-yard pass reception by Davis -- to set-up a 53-yard field goal attempt by Bergstrom. It barely cleared the crossbar as he earned a spot in Eastern's record book. The record is 57 set by Eric Stein at MSU in 1987.
Eastern put together another short drive late in the first half, moving the ball 41 yards on 12 plays. Bergstrom's 39-yard field goal on the final play of the half gave Eastern a 9-0 advantage at intermission.
In the second half, Montana State capitalized on an EWU interception to score 4:16 into the second half and pull within 9-7. But the Eagles responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Toke Kefu. Kefu, who finished with 93 rushing yards on 24 carries, did not play in the first three games because the Eagles had planned to redshirt him.
After a MSU field goal, Eastern regained its nine-point lead and closed out the scoring with a 30-yard field goal by Bergstrom. That kick came after the Eagles drove 52 yards on 12 plays, taking 6:14 off the clock.
Besides the big boot by Bergstrom, punter Ryan Donckers had a big boot of his own. He had a 66-yard punt in the first quarter that equaled the fourth-longest in school history. It was three yards behind his previous career-high and school-record 69-yard punt he had against the Bobcats in Bozeman on Nov. 13, 2004.
The Eagles had a shake-up in its starting lineup, with six players make their starting debuts at Eagles. Some were because of injuries but others were designed to improve Eastern at various positions.
Those six players included Brown, rover Anthony Dotson, offensive tackle Julian Stewart, wide receiver Shane Eller, nose tackle Josh Jacobson and linebacker Makai Borden. In addition, Davis started at the tailback position but quickly gave way to Kefu.
"Our players responded to the changes and executed well," added Wulff. "This is a little bit different team than we've had in the past. We did some good things and found a way to win."
EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL
Chatman Featured Twice in Sports Illustrated: Former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman, now with the Miami Dolphins, had a full-page spread in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated talking about how he lost 60 pounds after eating himself out of the National Football League.
Injuries caused him to starting gaining weight when he played for the San Diego Chargers in 2004, and subsequently he was released and did not play in 2005 and 2006. He ballooned to a high as 283 pounds before diet and exercise helped him lose the weight. Chatman started working out at all hours, and switched from fried food all the time to oatmeal, spinach and stir-fry.
Eventually, he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and is the team's backup running back behind Ronnie Brown and is returning kickoffs. Now weighing 223 pounds, he earned a roster spot in the preseason when he had a team-leading 116 rushing yards (6.4 per carry) with two touchdowns, and added six receptions for 52 yards.
During the preseason, he was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:
"Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."
Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.
In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.
Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.
Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.
A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.
Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).
Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.
Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.
Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier this season against Berlin.
He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.
While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.
Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.
Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa is 17-2 this season, including three playoff victories.
MORE SEASON NOTES
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Eight 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 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 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 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. 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 record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision 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 12 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.)
Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis Have Two of EWU's Longest Non-Scoring Plays: Sophomores Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis now own two of the longest non-scoring plays in school history after having long receptions in back-to-back games against Idaho State and Portland State.
Davis had a non-scoring 78-yard reception from quarterback Matt Nichols against ISU on Sept. 22 that ranked as the second-longest non-scoring pass play in school history. It ranks only behind the 82-yard connection from Erik Meyer to Raul Vijil in Eastern's 2004 playoff victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois.
In Eastern's next game against PSU on Sept. 29, Brown had a non-scoring 85-yard reception that broke Vijil's record. Eastern's longest non-scoring rush in recorded school history was 80 yards, so Davis and Brown own two of the four longest non-scoring plays in recorded school history.
From 0-3 to 3-0: Eastern, 3-0 on the season, matched its win total from a year ago with a 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. Eastern had a 27-0 lead at halftime and had a 391-100 advantage in total offense when it took that advantage.
It was Eastern's first road trip of the season, and the Sept. 22 date equals EWU's latest road opener since 1987. Each of Paul Wulff's seven previous seasons as head coach had begun with games on the road.
Eastern hasn't started a season 3-0 since beginning the 1997 season with four-straight wins en route to a 12-2 finish. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.
Eastern started the 2006 season with losses to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a setback to NCAA Division II Central Washington.
Wulff on 3-0 Start Setting Up Team for a Successful Season: "It sure does. It gives us an opportunity to have success, it helps the program to grow, it helps recruiting and it helps the school. It's very challenging when you have to play a very difficult schedule early in the year. It feels like you are always trying to make it up the whole year. It's all about direction and what you are trying to accomplish with your program."
Wulff on Nichols After Three Games: "He's done a nice job and has worked hard. He's very committed to being a good football player and his commitment has shown up by his improvement. He still has a lot of things to get better at, but hopefully we can build off each week's performance. It's very important that we do that. He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around."
Happy 60th Birthday Coach Wulff!: Paul Wulff won't be 41 until Feb. 25, 2008, but that didn't stop his players from giving him a birthday wish on the plane flight home from EWU's game at Pocatello. The flight attendant wished Wulff a happy 60th birthday over the loudspeaker, which resulted in a roar of applause and laughter from the team. Upon arrival in Spokane, Wulff began an immediate investigation to identify and punish the culprit. Initial reports blamed the quarterback.
Brayton Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week: Junior Fritz Brayton was selected as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Eastern's 34-7 victory over Idaho State.
Brayton punted six times for a 47.7 average, with a long punt of 53 yards and two downed inside the Idaho State 20-yard line. The average field position for ISU was their own 20-yard line. In the second half, he had punts that were downed at the ISU 8 and 9 yard lines.
Brayton is a transfer from Washington State University and 2004 graduate of Westview High School in Portland, Ore. He is taking the place this season of Ryan Donckers, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history. His career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
Brayton's father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at Washington State from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
Jarrett Helps Lead Impressive Effort by Defense: Safety Bryan Jarrett, one of just four seniors on the starting defense, had seven tackles and a key first-half interception in Eastern's 34-7 road win at Idaho State.
His interception at mid-field and 36-yard return led to a field goal that gave Eastern a 3-0 lead. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half, and had two other tackles that led to an Idaho State punt (in the first half) or loss of the ball on downs (in the second half).
Eastern would go on to score 24 more points -- including 10 more points off turnovers -- to take a 27-0 lead at halftime. When Eastern took its 27-0 lead, the Eagles had a 291-100 advantage in total yards. Idaho State scored its first points with 9:09 left in the game on a 92-yard drive. Idaho State finished with 400 yards, but 296 came in the second half.
The Eagles forced five turnovers against ISU, including three in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Jarrett, a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School, hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.
Eagles Add JC All-America Safety: Two-time junior college All-America defensive back Terry Mixon joined the Eastern football program on Sept. 11 and was able to play for the Eagles four days later against UC Davis. He finished with five tackles in his Eagle debut.
"He did well with the limited plays he received," Eagle head coach Paul Wulff said. "But that's how it is going to have to work for him right now. We'll try to get him a little more each game and get him ready. He's not in great shape but he's getting there. And he has to learn the system a little bit. Obviously he will be a great benefit for us."
Mixon left the Washington State University program the previous week after coming to the Cougars from Grossmont Community College near San Diego. Since classes don't start at EWU until Sept. 26, Eagle head coach Paul Wulff was able to get Mixon admitted and enrolled at EWU. It was a much-needed boost for an Eastern team that lost three safeties for the season after just the first game of the year because of injuries.
"We were very fortunate to acquire somebody on such late notice," said Wulff, who lists Mixon as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. "We have a huge need right now at safety because of the three season-ending injuries we've already had at that position."
Wulff said Mixon could possibly play at free safety, but most likely the rover (strong safety) position. Senior Gregor Smith (shoulder), sophomore Jesse Hoffman (elbow) and freshman redshirt Ethen Robinson (Achilles) have been lost for the season at free safety.
In 2006 as a sophomore at Grossmont, Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the nation. As a sophomore, he repeated as both an All-Foothill Conference first team pick and junior college All-America selection. He was All-California Region III first team and helped his team to 10-2 record and a second-round berth in state playoffs. He was named conference player of the week three times.
As a freshman, he helped Grossmont to a 13-1 record and the California State Championship. He was a four-time Foothill Conference Player of the Week. He earned all-conference first team honors and was named a junior college All-American.
Mixon was a quarterback and defensive back at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. He started at quarterback as a senior and rushed for almost 800 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 12 touchdown passes. He was a SuperPrep All-Far West selection (No. 70) as a defensive back. He had over 100 tackles, along with five interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
He was born Dec. 20, 1985, in San Diego, Calif. His parents are Timothy Mixon and Betty Randall.
First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols has gotten off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.
The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.
Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 was much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."
In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.
Wulff on Sophomore Debut for Nichols: "The way he was practicing we thought there was a chance he would do well in this first game. We felt like we had better athletes outside at the receiver positions, and we knew that if we gave him enough time, he would be able to hit them. And that's what he did. His accuracy was good and I think of the six incompletions he had, three were dropped balls -- they were right in their hands."
Wulff on Reason for Early Success for Nichols: "The (biggest reasons) are last year's experience and the amount of work he has put in to get better. He's gotten to know his teammates better and doesn't have receivers that are freshmen to throw to. That is just part of college football and the maturation you have to go through. We went through that last year and we're better now because of it."
Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.
A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.
Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish last year that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."
Eagles Are Still Youthful: Eastern enters the season with much more experience under its belt than last year, but the Eagles are still young. In the team's opener against Montana-Western, only three seniors were in the team's starting lineup on defense and four were on the starting offense.
All four of those seniors on offense are linemen as Eastern returns a pair of past All-Americans (Matt Alfred in 2005 and Rocky Hanni in 2004), as well another All-Big Sky tackle in Zach Wasielewski. The lone non-starting senior on the offensive line, Julian Stewart, is academically ineligible to play in 2007 and has been replaced by freshman redshirt Brice Leahy and sophomore Chris Thomas.
"That was a little bit of a hit, but we do have some experience there and it is an area that needs to be a strength," said Wulff of losing Stewart. "They are a group that should play well and get us out of the gate and play well early. There is a lot of pressure on those guys to perform well."
Eastern's offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols and five other sophomores expected to play key roles as offensive skill players. They include wide receivers Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce, Jeffrey Solomon and Brynsen Brown, as well as tight end Nathan Overbay. Solomon is injured and will probably redshirt.
"All of those youthful players have good experience," Wulff said. "We are still going to be a youthful football team, but I do believe we should be a good football team. How fast we grow as the season progresses is really going to be the indicator of how well we end up doing at the end of the season."
Wulff on Progress of Team: "This team continues to grow. We aren't there yet but we're on the right track. I think as we go along this year and in the next couple of years, this team is going to be pretty good."
Wulff on Alexis Alexander and Dale Morris: "They are emerging as our best ballcarriers. Toke Kefu gives us good balance in there with those two guys. We have a good chance to be very good at that position. But they have to stay healthy and to continue to work hard to get themselves in great condition. And our offensive line has some work to do but the makings are there. We have to get them rolling and executing a little better."
Wulff on Young Receivers: "They've worked hard and put themselves in a position to make a lot of improvement. Now it's about producing on game day. We expect big things from them and we should. They have some youth, but they also have some experience. We are going to need them to make plays. Tony Davis is going to do a lot of different things. I think that fits his talent."
Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."
Wulff on Alexander Earning Repetitions at Running Back: "He's handled it great -- he gets to carry the ball more. It was becoming clearer that when we put the ball in his hands more good things happen. It's something we've thought about over the summer and has evolved in camp. We have to get the ball in his hands. He's good enough to catch it and good enough to run it. As long as he keeps producing and playing at a high level he's going to carry the ball. We'll make sure he helps this football team and he clearly does. He's a tough guy to tackle."
Wulff on Dale Morris: "So far Dale is healthy and getting in football shape. He's missed a tremendous amount of football -- it's basically been a year since he even put his pads on. But anybody who misses a year in their sport is going to be a little rusty. Hopefully as the season progresses we'll see him continue to improve and break off a lot of that rust. He's doing a nice job in camp to get himself in shape."
Eagles Play Six Home Football Games: Eastern will open a six-game home schedule on Friday, Aug. 31, with a non-conference home game versus Montana-Western. After a bye week, Eastern plays another non-conference game against UC Davis on Sept. 15.
Big Sky Conference play begins at Idaho State on Sept. 22, followed by the EWU Athletics Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 29 against Portland State. After playing at Montana on Oct. 6, Eastern hosts Montana State on Oct. 13.
A difficult road trip at NCAA Division I Bowl Division (formerly I-A) member Brigham Young follows on Oct. 20, then the Eagles play at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Eastern's Homecoming game is Nov. 3 against Northern Colorado, and the Eagles conclude the regular season with a road game at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10 and a home game versus Weber State on Nov. 17.
Last season, Eastern finished 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference with a schedule that included two NCAA Division I Bowl Division members West Virginia and Oregon State. The Eagles, young and inexperienced at several positions including quarterback and wide receiver, closed the year with a convincing 40-6 victory over Idaho State.
Eastern is 7-0 all-time against Western Montana, but hasn't played the Bulldogs since 1982 when both were affiliated with NAIA. Montana-Western is still a NAIA member while Eastern is now a member of the NCAA Division I Championship Division (formerly I-AA).
UC-Davis is also in the NCAA Division I Championship Division and is a member of the Great West Conference. The Aggies, who were 6-5 in 2006, will be eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2002 when it was still a member of NCAA Division II. In the only meeting between the two teams, Eastern beat UC Davis 24-6 on Nov. 19, 2005, at fog-shrouded Woodward Field.
Brigham Young finished the 2006 season ranked 15th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 16th in the Associated Press top 25. The Cougars won their final 10 games, including a 38-8 victory over Oregon in the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl to finish the season with an 11-2 record.
The Cougars finished the season ranked fourth nationally in passing offense (323.5 yards per game) and total offense (465.5). The BYU offense also ranked fifth in scoring offense with an average of 36.8 points per game. Additionally, the Cougars had a 167.08 passing efficiency rating on the season to rank second nationally.
Defensively, the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in scoring defense, allowing just 14.7 points per game. BYU ranked 16th in passing efficiency defense (106.2) and 38th in total defense (319.2).
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 Bowl Division teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Eastern has lost its last four since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003.
Montana is the defending Big Sky Conference champion, a title it has won outright or shared for the past nine seasons. The Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for a record 14th straight season, and won twice in the playoffs before falling to Massachusetts 19-17 in the semifinals. Montana finished its season ranked third in The Sports Network poll with a 12-2 record.
Montana State won its first playoff game in 22 years, downing Furman 31-13 in the first round in Bozeman. The Bobcats' season came to an end with a 38-17 loss at eventual national champion Appalachian State. Montana State finished its season 8-5, and ranked 10th in The Sports Network poll.
Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team has been picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Eastern is coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.
This season, Eastern returns 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.
Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred has been selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.
A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and has earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). He enters the 2007 season with 33-straight starts as an Eagle.
Hanni earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2004 when he was the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year. He has also started 33 games at Eastern.
Former 1,000-Yard Rusher Among New Hall of Fame Members: Five individuals and two teams comprise the eighth class of inductees into the Eastern Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in ceremonies that took place on Sept. 29, 2007, in Cheney, Wash.
The new inductees include record-setting All-West Coast fullback Meriel Michelson, who held the school's career rushing record for nearly 40 years. He finished with 2,517 yards, including the school's first 1,000-yard season as he led Eastern to 29 victories and three conference titles. He had 1,049 in 1950 when he led the nation in rushing and was selected to the United Press Little All-West Coast team. Michelson, who was a counselor and teacher in Pasco, Wash., for more than 30 years, passed away recently on July 18 after a battle with lung cancer.
The other individual inductees include All-America cross country and track standout Kari McKay and former gymnastics coach and long-time supporter Thorne Tibbitts. The other two individual inductees were members of Eastern's highly-successful volleyball program in the late 90's -- player Kim Exner and her coach Pamela Parks, who has been a fixture for more than 30 years in the Eastern athletic department.
Two teams will also be inducted as Eastern celebrates the 25th anniversary of the school's 1982 NCAA Division II cross country title and the 30th anniversary of the 1977 NAIA wrestling championship.
Established in 1996, this year's inductees will bring to the total number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 40 and teams to five. More information may be found at: http://goeags.cstv.com/hallfame.
McKay was an All-American in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 NCAA Track & Field Championships and also made two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The graduate of nearby Almira (Wash.) High School went on to a successful road-racing running career, including a string of six-straight years as the top area female finisher at the annual Lilac Bloomsday race.
Tibbitts has been recognized as one of 34 "pioneers" of the sport of gymnastics in the State of Washington. He coached Eastern to a second-place finish at the 1965 NAIA Championships, and helped lay the groundwork for the school's future success in that sport. He has been a fixture in Cheney ever since, and has been a huge supporter and contributor to the athletic department.
Exner led Eastern to 46 victories in her last two seasons (1997 and 1998), including a NCAA Tournament berth and co-Big Sky Conference title. Twice she was the league's MVP and earned All-Region VIII honors as she finished her career with school and Big Sky records for kills (1,860). Formerly from Vernon, B.C., she is married to former Eastern and current Washington State assistant football coach Timm Rosenbach.
Parks began her legacy at Eastern as a volleyball player, then won 291 matches in 18 seasons as the school's head coach. In her tenure, Eastern had six 20 victory seasons, won two Big Sky Conference regular season titles, one BSC tournament title and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments. She remains on staff as an associate athletic director.
Timing Rule Changes Rescinded: Two timing rules put into effect in 2006 were rescinded for the 2007 season. The changes were originally designed to speed up play, but as a result provided for less plays in the game as the game clock in 2006 was started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock started on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It also started when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play. In 2006, there were an average of 126.9 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). In 2005, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
Terms I-A and I-AA Eliminated: The terms I-A and I-AA are no longer being used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A are now referred to as the "NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision" or "FBS" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision" or "FCS." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels and were approved by the NCAA Board of Directors.
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."
Big Stat Totals in Spring: Eastern's starting and backup offensive units were impressive in four spring scrimmages (including the Red-White Game), with 1,598 total yards and an average of 7.2 yards per play. Offensive units rushed for 586 yards (5.2 per play) and completed 65 percent of their passes (72-of-111) for 1,012 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Nichols, who started as a redshirt freshman a year ago, completed 38-of-58 passes (66 percent) for 591 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Junior backup Alex Smart completed 68 percent of his passes (28-of-41) for 335 yards, three scores and no picks. Smart had an impressive passing efficiency rating of 161.1, compared to 181.8 for Nichols. Third-string quarterback Jason Harris completed 6-of-12 passes for 86 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis was the team's big playmaker, catching 13 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing eight times for 134 yards and two more scores. Sophomore Jeffrey Solomon had 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 60 yards and a score.
The team's leading receiver was senior Shane Eller with 17 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Aaron Boyce added nine catches for 141 yards. Sophomore Nicholas Ramos added eight grabs for 100 yards and two scores.
Leading the running game was sophomore Jesse Hoffman with 124 yards on 25 carries (5.0 per carry) and one touchdown. Senior Toke Kefu had 27 rushes for 140 yards (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown. A.J. Jimerson played in two scrimmages, and had 75 yards on 16 carries (4.7 per carry) with a touchdown.
Defensively, sophomore safety Kevin Hatch had 17 tackles and a four passes broken up, and sophomore cornerback Lonnie Hosley had 14 stops with a pass broken up. Linebackers Shane Cooley and Jared Kuhl had 14 and 16 tackles, respectively. Cooley is a freshman and Kuhl is a senior.
Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: Center Chris Carlsen from Poulsbo, Wash., was a double winner as EWU handed out awards at the conclusion of spring practice. The 2003 graduate of North Kitsap High School received one of four strength and conditioning awards handed out and was one of two recipients of "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement.
The "Iron Eagle" for defensive players was given to senior defensive back Ira Jarmon, a 2003 graduate of Clover Park HS in Lakewood, Wash. Others winning strength and conditioning awards were senior defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03), junior defensive end Greg Peach from Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05), and sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis from Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS '05).
Sturdy Takes Over as Offensive Coordinator: St. Ambrose University head football coach Todd Sturdy decided to leave his post to take the offensive coordinator position at Eastern, it was announced on March 13, 2007.
Sturdy was 85-40 in 12 seasons as head coach for SAU, which is located in Davenport, Iowa. Sturdy, 39, was selected as NAIA Region 2 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association after coaching the Fighting Bees to a perfect 10-0 regular season finish. The team's season came to an end with a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Morningside in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
Wulff has known Sturdy for seven years, dating back to when Timm Rosenbach joined the EWU coaching staff after a stint at St. Ambrose. Rosenbach is now the quarterbacks coach at Washington State University. Jody Sears also worked for Sturdy at St. Ambrose.
"He has a proven track record as an assistant and has accomplished even more as a head coach," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "I first met him seven years ago and it's a great fit. He's going to bring great leadership, passion and work ethic to our program. He's an excellent worker"
Besides serving as offensive coordinator, Wulff said Sturdy will also coach quarterbacks, assist with special teams and serve as the team's academic liaison. He replaced Beau Baldwin, who left Eastern to become head coach at Central Washington University.
Ackerman Joins EWU Coaching Staff: A former starter in the National Football League and one of the greatest offensive linemen in school history, Tom Ackerman took over as offensive line coach when preseason practices for the 2007 season began in mid-August.
Formerly from Nooksack, Wash., Ackerman played eight seasons in the NFL, including the first six with the New Orleans Saints and the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Ackerman was the 145th pick overall in the 1996 NFL Draft and was the first offensive lineman in Washington and the Big Sky Conference to be taken. He was a third team All-American at EWU following his senior season in 1995.
"Tom will give us a great presence," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who came to Eastern in 1993. "I coached Tom when I first arrived here and spent three seasons with him. We see the exact same things and work well together. It will be great for our players."
He played in 105 career games in the NFL, including 21 as a starter. While in the NFL, he started and ran the Ack for Kids Foundation for five years, with proceeds benefiting children in his hometown and Whatcom County. Following his playing career, he returned to the Spokane area and has spent time in private business and as a football coach and strength coach. In 2007, he coached the offensive line for the Spokane Shock in arenafootball2.
Ackerman is a 1991 graduate of Nooksack Valley High School where he earned All-State honors in football as a linebacker and tight end. He started 32 games at Eastern, playing as a guard, tackle, center and long snapper. He earned third team All-America accolades and first team All-Big Sky honors as a senior, and was a second team All-BSC pick as a junior. The Eagles won 21 games in his four seasons, including the Big Sky Conference regular season title in 1992.
Ackerman was born Sept. 6, 1972, in Nooksack, and will turn 35 during Eastern's bye week in the 2007 schedule. He has three daughters - Riley (9), Lexi (8) and Avery (6). His brother T.J., who was an offensive lineman at Eastern and played briefly in the Canadian Football League, is now living in Ferndale, Wash. T.J. is selling real estate along with their father Jim, who is the current mayor of Nooksack.
Eagles to Play Colorado in 2008: Eastern has agreed to play the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2008 football season as Eastern will play its first-ever game against a Big 12 Conference foe. The game versus the member of the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2008, in Boulder, Colo.
The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006. Colorado finished 2-10 a year ago under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins and has no FCS opponents on its 2007 schedule.
Colorado is one of three non-league games for the Eagles in 2008. Eastern is also scheduled to play at UC Davis on Sept. 13 and a lower-division home game against an opponent to be determined.
Eastern's eight Big Sky Conference games in 2008 begin Sept. 27 with a home game against Idaho State and conclude Nov. 22 at Weber State. Other league home games include Montana (Oct. 11), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15).
Eastern Football Shirts Get National TV Exposure: A simple trade made in summer 2006 in Finland turned out to be a pretty good swap for Eastern Washington University and the Eagle football team.
A pro football teammate of former Eagle Jake Young wore three different EWU football shirts in July 2007 on the hit CBS television reality show "Big Brother 8." Young, who now lives in Nampa, Idaho, after last playing for EWU's Big Sky Conference championship teams in 2004 and 2005, was simply shocked when he saw his former practice shirt on TV in early July.
"That sucker has my shirt on!," he yelled at his TV.
Nicholas Starcevic -- or Nick as he's know on the show -- is the contestant spreading Eastern to a world-wide audience. He appeared on the show for a month before finally being kicked out by his fellow housemates.
"Isn't that great?," Young said of the exposure EWU and the football team has received. "I knew he was going to be on TV, but I didn't know what show he was going to be on. Now I know where my clothes went -- he has three of my shirts."
Eastern's athletic logo on a helmet and "Eastern Washington" is prominent on one of the shirts, and Big Sky Conference Champions is on the back of another. The back of the third shirt includes the face of Young's former EWU teammate, quarterback Erik Meyer. That shirt commemorates the record-breaking season Meyer had in 2005 when he won the Walter Payton Award.
"We kept getting calls and e-mails from people saying they saw the shirt and wondered what former player of ours is on the show," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I wish it was a former player because I would have been sending him more shirts and gear than he knew what to do with."
But just how did Starcevic end up with the shirts? At first, many people thought Nick played football at Eastern, but that was quickly dispelled when it was revealed that he was from Kimball, Minn., and played at Minnesota-Crookston. Listed by the show as a former professional football player, Nick's only professional experience came in the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) while playing for the Seinajoki Crocodiles in Finland.
His teammate in 2006 just happened to be Young, and they were two of the three Americans allowed to play on each team in that league. During their successful 11-2 season during the spring and summer months, Young and Starcevic became close friends. Before they departed back to their lives in the United States, they made a couple of trades.
"I have some of his gear and he has some of mine," Young said. "He's one of my best buddies. We had a good time together in Europe."
Young last talked to him this spring, but Starcevic couldn't say much. "But he told me something big was going to happen. He couldn't tell me anything because he said he had to take a lie detector test."
"I had the FBI or an agency like that contact me," Young said of what happened next. "I thought he was in trouble. It was a heckuva background check. Next thing I know, I see him on TV. I said, `oh my gosh!'"
Starcevic was a defensive back and linebacker for the Crocodiles, who finished second in the Maple League and fourth overall in the Euro League in 2006. Young played linebacker, quarterback and wide receiver -- "a little bit of everything," he said.
The third American on the squad was Maurice Drayton from The Citadel. Nick has been wearing a Citadel shirt on the show as well.
Young, who helped Kamiah (Idaho) High School win a State title as a senior in 2000, was impressed by the level of football played in Finland. But to see Nick listed as a pro football player in the show's biographical information elicited a chuckle out of Young.
"I laugh every time I see that," said Young. "But it was definitely pro football -- we got paid for it -- but it was really more like semi-pro football. It was probably comparable to (NCAA) Division II Football."
A backup throughout his career, Young played 23 games at Eastern and finished with 51 tackles, a sack and an interception he returned 46 yards. Eastern won Big Sky titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in both 2004 and 2005, but playing in Finland with Starcevic was yet another football experience Young will never forget.
He remembers a trip to Russia for a game in which he was selected the team's MVP in the victory. On that same trip, despite warnings to not drink the water, Starcevic didn't follow the directive and spent several days -- including during the game -- throwing up with the stomach flu.
"We had some wild times, definitely," Young said. "He was very goofy and one of the funniest people I've ever talked to. But he is also very smart and very athletic. He fits right in (on TV)."
Eastern's current TV exposure is similar to the exposure the school luckily received back in 1992. The Eagles were on a charter flight to play at Northern Iowa in the playoffs, and that same plane was scheduled to later pick-up president-elect Bill Clinton. That gave athletics marketing director Lee Yerty an idea.
Yerty, a former football teammate of Wulff's at Washington State University, gave a flight attendant an EWU hat and asked her to give it to Clinton. She did, and Clinton wore the hat soon after that during an appearance on a beach. Video and still photographs were shown nationwide, including a prominent photo in USA Today of Clinton wearing the hat.
Now, 15 years later, Eastern enjoyed good fortune again.
Young was a walk-on at Eastern, earned a partial scholarship for his junior season and was on full scholarship as a senior. Now, thanks to a trade in Finland, he has more than re-paid his debt to EWU.
"We owed Jake then, and we owe him now," said Wulff. "I guess Jake is a marketing genius for trading those shirts. It was fun to watch and see if Nick would wear our shirts on the show."
101st Win Was Long Time Coming: It took a long time for Eastern to record its 101st win at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. Eastern concluded the season with a 40-6 win over Idaho State after EWU lost its first four home games of the season at home. Eastern has never been winless at the current site of Woodward Field as the Eagles entered the 2007 season with a 101-51 record there dating back to 1967. A 24-7 win over UC-Davis on Nov. 19, 2005, at the fog-shrouded stadium was Eastern's 100th victory at Woodward. The last time Eastern went winless at home came in 1962 when it finished 0-4 in Cheney and 0-1 at Spokane's Albi Stadium. The Eagles finished 0-8-1 that season.
Eagles in NCAA Statistics in 2006: Eastern finished the 2006 season ranked 77th out of 116 NCAA Championship Subdivision teams in total offense (310.3 yards per game). Eastern, which finished the previous two seasons ranked fourth nationally in offense, was 112th after three games in 2006 and its highest ranking of the year was 70th after seven games. Eastern also finished 86th in rushing (108.4), 34th in passing (201.9) and 77th in scoring (19.5).
Defensively, Eastern was 92nd in total defense (370.6) while ranking 99th in rushing defense (185.8), 87th in passing efficiency defense (134.9) and 91st in scoring defense (26.9). Eastern was 21st nationally with 14 interceptions. The Eagles were also ranked 28th nationally in net punting (34.0).
Kicker Brett Bergstrom, who was 15-of-18 kicking field goals, finished sixth in field goals (1.36 per game). Punter Ryan Donckers was 12th in punting with a 42.37 average. Quarterback Matt Nichols was 63rd in total offense with an average of 169.5 yards per game. Tony Davis finished 63rd in receiving (4.36 per game) and Greg Peach was 52nd in sacks (0.5 per game).
Eagle Tidbits From 2006: Eastern's streak of winning seasons came to an end at seven. The streak started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern also started the 2006 season 0-3. In 1995, a young Eagle team finished 3-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big Sky. Two years later, in 1997, the Eagles finished 12-2, won the Big Sky with a 7-1 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs . . . Eastern set the school's single season attendance record in 2006 as Eastern averaged 7,116 in five home games (35,580 total). It broke the previous record average of 7,090 in 2005 (35,451 total in five home games). The largest crowd in Woodward Field history -- 11,583 -- attended the Eastern-Montana game on Oct. 7. The previous most came two years prior against the Grizzlies when 10,754 attended the game . . . Since coming off his redshirt year versus Montana State, Toke Kefu rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He had 98 yards against Sacramento State and 93 versus Montana State, giving him four performances in his 31-game career of between 89 and 98 yards.
EWU Play in Front of Largest Crowd in School History: Eastern's game in 2006 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
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a Football Championship Subdivision team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games FBS 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
2007 - at Brigham Young
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 Football Bowl Subdivision 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 the (Football Championship Subdivision). 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 Football Bowl Subdivision Opponent for Second Time: Playing the likes of nationally-ranked West Virginia was virtually uncharted territory for the Eagles. Eastern is 7-13 all-time versus NCAA Football Bowl Division schools, and the only other time the Eagles played a ranked FBS 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 in 2005 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 the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision 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 FCS 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 Looking for 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 12 seasons from 1995-2006, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. 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 first 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)
*** Eastern has been picked to finish fifth in the league by both the media and coaches. Although Montana has won or shared every Big Sky title since 1998, Wulff expects another challenging season in which any team can compete for the league title. Last year Eastern lost three of its league games by a combined total of 14 points. "That's an indication of how this league has evolved," said Wulff. "There used to be the obvious two or three teams that could line-up, play pretty good and win. This league is not like that now. You have to play pretty darn well each week just to have a chance to win."
*** Eastern returns a pair of the best offensive linemen in the league in guard Matt Alfred (6-3, 300) and tackle Rocky Hanni (6-5, 290). Hanni was a first team All-Big Sky and All-America selection in 2004, and Alfred followed suit in 2005. Both earned second team All-BSC honors in 2006 and have started 33 games each. Hanni was the Big Sky's Newcomer of the Year as a freshman in 2004, the only time in the history of the league (the award has existed for 29 years) that the honor has gone to an offensive lineman. Both have earned pre-season All-America honors in 2007. Alfred, who missed much of EWU's preseason practices with a knee injury, was honored by College Sporting News and was a second team pick by The Sports Network. Hanni was honored as a third team pick by TSN and Alfred was the lone Eagle selected to the All-Big Sky Conference preseason squad as selected by the league.
*** As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexis Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team's Offensive Player of the Year. Now, he's also seeing action at running back in the 2007 season, and had 122 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis on Sept. 15. He started six games in 2006 at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000. He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League. Alexander graduated from Medical Lake HS in 2001.
*** Three of Eastern's returning players earned second team All-Big Sky honors a year ago -- offensive linemen Matt Alfred and Rocky Hanni and fullback Alexis Alexander. Players returning that earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors a year ago include offensive tackle Zach Wasielewski, defensive end Greg Peach, wide receiver Tony Davis and special teams standout Nicholas Ramos. Safeties Gregor Smith and Bryan Jarrett earned All-Big Sky honors previously but missed much of the 2006 season with injuries.
*** Eastern's defense was spectacular at times in 2006, but certainly wasn't consistent. Eastern allowed 33, 34 and 44 points in three of its five league losses, but allowed just 16 points total - 0, 6 and 10 - in its three victories. Eastern followed its first shutout in 215 games (34-0 over Northern Colorado) by falling victim to its first shutout in 205 games (34-0 to Portland State) in the very next outing for the Eagles.
*** Success starts up front, and plenty of experience returns on the offensive line. In fact, seven players have a combined 129 starts between them. Matt Alfred (38) and Rocky Hanni (38) have started since they were freshmen, Zach Wasielewski (27) has started three seasons and centers Chris Carlsen (14) and Charlie Wulff (12) have started more than a full season each.
*** Quarterback Matt Nichols returns after starting Eastern's last 10 games as a redshirt freshman. He completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,749 yards, but had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. Eastern averaged just 108 yards per game rushing in 2006, and hopes to improve those numbers considerably this season. A trio of experienced running backs return, led by injury-plagued junior Dale Morris, senior Toke Kefu and fullback-turned-running back Alexis Alexander.
*** Senior guard Matt Alfred's younger brother Kenny Alfred currently plays as a lineman at Washington State. Matt graduated from Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School in 2003 and Kenny graduated from Gig Harbor in 2005. Matt's fellow starting lineman Brice Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor. The Alfred brothers' father, David, played at Western Washington. David and his wife Claudia attended 19 of 23 of the games their sons played in the 2006 season, however, sometimes they had to separate so at least one of them could attend games on the same weekend. Matt entered the 2007 season with a string of 33-straight starts for the Eagles. In 2006 he earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was named to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the third time. In 2005 he earned first team All-America honors from The Sports Network and second team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He was also a first team selection on the Football Gazette All-West Region squad and earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. As a freshman in 2004, he was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection as an offensive guard.
*** Junior college transfer Felipe Macias won the starting kicking job over freshmen redshirts Craig Danielson and Matt Pierce. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton will handle punting duties. They replace two of the best kickers in school history -- Brett Bergstrom and Ryan Donckers. Bergstrom kicked a school-record 15 field goals in 2007, including three of 50 yards or longer, to become the only Eagle in 2006 to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Donckers averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history, and his career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
*** Four Eastern seniors -- offensive guard Matt Alfred, center Chris Carlsen, running back Toke Kefu and tight end Tom McAndrews -- could earn their fourth-straight Big Sky All-Academic selection at the conclusion of the 2007 season. All four have been honored three times previously.
*** The injury woes of safety Gregor Smith and running back Dale Morris have seemingly gone in different directions. Smith will miss the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. A second team All-Big Sky special teams selection as a freshman in 2004, Eastern is 15-10 in the 25 games he has played. In the 11 games he has missed, Eastern is 4-7. Morris, the brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he appears to be at full strength again after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals.
*** A quartet of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL. And tight end Nathan Overbay is the nephew of Major League Baseball player Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays.
*** Eastern's new coaches in 2007 include offensive line coach Tom Ackerman, a former EWU All-American who spent eight years in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy won 85 games as a head coach at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, and among his assistants there were current EWU defensive coordinator Jody Sears and former EWU offensive coordinator and current WSU quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach. In addition, former Cal Poly quarterback Chris Peterson has joined Eastern as running backs coach. Veteran Eastern coach Joe Wade has moved to wide receivers, Sears will coach defensive ends, Jeff Schmedding coaches safeties and Travis Niekamp has added special teams coordination to his coaching duties.
*** While at Puyallup (Wash.) High School, linebacker Makai Borden received recruiting interest from BYU, which is EWU's Oct. 20 opponent. His father Randy Borden played at BYU-Hawaii before shattering his wrist longboarding (surfing). A LDS family, Makai's mother also attended school at BYU-Hawaii.