Without Expectations For Greatness, Eagles Finish 9-4
Dec. 7, 2007
There were no expectations for greatness from the Eastern Washington University football program in the 2007 season.
But after tasting success, there will be now.
The Eagles finished the 2007 season with a 9-4 record after advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs for the fourth time in school history. The advancement to the "Elite Eight" was a complete reversal from a year prior when EWU was just 3-8.
The Eagles overcame a 1-2 start in Big Sky Conference play to finish second in the league with a 6-2 record after being picked to finish fifth. A four-game winning streak to end the regular season helped the Eagles garner an at-large playoff berth.
"A year ago we had a difficult schedule and were a young football team," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who is now 53-40 in eight seasons at the helm of the Eagles. "We knew in the off-season we had to take care of ourselves and really work our tails off. And we did. We kept our mouths shut and we worked and worked and worked."
Eastern's three losses to FCS teams in 2007 came by a total of just 11 points, including a season-ending 38-35 loss at Appalachian State on Dec. 1 in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. After going just 3-5 in the Big Sky in 2006, Eastern's six league victories in 2007 came by an average score of 35-16 for a winning margin of nearly 20 points per game.
As another great barometer of EWU's improvement in 2007, three of EWU's Big Sky wins (Sacramento State, Weber State, Northern Arizona) were by a collective margin of 58 points. The Eagles lost to those same three teams by a total of 14 points in the 2006 season.
Eastern also used turnover margin to turnaround its fortunes. In all nine of EWU's victories, the Eagles forced more turnovers or were equal to their opponents. In three of the team's four losses, Eastern had more miscues than its opponent. The Eagles finished the year ranked first in the Big Sky and 21st in FCS in turnover margin (plus 12 for the season, 0.92 per game).
"The players grew up and nobody expected much from our football team," Wulff added. "We had some things go against us but we kept battling."
Although Eastern lost at Appalachian State, EWU advanced further in the playoffs than league champion Montana. The Eagles opened the playoffs with a convincing 44-15 win at previously unbeaten and second-seeded McNeese State. The 14th-ranked Eagles doubled the offensive output of the third-ranked Cowboys as EWU finished with 626 yards -- sixth best in school history -- while holding MSU to 312.
That victory and the play of a slew of underclassmen will no doubt make the Eagles a favorite to win the Big Sky in 2008. But first, Eastern will have to replace 12 seniors who were the heart-and-soul of the team's turnaround. Those 12 seniors combined for 246 career starts as 10 of them were regular starters in 2007.
"Our senior class wasn't large in numbers but it was a strong character group," said Wulff. "They brought us through the season. (By the end of the year) we felt we were the best team in the conference. We were growing up as the season progressed because we were still a young football team. We kept getting better."
Among the seniors lost were four offensive linemen who combined for 146 starts in their careers. That group was led by Matt Alfred, who closed his career with 46-straight starts and earned first team All-Big Sky honors twice (2007 and 2005) and second team accolades twice (2006 and 2004).
"It's a big loss because a couple of those players are All-Americans and all four are good football players," said Wulff. "Two or three of them will get an opportunity to play in the NFL. It's going to be a big loss, but we were fortunate to play a few young kids."
"We have three underclassmen that started a little this year and played a lot," Wulff continued. "They are going to be very fine players, so we feel we have a very adequate offensive line coming back next year. We feel like we have a chance to be awfully good there again."
The other senior offensive starters were wide receiver Shane Eller and tight end and 4.0 student Tom McAndrews. On defense, the four regular starters were linebacker Jared Kuhl, cornerback Ira Jarmon and safeties Bryan Jarrett and Anthony Dotson. They finished as EWU's top four tacklers in 2007, combining for 340 tackles, seven interceptions and 19 passes broken up.
The Eagles set 10 school records during the season, including five by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols, who was selected as the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year. Against McNeese State, Nichols tied and then broke the school record for touchdown passes in a single season, and he eventually finished the season with 34. As a freshman, he tied the school record for interceptions with 17.
Nichols completed 34-of-44 passes for 434 yards -- sixth-best in school history -- and two touchdowns in the win over McNeese State. It was the sixth 300-yard passing performance in his career, including his fifth of the 2007.
For the season, the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year finished with 3,744 passing yards and 4,136 yards of total offense to rank second in school history in both categories. He led the league and ranked fifth in FCS in both total offense (318.2) and passing offense (288.0), and was eighth in passing efficiency (156.5).
The other school records set by Nichols were his 280 completions and 392 rushing yards that were a record for EWU quarterbacks. His 37 completions at Montana on Oct. 6 were also a record as he finished with 451 passing yards (third-best in school history). His six touchdown passes in EWU's season-opener against Montana-Western were also a record as EWU finished with a school-record seven as a team.
The other individual single game record set was by receiver Aaron Boyce, who caught 17 passes against Montana to come just four receptions away from the Big Sky record of 21. He finished the year with 85 catches (second in school history) for 1,308 yards (fourth) and 10 touchdowns (eighth). He ranked sixth in FCS in receiving yards per game (100.6) and was 14th in receptions (6.5).
The other school records were team marks for season touchdown passes (36) and pass completions (287), as well as the single season mark for consecutive extra points made set by Felipe Macias. Macias made his first seven, missed his only attempt in EWU's second game of the season and then closed the year by making his last 49 to break the previous record for consecutive makes of 47.
The Eagles finished the season with an average of 462.3 yards of offense per game (sixth in FCS), including 295.4 passing (eighth) and 166.8 rushing (50th). The Eagles were ninth in passing efficiency (155.6), 18th in scoring offense (33.6) and 32nd in scoring defense (22.2).
Junior Greg Peach was 11th in FCS in sacks (0.85 per game), with a total of 11 that ranks as the fifth-best performance in school history. He will enter his senior season with 29 career starts and 17 1/2 sacks that ranks ninth in school history.
Besides Peach, the Eagles are expected to return 30 players with starting experience. Broken down, Eastern will return 143 starts on defense (14 players) and 142 on offense (16 players) for a total of 285 starts returning. That would represent the most starts the Eagles have had returning since at least the 2001 season.
"This was a great team," added Wulff. "This was the best we've ever played based on how we came together as a team. They were so consistent. I don't know if I could have had more fun as a coach. This was a great, great group, especially our seniors. This was the best senior group I've ever been around."
School Records Set in 2007
Touchdown Passes - 7 vs. Montana-Western 8/31/07
Touchdown Passes - 36
Pass Completions - 287
Watch Out for Eagles in 2017: Eastern has had three of its best seasons in school history in years that end in "7," so the Eagles can expect big things from their football program 10 years from now in 2017.
Eastern's 9-4 record in 2007 included a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Ten years ago in 1997, Eastern was 12-2 and advanced to the semifinals. Thirty years prior to that, Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game and finished 11-1.
The 1987 (4-7) and 1977 (5-4) teams didn't fare as well. But Eastern also had some pretty good teams in 1957 (5-2-1), 1947 (6-1-1) and 1937 (6-1).
Eagles Prove Naysayers Wrong: Eastern finished second after having been picked to finish fifth in the league by both the media and coaches. Montana has now won or shared every Big Sky title since 1998. EWU lost its two league games by a combined eight points and in 2006 Eastern lost three of its league games by a combined total of 14 points.
"That's an indication of how this league has evolved," said Wulff of the closeness of games and the difficulty in picking the league race. "There used to be the obvious two or three teams that could line-up, play pretty good and win. This league is not like that now. You have to play pretty darn well each week just to have a chance to win."
Eagles Rise One Spot to 14th in Final Regular Season Poll: Eastern moved up one more spot to a season-high 14th as the Eagles were ranked seven times in 2007 in The Sports Network NCAA Football Championships Subdivision top 25 poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors. The poll released on Nov. 19 was the final poll of the season until the national championship game has concluded.
In the three previous weeks, Eastern followed victories with national rankings -- 24th after defeating Sacramento State 38-30, 20th after edging Northern Colorado 17-7 and 15th after routing Northern Arizona 52-24. Eastern ended the regular season with a 38-16 win over Weber State.
Before its late-season run of four-straight weeks in the rankings, the previous two times EWU was ranked it suffered defeats. A 35-13 victory over 11th-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13 put the Eagles back into The Sports Network rankings at No. 22. But a 42-7 loss to Brigham Young on Oct. 20 knocked the Eagles back out of the rankings.
Before that, Eastern's convincing 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22 helped Eastern move up four spots to 21st, but the Eagles dropped out after losing to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29. When EWU was ranked 25th on Sept. 17, the Eagles earned their first national ranking since 2005 in the TSN poll. Eastern hadn't been nationally ranked since it finished the 2005 season 13th in the TSN poll.
In the Sagarin computer ratings released after EWU's win at Idaho State, Eastern was No. 6 among FCS schools to rank three spots ahead of No. 9 Montana. Following the PSU loss, Eastern fell to 19th in the Sagarin ratings and eventually finished its season ranked 18th (as of Dec. 1).
Here is a listing of EWU's 2007 opponents in the 2007 FCS rankings (four polls are distributed nationally on a weekly basis), in addition to the Sagarin computer ratings:
The Sports Network: 1. Northern Iowa; 2. Montana; 5. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington.
FCS Coaches: 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 6. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington; 42. Montana State; 43. Northern Arizona.
AGS (anygivensaturday.com): 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 5. Appalachian State; 14. Eastern Washington.
Football Gazette Top 40 Rankings (updated on 11/26): 1. Northern Iowa; 4. Appalachian State; 9. Montana; 11. Eastern Washington; 28. Northern Arizona.
Sagarin Computer Ratings Among FCS Schools (through Dec. 1; overall rank including FBS schools): 1. Northern Iowa (55th overall); 6. Appalachian State (72nd overall); 12. McNeese State (97th overall); 15. Montana (102nd overall); 18. Eastern Washington (112th overall); 32. UC Davis; 37. Northern Arizona; 55. Montana State; 58. Weber State; 66. Sacramento State; 69. Portland State; 82. Idaho State; 98. Northern Colorado. Also, 22. (overall) Brigham Young.
Nichols Ranks in Top Eight Nationally in Three Passing Categories: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols has now had six 300-yard passing games in his 24-game career, including five in the 2007 season. He has seven performances with at least 300 yards of total offense.
Nichols finished his 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols passed for 3,744 yards, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2007 after having 17 interceptions (equaling a school record) and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Among the five school records he set in 2007, he broke the school record of 31 touchdown passes set by Erik Meyer in 2004.
Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 to break the record of 275 set by Mark Laitala in 1978. Meyer holds the career record with 681, and Nichols already has 507 in his career.
The other records he broke were the school's single season completions record (280) and single game marks for touchdown passes (six versus Montana Western) and completions (37 at Montana).
Nichols' passing yardage total is the second-most in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). His average of 288.0 yards per game was fourth and his 4,136 yards of total offense were second. He ranked just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award -- who set school records in 2005 with 4,003 passing yards, a 333.6 average per game and 4,224 total yards.
On EWU's career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including third in average yards per game (228.9) and efficiency rating (138.9). His 42 touchdowns are already fifth and his 5,493 passing yards are already fourth.
Nichols had just nine interceptions in 440 attempts in 2007 after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year earlier. His ratio as a sophomore was an interception every 15.2 attempts and in 2007 it was one for every 48.9 attempts. His passing efficiency of 156.5 was much-improved from his 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- third best in school history -- in Eastern's disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He came close to that with 34 completions in 44 attempts for 434 yards -- sixth-best all-time at EWU -- in a playoff win over McNeese State on Nov. 24. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards in that game now ranks as the 25th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State.
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)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#25 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
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
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
Boyce in Top 14 Nationally in Receptions and Yards: With one of the most productive receiving seasons in school history, sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 scores. In Football Championship Subdivision statistics, Boyce was 14th in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6).
His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth. His catch total ranks only behind the 87 catches Eric Kimble had in 12 games in 2005. Boyce's yardage total ranks behind the 1,453 yards Kimble had in 13 games in 2004, the 1,419 Kimble had in 2005 and the 1,376 Jeff Ogden had in 14 games in 1997.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
Boyce played just one year of high school football, but was a standout on the basketball court. As a junior, he teamed with former Eastern standout and current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to lead Kentwood to the 2004 State 4A Championship.
Boyce, whose top yardage performance as a freshman in 2006 was 96 yards, had six 100-yard receiving performances in 2007. His teammates have added five more 100-yard performances (plus one of 99) to give EWU a total of 11 in the 2007 season. Here is a complete list:
100-Yard Receiving Games for Boyce
232 (17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis
Other 100-Yard Receiving Games for EWU Players
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Portland State
131 - (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - UC Davis
104 - (7 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - McNeese State
102 (2 catches, 1 TD) - Shane Eller - Northern Arizona
99 - (6 catches, 1 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Weber State
Nichols on Boyce: "Aaron is amazing. At any time I can really just throw the ball up and Aaron can make a play. It's great having a guy like that. Not every quarterback gets that luxury. If I get in trouble, I'm going to No. 9 and he gets open. Teams know where he is on the field and double team him, but he still gets open."
Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington averaged a league-leading 462.3 yards of offense after 13 games, good for sixth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern was also 18th in scoring offense (33.6), eighth in passing offense (295.4) and 50th in rushing offense (166.8). Eastern was also ninth in passing efficiency (155.6) with a school-record 36 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that included four senior starters, allowed 25 quarterback sacks to rank 62nd nationally (1.9 sacks per game), down from third after the Idaho State game when EWU had allowed just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern was 80th in total defense (390.7), 32nd in scoring defense (22.2), 39th in rushing defense (144.1), 104th in passing defense (246.6) and 25th in passing efficiency defense (112.3).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern finished 21st with 21 turnovers (11 interceptions and 10 fumbles) while opponents had 33 (22 interceptions and 11 fumbles). Eastern ranked third in interceptions (total of 22), with 12 different players picking off passes. In 2006, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Junior Dale Morris, who had 512 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in Eastern's last six games, was 71st in rushing (71.5 per game). He finished just 70 yards from the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Punter Fritz Brayton ranked 47th nationally (39.8 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias was 64th in scoring (6.9) and 58th in field goals (0.85, total of 11). Junior defensive end Greg Peach was 11th in sacks (0.85 per game, total of 11).
Smith missed the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. A second team All-Big Sky special teams selection as a freshman in 2004, Eastern is 15-10 in the 25 games he has played. In the 11 games he has missed, Eastern is 4-7. He will apply for a sixth year of eligibility as an injury hardship after undergoing further surgery on Oct. 31, 2007.
Morris, the brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a knee injury as well as a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he was at full strength again in 2007 after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals. He finished the season with 930 yards rushing, including 512 yards and eight touchdowns in Eastern's last six games. He also had 11 catches for 77 yards and a score.
Alfred and Hanni Each Start More Than 45 Games: Eastern offensive linemen Rocky Hanni and Matt Alfred each started more than 45 games dating back to their freshman seasons in 2004. Alfred didn't miss a start since early in the 2004 season and closed his career with a streak of 46-straight starts. Hanni started the first four games of his career, missed two games with a concussion and had started every game since (38 consecutive) until missing the Northern Arizona game on Nov. 10 with a sprained ankle. He started his 45th and last game on Dec. 1 against Appalachian State.
Eastern's other three starting offensive linemen all finished the 2007 season with at least 20 career starts. Senior tackle Zach Wasielewski started 35 games and senior guard Chris Carlsen and junior center Charlie Wulff each started 20 for a total of 166 starts along EWU's offensive line. Wulff is the nephew of EWU head coach Paul Wulff.
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's receiving corp in 2007 included a senior and four sophomores who learned their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches for 87 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman but redshirted in 2007 because of a back injury.
Davis, Brown and Boyce followed their promising freshman seasons by combining for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 290 catches for 4,100 yards and 26 touchdowns in 68 games worth of experience (55 starts).
Including Solomon, those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). 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 already have.
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.
"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his corp of sophomore receivers early in the 2007 season. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."
Nichols on Receiving Corp: "We have a great group of receivers, including our starting sophomore corp. They are really talented and find holes, especially with a year under our belts. We know how to work against defenses a lot better than we did last year. I think that really showed in our first few games. We know how to find holes and know where the weaknesses are in certain coverages."
Eddie Robinson Candidate Paul Wulff Wins 50th: Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who led EWU to a 9-4 record in his eighth season at the helm, was one of 16 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award. The Robinson Award, named for the legendary former Grambling coach, has been given annually by The Sports Network since 1987 to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national coach of the year. Wulff coached Eastern to a final regular season finish of 8-3 after going just 3-8 a year ago.
Wulff won his 50th game as head coach at EWU when the Eagles edged Northern Colorado 17-7 on Nov. 3, 2007. His current total of 53 wins is third-best in school history behind record-holder Dick Zornes (89 victories in 15 seasons from 1979-93) and Red Reese (66 wins in 13 seasons from 1930-41 and 1946).
Wulff owns Eastern's record with 34 Big Sky Conference victories, and his .576 winning percentage (34-25) is tops among the three coaches who have coached the Eagles since EWU became a league member in 1987. Zornes was 26-28 (.481) from 1987-93 and Mike Kramer was 37-32 (.522) from 1994-99.
In addition, the victory over UNC assured Eastern of a winning season, its seventh in eight seasons under Wulff. It was also EWU's 12th winning season in the last 16 years, with Kramer having four winning seasons (in six years) and Zornes finishing his career with a pair of winning seasons. Eastern failed to have a winning record overall in EWU's first five seasons as a member of the Big Sky.
In the last 16 seasons, EWU has won four Big Sky Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs all four of those seasons (1992, 1997, 2004, 2005), as well as in 2007 when the Eagles were the league runner-up. Wulff has been at Eastern for the last 15 years, joining Eastern's staff as a volunteer assistant in Zornes' last season in 1993.
EWU Injuries Mount After Portland State Loss: Eastern lost nine players to season-ending injuries in 2007, with most of the team's injuries occurring against Portland State on Sept. 29.
After that, only a handful of significant injuries occurred, including running back/fullback Alexis Alexander. He suffered an abdominal injury against Sacramento State that was later diagnosed as a hernia, and he missed the last five games of the season. Starting linebacker Makai Borden missed the team's last game of the season against Appalachian State with a stress fracture in his foot.
In the PSU game -- a 28-21 loss -- eight players left the field with injuries. Among them were wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder), center Chris Carlsen (knee), fullback Toke Kefu (hand), tight end Nathan Overbay (hand), long snapper Mark Lathim (shoulder) and free safety Kevin Hatch (shoulder). Even rover Anthony Dotson (knee) and kicker Felipe Macias (knee) were helped off the field with injuries, but both were able to return.
In addition, Borden (toe) was injured in practice before the PSU game and missed that game, as did starting defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon (ankle). Both returned to play sparingly against Montana and returned to starting positions versus Montana State.
Carlsen missed a pair of games and Davis missed four. Davis returned to play sparingly against Northern Colorado. Kefu and Overbay were able to return and play with their injuries, however, Kefu limited his action to the scout team as he used an available injury redshirt to return in 2007.
Besides Kefu and Alexander, the list of nine players lost for the season included several significant starters or backups. Safeties Ethen Robinson (Achilles tendon) and Jesse Hoffman (elbow) were lost for the season with injuries suffered in Eastern's season-opener against Montana-Western. Jesse's brother, wide receiver Shane Hoffman (toe), is also out for the year. Before the season started, senior safety Gregor Smith was lost for the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Sophomore wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon redshirted after a back injury that kept him sidelined since practices began in August. The other players lost for the year were freshman redshirt Joe Beitinger (shoulder) and true freshman Chris Powers (shoulder).
Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles in Opener: Just six position players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
The first-time starters included defensive left tackle Shawn Powell, free safety Kevin Hatch, cornerback Lonnie Hosley, offensive left tackle Brice Leahy and tight ends Nathan Overbay and Matt Martin.
Hatch and Leahy were taking the place of returning veterans who had to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart was academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith missed the year with a nagging shoulder injury.
Besides those new starters, Eastern had new special teams players in the opener and throughout the 2007 season. Taking over at kicker was Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton took over at punter.
Since the opener, only five Eastern players made starting debuts for EWU in 2007. Against UC Davis on Sept. 15, sophomore left tackle Chris Thomas made the first start of his career and A.J. Jimerson made the first start of his career at fullback in EWU's win at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Junior college transfer Ryan Kelley made the first start of his career against Northern Colorado on Nov. 3 and had an interception and six tackles. Tyler Jolley, a 2006 graduate of Spokane's East Valley High School, made his first career start as a defensive tackle in EWU's 52-24 win at Northern Arizona.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:
Defense (222 starts by 19 players): Greg Peach 29, Bryan Jarrett 27, Jason Belford 25, Ira Jarmon 24, Lance Witherspoon 18, Anthony Dotson 15, Makai Borden 13, Jared Kuhl 13, Kevin Hatch 13, Shawn Powell 12, Lonnie Hosley 8, Gregor Smith 7, Marcus Walker 5, Ryan Kelley 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Tyler Jolley 1.
Offense (309 starts by 23 players): Matt Alfred 46, Rocky Hanni 45, Zach Wasielewski 35, Aaron Boyce 23, Matt Nichols 23, Chris Carlsen 20, Charlie Wulff 20, Brynsen Brown 20, Tom McAndrews 11, Tony Davis 12, Dale Morris 12, Alexis Alexander 9, Shane Eller 9, Chris Thomas 7, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 2, Nathan Overbay 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1, Dezmon Cole 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.
If everybody returns as expected, the Eagles will enter the 2008 season with 30 players returning with starting experience totaling 285 starts. Broken down, Eastern will return 143 starts on defense (14 players) and 142 on offense (16 players) for a total of 285 starts returning. That would represent the most starts the Eagles have had returning since at least the 2001 season.
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. By contrast, the Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them. Five players entered with between 22 and 24 starts each.
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
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
Eagle Lose Just 12 Seniors: A group of 12 EWU seniors were honored in pre-game introductions before the Weber State game on Nov. 17 as they played their final regular season game in an Eagle uniform at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Of the 12, six of them earned their fourth varsity letter at Eastern. Four of them were offensive linemen as Matt Alfred, Chris Carlsen, Rocky Hanni and Zach Wasielewski combined for 146 starts in their careers. The other two four-year letter winners were cornerback Ira Jarmon (24 career starts) and tight end Tom McAndrews (11 career starts). In all, the seniors combined for 246 starts.
One senior who wasn't honored was Gregor Smith, who is applying for a sixth year as an injury hardship case. Smith missed the 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder that had already kept the 2003 graduate of nearby Lakeside High School (Nine Mile Falls, Wash.) out of 11 of 36 EWU games in his career. He had his third surgery on the shoulder on Oct. 31, 2007, and hopes to return to the lineup if his petition for a sixth year is approved.
Another senior who also wasn't honored -- thanks to a revised NCAA rule -- is fullback Toke Kefu. Kefu was injured in Eastern's fourth game of the season versus Portland State, and in any other year previous to 2007 he would have played one too many to be eligible for an automatic injury hardship. However, NCAA rules were revised in 2007 and enabled football players to play in as many as four games and be able to get the year back.
Here is the complete list of seniors on EWU's 2007 roster:
No. - Name - Position - Height - Weight - Year - Experience - Hometown (Previous Schools)
66 - Matt Alfred - OL - 6-3 - 300 - Sr. - 3L* - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03)
53 - Chris Carlsen - OL - 6-3 - 270 - Sr. - 3L* - Poulsbo, Wash. (North Kitsap HS '03)
30 - Dezmon Cole - LB - 5-7 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Lacey, Wash. (North Thurston HS '03)
4 - Anthony Dotson - DB - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - 2L* - Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS '03)
26 - Shane Eller - WR - 5-11 - 185 - Sr. - 1L - Corning, Calif. (Red Bluff HS '04 & Butte JC)
77 - Rocky Hanni - OL - 6-5 - 290 - Sr. - 3L* - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03)
2 - Ira Jarmon - DB - 5-8 - 190 - Sr. - 3L* - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS '03)
6 - Bryan Jarrett - DB - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - 2L* - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03 & Western Wash. Univ.)
50 - Jared Kuhl - LB - 6-0 - 230 - Sr. - 1L* - Hillsboro, Ore. (Hillsboro HS '03 & Col. of the Siskiyous JC)
80 - Tom McAndrews - TE - 6-0 - 240 - Sr. - 3L* - Spokane, Wash. (Mead HS '03)
37 - Brady Smith - DB - 5-10 - 185 - Sr. - 1L* - Spokane, Wash. (Rogers HS '03 & Santa Monica JC)
64 - Zach Wasielewski - OL - 6-4 - 290 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Chief Sealth HS '03)
Gregor Smith - DB - 6-1 - 215 - Sr. - 3L* - Nine Mile Falls, Wash. (Lakeside HS '03)
Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Goes to Nichols: Eastern Washington University is fast becoming a Mecca of outstanding, award-winning quarterbacks.
For the fourth time in the last six years, an Eastern signal caller has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year as sophomore Matt Nichols earned that honor when the All-Big Sky Conference team was announced on Nov. 19.
Nichols was one of 19 Eastern players honored, including four first team selections, three on the second team and 12 that received honorable mention. Eight of Eastern's 12 seniors were recognized. The Eagles had 13 players honored in 2006 but the lone first team selection was EWU's kicker.
Nichols endured a 3-8 record as a freshman when he had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. As a sophomore, Nichols completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, 34 touchdowns, just nine interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 156.5 to rank eighth in that category in FCS.
"It's been an amazing turnaround," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "Matt helped us improve a great deal, but so have our coaches and other players. Everybody worked hard in the off-season to make our team get better."
Joining Nichols on the first team were wide receiver Aaron Boyce, offensive guard Matt Alfred and defensive end Greg Peach. Alfred was honored for the fourth-straight year after earning first team honors in 2005 and second team honors in 2004 and 2006. Peach earned honorable mention in 2006.
Second team selections were offensive tackle Zach Wasielewski, defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon and safety Bryan Jarrett. Wasielewski was honorable mention in 2006 and Jarrett earned first team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore in 2005.
The 12 honorable mention selections included offensive tackle Rocky Hanni, who was honored for the fourth time. He was a first team selection as a freshman in 2004, honorable mention in 2005 and second team in 2006. Others honored on offense were guard Chris Carlsen, wide receiver Brynsen Brown, tight end Tom McAndrews and running back Dale Morris.
Receiving honorable mention on defense were end Jason Belford, tackle Shawn Powell, outside linebacker (rover) Anthony Dotson, linebacker Jared Kuhl, linebacker Makai Borden and cornerback Ira Jarmon. Earning honorable mention on special teams was Adam Macomber.
"We're very happy that so many players were recognized for their hard work," added Wulff. "They are all well-deserving of honors. I believe that honorable mention is every bit as rewarding as first or second team -- what's important is that they are being recognized by the other coaches in this conference."
Erik Meyer, the player Nichols replaced, was the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Meyer played as a freshman under Josh Blankenship, who received the honor in 2002. One year earlier, current Miami Dolphin running back Jesse Chatman was the league's top offensive player, giving Eastern five of the last seven winners.
"That's very impressive," said Wulff. "We've had some very talented players and have had tremendous success on offense as a program. These honors have been a reflection of that, particularly in regards to the quarterbacks we've had. It's an extremely important position on our football team and we've been fortunate to have had some very talented quarterbacks play here."
The 34 touchdown passes Nichols tossed broke the school record of 31 set two years ago by Meyer. Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks with 392, as well as the school's single season completions record (280) and single game marks for touchdown passes (six versus Montana Western) and completions (37 at Montana).
"His improvement mirrors that of a lot of our players," said Wulff. "Last year we were a very young football team and most of those players have grown up this year. We adjusted our schemes to tailor to our talent, and that's paid off this season."
"Matt continues to grow as a quarterback, but he certainly deserved that award this year," Wulff added. "Consistency is going to be his continued path of development. He needs to strive to play well week-in and week-out."
All four of Eastern's senior offensive linemen were honored after they helped Eastern rank sixth in FCS with an average of 462.3 yards per game. Boyce caught 85 passes for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn first team All-Big Sky honors and rank in the top 14 nationally in both receptions (6.5 per game) and reception yards (100.6 per game). Peach was honored on the first team after having 63 tackles, including 11 sacks that ranked 11th in FCS (0.85 per game).
Witherspoon had 44 tackles, including one sack and a total of 12 tackles for losses. Jarrett was the team's second-leading tackler with 91 and added a two interceptions and seven passes broken up.
Offensive Player of the Year
16 - Matt Nichols - Quarterback - 6-2 - 220 - So. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
16 - Matt Nichols - Quarterback - 6-2 - 220 - So. - Cottonwood, Calif. (West Valley HS '05)
9 - Aaron Boyce - Wide Receiver - 6-2 - 205 - So. - Kent, Wash. (Kentwood HS '05)
66 - #Matt Alfred - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 300 - Sr. - Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03)
94 - ^Greg Peach - Defensive End - 6-2 - 250 - Jr. - Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05)
#Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005 and second team in 2004 and 2006.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
64 - ^Zach Wasielewski - Offensive Tackle - 6-4 - 290 - Sr. - Seattle, Wash. (Chief Sealth HS '03)
97 - Lance Witherspoon - Defensive Tackle - 6-2 - 255 - Jr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur HS '04)
6 - %Bryan Jarrett - Safety - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03 & Western Wash. Univ.)
%Also first team All-Big Sky in 2005.
^Also honorable mention All-Big Sky in 2006.
83 - Brynsen Brown - Wide Receiver - 6-1 - 210 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Emerald Ridge HS '05)
77 - @Rocky Hanni - Offensive Tackle - 6-5 - 290 - Sr. - Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03)
53 - Chris Carlsen - Offensive Guard - 6-3 - 270 - Sr. - Poulsbo, Wash. (North Kitsap HS '03)
80 - Tom McAndrews - Tight End - 6-0 - 240 - Sr. - Spokane, Wash. (Mead HS '03)
22 - Dale Morris - Running Back - 5-9 - 205 - Jr. - Eugene, Ore. (Marist HS '04)
42 - Shawn Powell - Defensive Tackle - 6-1 - 250 - Jr. - Spokane, Wash. (Shadle Park HS '04)
55 - Jason Belford - Defensive End - 6-1 - 240 - Jr. - Tacoma, Wash. (Lincoln HS '04)
4 - Anthony Dotson - Outside Linebacker (rover) - 5-9 - 185 - Sr. - Federal Way, Wash. (Federal Way HS '03)
27 - Makai Borden - Inside Linebacker - 5-11 - 215 - So. - Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '05)
50 - Jared Kuhl - Inside Linebacker - 6-0 - 230 - Sr. - Hillsboro, Ore. (Hillsboro HS '03 & Col. of the Siskiyous JC)
2 - Ira Jarmon - Cornerback - 5-8 - 190 - Sr. - Lakewood, Wash. (Clover Park HS '03)
35 - Adam Macomber - Special Teams - 5-6 - 170 - Jr. - Port Angeles, Wash. (Port Angeles HS '05) - -
@Also first team All-Big Sky in 2004, second team in 2006 and honorable mention in 2005.
Five Eagles Selected Academic All-District VIII: Five EWU football players, the most in school history, were selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII team released Nov. 8 as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
Those honored on the first team include senior tight end Tom McAndrews, who owned a perfect 4.0 grade point average at EWU. Senior offensive lineman Chris Carlsen and junior defensive lineman Jacob Kragt were also honored on the first team.
Second team selections were receiver Tony Davis and defensive back Brett Igbinoba. To qualify, players must have at least a 3.2 grade point average and play in at least half of the team's games, as well as be a significant contributor to the squad.
McAndrews was a double major in finance and economics, and is a 2003 graduate of Mead High School in Spokane, Wash. Carlsen, a mechanical engineering major with a 3.60 GPA, is from Poulsbo, Wash., and graduated from North Kitsap HS in 2003. Kragt is a 2005 graduate of Ritzville, Wash., High School and is a 3.84 student majoring in biology.
Igbinoba is also a biology major and has a 3.21 grade point average after graduating from Cheney, Wash., High School in 2005. Davis is another 2005 graduate from Olympia, Wash., and Capitol High School, and has a 3.27 GPA while majoring in interdisciplinary studies.
District VIII 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 46 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and six players have gone on to win eight Academic All-America honors. Eastern has had four players honored previously in a single season but never five.
Eastern nominated one player for every position the Eagles had a student-athlete who qualified. Here is the complete list:
Tight End - Tom McAndrews - Finance and Economics - Senior - Spokane, Wash.
Offensive Line - Chris Carlsen - Mechanical Engineering - Senior - Poulsbo, Wash.
Wide Receiver - Tony Davis - Interdisciplinary Studies - Sophomore - Olympia, Wash.
Linebacker - Marcus Walker - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - Pullman, Wash.
Running Back - Toke Kefu - Health and Fitness - Senior - San Mateo, Calif.
Defensive Line - Jacob Kragt - Biology - Sophomore - Ritzville, Wash.
Quarterback - Alex Smart - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - North Bend, Wash.
Defensive Back - Brett Igbinoba - Biology - Sophomore - Cheney, Wash.
Trio Will Earn Fourth-Straight Academic Awards: Three Eastern seniors -- offensive guard Matt Alfred, center Chris Carlsen, running back Toke Kefu and tight end Tom McAndrews -- will earn their fourth-straight Big Sky All-Academic awards when the squads are announced in January 208. All four have been honored three times previously, as well as running back Toke Kefu, who redshirted in 2007 and will return for the 2008 season.
Playoff Results and Pairings (Times Pacific)
#1 Northern Iowa (12-0, top-seeded) 38, #17 New Hampshire (7-5) 35
#13 Delaware (9-3) 44, Delaware State (10-2) 7
#4 Southern Illinois (11-1, fourth-seeded) 30, #18 Eastern Illinois (8-4) 11
#7 Massachusetts (10-2) 49, #25 Fordham (8-4) 35
#14 Eastern Washington (9-3) 44, #3 McNeese State (11-0, second-seeded) 15
#5 Appalachian State (10-2) 28, #12 James Madison (8-4) 27
#11 Wofford (9-3) 23, #2 Montana (11-1, third-seeded) 22
#6 Richmond (10-2) 31, #9 Eastern Kentucky (9-3) 14
Saturday, Dec. 1 (at campus sites)
Quarterfinal Game 1 - #13 Delaware (10-3) 39, #1 Northern Iowa (12-1) 27
Quarterfinal Game 2 - #4 Southern Illinois (12-1) 34, #7 Massachusetts (10-3) 27
Quarterfinal Game 3 - #5 Appalachian State (11-2) 38, #14 Eastern Washington (9-4) 35
Quarterfinal Game 4 - #6 Richmond (11-2) 21, #11 Wofford (9-4) 10
Saturday, Dec. 7 (at campus sites)
Semifinal Game 1 - #13 Delaware (10-3) at #4 Southern Illinois (12-1), 5 p.m. on ESPN 2
Saturday, Dec. 8 (at campus sites)
Semifinal Game 2 - #6 Richmond (11-2) at #5 Appalachian State (11-2), 1 p.m. on ESPN
Friday, Dec. 14 (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Championship Game, 5 p.m. on ESPN2
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2007 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs was the school's sixth berth in school history. It was also the third in the last four years as EWU's appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-6 record in six playoff appearances.
In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. 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. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.
Until 2004, 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:
2007 - at Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
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)
EWU Playoff Tidbits: The 2007 playoff appearance was EWU's sixth playoff appearance and third in the last four seasons under Wulff. Only 10 teams out of the 116 schools currently in FCS played in three of the last four tournaments.
This was Eastern's fourth time advancing to the second round, but only once has Eastern won a quarterfinal game. In 1997, Eastern beat Western Kentucky 38-21 before bowing out of the playoffs with a loss to eventual champion Youngstown State in the semifinals.
In 2006, Eastern was 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference to finish in a tie for sixth, but in 2007 Eastern improved to an 8-3 regular season finish and 6-2 record in the league for a second-place finish.
Eastern earned one of eight at-large playoff berths after winning its last four games overall and last five league games. The only loss for the Eagles in their last six outings of the regular season was a 42-7 setback on Oct. 20 at Brigham Young, ranked 19th in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in the Dec. 2 Associated Press poll. The Cougars finished the regular season 10-2 and advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl.
A regular season-ending 38-16 win over Weber State was EWU's fifth-straight Big Sky victory, matching Eastern's winning streak 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.
Eastern Repeats History: In the process of beating McNeese State, Eastern repeated a bit of history.
In 2004, in the first of what is now three playoff berths in the last four seasons for the Eagles under Wulff, Eastern drew No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois. The Eagles went on to defeat the Salukis 35-31 before falling at home in the quarterfinals to Sam Houston State.
In both upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally.
Eastern also avoided a bit of history in the win over the Cowboys. Eastern held a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but based on the last two EWU playoff games, that wasn't necessarily a good omen.
In the loss to Sam Houston State, Eastern led 34-14 with 14:54 left before falling 35-34. The next year, in a first round game at Northern Iowa, the Eagles led 38-24 with 11:03 remaining but lost 41-38.
This time, Eastern held McNeese State scoreless the final 24:12 of the game and the Eagles scored their final touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. That clinching score followed an interception by senior Bryan Jarrett, who redshirted at EWU in 2004 and played in the disappointing loss the following season at Northern Iowa.
Eastern's 626 yards of total offense against McNeese State was the most for the Eagles in 10 years against a FCS opponent, and the most in five years overall. At one point, Eastern scored on five-straight offensive possessions behind an offensive line that features four senior starters. The defense, with four senior starters, forced three turnovers as EWU won the turnover battle 3-2 against a team that ranked fourth nationally with a plus 1.64 margin per game (plus 18 overall). Eastern's defense was right behind at 10th nationally entering the game (1.27 per game, plus 14 overall). Eastern held McNeese State to just 312 yards of offense.
Bracketology: Apparently, Eastern's upset over McNeese State was too much for the NCAA to believe. For a short time after EWU's 44-15 win, a bracket on the NCAA's web site mistakenly listed the Cowboys as the winner.
Well-Wishes from the NFL: During EWU's 44-15 win over McNeese State, Eastern received a well-wishes via text messaging from a pair of former Eagles now in the NFL. Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Michael Roos listened to the radio broadcast via internet in Cincinnati where he was preparing to play the Bengals and said he "just wanted to wish EWU good luck the rest of the game." Former Eastern assistant coach Keith Murphy, now an assistant coach with the St. Louis Rams, texted his "congrats" while the Eagles were safely ahead.
Lots of Towels Needed: After an afternoon deluge of rain Nov. 24 in Lake Charles, La., Cowboy Stadium was a soggy mess for the game that evening between the Eagles and Cowboys. EWU received towels from the host team, but it wasn't nearly enough. So EWU was forced to head to a nearby Wal-Mart to buy $300 worth of towels. Eastern administrator Kris Okimoto said they not only got out of the store with a large amount of towels but received "a lot of strange looks too."
EWU East of the Mississippi: Eastern had never played a team from the Southern Conference until its quarterfinal round game of the playoffs against Appalachian State on Dec. 1, 2007. In fact, it was just the fifth time Eastern has played a game East of the Mississippi.
The most recent came on Sept. 9, 2006, when Eastern lost 52-3 at West Virginia, which was ranked sixth at the time in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. That game marked the starting debut for current Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols.
The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of FBS, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eastern also played in Morgantown, W.Va., at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.
PLAYOFF GAME SUMMARIES
#5 Appalachian State 38, #14 Eastern Washington 35: The Eagles provided some thunder, but two-time defending champion Appalachian State had way too much lightning.
Sophomore quarterback Armanti Edwards rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and passed for 221 yards and two scores as the Eastern football team saw its season come to a close Dec. 1 with a 38-35 loss to Appalachian State in a quarterfinal game in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
The fifth-ranked Mountaineers finished with 529 yards of total offense and had scoring drives of 95, 71, 86, 60 and 61 yards before taking advantage of an EWU fumble to score a touchdown and take a 17-point advantage with 6:07 to play. Eastern, ranked 14th in the nation, rallied late and finished with 368 yards of offense. But after falling behind 14-0, EWU needed a pair of long kickoff returns and a fake punt for a touchdown to stay within striking distance of ASU.
A year after going just 3-8, the Eagles finished the 2007 season 9-4. The Mountaineers improved to 11-2 after the first-ever meeting between the two schools and EWU's inaugural game against a member of the powerful Southern Conference.
Edwards entered the game as a huge offensive threat, having rushed for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns and passing for 1,347 yards and nine touchdowns. His 23 rushes and 22 passes against EWU accounted for 45 of the 82 plays the Mountaineers ran on offense.
Despite the number of yards ASU piled up, Eastern made several key stops that helped get the ball back for EWU's offense. Eastern played the game without starting linebacker Makai Borden, who was unable to play because of a stress fracture in his foot.
"That's been our philosophy most of the year," Wulff said of his team's bend-but-don't break defense. "We were a little short-handed without Makai, but our kids played hard and did what they had to do."
But the only statistic Wulff cared about was turnovers. Eastern had three compared to none for Appalachian State. One of EWU's fumbles came at the ASU 2-yard line in the second quarter as Eastern was driving for a potential game-tying score.
"We can't come into their place and play like this and expect to win," said Wulff, whose team entered the game ranked 13th in FCS in turnover margin with a plus 15 for the season. "You can't turn the ball over like that and win a ballgame."
Eastern's own sophomore quarterback, Matt Nichols, struggled all day against a veteran Appalachian State secondary. He completed just 24-of-42 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception that came during a four-possession scoreless stretch in the second half for EWU.
In his last three games alone, Nichols had averaged 394 yards of total offense per game with 11 touchdown passes and a 180.4 passing efficiency rating.
"They did a nice job against us, but we didn't execute very well either," said Wulff. "It wasn't a great day for us."
"We couldn't get into any rhythm and that's a tribute to them," he added. "It was a tough game back-and-forth, but there wasn't enough consistency for us."
Junior Dale Morris rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles, and sophomore Aaron Boyce was the team's leading receiver with five catches for 37 yards and a score. Sophomore free safety Kevin Hatch had 15 tackles for Eastern, and senior linebacker Jared Kuhl closed his career with nine tackles and a sack.
But Eastern's special teams were the most productive, with Nicholas Ramos returning three kickoffs for 155 yards, including an 82-yard return that set-up Eastern's first points in the game. A.J. Jimerson returned a kickoff 78 yards for a score -- Eastern's first kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2001 season. In addition, Bryan Jarrett scored on a 51-yard run on a fake punt in the third quarter.
"Our special teams were good and that was encouraging," Wulff said. "Special teams kept us in the game, obviously. We had some big plays."
"They gave us a spark too," he added. "But at the same time, as we were scoring on special teams our offense was on the sideline and our defense was getting tired. That was a problem. It wasn't anybody's fault, it's just how it works. Our offense didn't get in any rhythm in the third quarter because they weren't on the field except for a few plays."
Appalachian State jumped out to a 14-0 lead on drives of 85 and 71 yards, with Edwards rushing for a score and passing for a TD.
It took Ramos -- Eastern's smallest player at 5-foot-7, 155-pounds -- to jumpstart Eastern on the ensuing kickoff. His 82-yard return took the ball to the ASU 14, where two plays later, Nichols found Boyce for a 7-yard touchdown.
After forcing a Mountaineer punt, the Eagles drove down the field, and a 26-yard pass from Nichols to Nathan Overbay gave EWU a first-and-goal at the ASU 2-yard line. But a botched exchange from Nichols to Morris was recovered by Appalachian State with 4:45 left in the half.
The Mountaineers capitalized on the momentum shift, driving 86 yards on 14 plays to score on another touchdown pass by Edwards. The drive took 4:20 off the clock as the Mountaineers took a 21-7 advantage at halftime.
Eastern's non-scoring 69-yard drive was its longest of the first half as the Eagles were out-gained in total offense 311-139. Morris had 55 yards rushing and Nichols passed for 61, but Edwards was the top offensive player on the field with 154 first-half passing yards on 9-of-9 passing and another 78 rushing.
Eastern scored on its first possession of the second half, but it took an ASU penalty and a fake punt to accomplish that. The Eagles were forced to punt, but a 5-yard running into the punter penalty allowed Eastern to punt again. But this time, the Eagles snapped the ball directly to Jarrett who went through a huge hole and then powered his way for a touchdown.
After an Appalachian State field goal, Eastern struck again on a kickoff return. Instead of booting the ball deep to Ramos, the Mountaineers kicked it short to Jimerson, who surged through a hole and went down the sideline for a 78-yard touchdown that helped bring EWU to within 24-21 with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
But Eastern couldn't stop ASU, and the Mountaineers followed with a 61-yard touchdown drive to regain a 31-21 advantage. On Eastern's first play following a 39-yard kickoff return by Ramos, Nichols threw an interception on his first pass -- the first of four empty possessions by the Eastern offense.
The fourth empty possession was a fumble by Nichols that resulted in an ASU touchdown to give the Mountaineers a 38-21 advantage with 6:07 left in the game. Eastern followed that with a 65-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Morris, then scored again with 28 seconds to play on Matt Martin's 2-yard pass from Nichols. Appalachian State recovered onside kickoffs after both of Eastern's TD's to preserve the win.
#14 Eastern Washington 44, McNeese State 15: It was hard to tell which team was unbeaten, second-seeded and ranked third in the nation.
Behind a dominating offensive performance, Eastern Washington University advanced in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs with a 44-15 victory over McNeese State in a first-round game Nov. 24 at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, La.
Eastern rolled up 626 yards of total offense -- the sixth-most in school history -- led by the 459 total yards by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols and 130 rushing by junior Dale Morris. The win advanced the 14th-ranked Eagles to a quarterfinal game at two-time defending FCS champion Appalachian State.
"I didn't expect this," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of the large winning margin. "We had a good game plan and our players ultimately executed it. They took care of business and got after it. We played solid football for four quarters.
"It was fun to play a great football game against a great football team," he added. "We played a great team tonight and played well, and came out on top."
Nichols, named Nov. 19 as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, completed 34-of-44 passes for 434 yards and two touchdowns in the win. It was the sixth 300-yard passing performance in his career, including fifth of the 2007 season.
"Matt played well, but we knew the offensive line had to be the key tonight," said Wulff. "We challenged those guys all week saying they are a key to the ballgame. I think it started up front. Our offensive line played as well as we could ask in these circumstances with this game. They have to be the catalyst -- there is no question. There are a lot of good players there and they have to play well."
Morris had touchdown runs of 3, 20, 1 and 4 yards and carried 22 times in the game. Eastern had scoring drives of 51, 51, 59, 74, 68, 82 and 80 yards. At one point, the Eagles scored touchdowns on five-straight possessions.
Eastern had 34 first downs -- just five away from the school record of 39.
"Our offensive line manhandled them and controlled the entire game," added Nichols. "Whenever we needed to run the ball it was eight yards a carry. Whenever I needed to throw the ball I had all day to throw. Our offensive line played an amazing game. They are a bunch of amazing guys with a lot of seniors who want to keep playing. They did that for themselves tonight."
Eastern held the Cowboys to 312 yards as it was a dominating performance on both sides of the ball against previously unbeaten MSU. The Cowboys ended their season with an 11-1 record after entering the game ranked third in FCS and seeded second in the playoffs.
Junior Greg Peach had eight tackles with a pair of sacks to lead the defense. Senior Bryan Jarrett added six tackles and an interception, and Jason Belford had a sack with four total tackles. Sophomore Kevin Hatch had four tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
"We've learned a lot on defense," said Wulff. "People talk a lot about our offense, but people better pay attention to our defense. We gave up one touchdown tonight against a very good football team playing at home. Our defense is playing well, but like or offense, they have a heckuva challenge ahead of them this next game against a great football team."
Eastern's Big Sky rival, Montana, lost in the first round after entering 11-0. Montana was third seeded and ranked second.
EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL
Starting Dolphins Running Back Jesse Chatman Featured Twice in Sports Illustrated: Now a starting running back for the Miami Dolphins, former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman had a full-page spread in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated talking about how he lost 60 pounds after eating himself out of the National Football League.
He made his first NFL start on Oct. 28 in a 13-10 loss to the New York Giants in the first-ever NFL regular season game at Wembley Stadium in London. He finished with 79 yards on 16 carries (4.9 per carry), and had three catches for 21 yards. On Nov. 11 in a 13-10 loss to Buffalo, he rushed for a career-high 124 yards on 27 carries and caught five passes for 25 more yards.
Injuries caused him to starting gaining weight when he played for the San Diego Chargers in 2004, and subsequently he was released and did not play in 2005 and 2006. He ballooned to a high as 283 pounds before diet and exercise helped him lose the weight. Chatman started working out at all hours, and switched from fried food all the time to oatmeal, spinach and stir-fry.
Eventually, he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and is the team's backup running back behind Ronnie Brown and is returning kickoffs. Now weighing 223 pounds, he earned a roster spot in the preseason when he had a team-leading 116 rushing yards (6.4 per carry) with two touchdowns, and added six receptions for 52 yards.
During the preseason, he was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:
"Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."
Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.
In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.
Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.
Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.
A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.
Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).
Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.
Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.
Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier in the 2007 season against Berlin.
He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.
While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.
Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.
Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa was 17-2 in 2007, including three playoff victories.
MORE SEASON NOTES
Nichols Player of the Week for the Second-Straight Week: From 3-8 to 8-3. From a school-record 17 interceptions to the cusp of a school record for touchdown passes.
If Eastern Washington University's football program is the comeback team of the 2007 college football season in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, then Matt Nichols is the comeback player, or at the very least, most improved.
Nichols was selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week after helping Eastern conclude an improbable late-season run with a 38-16 victory over Weber State Nov. 17 at rain-soaked Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another 103 yards in EWU's fourth-straight win overall and fifth-straight league victory. Nichols accounted for 359 of EWU's 426 yards of total offense in the win over Weber State as EWU scored 24 unanswered points to overcome a 16-14 second-half deficit.
"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. It was a good thing for him to come in and play well back-to-back weeks."
It was the third POW honor of the season for Nichols, who was 17-of-22 for 316 yards and five touchdowns a week earlier versus Northern Arizona when he also earned national player of the week accolades.
With 103 rushing yards against WSU, Nichols more than doubled his previous career-best of 48 rushing yards set a week earlier in a 52-24 victory at NAU that earned him his second player of the week accolade, as well as College Sporting News National Player of the Week honors.
He passed for 316 yards, 186 in the first quarter alone, as EWU ended the game with 556 yards of total offense. Nichols completed 17-of-22 passes for 317 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions for an impressive efficiency rating of 273.3.
Nichols earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors on the opening weekend of the season when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
Nichols on Regular Season Finish: "Coming off of last season our ultimate goal to get to where we are now. 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 on 8-3 Regular Season Record: "No matter what we were happy with how we played this year. 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."
Nichols on Being Picked to Finish Fifth in the Big Sky: "That just gave us motivation. We knew we were better than fifth in the Big Sky and we just had to come out and prove it."
Wulff on At-Large Playoff Berth: "I was hoping it was just a formality. 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. 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."
Wulff on Qualifying for Playoffs Three out of the Last Four Seasons: "There are not a lot of teams that can say that at our level. I think it means a lot -- it's a statement that says our football program is on solid ground."
Belford Honored by Big Sky: Defensive end Jason Belford was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week after he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown barely a minute into the game in Eastern's 52-24 win at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10.
The 2004 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., also had eight tackles, including three for losses totaling eight yards.
"He was always around the ball and made a lot of tackles," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff of Belford. "He played well."
Eastern allowed Northern Arizona to finish with 469 yards of offense, but the Eagles did a good job of containing NAU running back Alan Henderson. He entered the 2007 meeting with 838 yards and six touchdowns, and had 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU in 2006 against EWU. He finished with just 70 on 17 carries in 2007.
Shhhhh! Playoff Talk Not Allowed: With its 52-24 romp at Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington was happy to win a game decisively after struggling to wins the previous two weekends over the bottom two teams in the Big Sky Conference. Eastern held off Sacramento State 38-30 and then edged Northern Colorado 17-7.
Playoff talk was part of the blame, and Eastern head coach Paul Wulff tried to put an end to it.
"I think we lost some focus talking about something that is way out there, and it still is," said Wulff. "We aren't good enough to play poorly and win. There was too much talk of that going into the Sac State and Northern Colorado games. We won the games but we didn't play as well as we should have."
"After we lost to BYU we knew we had to win our next four to go to the playoffs," added quarterback Matt Nichols. "But there hasn't been talk in our locker room about playoffs because that is something our coaches told us not to talk about."
Happy Homecoming for Californians: It was a happy homecoming for several Eagles playing in their home state of California, including quarterback Matt Nichols, in Eastern's 38-30 victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 27.
Nichols is a 2005 graduate of Cottonwood High School, located just 131 miles from Sacramento. Other Eagles returning included receiver Shane Eller (Corning), center Charlie Wulff (Woodland), receiver Nicholas Ramos (Winters), kicker Felipe Macias (Oxnard), cornerback Ryan Kelley (Los Angeles) and safety Terry Mixon (Compton). In addition, head coach Paul Wulff is a 1985 graduate of nearby Davis High School in Davis, Calif.
Eastern's entire allotment of 150 complimentary tickets were used by players and coaches, but many more EWU fans also attended to give Eastern one of its best-ever road crowds among the total of 4,706 that were in attendance. In fact, one player purchased additional tickets for the approximately 30 family and friends who were on hand.
Nichols, who shook hands along the railing after the game with the 100 family and friends on hand to watch him play, said it was a "very good feeling" to come away with a victory in his first visit to California as EWU's starting quarterback. "It was a big day for me to be able to come back here and compete," he said. "I had a good game in front of them and I had a lot of fun."
On Eastern's pre-game radio show, Nichols and Eller recalled competing against each other in high school in 2004 while Eller was at Red Bluff High School. Red Bluff beat Cottonwood earlier in the season, but in the playoffs, Nichols was victorious. Eller intercepted Nichols in the playoffs but was hurt on the return and did not play the remainder of the game as Red Bluff suffered its first defeat of the season.
4.0 Student Tom McAndrews Semifinalist for Draddy Trophy: Senior 4.0 student-athlete Tom McAndrews was one of 153 semifinalists -- 40 from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision -- for The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) 2007 Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth.
As one of those 153 student-athletes, he was among the candidates for the NFF 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Awards. However, he was not among the list of finalists announced on Oct. 25.
McAndrews, a 6-foot, 240-pound tight end is a double major in finance and economics at EWU. He will complete his bachelor's degree in December 2007, and then begin work sometime soon on his master's in business administration.
With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, he has been named to the Dean's List 12 out of a possible 12 quarters at Eastern. He is expected to be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the fourth-straight year in 2007. He will be nominated for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and for a NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
McAndrews was the 2006 recipient of the "Iron Eagle" Award for EWU Football academic and athletic achievement. He was awarded a Trustee's Scholarship (2006), Washington Promise Scholarship (2003) and Red Reese Scholarship (2003). He also became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society (2007).
He scored the first touchdown of his Eastern career against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007, on an 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 41-31 win. Mainly used as a blocking tight end, fullback and on special teams, he finished his career with 23 catches for 220 yards in 41 games played (11 as a starter). In 2005 he was EWU's Most Improved Player and in 2007 served as game captain once. He helped Eastern Washington win Big Sky Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, as well as berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
His community service activities include serving as a PLUS (Program Leading to Undergraduate Success) Facilitator in business law for the EWU Academic Support Center (2006). He was an intern as Community and Economic Development Assistant for the Cheney community/EWU campus development group called Pathways to Progress (2005). He has also been a volunteer for Harvest Food Bank, Spokane Guild School, Habitat for Humanity and the Cheney School District.
McAndrews was also a 4.0 student at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., where he was the 2003 Valedictorian.
Wulff on Resiliency of His Team: "There is great resiliency on this football team. They are a great team -- they get along with each other and they enjoy being around each other. These players are a lot of fun for the coaching staff to be around. We have faced a lot of obstacles over time, so being behind doesn't faze them. We were down 14 at Montana and came back without any hesitation. I didn't feel like it would be any different against BYU. Despite the margin, I didn't think we ever went into a shell."
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-15 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young - L, 7-42
EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006 and 2007: Eastern's 2007 game at sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for largest crowd the Eagles have ever played in front of. Strong winds, rain, snow and temperatures ranging from 37-45 degrees didn't keep many fans at home as the announced crowd of 64,522 was even larger than the stadium's listed capacity of 64,045.
Eastern's 2006 game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State in 2006 is now the fourth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 14 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
64,522 - at Brigham Young - Oct. 20, 2007 - L, 7-42
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
23,226 - at Montana - Oct. 6, 2007 - L, 23-24
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon and Quarterback Matt Nichols Lead Eastern to Impressive Win: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols returned from a stomach contusion to throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles pull away from 11th-ranked Montana State for a 35-13 Big Sky Conference football victory Oct. 13. But the play of Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon was also very noteworthy as he earned the league's defensive player of the week honor for his efforts.
Witherspoon, who missed one full game and parts of two others with a high ankle sprain, led the defensive charge as Eastern out-gained MSU 475-315 in total offense. In the second half, the Eagles had a 248-101 advantage as they scored the final 21 points of the game.
Nichols completed 15-of-24 passes a week after throwing 59 times at Montana in a 24-23 loss. He finished with 300 yards of total offense against the Bobcats as the Eagles rushed for an additional 183 yards en route to a 475-yard day on offense. He had 203 yards of offense in the second half alone, and was not sacked in the second half after getting sacked twice in the first half.
"We had to settle him down at halftime," said Wulff. "I am really proud of him because he came back and played well in the second half after being rattled physically. He ran the ball effectively to get us some key first downs and he was accurate, so he did a really good job."
Witherspoon returned to his starting position to register a team-high and career-high 10 tackles in the win. He was credited with four unassisted tackles and six assisted stops. He had one sack for a loss of eight yards, and three other tackles for loss totaling 10 yards. His sack came on third down and led to a MSU punt with Eastern leading 28-13 in the third quarter.
"It's nice to have Lance back -- we have missed him for awhile now and it hurts our defense not having him," said Wulff of the junior from Federal Way, Wash. "Having him back, we are a better defense."
Boyce Selected as National Offensive Player of the Week by The Sports Network: For years, Aaron Boyce has watched his good friend Rodney Stuckey take his tremendous basketball ability to the national stage. Now it's Boyce's turn.
After a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6, the sophomore wide receiver was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week.
Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
"It's pretty rewarding, but it would have felt better with a win," said Boyce, whose team had a 565-289 advantage in total offense in the game. "It was a frustrating game to lose and sort of puts a chip on our shoulder. We came up short but that adds to our hunger to play better and win next time."
Boyce played just one season of football at Kentwood and was better known there as a teammate of Stuckey, who led Kentwood to the Washington State 4A Championship in the 2003-04 season. Stuckey went on to earn national Freshman of the Year honors at Eastern, as well as a pair of honorable mention All-America accolades, before becoming a first-round draft choice by the Detroit Pistons in last June's NBA Draft.
"Aaron is a converted basketball player who is becoming a really good football player," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "He has a lot of upside and still has room for improvement. He has a bright future ahead of him if he keeps working hard."
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone against the Grizzlies. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. He played much of the game at an inside receiver position usually held by fellow sophomore Tony Davis, who missed the game with shoulder injury.
"He had a great day, especially considering he was playing a new position," said Wulff. "He did a great job adapting and caught everything that was thrown his way. It was a very solid performance."
Boyce was four catches away from the Big Sky single game record of 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions -- 1968 by Bob Picard, 1976 by Tom Bassett and 1986 by Jon Vea.
His yardage mark ranks only behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana when he had a 99-yard pass reception. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
"I've never been around a receiving performance like that, let alone a game when a team has thrown it 59 times," added Wulff. "Hopefully we'll see that kind of production down the road as those players and our offense continues to develop."
Nichols and Boyce Produce Record-Breaking Game to Remember: A victory would have made it that much sweeter, but at least the sophomore passing duo of Matt Nichols-to-Aaron Boyce has a couple of school records to show for a disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. But best of all, the pair of sophomores will have two more cracks at the Grizzlies ahead of them in the next two seasons.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- all career highs in just the 15th start of his EWU career. His yardage total was the third-most in school history and just 35 yards from the school record of 486 set by Todd Bernett against Montana in 1994.
Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. The record is 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions.
Boyce finished with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Thanks to a defense that was dominant against the Grizzlies, Eastern had a huge, 565-289 advantage in total offense. Eastern had 26 more offensive plays than Montana and had a six-minute edge in time of possession. But Eastern couldn't establish a consistent running attack and that led to Nichols throwing the ball 59 times while the team rushed just 29 times. The Eagles were scoreless the first six times they had the ball, then scored on four-straight possessions to take a 20-14 lead. However, Eastern managed only a single field goal in its last six times with the ball and came up a single point short in its upset bid.
Only two other times has an Eastern quarterback attempted more passes -- Rick Worman versus Nevada (10/12/85) and Tommy Thompson against Puget Sound (11/16/68). The previous record for completions was by Josh Blankenship against Western Oregon (9/14/02). The only Eastern quarterbacks to throw for more yards were Bernett and the player Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer, who had 470 against Sacramento State (10/29/05).
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Nichols had just 22 yards in the first quarter, but then had 185 in the second quarter, 163 in the third and 82 in the fourth.
Wulff on Receiver Aaron Boyce and Passing Game Versus Montana: "We felt like we could throw the ball if we could protect the quarterback and if Matt figured out where he was hot and where he wasn't. Some of the routes were designed to go to Aaron. When it was there, Matt hit him. Matt is very comfortable with Aaron. When you do that there are going to be some statistical numbers out there, but I'm not a big fan of statistics. I'm a big fan of winning."
Boyce on His Big Day: "With the zone coverage Montana was playing, in film study we saw that we could take advantage of that. We just ran the routes we had practiced all week. Our coaches had a great game plan that put us in spots to make plays. I'm always thinking I can get open, but I wasn't paying much attention (to how many catches I had). I was just running what we practiced. It just happened to be my day today."
Nichols on Performance Against Montana: "I calmed myself down and played like it was practice. I didn't let any of the pressure of the crowd get to me. I just made plays when they were there. Our line protected me well all day and our receivers were getting open. I felt like I had it -- almost every pass I threw was on target."
Nichols on Scoring 20 Points in Four-Straight Possessions: "We felt like our passing game was going well. We felt like we could move down the field whenever we wanted. Momentum was just going our way."
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Eight recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 12 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis Have Two of EWU's Longest Non-Scoring Plays: Sophomores Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis now own two of the longest non-scoring plays in school history after having long receptions in back-to-back games against Idaho State and Portland State.
Davis had a non-scoring 78-yard reception from quarterback Matt Nichols against ISU on Sept. 22 that ranked as the second-longest non-scoring pass play in school history. It ranks only behind the 82-yard connection from Erik Meyer to Raul Vijil in Eastern's 2004 playoff victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois.
In Eastern's next game against PSU on Sept. 29, Brown had a non-scoring 85-yard reception that broke Vijil's record. Eastern's longest non-scoring rush in recorded school history was 80 yards, so Davis and Brown own two of the four longest non-scoring plays in recorded school history.
From 0-3 to 3-0: Eastern, 3-0 on the season, matched its win total from 2006 with a 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. Eastern had a 27-0 lead at halftime and had a 391-100 advantage in total offense when it took that advantage.
It was Eastern's first road trip of the season, and the Sept. 22 date equals EWU's latest road opener since 1987. Each of Paul Wulff's seven previous seasons as head coach had begun with games on the road.
Eastern hasn't started a season 3-0 since beginning the 1997 season with four-straight wins en route to a 12-2 finish. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play in 2006 after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.
Eastern started the 2006 season with losses to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a setback to NCAA Division II Central Washington.
Wulff on 3-0 Start Setting Up Team for a Successful Season: "It sure does. It gives us an opportunity to have success, it helps the program to grow, it helps recruiting and it helps the school. It's very challenging when you have to play a very difficult schedule early in the year. It feels like you are always trying to make it up the whole year. It's all about direction and what you are trying to accomplish with your program."
Wulff on Nichols After Three Games: "He's done a nice job and has worked hard. He's very committed to being a good football player and his commitment has shown up by his improvement. He still has a lot of things to get better at, but hopefully we can build off each week's performance. It's very important that we do that. He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around."
Happy 60th Birthday Coach Wulff!: Paul Wulff won't be 41 until Feb. 25, 2008, but that didn't stop his players from giving him a birthday wish on the plane flight home from EWU's game at Pocatello. The flight attendant wished Wulff a happy 60th birthday over the loudspeaker, which resulted in a roar of applause and laughter from the team. Upon arrival in Spokane, Wulff began an immediate investigation to identify and punish the culprit. Initial reports blamed the quarterback.
Brayton Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week: Junior Fritz Brayton was selected as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Eastern's 34-7 victory over Idaho State.
Brayton punted six times for a 47.7 average, with a long punt of 53 yards and two downed inside the Idaho State 20-yard line. The average field position for ISU was their own 20-yard line. In the second half, he had punts that were downed at the ISU 8 and 9 yard lines.
Brayton is a transfer from Washington State University and 2004 graduate of Westview High School in Portland, Ore. Brayton's father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at Washington State from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
Jarrett Helps Lead Impressive Effort by Defense: Safety Bryan Jarrett, one of just four seniors on the starting defense, had seven tackles and a key first-half interception in Eastern's 34-7 road win at Idaho State.
His interception at mid-field and 36-yard return led to a field goal that gave Eastern a 3-0 lead. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half, and had two other tackles that led to an Idaho State punt (in the first half) or loss of the ball on downs (in the second half).
Eastern would go on to score 24 more points -- including 10 more points off turnovers -- to take a 27-0 lead at halftime. When Eastern took its 27-0 lead, the Eagles had a 291-100 advantage in total yards. Idaho State scored its first points with 9:09 left in the game on a 92-yard drive. Idaho State finished with 400 yards, but 296 came in the second half.
The Eagles forced five turnovers against ISU, including three in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Jarrett, a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School, hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.
Eagles Add JC All-America Safety: Two-time junior college All-America defensive back Terry Mixon joined the Eastern football program on Sept. 11 and was able to play for the Eagles four days later against UC Davis. He finished with five tackles in his Eagle debut.
"He did well with the limited plays he received," Eagle head coach Paul Wulff said. "But that's how it is going to have to work for him right now. We'll try to get him a little more each game and get him ready. He's not in great shape but he's getting there. And he has to learn the system a little bit. Obviously he will be a great benefit for us."
Mixon left the Washington State University program the previous week after coming to the Cougars from Grossmont Community College near San Diego. Since classes didn't start at EWU until Sept. 26, Eagle head coach Paul Wulff was able to get Mixon admitted and enrolled at EWU. It was a much-needed boost for an Eastern team that lost three safeties for the season after just the first game of the year because of injuries.
"We were very fortunate to acquire somebody on such late notice," said Wulff, who lists Mixon as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. "We have a huge need right now at safety because of the three season-ending injuries we've already had at that position."
In 2006 as a sophomore at Grossmont, Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the nation. As a sophomore, he repeated as both an All-Foothill Conference first team pick and junior college All-America selection. He was All-California Region III first team and helped his team to 10-2 record and a second-round berth in state playoffs. He was named conference player of the week three times.
As a freshman, he helped Grossmont to a 13-1 record and the California State Championship. He was a four-time Foothill Conference Player of the Week. He earned all-conference first team honors and was named a junior college All-American.
Mixon was a quarterback and defensive back at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. He started at quarterback as a senior and rushed for almost 800 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 12 touchdown passes. He was a SuperPrep All-Far West selection (No. 70) as a defensive back. He had over 100 tackles, along with five interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
He was born Dec. 20, 1985, in San Diego, Calif. His parents are Timothy Mixon and Betty Randall.
First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols got off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.
The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.
Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 was much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."
In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.
Wulff on Sophomore Debut for Nichols: "The way he was practicing we thought there was a chance he would do well in this first game. We felt like we had better athletes outside at the receiver positions, and we knew that if we gave him enough time, he would be able to hit them. And that's what he did. His accuracy was good and I think of the six incompletions he had, three were dropped balls -- they were right in their hands."
Wulff on Reason for Early Success for Nichols: "The (biggest reasons) are last year's experience and the amount of work he has put in to get better. He's gotten to know his teammates better and doesn't have receivers that are freshmen to throw to. That is just part of college football and the maturation you have to go through. We went through that last year and we're better now because of it."
Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.
A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.
Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."
Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."
Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team was picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Eastern was coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.
Eastern returned 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.
Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred was selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.
A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). Hanni earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2004 when he was the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year.
A Former Minor League Baseball Player, Alexander Sees Action at Running Back: As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexis Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team's Offensive Player of the Year. He also saw action at running back in the 2007 season, and had 122 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis on Sept. 15. However, he missed EWU's last five games after suffering an abdominal injury that was later diagnosed as a hernia.
He started six games in 2006 at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000.
He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League. Alexander graduated from Medical Lake HS in 2001.
Alfred Family Affair: Senior guard Matt Alfred's younger brother Kenny Alfred currently plays as a lineman at Washington State. Matt graduated from Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School in 2003 and Kenny graduated from Gig Harbor in 2005.
The Alfred brothers' father, David, played at Western Washington. David and his wife Claudia attended 19 of 23 of the games their sons played in the 2006 season, however, sometimes they had to separate so at least one of them could attend games on the same weekend. In 2007, at least one parent has attended every game their sons played.
New Kickers in 2007: Junior college transfer Felipe Macias won the starting kicking job over freshmen redshirts Craig Danielson and Matt Pierce. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton handled punting duties. They replaced two of the best kickers in school history -- Brett Bergstrom and Ryan Donckers. Bergstrom kicked a school-record 15 field goals in 2007, including three of 50 yards or longer, to become the only Eagle in 2006 to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Donckers averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history, and his career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
Notworthy Relatives: A quartet of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is former Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. Tight end Nathan Overbay is the nephew of Major League Baseball player Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays.
And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL.
Several Coaching Changes in 2007: Eastern's new coaches in 2007 include offensive line coach Tom Ackerman, a former EWU All-American who spent eight years in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy won 85 games as a head coach at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, and among his assistants there were current EWU defensive coordinator Jody Sears and former EWU offensive coordinator and current WSU quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach. In addition, former Cal Poly quarterback Chris Peterson has joined Eastern as running backs coach. Veteran Eastern coach Joe Wade has moved to wide receivers, Sears will coach defensive ends, Jeff Schmedding coaches safeties and Travis Niekamp has added special teams coordination to his coaching duties.
Timing Rule Changes Rescinded: Two timing rules put into effect in 2006 were rescinded for the 2007 season. The changes were originally designed to speed up play, but as a result provided for less plays in the game as the game clock in 2006 was started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock started on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It also started when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play. In 2006, there were an average of 126.9 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). In 2005, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
Terms I-A and I-AA Eliminated: The terms I-A and I-AA are no longer being used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A are now referred to as the "NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision" or "FBS" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision" or "FCS." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels and were approved by the NCAA Board of Directors.
The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.
"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."
Sturdy Takes Over as Offensive Coordinator: St. Ambrose University head football coach Todd Sturdy decided to leave his post to take the offensive coordinator position at Eastern, it was announced on March 13, 2007.
Sturdy was 85-40 in 12 seasons as head coach for SAU, which is located in Davenport, Iowa. Sturdy, 39, was selected as NAIA Region 2 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association after coaching the Fighting Bees to a perfect 10-0 regular season finish. The team's season came to an end with a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Morningside in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
Wulff has known Sturdy for seven years, dating back to when Timm Rosenbach joined the EWU coaching staff after a stint at St. Ambrose. Rosenbach is now the quarterbacks coach at Washington State University. Jody Sears also worked for Sturdy at St. Ambrose.
"He has a proven track record as an assistant and has accomplished even more as a head coach," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "I first met him seven years ago and it's a great fit. He's going to bring great leadership, passion and work ethic to our program. He's an excellent worker"
Besides serving as offensive coordinator, Wulff said Sturdy will also coach quarterbacks, assist with special teams and serve as the team's academic liaison. He replaced Beau Baldwin, who left Eastern to become head coach at Central Washington University.
Ackerman Joins EWU Coaching Staff: A former starter in the National Football League and one of the greatest offensive linemen in school history, Tom Ackerman took over as offensive line coach when preseason practices for the 2007 season began in mid-August.
Formerly from Nooksack, Wash., Ackerman played eight seasons in the NFL, including the first six with the New Orleans Saints and the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Ackerman was the 145th pick overall in the 1996 NFL Draft and was the first offensive lineman in Washington and the Big Sky Conference to be taken. He was a third team All-American at EWU following his senior season in 1995.
"Tom will give us a great presence," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who came to Eastern in 1993. "I coached Tom when I first arrived here and spent three seasons with him. We see the exact same things and work well together. It will be great for our players."
He played in 105 career games in the NFL, including 21 as a starter. While in the NFL, he started and ran the Ack for Kids Foundation for five years, with proceeds benefiting children in his hometown and Whatcom County. Following his playing career, he returned to the Spokane area and has spent time in private business and as a football coach and strength coach. In 2007, he coached the offensive line for the Spokane Shock in arenafootball2.
Ackerman is a 1991 graduate of Nooksack Valley High School where he earned All-State honors in football as a linebacker and tight end. He started 32 games at Eastern, playing as a guard, tackle, center and long snapper. He earned third team All-America accolades and first team All-Big Sky honors as a senior, and was a second team All-BSC pick as a junior. The Eagles won 21 games in his four seasons, including the Big Sky Conference regular season title in 1992.
Ackerman was born Sept. 6, 1972, in Nooksack, and turned 35 during Eastern's bye week in the 2007 schedule. He has three daughters - Riley (9), Lexi (8) and Avery (6). His brother T.J., who was an offensive lineman at Eastern and played briefly in the Canadian Football League, is now living in Ferndale, Wash. T.J. is selling real estate along with their father Jim, who is the current mayor of Nooksack.
Eagles to Play Colorado in 2008: Eastern has agreed to play the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2008 football season as Eastern will play its first-ever game against a Big 12 Conference foe. The game versus the member of the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2008, in Boulder, Colo.
The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006. Colorado finished 2-10 a year ago under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins and has no FCS opponents on its 2007 schedule.
Eastern's eight Big Sky Conference games in 2008 begin Sept. 27 with a home game against Idaho State and conclude Nov. 22 at Weber State. Other league home games include Montana (Oct. 11), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15).
Eagles Looking for 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 13 seasons from 1995-2007, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games. The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington's season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern's second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott's single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern's season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern's first 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded - 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games: After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)