Eagles in Spoiler Role at No. 8 Weber State
Nov. 17, 2008
Win or lose, Eastern Washington University will make one playoff-bound Big Sky Conference rival happy. Another will be a little disappointed.
Eighth-ranked Weber State is Eastern’s season-ending opponent Saturday (Nov. 22) at Wildcat Stadium in Ogden, Utah, in a game pivotal to the Wildcats and Montana, and important in a different way for the Eagles. Kickoff at Elizabeth Dee Shaw Stewart Stadium is 11:05 a.m. Pacific time.
The Wildcats have already clinched at least a share of the Big Sky title and assured themselves the league’s automatic berth in the FCS Playoffs. A Weber State win over EWU would give the Wildcats the first outright championship for a league team other than Montana since the Eagles won it in 1997.
Montana, meanwhile, has won or shared the Big Sky title each of the last 10 seasons, but needs to win its final game against Montana State, and hope for an Eastern victory over WSU, to keep that streak intact. The "Brawl of the Wild" in Missoula, Mont., kicks-off at the same time as the EWU-WSU tussle.
"This becomes a huge game and Weber State is special," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "They’ve dominated most of their opponents and their only two losses are against upper-level opponents. Everything that has come Weber State’s way they’ve earned. They are going to be fighting hard too because they are fighting for seeding and an outright title."
Weber State defeated ISU 59-27 on Nov. 8 in its most recent contest, and enters its last regular season game atop the Big Sky with a 7-0 record (9-2 overall). The Eagles are 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky after scoring the final 28 points in a 28-13 victory against Northern Arizona last week in EWU’s final home game of the season.
Montana sits in second in the standings at 6-1 (10-1 overall) with Montana State in third at 5-2 (7-4 overall) and EWU fourth at 4-3 (5-5 overall). The Wildcats and Grizzlies appear to be bound for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, with seedings and home field advantage yet to be determined. In this week’s Sports Network Top 25 rankings, Montana is fifth and Weber State is eighth.
"They are going to be rooting for us," Baldwin said of Griz Nation. "I remember being on the other side of things in 2005 rooting for Montana State to beat Montana because that was the difference in us getting a piece of the title or not. But our biggest issue doesn’t have anything to do with other teams and where they are going to finish, but it has to do with how we are going to finish. We’re excited about this opportunity."
For 18 Eastern seniors, including 11 four-year letter winners, this week’s game is their final hurrah. Several of those players have been in the program since 2004 and have been a part of two Big Sky championships (2004, 2005), three playoff berths (2004, 2005, 2007) and 33 total victories.
When the season began, Eastern was hoping for its fourth berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in the last five years. But this week at Weber State, Eastern will only have the opportunity to try to salvage its 11th winning season in the last 13 years.
"It’s a huge challenge for us, but also a huge opportunity," said Baldwin. "We’ll put together a gameplan to go down there and do everything we can to beat them. We can finish with a winning record, but it’s also always great playing against great opponents."
And past history in regular season finales is certainly on EWU’s side.
In 13 seasons since 1997, only twice has 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. Included is a 40-6 win over Idaho State to end the 2006 campaign and a 38-16 victory over Weber State last year to wrap-up a playoff berth for the Eagles. Eastern finished 3-8 in 2006 before rebounding for a 9-4 finish in 2007.
"It’s always important (to have a winning season), but no matter what our record is at this point, we really want to win this last game," Baldwin said. "You always want to be playing good at the end of the year whether you are heading into the playoffs or the off-season. The fact we are 5-5 is an added bonus to make this week’s game the difference in having a winning season or not.
"It’s always been a big deal here to keep having winning records even if you aren’t in the playoffs," he continued. "There are going to be years where you don’t make it into the playoffs, and you want to do everything in your power to still put forth a great product and finish strong."
Eastern Washington’s anguish this season, which included three losses in a four-game stretch from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1, has been eased some with a convincing 31-16 victory at Northern Colorado on Nov. 8 and the victory over Northern Arizona last week. The Lumberjacks were 4-0 in the Big Sky and riding a six-game winning streak, but a 42-14 home loss to WSU started a season-ending four-game losing streak for NAU.
Eastern’s defense has been superb as of late, having held its last five opponents to 19 points or fewer. That is something that EWU has not done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984.
And Eastern has done it with a defense that is ranked 118th and last in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing defense, allowing an average of 338.9 yards per game. But Eastern has overcome that by ranking 10th in rushing defense (88.4), fifth in sacks (3.2 per game) and fifth in total tackles for loss (8.6).
This week, EWU’s defense will face a stiff test from a Weber State team ranked in the top eight in FCS in passing offense (fifth, 322.7), total offense (seventh, 451.6) and scoring offense (eighth, 36.8).
"In my opinion, they could beat anybody in the country based on their talent level and the way they play," Baldwin said. "They have a quarterback (Cameron Higgins) who is probably going to be the MVP of this conference, and deservedly so. They are a lot like our 2004 team that was pretty talented on offense, could put up a lot of points and had a quarterback who was MVP of the conference."
"That’s why you have the playoffs -- you never know," Baldwin added. "Weber State could go out there and win a lot of playoff games, but at the same time there isn’t anybody in that 16-team field who isn’t going to be able to beat anybody else."
-- All But One of EWU’s Seniors Start Versus NAU -- Of the 18 Eastern seniors concluding their careers this week at Weber State, all but one of them were able to start in EWU’s 28-13 victory over Northern Arizona on Nov. 15. Eight seniors started on offense and six on defense, in addition to three specialists.
And that wasn’t easy to do since the Eagles had four senior running backs to get into the lineup. On the initial play on offense, the Eagles started in a wishbone formation before shifting to a more conventional four receiver attack.
"They earned that and it was a fun way for them to play their last home game together," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "We did the best we could to get them all out there, especially offensively. We put some of those running backs in different spots and had fun with that during the week with our switching formations."
Adding to the drama was the fact senior Adam Macomber intercepted a NAU pass on the first possession of the game. As a result, Eastern’s offense was slow to get onto the field as they congratulated the well-liked 5-foot-6 backup cornerback who was getting his second career start as an Eagle.
"That was the first time I had to use a timeout on the first play of a game," Baldwin laughed. "But all of the players were still so jacked up when Adam Macomber had his interception that we were slow getting lined up in our spots on offense. Ultimately, they all deserved to start the game and I was glad we did it."
Of the 18 seniors, 11 of them will be four-year letter winners in the 2008 season. Of those 11, nine played and/or redshirted during EWU’s Big Sky Conference Championship season in 2004 that included a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. All 11 of the four-year letter winners played in 2005 and 2007 when EWU made repeat appearances in the playoffs, as well as winning another Big Sky title in 2005. The Eagles have won 33 games in the past five seasons -- nine in 2004, seven in 2005, three in 2006, nine in 2007 and five thus far in 2008.
A 12th four-year letter winner would have been defensive lineman Shawn Powell, but he was injured before preseason practices even started and missed the season. The 2004 graduate of Spokane’s Shadle Park High School served as one of the co-captains for the Northern Arizona game. Powell, in fact, was the only senior not to start against NAU.
Thus, the 18 seniors have a collective 222 starts heading into the Weber State game (not including specialists). In addition, the Eagles will lose their starting kicker, punter and long snapper to graduation.
"It’s not just a great group of players but it’s a great group of young men," Baldwin added. "They all have great futures ahead of them and some of them might be lucky enough to play some more football."
No. - Name - Position - Height - Weight - Letters Won - Hometown (Previous Schools) - Starts
4 - Jason Belford - DL - 6-1 - 240 - Sr. - 4L* - Tacoma, Wash. (Lincoln HS ’04) - 35
5 - Toke Kefu - RB - 5-10 - 240 - Sr. - 4L* - San Mateo, Calif. (San Mateo HS ’04) - 6
62 - Mark Lathim - LS - 6-0 - 225 - Sr. - 4L* - Connell, Wash. (Connell HS ’04)
22 - Dale Morris - RB - 5-9 - 205 - Sr. - 4L* - Chester, S.C. (Marist HS ’04) - 21
12 - Alex Smart - QB - 6-3 - 220 - Sr. - 4L* - North Bend, Wash. (Mount Si HS ’04) - 1
67 - Bryan Smith - OL - 6-3 - 280 - Sr. - 4L* - Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) - 10
8 - Marcus Walker - LB - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - 4L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’04) - 8
55 - Lance Witherspoon - DL - 6-2 - 275 - Sr. - 4L* - Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur HS ’04) - 28
61 - Charlie Wulff - OL - 6-0 - 270 - Sr. - 4L* - Woodland, Calif. (Woodland HS ’04) - 29
35 - Adam Macomber - DB - 5-6 - 170 - Sr. - 4L - Port Angeles, Wash. (Port Angeles HS ’05) - 2
94 - Greg Peach - DL - 6-3 - 255 - Sr. - 4L - Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS ’05) - 39
42 - Shawn Powell - DL - 6-1 - 250 - Sr. - 3L* - Spokane, Wash. (Shadle Park HS ’04) - 12
44 - Alexis Alexander - RB - 5-10 - 230 - Sr. - 3L* - Medical Lake, Wash. (Medical Lake HS ’01 & Washington State Univ.) - 11
10 - A.J. Jimerson - RB - 6-1 - 215 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Garfield HS ’04) - 4
3 - Ryan Kelley - DB - 5-10 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Los Angeles, Calif. (Serra HS ‘03, College of San Mateo JC & Montana State) - 15
46 - Fritz Brayton - P - 6-3 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Portland, Ore. (Westview HS ’04 & Washington State Univ.)
96 - Felipe Macias - K/P - 5-9 - 220 - Sr. - 2L - Oxnard, Calif. (Channel Island HS ’05 & Moorpark College)
23 - Shane Hoffman - WR - 6-0 - 190 - Sr. - 1L* - Seattle, Wash. (Shorecrest HS ’04 & Orange Coast CC) - 1
*Used redshirt year.
-- Witherspoon Honored By Big Sky -- Senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon was selected as the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in last Saturday’s (Nov. 15) 28-13 victory over Northern Arizona.
The 2004 graduate of Decatur High School in Federal Way, Wash., had a pair of sacks on the same NAU possession in the fourth quarter, as well as forcing and recovering the key fumble that helped give Eastern the lead for good in the third stanza.
Northern Arizona finished with a negative two yards rushing in the game. It was the fifth-straight game Eastern has held an opponent to less than 20 points -- something that EWU has not done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984.
Eastern took the lead for good at 14-13 in the third quarter after Witherspoon got into the backfield on an NAU rushing attempt and forced and recovered a fumble at the NAU 5-yard line. In the fourth quarter, with EWU clinging to a 21-13 lead, Witherspoon had sacks on back-to-back plays to force a third-and-long situation and a subsequent Lumberjack punt that EWU turned into its final points of the day.
He finished with six total tackles, including three for losses totaling 18 yards. Witherspoon, an honorable mention All-America selection in 2007, has 30 tackles this season with three sacks, 9 1/2 total tackles for loss, three passes broken up, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. In his 41-game career (28 as a starter), he has 117 total tackles with 6 1/2 sacks, 29 total tackles for loss, seven passes broken up, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
-- National Leader One Sack Away From Big Sky Season Record -- Senior defensive end Greg Peach had his sixth multiple sack game of the season last week, and is just one sack away from breaking the Big Sky Conference single season record.
Peach had two sacks in EWU’s 28-13 win over Northern Arizona to move into second on both the Big Sky’s single season and career lists. His 18 sacks this season trails only Montana’s Andy Petek for single season sacks (19 in 2000) and his 35 1/2 career sacks is behind only Idaho State’s Jared Allen (38 1/2 from 2000-03). Peach also moved into fifth on the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision single season list and fourth in career sacks.
A leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the nation’s top defensive player, Peach set the single season school record for sacks when he had a pair in EWU’s 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado on Nov. 8.
"It’s a surreal feeling," said Peach. "Those two are records every defensive lineman wants to break in their career. I was fortunate to break them both -- it’s exciting."
Peach leads the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in both sacks (1.80 per game) and tackles for loss (2.20 per game). He has a total of 18 sacks for the season, with 14 being the next-best overall mark in FCS and 1.40 the next-best per game average. He has a total of 22 tackles for loss, with the next-highest total 18.5 overall and the highest average at 2.06.
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. He broke the previous career record of 30 set by Frank Staudenraus (1982-85), who also held the single season record with 15 in 1985.
"I’m really proud of him and it’s an honor to coach Greg," said Baldwin after the Northern Colorado game. "He’s a hard worker and was a winner in high school playing for a state championship team. He’s deserved every bit of it, and everything that has come to Greg he’s earned. He deserves the records."
"It was great to see," Baldwin said following 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."
Below are his single season and career ranks for sacks in Big Sky and NCAA Football Championship Subdivision history (since the 2000 season when the NCAA began recognizing sacks, tackles and tackles for loss as official statistics):
Big Sky Conference Single Season Sacks
1. Andy Petek, Montana - 2000 - 19
3. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2008 - 18
2. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2003 - 17.5
Big Sky Conference Career Sacks
1. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2000-03 - 38.5
3. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2008 - 35.5
2. Tim Bush, Montana - 2000-03 - 34.5
FCS Single Season Sacks
1. Chris Gocong, Cal Poly - 2005 - 23.5
t2. Robert Mathis, Alabama A&M - 2002 - 20
t2. Eric Bakhtiari, San Diego - 2007 - 20
4. Andy Petek, Montana - 2000 - 19
5. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2008 - 18
t6. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2003 - 17.5
t6. Chris Gocong, Cal Poly - 2004 - 17.5
FCS Career Sacks
1. Chris Gocong, Cal Poly - 2001, 03-05 - 42
2. Robert Mathis, Alabama A&M - 2000-02 - 39
3. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2000-03 - 38.5
4. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2005-08 - 35.5
5. Tim Bush, Montana - 2000-03 - 34.5
-- EWU in National Statistics -- The Eagles feature the sixth-best passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (305.7 yards per game) and are also 29th in total offense (393.3) and 39th in scoring offense (29.0).
However, a minus 31 yards of rushing offense against Sacramento State has helped drop Eastern to 104th among 118 teams in FCS in rushing with an average of just 87.6 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 surrendered 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 (338.9), and is 103rd in total defense (427.3) and 73rd in scoring defense (26.9). Oddly enough, Eastern is an impressive 10th in rushing defense (88.4), fifth in sacks (3.2 per game) and fifth nationally in tackles for loss (8.6 per game).
However, the most important statistic might be turnover margin, and Eastern is 94th in FCS with a negative 0.60 turnovers per game. In Eastern’s five wins the Eagles are a plus three in turnover margin (eight giveaways and 11 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, had 14 of his 18 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 versus Sacramento State, he had two at Northern Colorado on Nov. 8 and a pair the week after that against Northern Arizona to maintain his FCS lead in that category (1.80 per game). He also leads FCS in tackles for loss (2.20 per game) and is 14th in the Big Sky in tackles (6.7).
A junior on the Walter Payton Award watch list, Nichols has six 300-yard passing performances, and is sixth in FCS in passing offense (305.7). He is also fifth nationally in total offense (305.1) and 43rd in passing efficiency (131.8).
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 31st in FCS in receptions per game (5.7). He is also 34th nationally in reception yards per game (80.9). Brynsen Brown, with career bests of 11 catches for 147 yards against Sacramento State, is now 37th in receptions per game (5.6) and 31st in receiving yards (81.4). Although he missed the Portland State game on Oct. 4 with a sprained ankle, junior receiver Tony Davis has already caught 50 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. Davis is 37th nationally in receptions per game (5.6) and 70th in receiving yards (61.1). Davis has also averaged 9.6 yards per punt return to rank 33rd in FCS.
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 five 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 42.26 yards per kick to rank 13th in FCS. His season average currently ranks fifth in school history and his 40.9 career average ranks third.
Defensively, twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of redshirt freshmen, have combined for 171 tackles thus far to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 94 tackles ranks 25th in school history, is third in the Big Sky (9.4 per game) and 27th nationally. Matt has 77 total tackles and is seventh in the league and 95th in FCS (7.7). Zach also has seven passes broken up and ranks 81st nationally and seventh in the league in tackles for loss (1.05 per game). Matt has three interceptions to rank 85th in FCS and 11th in the league (0.30 per game).
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt missed one game with an ankle injury and another with a knee injury, but is 13th in the Big Sky in tackles per game (6.8). Ryan Kelley also has had three interceptions -- all in back-to-back games against Montana State and Sacramento State -- and is 16th in the league in tackles (6.5. Defensive end Jason Belford has six total sacks this season to rank 40th in FCS and eighth in the league (0.60 per game).
-- Weber State in National Statistics -- The Wildcats are ranked in the top eight in FCS in passing offense (fifth, 322.7), total offense (seventh, 451.6) and scoring offense (eighth, 36.8). Defensively, the Wildcats are 45th in total defense (332.3) and 24th in scoring defense (20.5). Perhaps most importantly, the Wildcats are 17th in turnover margin with a plus 0.91 turnovers forced per game (25 takeaways, 15 giveaways).
Individually, quarterback Cameron Higgins is ranked second in passing efficiency (178.6), fourth in passing offense (316.3) and fourth in total offense (309.7). Tim Toone is 46th in receptions (5.5 per game) and eighth in receiving yards (99.7). Treyvn Smith is 20th in rushing (106.6), 17th in all-purpose yards (156.8) and fourth in scoring (10.9) with a total of 20 touchdowns scored. Kevin Linehan is 10th in sacks (0.86 per game) and a total of 9 1/2 for the season.
-- EWU Outscores Opponents 66-10 in Fourth Quarter in Wins; Outscored 60-24 in Losses -- If Eastern wins, it usually includes a fourth-quarter surge. At least that’s been the trend so far this season as the Eagles have out-scored opponents 66-10 in the fourth quarter in their five wins this season over Western Washington, Idaho State, Montana State, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. However, in losses to Texas Tech, Colorado, Portland State, Montana and Sacramento State, EWU has been out-scored 60-24 in the final stanza.
-- Defense Best Five-Game Roll Since Becoming FCS Member -- Having allowed point totals in the teens of 19, 17, 15, 16 and 13 in the last five games, Eastern’s defense has never had a stingy stretch like this in 25 seasons as a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern had a four-game stretch of allowing fewer than 20 points in 1997 when EWU finished with a school-record 12 victories, but that was the only time it has occurred since moving to FCS in 1984.
Eastern’s defense gave up 623 passing yards and 597 total yards five games ago in a 47-36 loss at Portland State on Oct. 4. But in the five games since, the Eagles have surrendered just 80 points (16.0 per game), 1282 passing yards (256.4), 496 rushing yards (99.2) and 1,778 total yards (355.6).
"The defense has done a great job," said Baldwin, who is in his first season as head coach along with defensive coordinator John Graham. "They’ve found a way to get better and better. It takes time sometimes. It was the same players but it’s a new system and new terminology. It’s a group coming together and understanding what their roles are in each situation."
"Our defense has made some good adjustments since the Portland State game," added defensive end Greg Peach. "We have a lot of young guys playing well. The season hasn’t gone quite as we expected, but we’re playing hard and we’ll keep playing hard."
-- Twin Stat Lines Becoming Commonplace for Johnson Twins -- Since the first game of their careers against Texas Tech in August, twin brothers Zach Johnson and Matt Johnson have been producing some incredible defensive numbers as redshirt freshmen.
Most recently, they combined for 22 tackles in EWU’s 28-13 win over Northern Arizona and 27 a week earlier in a 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado. Versus NAU, Zach had 12 stops and Matt had nine, with each breaking up a pass. Versus UNC, Zach had 15 tackles and a key interception in the third quarter while Matt finished with 12 tackles.
"There was no question Zach had a huge pick against Northern Colorado," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of the 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School. "He did a great job and is a great player. Both of the Johnson twins are great players. At different times this year they’ve both been a little banged up because they’ve played a lot of snaps, but these guys keep coming to play."
They have combined for 171 tackles thus far to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 94 tackles ranks 25th in school history, is third in the Big Sky (9.4 per game) and 27th nationally. Matt has 77 total tackles and is seventh in the league and 95th in FCS (7.7). Zach also has seven passes broken up and ranks 81st nationally and seventh in the league in tackles for loss (1.05 per game). Matt has three interceptions to rank 85th in FCS and 11th in the league (0.30 per game).
Both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern’s 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. With Matt starting at strong safety and Zach at strong-side inside linebacker, the Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.
"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin after the Texas Tech game. "They’re coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."
-- Kragt and Thomas Selected Academic All-District VIII -- A pair of Eastern Washington University biology majors have been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII football team released Nov. 6 as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
Junior defensive lineman Jacob Kragt is a repeat selection on the squad, and is joined by offensive lineman Chris Thomas. Kragt, a biology major with a 3.85 grade point average, is from Ritzville, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Lind-Ritzville High School. Thomas is a 2005 graduate of Sumner, Wash., High School and has a 3.77 GPA as a biology/pre-med student.
The qualifying standards include a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and be a significant contributor to the team. Kragt and Thomas now advance to the national ballot, with the Academic All-America teams announced on Nov. 25.
The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Eastern football players have now been honored 48 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and six players have gone on to win eight Academic All-America honors.
Kragt is expected to be named to the Big Sky All-Academic squad for the third-straight season. He plans to become the ninth family member, spanning three generations, to become a chiropractor. Thomas is also expected to be named to the Big Sky All-Academic squad for the third-straight season.
Besides Kragt and Thomas, three other Eastern players were nominated for Academic All-America honors Only one Eastern player per position was nominated among those who met the criteria. Below is the list:
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 Six 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has had six 300-yard passing games this season, giving him a total of 12 in his 34-game career thus far. His latest was a 346-yard performance against Northern Arizona on Nov. 15. 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 three in all categories, including second in total offense (9,063) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus Portland State. Nichols is now also second in passing yards (8,544), 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 (136.3), second in touchdown passes (61, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), second in completions (681), second in attempts (1,117) 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)
346 - 25x42, 2td - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08 (#36 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#42 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
375 - 426 passing, 29 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08
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 447 catches for 6,192 yards and 41 touchdowns in 96 games worth of experience (79 starts). This season they have combined for 157 passes for 2,092 yards and 15 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 13 games in 2007.
Boyce has already moved onto EWU’s career lists, ranking second in catches (177), fourth in touchdown catches (21) and third in receiving yards (2,588). Brown is 12th in receptions (137) and Davis is close behind (133).
The only player ahead of Boyce 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 41 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)
157 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/15/08
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.
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, nine 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. On Nov. 15, on Senior Day at Woodward Field, quarterback Alex Smart and wide receiver Shane Hoffman made the first starts of their careers.
-- 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 (235 starts by 20 players) -- Greg Peach 39, Jason Belford 35, Lance Witherspoon 28, Kevin Hatch 23, Makai Borden 19, Ryan Kelley 15, Lonnie Hosley 13, Shawn Powell 12, Matt Johnson 10, Zach Johnson 10, J.C. Sherritt 8, Marcus Walker 8, Renard Williams 6, Tyler Jolley 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Taiwan Jones 4, Kyle Wilkins 2, Adam Macomber 2, Jacob Kragt 1, Will Edge 1.
Offense (235 starts by 20 players) -- Matt Nichols 32, Aaron Boyce 31, Brynsen Brown 29, Charlie Wulff 29, Dale Morris 21, Tony Davis 19, Chris Thomas 17, Alexis Alexander 11, Nathan Overbay 10, Brice Leahy 10, Bryan Smith 10, Ryan Forney 10, Toke Kefu 6, A.J. Jimerson 4, Matt Martin 2, Ashton Gant 1, Sean Rock 1, Gabriel Jackson 1, Alex Smart 1, Shane Hoffman 1.
-- Injury Woes at Middle Linebacker -- At middle linebacker, Makai Borden returned to the starting lineup against Sacramento State on Nov. 1 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 12-4 when he is in the starting lineup and 2-5 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. Eastern also won on Nov. 8 at Northern Colorado when senior Marcus Walker started.
"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 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 -- Four players missed the Northern Arizona game with injuries suffered recently -- linebacker J.C. Sherritt (knee), wide receiver Brynsen Brown (shoulder), nose guard Tyler Jolley (shoulder) and defensive end Jacob Kragt (concussion). Sherritt and Jolley are both expected to be out this week, and Kragt and Brown are doubtful.
An open date on the schedule on Oct. 25 helped return the Eagles to nearly 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. Leahy returned to action against Northern Colorado, but Hosley remains out after originally suffering a foot injury against Portland State.
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 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.
-- Series History -- Weber State has a slight 13-12 edge in the series after the Wildcats have won three of the last four following a streak of four-straight wins for the Eagles. Eastern has a 6-8 record on the road and a 6-5 mark in home games.
In 2005 in Cheney, Ian Pizarro found Wiley King for fourth-quarter touchdown passes of 45 and 69 yards as Weber State rallied for a 28-23 victory over sixth-ranked Eastern Washington Oct. 22 in front of a stunned Homecoming crowd of 8,696 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles took a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter on a Lars Slind 3-yard run, but the Wildcats scored the next two times they had the ball. King’s first touchdown came with 10:05 left, and the game-winner was with 6:20 to play. Eastern’s offense had three-and-outs on two of its last three possessions. Erik Meyer completed 20-of-34 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown for EWU, but was sacked five times. Weber State’s Brady Fosmark had three of the sacks as he finished with a team-high 11 tackles. Ryan Cole added 111 yards rushing on 26 carries, and Eagle receivers Eric Kimble and Raul Vijil combined for 165 yards and 13 receptions. Eastern had 421 yards of total offense after it entered the game leading NCAA Division I-AA with an average of 511.3 per game. Weber State finished with 426 yards as Pizarro passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns.
In 2004, Eastern scored 28 points in an 8:53 span in the second quarter and went on to defeat the winless Wildcats 51-7. Eastern scored its five first-half touchdowns on two touchdown runs, an interception return, a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown and a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by junior scoring machine Eric Kimble. With senior running backs Darius Washington and Reggie Witherspoon nursing injuries, sophomore Dezmon Cole received the first start of his career. He finished with 199 yards, including 67 on a touchdown run on Eastern's first offensive play of the second half. True freshman Toke Kefu added 89 yards rushing. Eastern's other offensive standouts -- quarterback Erik Meyer and Kimble -- hardly broke a sweat. Meyer completed 5-of-7 passes for 68 yards and Kimble caught just one pass for four yards. In all, Eastern out-gained Weber State in total offense 416-147, with Eastern rushing for 295 yards.
In 2003 in Cheney, Nick Chournos had 176 of his 194 rushing yards in the second half -- and also added a 19-yard touchdown pass for good measure -- as Weber State defeated Eastern Washington 35-23 in the Big Sky Conference football opener for both teams. Weber State scored 21 unanswered points to overcome an early 10-0 Eagle lead. Sophomore Erik Meyer passed for 270 yards and accounted for two touchdowns for the Eagles, and junior Reggie Witherspoon added a career-high 135 rushing with another score. Eastern had 442 yards of total offense to Weber State's 414. However, the Wildcats had 172 net rushing yards in the second half on 25 carries (6.9 per carry) after getting just 71 in the first half on 17 carries (4.2 per carry).
In 2002 in Ogden, Eastern scored 24-straight points in the middle portion of the game to defeat Weber State 38-20. Jovan Griffith rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns and Josh Blankenship completed 25-of-38 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Griffith and Blankenship accounted for 463 of Eastern's 499 offensive yards in the game. Eric Kimble caught four passes for 101 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown pass from Blankenship. Joey Cwik led the Eagles with seven tackles and had one of five sacks the Eagles recorded against WSU. Freshman cornerback Jesse Hendrix added six tackles, and deflected a pass that was intercepted by fellow freshman cornerback Isaiah Trufant.
In 2001, the number 22 was as lucky as lucky can be for record-breaking running back Jesse Chatman. On his 22nd birthday in his 22nd game as an Eagle on the 22nd of September, Chatman rushed for 206 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles rolled past Weber State 50-32. Eastern scored all 10 times it had the ball (with the exception of a 36-second possession to end the game) as Troy Griggs kicked a school-record five field goals en route to 565 yards of total offense by the Eagles. Quarterback Fred Salanoa completed 25-of-36 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. He hit true freshman tight end Chris Cwik for a 1-yard touchdown pass in the first half before hitting Lamont Brightful for a 15-yard score. Chatman's first touchdown gave Eastern a 24-6 lead. Weber State came no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
In 2000, Troy Griggs kicked a 23-yard field goal to end the second overtime period and help Eastern Washington pull out a 27-24 victory over Weber State in Ogden. Down 17-10 in the last minute, the Eagles drove 71 yards to score a game-tying touchdown with 16 seconds to play and send the game into overtime. Quarterback Chris Samms, filling in for starting quarterback Fred Salanoa who suffered a minor concussion in the first quarter, started the drive with three incompletions. But he completed six of his next seven passes, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Lance Ballew with 16 seconds to play. Griggs kicked the extra point to send the game into overtime. In the first overtime, Samms passed to Shaylon Reed for nine yards before hitting him again with a 10-yard touchdown. However, Weber State sent the game to a second overtime when Johnnie Gray scored from two yards out. The Wildcats got the ball to start the second overtime, and on their second play at Eastern's 10-yard-line, Ole Olesen stepped in front of a Wildcat receiver to intercept a pass, setting up the game-winning field goal.
In a season-ending dogfight in 1999 at Albi Stadium in Spokane. Eastern scored 16-straight points in the second half to overcome a 20-14 deficit, then held on for the 30-27 win. Eagle punter Nick Reynolds had perhaps the biggest play of the game when he booted a 47-yard punt with 9:41 to play that was downed at the Wildcat 2-yard line. The Eagles forced WSU to punt, then scored on their next possession to take a 10-point lead with 2:25 to play. Eastern had 325 yards of total offense, including 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns by Jovan Griffith. Quarterback Chris Samms completed 12-of-20 passes for 170 yards and a 49-yard touchdown to Joe Levens, who finished the game with five catches for 115 yards. The Wildcats had 357 yards of total offense and had just one turnover, but that was a costly fourth-quarter fumble forced by Brad Packer and recovered by Greg Belzer.
In 1998, Weber State countered a go-ahead Eagle touchdown in the fourth quarter with a touchdown of its own with 2:24 left to take the lead for good and defeat Eastern Washington 27-23 in Ogden. Freshman Dan Curley caught six passes for 117 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles. The game featured six lead changes, including four in the second half. In all four of Eastern’s Big Sky losses that season, the Eagles took a fourth-quarter lead only to have the opponent regain the lead for good on the next possession. Those four losses were by a total of just 13 points, including a trio of three-point setbacks.
In Eastern’s 1997 win, Mike MacKenzie rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also caught three passes for 44 more yards as the Eagles finished with 534 yards of total offense (255 rushing, 279 passing). Steve Correa, who would go on to serve as an assistant coach at Weber State, caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and Harry Leons completed 18-of-31 passes for 279 yards. The Eagles held the Wildcats to a net 22 yards on the ground as they recorded eight quarterback sacks.
In the 1996 game in Ogden, the Eagles led 20-13 in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats rallied for the win. Scott Shields had eight tackles, an interception and punted twice for a 39.5 average to go along with three field goals including the game winner. In 1997 he had 14 tackles, an interception and fumble recovery, plus kicked one field goal and had a 44.1 average in seven punts. As a freshman in 1995, Shields kicked two field goals in the 40-30 Wildcat win.
In 2006 in Ogden, Weber State’s vaunted defense flexed its muscles in the second half as it rallied from a 14-10 deficit at halftime to defeat Eastern Washington 19-14 Nov. 4 in Ogden, Utah. The Wildcats held Eastern to just 32 yards in the second half as they outscored the Eagles 9-0 after halftime. Weber State had a 254-32 advantage in total yards in the second half, including 160-2 in the third quarter. Senior running back Ryan Cole and freshman redshirt quarterback Matt Nichols helped lead Eastern to a pair of first-half touchdowns with drives of 59 and 85 yards. Cole finished the game with 65 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Nichols completed 10-of-18 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Eastern finished with 211 yards of total offense while Weber State closed the game with 443. Weber State scored its touchdowns on a flea flicker play and a punt return.
-- 2007 Revisited -- #15 Eastern Washington 38, Weber State 16 -- The 28 seconds it took for Eastern Washington University to overcome its only deficit of the game was nothing compared to the agonizing day-long wait the Eagles had to endure.
Putting the finishing touches on a four-game winning streak and 8-3 finish to the regular season, the Eagles scored 24 unanswered points to roll past Weber State 38-16 Nov. 17 in a Big Sky Conference football game at rain-soaked Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
"I'm very excited to play like this against a great football team in these conditions, and find a way to win," said a proud Eagle head coach Paul Wulff.
The victory kept Eastern in the hunt for one of eight at-large berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs that begin Nov. 24. Eastern did indeed receive a berth the following day as the Eagles finished second in the Big Sky with a 6-2 record.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another 103 yards in the milestone win after he endured a 3-8 record as a freshman. Nichols accounted for 359 of EWU’s 426 yards of total offense as he more than doubled his previous career-best of 48 rushing yards set a week earlier in a 52-24 victory at Northern Arizona.
"He did a great job and took advantage of the things that were working well for us," said Wulff. "He did some big things in a big game today. It was a good thing for him to come in and play well back-to-back weeks."
A slippery field caused by day-long rain slowed down Eastern’s offense in the first half, and the Eagles fell behind 16-14 with 7:55 to play in the third quarter. But a 51-yard kickoff return by Tony Davis was followed by passes of 21 yards to Aaron Boyce and 22 yards for a touchdown to Brynsen Brown. That gave Eastern the lead for good as EWU trailed for all of 28 seconds.
Eastern went on to score 17 more unanswered points, including a back-breaking 36-yard pass from Nichols to tight end Nathan Overbay late in the third quarter. That came on a fourth-and-inches play as Nichols faked a sneak into the line, but pulled back and tossed to a wide-open Overbay.
Nichols also tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jimerson in the opening quarter on an eight-play, 80-yard drive before the rain began. He also had a 14-yard touchdown strike to Shane Eller, and Jimerson capped the scoring with an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Brown led Eastern’s receivers with six catches for 99 yards, and Dale Morris added 47 yards on the ground. Defensively, Jared Kuhl had 14 tackles, Anthony Dotson had 13, Bryan Jarrett had eight with two passes broken up and Ira Jarmon had six with four passes broken up and an interception that led to an EWU field goal in the fourth quarter.
The win was EWU’s fifth-straight Big Sky victory, a feat EWU accomplished in 1997 when the Eagles won their last five league games en route to a 12-2 finish and semifinal appearance in the FCS Playoffs. Even in EWU’s playoff years in 1992, 2004 and 2005, Eastern was not able to win four-straight league games.
The Wildcats finished with 326 yards of offense as the Wildcats ended their season with a 5-6 record overall and 4-4 league mark. Weber State had entered with a three-game winning streak, with an average of 57.7 points and 602.7 yards of offense in those three outings after averaging just 312.6 yards and 15.7 points in its first seven.
Freshman quarterback Cameron Higgins had 238 yards passing for the Wildcats, but had passed for 776 yards and eight touchdowns in his last two Big Sky outings. Trevyn Smith, the Big Sky’s leading rusher entering the game with 1,230 yards, had just 84 against the Eagles.
Eastern also kept FCS all-purpose rushing leader Bryan Eteuati in check for the most part. He entered the game averaging 212.4 yards (rushing, receiving, returns), but had just 159 on Saturday. He caught seven passes for 74 yards, had one rush for five yards, one punt return for minus four yards and returned four kickoff returns for 84 with a long of 31.