Nov. 3, 2008
A winning season wasn’t the original goal at the top of its list, but that’s the quest now for the Eastern Washington University football team.
The Eagles, a disappointing 3-5 on the season and 2-3 in the Big Sky Conference, need victories in their last three games to salvage the school’s 11th winning season in the last 13 years. That stretch begins this Saturday (Nov. 8) in Greeley, Colo., when the Eagles play Northern Colorado in a game that starts at 11:05 a.m. Pacific time at Nottingham Field.
When the season began, Eastern was hoping for its fourth berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in the last five years.
"Every game you are playing for pride," said Eagle head coach Beau Baldwin. "It tests you when you are put into these situations. Expectations coming into the year were high and that makes it even tougher to go through a season where things aren’t what you expected or planned.
"These are times where you find out a lot about your players and the pride and competitiveness that they have," he continued. "This is another chance to compete and win a football game. You have 11 guaranteed football games and you want to take advantage of every one no matter how your season has gone."
The Eagles are coming off a 15-13 home setback to Sacramento State, a team that has now defeated Eastern four of the last five times they have met at Woodward Field. The Eagles have now lost three of their last four games to drop the Eagles from a top 11 ranking in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision to elimination from the Big Sky title chase and playoff contention.
"There were opportunities for us to make some more plays," admitted Baldwin regarding his team’s latest loss. "I give Sacramento State credit -- they did a lot of great things -- but it was also a game where we had our chances to win. That makes it especially disappointing."
Northern Colorado, meanwhile, is 1-4 in the Big Sky and 1-7 overall after a 1-11 finish last season and 1-10 mark in 2006. The last time Baldwin faced the Bears -- in 2006 when he was EWU’s offensive coordinator -- Eastern recorded a 34-0 shutout of the Bears in Greeley.
But those days are gone, Baldwin said.
"Probably the biggest difference from when we played there in 2006 is that their talent level is better," he explained. "That becomes a huge factor because they’ve improved their talent at every position. It’s going to be a tough challenge in all three aspects of the game for us -- offense, defense and special teams."
The lone victory for the Bears this season was a 29-9 romp over winless Idaho State on Oct. 11. Eastern defeated the same Bengals team 45-31 on Sept. 27.
Montana and Montana State are the other common opponents for EWU and UNC. Eastern lost to the Grizzlies 19-3 and defeated MSU 34-17, while UNC lost to both -- 41-20 to UM and 20-7 to MSU.
"There is no doubt about it that they are a lot better," Baldwin said. "Every team in this conference, top to bottom, is better than they were two years ago. The overall record doesn’t always mean as much as when you’ve watched video of them play. Northern Colorado played well against Weber State and Northern Arizona and they were right there in those ballgames. The Montana game got a little out-of-hand, but they had their shots early in that game. They’ve played every team very tough and have been very competitive. It’s going to be a challenge for us."
Northern Colorado’s season has been punctuated by near-misses. Until it defeated ISU, the Bears had lost by three points to Texas State (38-35), three to Northern Arizona (25-22) and three to UC Davis (34-30) in games that came down to plays in the final seconds.
"They do a lot of little things right and make a lot of different adjustments," added Baldwin. "They give you a lot of different looks, especially defensively. You have to understand your blocking assignments and know where guys are lining up. They fly around well."
Most importantly, Baldwin is hoping to end the season on a high note -- particularly as the careers wind down for 18 EWU seniors.
"Every game means something and means something to our seniors," he claimed. "Our seniors are a group of great players and great people, and I want our team to do everything in our power to make sure we’re fighting and scrapping to win. They only have three more opportunities to play college football, and they deserve every ounce of energy out of every one of us."
Baldwin is hoping for a fast finish, not only for a winning season, but for momentum heading into the off-season. In 13 seasons since 1997, only twice had EWU failed to end the regular season with a victory (1998 and 2003). Eastern has ended the regular season with a victory the last four seasons -- as well as seven of the last eight -- including a 40-6 win over Idaho State to end the 2006 campaign. Eastern finished 3-8 that year before rebounding for a 9-4 finish in 2007.
"There are plenty of opportunities to get better," Baldwin said of the last three games. "Regardless of how our year has gone, the end of the season can have a huge impact on our off-season. I really think winning our last game against Idaho State in 2006 in a game that was, quote, unquote, didn’t mean anything, had an impact for our young players."
Following this week’s game, the Eagles close the season against two of the Big Sky’s top teams -- Northern Arizona at home on Nov. 15 and at Weber State on Nov. 22. Both the Lumberjacks and Wildcats were nationally-ranked and were 4-0 in the Big Sky before then 16th-ranked Weber State’s surprisingly easy 42-14 victory at then 15th-ranked Northern Arizona on Oct. 25.
Weber State won again last week, and remains atop the Big Sky with a 6-0 record. Northern Arizona fell to Montana 45-10 last week and is 4-2, with Montana solidly in second in the standings at 4-1. In this week’s Sports Network top 25 rankings, Montana leads the way at No. 5, followed by ninth-ranked Weber State and 23rd-ranked Northern Arizona.
-- National Leader Peach Still A Sack Away from EWU Season Record -- Highlighted by a five-game tear in a month-long span that saw him record at least three sacks in four separate games, senior defensive end Greg Peach is one sack away from another school record. In addition, he has become a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the nation’s top defensive player.
Although he was held without a sack in last week’s 15-13 loss to Sacramento State, Peach leads the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision in both sacks (1.75 per game) and tackles for loss (2.13 per game). He has a total of 14 sacks for the season, with 9 1/2 being the next-best overall mark in FCS and 1.13 the next-best per game average.
After failing to get a sack in his first two games of the season, Peach had three against Western Washington (9/20/08) and Idaho State (9/27/08), then had one against Portland State (10/4/08). He registered four versus Montana (10/11/08) for the top performance in a single game in FCS this season, then had three versus Montana State (10/18/08) to break the school’s career record.
Peach now has 14 this season and a school-record 31 1/2 in his career. He broke the previous career record of 30 set by Frank Staudenraus (1982-85), who also holds the single season record with 15 in 1985.
"It was great to see," said Baldwin of Peach’s record-setting day against MSU. "Greg Peach is having a great season, he’s had a great career, and he just keeps going. Obviously, he’s a tremendous player. Teams that play against him know where he is. He’s not someone who is coming out of nowhere on them. They know where he is and they know whether they can game plan around it, but they are still unable to stop him from putting up the numbers that he is. It helps him to have the guys he has around him."
-- EWU in National Statistics -- The Eagles feature the fifth-best passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (308.5 yards per game) and are also 32nd in total offense (395.0) and 39th in scoring offense (28.9).
However, a minus 31 yards of rushing offense against Sacramento State has dropped Eastern to 105th among 118 teams in FCS in rushing with an average of just 86.5 yards per game. The performance against the Hornets included a season-high five sacks allowed -- in EWU’s first seven games of the season the Eagles had allowed just nine.
The rushing total was Eastern’s lowest in at least the last 245 games and fewest in 164 Big Sky Conference games since EWU joined the league in 1987. The fewest previously in a Big Sky game were 14 in 1994 versus Portland State. Twice in that span EWU has been held to negative rushing yards, but both times it occurred against a Pacific 10 Conference foe (minus 14 versus Oregon State in 2006 and minus 13 versus Arizona State in 2002).
Defensively, Eastern remains last among 118 teams in FCS in passing defense (345.6), and is 110th in total defense (442.9) and 86th in scoring defense (30.0). Oddly enough, Eastern is an impressive 19th in rushing defense (97.3), ninth in sacks (3.0 per game) and second nationally in tackles for loss (8.9 per game). However, the most important statistic might be turnover margin, and Eastern is 93rd in FCS with a negative 0.5 turnovers per game. In Eastern’s three wins the Eagles are a plus five in turnover margin (three giveaways and eight takeaways), but in their losses EWU is a negative nine in turnover margin (15 giveaways and six takeaways).
Peach, a senior defensive end on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, has had all 14 of his sacks in a five-game stretch from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18. He had four in the Montana game on Oct. 11 and three against Western Washington, Idaho State and Montana State. Although he had none last week versus Sacramento State, he has maintained his FCS lead in that category (1.75 per game). He also leads in tackles for loss (2.13 per game).
A junior on the Walter Payton Award watch list, Nichols has already had five 300-yard passing performances, and is fifth in FCS in passing offense (307.8). He is also fifth nationally in total offense (305.3) and 50th in passing efficiency (128.1).
Junior receiver Aaron Boyce, with 22 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games earlier this season against PSU and Idaho State, is 17th in FCS in receptions per game (6.3). He is also 39th nationally in reception yards per game (75.8).
Junior Brynsen Brown, with career bests of 11 catches for 147 yards against Sacramento State, is now 33rd in receptions per game (5.8) and 26th in receiving yards (84.8). Although he missed the Portland State game on Oct. 4 with a sprained ankle, junior receiver Tony Davis has already caught 40 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. Davis is 62nd nationally in receptions per game (5.7) and 62nd in receiving yards (64.9).
In addition, kicker Felipe Macias has field goals of 55 and 52 yards to his credit -- the only player to have made a 50-yarder in the first two weeks of the season. Entering this week’s action, he still has the two of the three longest field goals in FCS and is one of only two players with two of 50-plus yards.
Punter Fritz Brayton has also been impressive on special teams, averaging 42.2 yards per kick to rank 12th in FCS. And Davis has averaged 9.77 yards per punt return to rank 33rd in FCS.
Defensively, twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of redshirt freshmen, have combined for 122 tackles thus far to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach is fifth in the Big Sky (8.3 per game) and 72nd nationally, and Matt is 11th in the league (7.0). Zach also has six passes broken up and ranks 40th nationally and third in the league in tackles for loss (1.3 per game). Matt has three interceptions to rank 52nd in FCS and fifth in the league (0.43 per game).
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt missed one game with an ankle injury, but is eighth in the Big Sky in tackles per game (7.6). Ryan Kelley also has had three interceptions -- all in back-to-back games against Montana State and Sacramento State -- and is 21st in the league in tackles (6.1). Defensive end Jason Belford has four total sacks this season to rank 67th in FCS and ninth in the league (0.5 per game).
-- Northern Colorado in National Statistics -- The top team rankings for the Bears are 45th in rushing defense (136.4) and 36th in kickoff returns (21.4). Northern Colorado is 72nd in FCS in total offense (334.9) and 90th in total defense (394.3). Individually, Cristian Sarmento is third nationally and first in the league in tackles (13.3 per game), and is also 11th in sacks (.88 per game). Bryan Waggener is 48th in total offense (210.5) and 87th in passing efficiency (109.7). Quincy Wofford is 11th in kickoff returns (27.2 per return).
-- EWU Outscores Opponents 49-0 in Fourth Quarter in Wins; Outscored 60-24 in Losses -- If Eastern wins, expect it to include a huge fourth-quarter surge. At least that’s been the trend so far this season as the Eagles have out-scored opponents 49-0 in the fourth quarter in their three wins this season over Western Washington, Idaho State and Montana State. However, in losses to Texas Tech, Colorado, Portland State, Montana and Sacramento State, EWU has been out-scored 60-24 in the final stanza.
"I’ve been pleased with how we’ve finished games in the fourth quarter in our wins, including against Montana State," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "We’ve done a great job at times of taking over the fourth quarter."
-- Defense Much-Improved in Last Two Games -- Eastern’s defense gave up 623 passing yards and 597 total yards four games ago in a 47-36 loss at Portland State on Oct. 4. But in the three games since, the Eagles have surrendered just 51 points (17.0 per game), 658 passing yards (219.3) and 1,045 total yards (348.3).
-- Five Eagles Nominated for Academic All-America Honors -- Five Eastern players have been nominated for NCAA Division I Academic All-America honors as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) and sponsored by ESPN The Magazine. The qualifying standards include a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and being a significant contributor to the team. Only one Eastern player per position was nominated among those who met the criteria. Below is the list, with the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII squad scheduled to be announced on Nov. 6.
Linebacker - Marcus Walker - Sr. Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’04) - Interdisciplinary Studies
Wide Receiver - Tony Davis - Jr. - Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS ’05) - Interdisciplinary Studies
Tight End - Matt Martin - So. - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS ’06) - Communications Studies
Offensive Line - Chris Thomas - Jr. Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS ’05) - Biology/Pre-Medicine
Defensive Line - Jacob Kragt - Jr. - 2L* - Ritzville, Wash. (Lind-Ritzville HS ’05) - Biology
-- Nichols Has Five 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has had five 300-yard passing games this season, giving him a total of 11 in his 32-game career thus far. His latest was a 363-yard effort versus Sacramento State (11/1/08). He had 418 yards against Portland State (10/4/08) to rank as the third-best in his career and 10th-best in school history. A week earlier, he had 382 and five touchdowns against Idaho State (9/27/08) as he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. Currently on the 2008 Walter Payton Award Watch List, his completions (36) and attempts (61) against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 both rank as the second-most in school history.
On EWU’s career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including second in total offense (8,442) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus Portland State. Nichols is now also second in passing yards (7,955), surpassing Tenneson’s mark of 7,492 versus Montana State. The record holder for both passing yards and total offense is 2005 Payton Award winner Erik Meyer (2002-05) with 10,261 passing yards and 10,942 yards of total offense. Meyer is the player Nichols replaced in 2006 as Eastern’s starting quarterback.
Nichols is also sixth in efficiency rating (135.3), second in touchdown passes (57, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), second in completions (637), third in attempts (1,049) and third in interceptions (37).
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
418 - 34x55, 2td - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#10 in school history)
382 - 26x40, 5td - Idaho State - 9/27/08 (#18 in school history)
363 - 29x43, 1td - Sacramento State - 11/1/08 (#27 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#27 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#41 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
303 - 32x51, 1td - Colorado - 9/6/08
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
435 - 418 passing, 17 rushing - Portland State - 10/4/08
376 - 382 passing, -6 rushing - Idaho State - 9/27/08
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
320 - 363 passing, -43 rushing - Sacramento State - 11/1/08
314 - 303 passing, 11 rushing - Colorado - 9/6/08
-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern’s receiving corp in 2008 includes three juniors – Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce – who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 426 catches for 5,838 yards and 38 touchdowns in 91 games worth of experience (76 starts). This season they have combined for 136 passes already for 1,738 yards and 12 touchdowns. They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007.
Boyce has already moved onto EWU’s career lists, ranking second in catches (170), seventh in touchdown catches (19) and fifth in receiving yards (2,385). The only player ahead of him on the career catches list is Eric Kimble (253 from 2002-05). Interestingly, all of Boyce’s touchdown catches have come from Matt Nichols. Of the 38 touchdowns total Boyce, Brown and Davis have caught, all but two of them have come from Nichols (Brown and Davis each caught a TD pass from Chris Peerboom in 2006).
That trio is a reminder 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). But after their first two seasons as Eagles, that quartet had just 121 catches, for 1,774 yards and 17 touchdowns -- less than half of the production that Davis, Brown and Boyce had in their first two years.
In 2005, Meyer and his teammates 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.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (*17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
181 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#14 in school history)
135 (9 catches, 3 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
*School record. #Second in school history.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Tony Davis
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Idaho State - 9/22/07
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
126 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Western Washington - 9/20/08
114 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Central Washington - 9/16/06
#Second in school history behind Aaron Boyce.
100-Yard Receiving Games Brynsen Brown
147 (%11 catches, 1 TD) - Sacramento State - 11/1/07
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
104 (4 catches, 1 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Weber State - 11/17/07
%Ninth in school history.
-- Boyce and Davis Have Second-Best Receiving Performances in School History -- Junior Tony Davis, who missed four games last season with a shoulder injury, led the Eagles with 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in Eastern’s 49-24 loss to Texas Tech on Aug. 30. His catch total equaled the second most in school history, ranking only behind the 17 teammate Aaron Boyce had in 2007 against Montana. Davis, a 2005 graduate of Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., had 126 yards and a touchdown on six catches versus Western Washington on Sept. 20. Davis now has five 100-yard receiving performances in his Eastern career.
Junior Aaron Boyce, meanwhile, duplicated the 13-catch feat against Portland State on Oct. 13. He finished with 181 receiving yards to rank as the 14th-most in school history. The 2007 All-American caught just 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in his first three games of the 2008 season, but in his next two he caught 22 for 316 yards and four scores.
Not to be outdone, Brynsen Brown had his own double-digit receiving performance on Nov. 1 against Sacramento State. He had 11 catches to rank ninth in school history and his 147 yards receiving were a career high.
-- Five Players Make Starting Debuts -- Five players, including three on defense and two on offense, made their starting debuts at Texas Tech on Aug. 30.
The defensive debuts were made by weak-side outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt, strong-side inside linebacker Zach Johnson and strong safety Matt Johnson. Sherritt is a sophomore from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06) and the Johnson twins are redshirt freshmen from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07). The Johnson twins were playing in their first collegiate football game.
On offense, both new starters were offensive guards. Ryan Forney, a junior from Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap ’05) started at left guard and Bryan Smith, a senior from Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) started on the right.
Since then, only seven new starting debuts have been made. Sean Rock started at center versus Idaho State and defensive nose tackle Renard Williams and linebacker Kyle Wilkins both made their starting debuts against Western Washington. Against Portland State on Oct. 4, Will Edge started as a nickel back as the Eagles faced the No. 1 passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Freshman redshirt Taiwan Jones made the first start of his career against Montana on Oct. 11 after missing EWU’s first four games of the season with a broken fibula suffered in preseason practices. Against Montana State on Oct. 18, Ashton Gant made his starting debut when EWU started the game with four wide receivers. Gabriel Jackson started as an injury replacement at offensive tackle against Sacramento State on Nov. 1.
-- Starting Experience Leads to Wins -- Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field. In the last six years, EWU’s top three win-loss records (collective 25-13) were recorded by teams that returned at least 245 starts. The worst three records (collective 15-18) were by teams with 225 returning starts or fewer.
The Eagles entered the 2008 season with 26 players returning with starting experience totaling 272 starts. Broken down, Eastern returns 136 starts on both defense and offense (13 players each) for a total of 272 starts returning.
By contrast, Eastern entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. The Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern’s 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2008 - 26 - 272 - 5 - ?
2007 - 31 - 245 - 6 - 9-4 (total of 11 new starters used during the year)
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2008 roster -- Defense (224 starts by 20 players) -- Greg Peach 37, Jason Belford 33, Lance Witherspoon 26, Kevin Hatch 21, Makai Borden 18, Ryan Kelley 13, Lonnie Hosley 13, Shawn Powell 12, Matt Johnson 8, Zach Johnson 8, J.C. Sherritt 7, Tyler Jolley 6, Marcus Walker 6, Josh Jacobson 5, Renard Williams 3, Taiwan Jones 3, Kyle Wilkins 2, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Will Edge 1.
Offense (224 starts by 18 players) -- Matt Nichols 31, Aaron Boyce 30, Brynsen Brown 28, Charlie Wulff 27, Dale Morris 19, Tony Davis 18, Chris Thomas 15, Alexis Alexander 10, Nathan Overbay 9, Brice Leahy 8, Bryan Smith 8, Ryan Forney 8, Toke Kefu 5, A.J. Jimerson 3, Matt Martin 2, Ashton Gant 1, Sean Rock 1, Gabriel Jackson 1.
-- Injury Woes at Middle Linebacker -- -- At middle linebacker, Makai Borden returned to the starting lineup against Sacramento State after missing his previous three starts with an ankle injury. That came a year after fighting toe and foot injuries. In his last two seasons at EWU, the Eagles are 11-4 when he is in the starting lineup and 1-5 when he is not. A 34-17 win over Montana State on Oct. 18 is the first time the Eagles have won when he hasn’t started, and a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State on Nov. 1 is the first time EWU has lost when he’s been in the starting lineup.
"That’s a compliment to what Makai brings to our team," said Baldwin. "He’s a great player, but he also brings a lot of emotion to the defense."
Making the injury to Borden that much more difficult was a shoulder injury to backup Marcus Walker that limited him to one series in those same three weeks that Borden was out. As a result, Eastern moved linebackers from other positions -- namely freshman Zach Johnson and junior Kyle Wilkins -- to fill that role in the middle. Wilkins, at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, held his own with seven tackles versus Montana on Oct. 11 and four at Montana State a week later.
"Kyle Wilkins did a great job against Montana despite playing very little middle linebacker," praised Baldwin. "Without Makai and Marcus in there, I was proud of the way Kyle came in and battled at a position where he has had very few reps."
-- Injury Report -- An open date on the schedule on Oct. 25 helped return the Eagles to full strength for the stretch run. Only starters Lonnie Hosley (foot) and Bryce Leahy (ankle) missed the Sacramento State game on Nov. 1 because of injuries suffered previously. This week, Hosley is listed as questionable and Leahy is probable.
The bye week, in particular, helped linebackers Marcus Walker and Makai Borden. Walker suffered a shoulder injury against Idaho State on Sept. 27 and did not play against Portland State and Montana State, and played just one series versus Montana on Oct. 11. Borden suffered an ankle injury before the PSU game and missed three games.
Besides Walker and Borden, running back Dale Morris (knee) didn’t play versus Montana State but returned against Sac State.
Two others were also injured in practice the week of the PSU game and didn’t play against the Vikings, including starting wide receiver Tony Davis (ankle) and backup receiver Ashton Gant (hamstring). Davis returned to play versus Montana, but Gant also missed the Montana game.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Taiwan Jones, who broke his fibula the first week of pre-season practices, made his Eagle debut against Portland State and his starting debut versus Montana. He had even more playing time versus PSU than what was expected when cornerback Lonnie Hosley left the game with a foot injury. Hosley missed the Montana, Montana State and Sacramento State games.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Hart is out for the season with a broken scapula suffered against Idaho State on Sept. 27. Hart has played as a backup running back as well as returning punts and kickoffs.
Eastern came out of its first three games fairly healthy. The only player to leave the Texas Tech game with an injury was Alexis Alexander, who sat out the Colorado game and returned to play against Western. Linebacker J.C. Sherrit left the Colorado game with a sprained ankle suffered on his 48-yard interception return for a touchdown. He missed the Western game but returned to play against Idaho State.
Senior starting nose tackle Shawn Powell suffered a knee injury before practices even began and is out for the season.
Interestingly, injuries to Alexander and Sherritt both occurred on touchdowns. Last year, Tony Davis injured his shoulder on a touchdown reception versus Portland State and missed four games.
Beau Baldwin QUOTES
-- On Montana State Win -- "I knew that going into it that it might be a little bit of a slugfest so to speak. A couple of people asked me what were going to be important aspects of winning that ballgame, and I thought turnover margin and special teams. Both of those things really proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of that game. Obviously, we would have liked to perform a little better offensively in that first half. We were just not efficient on third down -- we were just short by a yard on a few of them. The good thing is that our defense was able to play great on the road and our special teams were solid all day. Once we got rolling on offense, it wasn’t a game that was already out of hand or you are having to come from behind. Our whole team was staying with it, staying with it."
-- On Losing Turnover Battle 5-1 Versus PSU -- "The turnovers were huge and that’s a big part of any game. In my opinion, there is no excuse on either side of the ball. Four of our turnovers were at very critical times offensively. On defense we have to create more turnovers, especially against a team that throws it 70-plus times. Whatever we have to do to change it we will, and that has to be our mindset. There is no question turnovers can be the difference in a season, and that’s the statistic that means the most when you look at a win-loss record. Most of the time the winner of the turnover battle is the winner of the game."
-- On Big Sky Race -- "It's one of those things where every week, in the Big Sky, there is anyone top to bottom that can beat anyone. And I really believe that, maybe this year more than ever. Some of those teams that were considered lower-level Big Sky teams in the last few years, those coaches are (in their) second year. Every one of those Big Sky teams is better than I think they probably were the year before. So, top to bottom, this conference is tough, and every week, if you have any sort of letdown, you will find yourself losing a ballgame."
-- On EWU’s Defensive Line -- "They are always going to be the meat and potatoes of our defense. We are going to be as good as our defensive line -- we are going to be in ballgames later on that are 17-10 or 13-7. You never know, those type of games happen too. We just have to make sure we're on the right end of those. I don't care what the final score is as long as we are on the right end."
-- On Narrow Loss to Colorado -- "It’s a sting, especially when you have to come back and watch the video. When you watch it you realize the things that might have been a little different could have helped us come out on top. But that’s part of it. We need to learn from it and move forward."
-- On Battling Back Versus Texas Tech -- "You go down 21-0 to any team -- let alone Texas Tech -- and it’s going to be hard to try to fight back from that. But our guys did. They fought back and made a few plays. We kept believing and that was the key thing. I’m not into moral victories, but I was very proud of the way our guys left it on the field."
-- On Second Half Versus TTU -- "We had basically won the second quarter 17-7, and there was no reason why we couldn’t win the third quarter 17-7 or something along those lines. We wanted to keep building momentum -- we had it in the second quarter and I told our team to do everything they could to keep that momentum. We knew Texas Tech was too well-coached and had too many good football players not to come out angry after halftime. It was going to be a tough fight, no question. But we kept fighting in that third quarter, and because of a few plays here and there it just slipped away from us in the end."
-- Baldwin on Improvement by Nichols in 2007 -- "I wouldn’t say it totally surprised me by any stretch. That’s especially true when you understand how hard he works in the off-season and how hard he works the week before games. Once the games got going last season, he was just having fun. He put in a lot of time understanding what he had to do to be successful."
-- Baldwin on Nichols -- "You never expect a freshman that struggles a little bit to come back and be Player of the Year in the Big Sky. But if you would have asked me going into last year if he had the talent to do that, I would have said yes. And he obviously proved that."
-- Baldwin on Nichols Wanting Big Sky Title -- "I think he would trade 100 Big Sky MVP trophies for one Big Sky championship. That’s just his mindset."
-- Baldwin on Nichols to Boyce Passing Combo -- "It’s pretty special -- they’ve developed an incredible rapport and had a great year. But I’ve talked to both guys about the fact we’ll be even more successful in some ways if there are less pass completions between Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce. The more we can spread it out and involve seven, eight or nine players catching balls in the passing game, we will be that much better. Both Aaron and Matt might have better years even if their stats aren’t as good. I think we can become better as an offense because of that."
-- Baldwin on Boyce and Receiving Corp -- "I’m excited to coach Aaron again, and the rest of the receiving corp. It’s a good group and has a lot of relatively young players."
-- Baldwin on Nichols and Boyce -- "You not only are talking about talented players, but you’re talking about two mature student-athletes. They are great people and that is part of the reason for their success. They have great character off the field as well, and that will help keep those two grounded and keep them progressing."
-- Baldwin on Future of Talented Junior Class -- "Each year is different, and a lot of things happen between your sophomore year and junior year, and your junior year and senior year. You can never predict the future. But we’re very fortunate to be in this situation. We have a ton of great weapons on offense."
-- Baldwin on Defensive Line -- "There are seniors up there who have all played significant roles since as far back as 2005. They are a veteran group. No matter how young you are at linebacker and in the secondary, if you are good on the defensive line you give those back seven guys a great chance to be successful. And vice versa -- if you’re not good on the defensive line, even All-America corners can’t cover for eight seconds. It’s huge for us from a defensive standpoint to have an experienced defensive line. All the great defenses are always going to start with the guys up front."
-- Series History -- Eastern leads the all-time series 4-1, but the 2006 meeting in Greeley, Colo., was the first-ever Big Sky Conference game between the two foes. The first meeting was a 35-15 Eastern home victory in 1979, followed by games in 1981, 1984 and 2006 in Greeley. Eastern lost 13-9 in 1981 before winning 50-15 in 1984 and 34-0 in 2006. In 2007, Eastern won at Woodward Field 17-7.
In 2006 in Greeley, a near-perfect first half opened a 31-0 lead at halftime as Eagles defeated UNC 34-0 in the first-ever Big Sky Conference match-up between the two schools on Oct. 14 at Nottingham Field. It was Eastern’s first shutout in 215 games dating back to a 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin in 1987. The Bears ended drives in Eastern territory just three times, including two inside the 26. Both of those ended in interceptions with the deepest penetration to Eastern’s 17. Eastern scored four touchdowns in the first 19 minutes of the game as redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Nichols led four touchdown drives of 81, 72, 37 and 14 yards. Eastern’s 291 yards of offense in the first half was more than the 288.7 Eastern was averaging entering the game. Defensively, Eastern held Northern Colorado to 100 yards in the first half and had interceptions by Gregor Smith and David Eneberg. And to conclude the first-half explosion and give EWU a 31-0 lead at intermission, Brett Bergstrom made a 56-yard field goal that was the second-longest in school history. Eastern finished the game with 478 yards of total offense while holding the Bears to 169. Nichols, who had four interceptions in Eastern’s 33-17 loss the previous week against Montana, was 11-of-13 for 202 yards in the first half. He finished the game 16-of-21 for 259 yards. True freshman Jesse Hoffman had 124 rushing yards on 16 carries, most of those in the second half when the game was out of reach. Toke Kefu added 49 yards and a touchdown rushing. Eastern’s leading receivers were a trio of redshirt freshmen -- Aaron Boyce, Tony Davis and Brynsen Brown. They had three catches each for a combined 156 yards and a touchdown.
-- 2007 Revisited - No. 24 Eastern Washington 17, Northern Colorado 7 -- Known mostly for its productive passing game, Eastern Washington figured out how to grind out a win Nov. 3 at Woodward Field.
Thanks to an unlikely 100-yard rushing performance from A.J. Jimerson and three crucial turnovers forced by the bend-but-don’t-break Eagle defense, EWU kept alive its post-season playoff hopes with a 17-7 Big Sky Conference football victory over Northern Colorado.
Eastern allowed UNC to gain 313 yards of total offense, but aside from a first quarter score, managed to keep the Bears out of the end zone. Northern Colorado converted 8-of-18 third downs and was 2-of-2 on fourth down, but EWU forced three important turnovers.
Fumble recoveries by Nicholas Ramos and Makai Borden were big plays, as well as an interception by Ryan Kelley. Kelley, a junior college transfer, was making the first start of his EWU career at cornerback.
"To give up as many yards as we did today and still only give up seven points is quite amazing," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "My hat is off to our defense for making plays but we are going to have to get a lot better."
Eastern’s offense struggled at times and finished with just 382 yards of offense. The Eagles entered the game ranked seventh in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in total offense (456.5 per game). Eastern was also fifth in passing offense (306.9) and 24th in scoring offense (31.4).
The Bears, meanwhile, were 116th out of 116 FCS teams in total defense, allowing 516.8 yards per game. Northern Colorado was last in passing defense (303.1) and 112th in scoring defense (38.6).
Quarterback Matt Nichols completed 14-of-23 passes for a season-low 172 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Aaron Boyce was the leading receiver with five catches for 87 yards and senior Shane Eller also had five grabs for 55 yards.
"Our whole football team was flat," said Wulff. "We just didn’t play to our capability."
"Emotionally, we just didn't play with a lot of energy," he added. "At the same time, I thought Northern Colorado played hard and played as good of football that I've seen."
Jimerson, however, combined with Dale Morris to provide Eastern with a much-needed 186 yards on the ground -- EWU’s third-best performance of the season. A 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior from Seattle (Garfield HS ’04), he started the year deep on the depth chart, but earned his second-straight start at fullback. He also saw action as tailback and carried the ball just 11 times, averaging 9.1 yards per carry with a long of 24.
Morris added 65 yards on 17 carries, and had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to close the scoring. Nichols was sacked three times, but still managed to finish with a net gain of 18 yards on the ground.
The Eagles fell behind 7-0, and UNC’s Ryan Chesla was headed for a two-yard pass touchdown. But somehow, Eastern’s Borden came up with a fumble recovery that stunningly stopped the 19-play, 72-yard drive that took 8:38 off the clock.
Eastern trailed 14-3 at halftime as Felipe Macias kicked a 37-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the half. The score stayed that way until Eastern put together a nine-play, 87-yard drive in the third quarter. Eastern rushed the ball on the first six plays of the drive, which was capped by a 29-yard touchdown reception and run by Eller.
In the fourth quarter, Eastern forced back-to-back turnovers, the first an interception at the EWU 2-yard line by Kelley. That stopped a 12-play, 50-yard drive by the Bears.
Eastern punted on the ensuing possession, but the return was muffed by UNC’s Cory Fauver and Ramos pounced on the ball. Nichols hit Boyce for a 29-yard completion on the next play, and Morris’ touchdown run gave EWU a 10-point lead with 8:42 left in the game.
Northern Colorado had to punt on its next possession, then Eastern ran out the clock for the final 6:16. Early in that drive, Nichols was knocked out of the game with a slight concussion, and junior Alex Smart replaced him. Smart completed both of his passes for 24 yards and drove EWU to the Northern Colorado 27-yard line when the game ended.