Nov. 18, 2007
Eastern Washington University has been selected as one of 16 teams to play in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, and will play at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La. The game is on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 5 p.m. Pacific time at Cowboy Stadium.
The Cowboys are 11-0 and enter as the No. 2 seed. This will be EWU's first-ever meeting against the Cowboys, who won the Southland Conference title with a 6-0 record.
"I was hoping it was just a formality," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of the announcement that was made Sunday (Nov. 18) afternoon. "I clearly thought we were one of the better teams in the country. I think the way we played this season proved that. I am very excited for our team, especially the seniors, to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship."
"I know they are excited about the opportunity," Wulff said of the players on his team. "We are one of 16 teams in America that have the opportunity to play for the national championship and we need to seize that opportunity."
Earlier this season on Sept. 1, McNeese State defeated Portland State 35-12, a team Eastern lost to 28-21 on Sept. 29. The Eagles went on to finish 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky.
The Eagles will be making their sixth playoff appearance and third in the last four seasons. In 2004, Eastern defeated top-ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31.
"There are not a lot of teams that can say that at our level," said Wulff of Eastern's recent playoff appearances. "I think it means a lot -- it's a statement that says our football program is on solid ground."
McNeese State is making its 13th playoff appearance. The Cowboys are coached by Matt Viator, who moved from offensive coordinator to interim head coach last season when Tommy Tate was dismissed with a 1-3 record. Viator had a 6-2 record at the helm as McNeese State ended its season with a 31-6 loss at second-seeded Montana. The Cowboys haven't lost since.
"They are a good football team," said Wulff. "Traditionally, they have been really good over the years. They are extremely talented and are undefeated. But it's a game that if we execute and take care of the football we can win. It is going to be a challenge, but I like our odds, our resiliency and our ability to attack adversity."
McNeese State ranks 10th in FCS in scoring offense (37.0 per game) and is eighth in scoring defense (16.0). The Cowboys are fourth in turnover margin (plus 1.64 per game) while the Eagles are ranked 10th in that category (1.27).
Individually, quarterback Derrick Fourroux is sixth nationally in passing efficiency (161.6), just ahead of Eastern's Matt Nichols in seventh (161.4). Fourroux is 33rd in total offense (218.2), including 47.5 per game on the ground.
Nichols is fifth in total offense (312.6), including an average of 28.5 on the ground that includes 151 yards in his last two games alone. He set a school record for quarterbacks this season with 313 rushing yards.
"I think you prepare like any other team -- we just have to treat them like any other team," said Nichols. "We'll watch a lot of film and put together a great game plan like our coaches do every week."
Eastern won four-straight games to earn the chance to be selected. Nichols hopes the Eagles have another four-game winning streak in them.
"Coming off of last season our ultimate goal to get to where we are now," he said. "I think a lot of our guys came together towards the end of the season and we started making plays when we needed them. We have won four games in a row and we plan on winning four more."
Wulff is proud of his team, especially after how the Eagles came back to win their final five league games after a 1-2 start. Eastern fell to Portland State (28-21) and league champion Montana (24-23) on back-to-back weeks.
"No matter what we were happy with how we played this year," added Wulff. "We were basically one point away from being Big Sky Champions in a game we felt we controlled. We had some hard times early in the year and our kids have come back and won four games in a row. We are playing good football now."
Back in July, the Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the league by both the coaches and media. But Eastern finished second and Nichols is thankful for the low pick.
"That just gave us motivation," he said. "We knew we were better than fifth in the Big Sky and we just had to come out and prove it."
Friday, Nov. 23 (times Pacific)
Delaware State (10-1) at Delaware (8-3), 10:30 a.m. on ESPN
Saturday, Nov. 24 (times Pacific)
New Hampshire (7-4) at #1 Northern Iowa (11-0), 9 a.m. on ESPNU
Eastern Illinois (8-3) at #4 Southern Illinois (10-1)
Fordham (8-3) at Massachusetts (9-2)
Eastern Washington (8-3) at #2 McNeese State (11-0), 5 p.m.
James Madison (8-3) at Appalachian State (9-2)
Wofford (8-3) at #3 Montana (11-0)
Eastern Kentucky (9-2) at Richmond (9-2)
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs was the school's fifth berth in school history, and the first time the Eagles have made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern's 2004 appearance in the second round was the third time Eastern advanced past the first round. Eastern now has a 4-5 record in five playoff appearances after losing at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern hadn't appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)