Eagles rise to No. 1 in Sports Network poll and will enter FCS Playoffs with 9-2 record and seven-game winning streak
At times this season, it has seemed the Eagles needed to pinch themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming.
Sunday (Nov. 21) was one of those days for the Eastern Washington University football team.
An hour after the Eagles secured its highest ranking in school history in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, the Eagles received a first-round bye and No. 5 seed in the FCS Playoffs which begin this week. Eastern will host Southeast Missouri on Dec. 4 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., with a starting time of 1:05 p.m. Pacific time.
“It’s great to be No. 1, but it all comes down to proving where we are ranked in the polls,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “It’s a great achievement for our players and coaches, and you can’t be ranked any higher than that at the end of the regular season. You can make a lot of arguments about which teams should be seeded one through five, but we’re thankful we are in the playoffs and we have a home playoff game. We’re just excited about that.”
The game will not be televised nationally and local/regional coverage has yet to be determined, but it will be available via webcast. If the Eagles win their opener and advance to the quarterfinals, they may end up playing at fourth-seeded Montana State, which was the last team to defeat Eastern, 30-7 on Sept. 25 in Bozeman, Mont.
Montana, after 17-straight years of appearances in the playoffs, was not in the 2010 field. The Grizzlies were the 2009 FCS runner-up.
“Because we do it right at our level, we have a playoff to decide it,” Baldwin added. “All 20 teams have an opportunity to win a national championship, and they all think they have a legitimate shot.”
Southeast Missouri is ranked ninth in The Sports Network poll, and finished the regular season 9-2 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference title with a 7-1 record. The Redhawks, located in Cape Girardeau, Mo., lost its season opener 27-10 to Ball State and its final game 29-27 to eighth-ranked Jacksonville State on Nov. 13.
Instead of having to wait for results from a first-round game, both teams will have the opportunity for a week off before playing again.
“We know who we play and they do too,” said Baldwin. “We have two weeks to look at film, lift weights, practice and stay sharp. We don’t know much about each other yet, but in two weeks we will.”
Tickets for the game will be available Monday morning at 8 a.m. via TicketsWest.com and 1-800-325-7328. Links will also be available via www.goeags.com (http://goeags.com/tickets/ewas-fbticketcentral.html). Prices range from $10-20, and RV/tailgating passes and 2011 season tickets are also available. Current season ticket holders have until Dec. 2 to purchase their playoff tickets, and after that those seats will be available for the general public to purchase.
The Associated Students of Eastern Washington University (ASEWU) will be subsidizing discounted tickets for Eastern students with valid and up-to-date identification cards. Cost will be $2 per ticket for the first 1,000 students and may be purchased at the customer service desk at the EWU Bookstore or the Athletic Ticket Office at Reese Court (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). After the first 1,000 tickets are distributed, student tickets are $5 each.
Ticket information is also available by calling 509-359-4339.
“Being able to play at home where you are used to your surroundings is important,” said Baldwin, whose team is 5-0 on its new red Sprinturf surface at the “Inferno.” “Playing at home is an advantage, but we know all 20 teams are very good no matter where you play. But we would rather be playing at home than on the road.”
The Eagles wrapped-up a 9-2 finish by defeating Idaho State 34-7 Nov. 20 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., and earning a share of the Big Sky Conference title with Montana State. It was EWU’s fifth Big Sky title, having also won in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005.
With seven-straight victories, the Eagles have the fourth-longest winning streak in FCS and best among the 20 playoff teams (Lehigh has also won seven in a row). Eastern has out-scored its last seven opponents 234-138.
This year’s squad has surpassed the 1997 team -- which was sixth to end the regular season and fourth after the FCS Playoffs -- for the school’s highest ranking ever. That squad won a pair of playoff games to advance to the semifinals and finish 12-2.
But Eastern hasn’t overwhelmed opponents this season. Seven of Eastern’s nine wins this year have come by an average of just under seven points per game, including five decided by seven points or less. Of those seven games, the Eagles have trailed or been tied in the fourth quarter of four of them, in one they trailed in the third quarter and in the other two they were scoreless in the final stanza.
Even Southeast Missouri has squeaked out wins this season. Of its nine wins, four were by seven points or less.
“We found ways to win close games and grind out victories,” said Baldwin. “A lot of the 20 teams in the playoffs did that same thing. We’re riding a seven-game winning streak and our players have earned that. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished this season.”
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern will be making its eighth appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2010, ranking the Eagles among a select group of 25 schools with at least that many berths.
It is also the fifth berth in a seven-year span as EWU’s appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances until this year. Last year the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round.
The only other five teams to have qualified five of the last seven years are Appalachian State (2005-06-07-08-09-10), Montana (2004-05-06-07-08-09), New Hampshire (2004-05-06-07-08-09-10), Richmond (2005-07-08-09-10) and Southern Illinois (2004-05-06-07-08-09).
Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-7 record in seven playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009). Only 17 teams have made more playoff appearances than the Eagles.
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 postseason 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 (EWU
received a first-round bye in 2010, the first year the playoffs
were expanded to 20 teams):
2010 - Southeast Missour State - Dec. 4, 2010 (Second Round/Cheney)
2009 - at Stephen F. Austin - L, 33-44 (First Round)
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)
More About The Playoffs: This year’s field for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs will include 20 teams for the first time. The Northeast and Big South Conferences will both send their regular-season champions to the postseason for the first time. Those two leagues join the Big Sky, Colonial, Southern, Southland, Patriot, Ohio Valley, MEAC, and Missouri Valley as leagues with automatic bids to the playoffs. Two conferences choose not to participate in the football championship, the Ivy League and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The other 10 bids go to at-large teams. Eight teams play first-round games on Saturday, Nov. 27. Twelve teams receive first-round byes, and play in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 4. The quarterfinals are Saturday, Dec. 11, with the semifinals the following week. Five teams are seeded, meaning they will play home games unless playing a higher-seeded team or if they did not meet the NCAA’s minimum guarantee to host.
Frisco, Texas, is the new host city for the 2010 NCAA Division I Football Championship game, which will played at Pizza Hut Park on Jan. 7, 2011. The 23,500-seat multi-purpose stadium will be the host site for the championship game for the next three years.
Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show: Eastern Washington University football fans are invited to view weekly video and hear commentary from Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin Mondays at 5:30 p.m. at Northern Quest Resort and Casino near the Spokane airport. The sessions, which include giveaways and other special guests, take place each Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant. Baldwin will show video from the previous game and provide commentary prior to his appearance on the Eagle Coaches Show at 6 p.m., live from the "Q" at Northern Quest. Both events will take place in the former broadcast room adjacent to the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant. Fans will be able to order food and beverages and listen to the show from that location, as well as watch Monday Night Football and other sporting events. The show is aired on 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket” and via the internet at www.espnnorthwest.com. For more information on the show and directions to Northern Quest, go to: http://goeags.com/genrel/releases/10atOct15
More Coach/Player Comments . . .
Head Coach BEAU BALDWIN
“It’s a good spot to be in to get a bye and be guaranteed a home game. That’s huge. But like everybody else, we’re excited to be in the playoffs and we all think we have a shot.”
“Whenever you have a hectic Thanksgiving you know you are in a good spot. So this time around will be a little different for us. We’ll be able to work Monday through Wednesday, then still have plenty of time after Thanksgiving to get ready for a game.”
“A lot of people have put in a lot a lot of time, effort and money to change and improve things here. And our players stepped it up a notch in January. We had a great season in 2009, and they all wanted to see what we could do in 2010. A lot of people thought it would be a rebuilding year, but our program took it on as a challenge. We have tried to accomplish more this year than we did in 2009. We have done that this season, but we can still prove it a lot more in the playoffs.”
Linebacker J.C. SHERRITT
“We’re just happy to still be playing. There are only 20 teams that get this shot. We’re excited to play another game, and getting a bye just makes it better. This is the first time I can be part of playing a playoff game at home, and we get to play it on our new red field.”
“They have the same record as we do, so we know they are going to be a great team. In the playoffs you go against good opponents regardless -- we know that from past history.”
“It’s really cool for the program to be No. 1. The best part about the playoffs is that in our division you get to find out the rankings on the field. We’ll find out if we really are No. 1 or not.”
Defensive Tackle TYLER JOLLEY
“It feels really good. I haven’t been part of a team to win a Big Sky Conference title until now -- this was four years in the making. Now we get a week of rest to prepare for our next game. It’s exciting.”
“Our senior class has played across the country in the playoffs before. But it’s nice to play at home and have another team have to come to our house.”
“I’m super proud of what this team has accomplished -- I couldn’t be happier. A lot of new players and a lot of young players have stepped up for us this year.”
“We had a bye week a few weeks ago, and we came back from that healthy and flying around. Hopefully we’ll do that again. It’s nice to be able to relax (on Thanksgiving) and them come back and get back to work.”
“It’s pretty nice to get the No. 1 ranking. But it doesn’t mean anything unless we go out and prove it.”
Running Back TAIWAN JONES
“This feels good and we’re excited about being in the playoffs. We haven’t in this position before with a home game, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”
“Regardless of who we play and where we play, we have to win four games to win the national championship. We have a lot to prove and that’s what we have to go out and do. We have the home field advantage and we have received good support from our fans this season.”
“We’re peaking and are playing our best football. But we still make a lot of mistakes, so we have to watch film and keeping on working hard to improve. We hope we can keep getting better each week.”
“It will definitely help a lot having a week off. We have a lot of aches and bruises that need to heal. Having the week off will help.”