Oct. 10, 2007
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.
"Matt is very comfortable with Aaron," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "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.
"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," Wulff added. "Some of the routes were designed to go to Aaron. When it was there, Matt hit him."
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.
"We felt like our passing game was going well," Nichols said of Eastern's scoring flurry. "We felt like we could move down the field whenever we wanted. Momentum was just going our way."
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).
It was Nichols' first start in Missoula, however, he was on the sideline two years ago in 2005 as a redshirting true freshman when Erik Meyer engineered a 34-20 victory over the Grizzlies in front of 23,732 Montana fans. That was preparation for the sold-out crowd of 23,226 that was on hand for this year's game.
"I calmed myself down and played like it was practice," said Nichols. "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."
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.
"With the zone coverage Montana was playing, in film study we saw that we could take advantage of that," Boyce said. "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," he added in regards to the huge amount of catches he had. "I was just running what we practiced. It just happened to be my day today."
Nichols' totals for passing yards and total offense (478) are both the top performances in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) 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.
As a result of his performance at Montana, Nichols has improved to third in the FCS in total offense. He is averaging 332.6 yards per game, and is also 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.
Boyce is third nationally in receptions (8.2) and fourth in receiving yards (118.6).