Up to 12th in Rankings, Eastern at Northern Colorado
Schedule eases with game against first non-ranked foe of the season, but the Eagles know they are prime for an upset if they don't "clean-up" some things after narrow 21-14 escape
Eastern Washington Univ. "Eagles"
Northern Colorado University "Bears"
Saturday, October 16 • 12:35 p.m.
Nottingham Field (8,500/Grass) • Greeley, Colo.
EWU Coach: Beau Baldwin (Central Washington '96)
School Record: 18-11/14-6 Big Sky (3rd Season)
Career Record: 28-14 (4th Season -- was 10-3 at CWU in 2007, 6-5 at EWU in 2008, 8-4 at EWU in 2009)
2010: 4-2/3-1 Big Sky Conference
Last Game: EWU 21, Northern Arizona 14 (Oct. 9 in Cheney, Wash.)
2009: 8-4/6-2 Big Sky Conference
TV: Televised regionally by Altitude Sports and Entertainment and Comcast Sports Net
Radio: 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 20th season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen.
Internet Radio: www.espnnorthwest.com
Weekly Coaches Show: Mondays, 6 p.m. at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. . . 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" in Spokane and www.espnnorthwest.com
Watch Parties: All road games will be available to watch at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Resort & Casino.
Cruise control for the 12th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team? Don't count on it.
Despite coming out of the most difficult portion of its league schedule with a 3-1 record, the Eagles seek to avoid being upset this week when they head back on the road to face Northern Colorado Saturday (Oct. 16) in a Big Sky Conference game. Kickoff is 12:35 p.m. Pacific time in the first game this season for the Eagles against a foe not nationally-ranked at one point during the current season.
This week's game will be regionally televised on Altitude Sports and Entertainment as well as on Comcast Sports Net (channel 179 in Spokane).
The Eagles are coming off a 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona, giving them a 4-2 record overall and 3-1 league mark. The Eagles are ranked 12th in this week's Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll, up one spot from last week.
Having already played the top four picks in the league's preseason predictions besides itself, all six of EWU's opponents thus far have been nationally ranked in their respective divisions. But last week's narrow loss showed that the Eagles still have a ways to go to become a contender for the Big Sky title and for the school's fifth berth in the FCS Playoffs in the seven seasons.
"We have to clean some things up," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team had five turnovers against NAU. "There are a lot of little things we have to improve if we want to make a run to the championship."
Northern Colorado is coming off a 42-7 loss at Sacramento State, and has been out-scored 117-21 in its last three outings, including games against nationally-ranked juggernauts Michigan State (45-7) and Montana (30-7). The Bears are 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the league, and won their first two home games of the season versus Adams State (54-0) and Idaho State (35-21), and suffered a four-overtime loss on the road at Weber State (50-47).
"This conference -- top to bottom -- has gotten so much stronger that anyone can beat anyone on any given day," said Baldwin, whose team knocked off UNC 16-0 in Cheney last season. "I know that is cliché to say, but it's the truth. You have to look no further than Northern Colorado's game against Weber State a few weeks back. And you can look at our game against them last year -- it was a defensive battle and we had to scrap our way to a win. They are a tough opponent for us to play and it's a tough road trip, so it will take us playing well to win."
Again, Baldwin is most concerned with his team's own production rather than the opponent. The Eagles have been out-gained in most statistical categories, including total offense (419.2 per game to 407.8) and scoring (29.3 to 26.3), and are averaging 2.5 turnovers per game.
The Eagles have also missed six field goals, and perhaps too much has been expected out of an Eastern defense that has intercepted 11 passes this season to rank sixth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. In fact, of the 23 touchdowns Eastern has surrendered, four of them have come on opponent interception returns for scores (three) or fumble recoveries (one).
Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt has led the charge with 66 tackles thus far this season, an average of 11.0 per game to rank 16th in FCS, a year after he led the division with an average of just over 14 per outing. He had 16 tackles with an interception, sack and quarterback hurry in EWU's victory over NAU to earn recognition as a national Sporting News All-Star and the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Eastern rolled up 465 yards of offense in a 35-24 win over Weber State, but that slipped to 354 against NAU. Eastern has won its four games by an average of just 7.5 points per game and has been out-scored by an average of 24 points in its losses.
"Each week is its own," said Baldwin of this week's outing. "We need to perform well and get into a better rhythm -- the type of rhythm we had against Weber State. We had it at times against NAU, but we shoot ourselves in the foot and are not getting points when we need to, even if we don't score a touchdown. We have to get better and we have to improve our execution in the field goal department. We have to get points when we have the opportunity to go up by 10 or 17."
Eastern junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has been very accurate in his last two outings, completing 69 percent of his passes (43-of-62) with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an average of 312.5 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 181.61. In his first four games of the season, he completed 51.4 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, four interceptions, 236.8 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 113.07.
His efficiency rating for the season has ballooned to 133.31, good enough to rank 32nd in FCS. After four games, he ranked 70th.
"He's getting better every week and you've seen it in the last two games," said Baldwin. "He's putting the ball in spots where our receivers can make plays. The offensive line is doing a great job up front. I feel like there are fewer mistakes than there were at the beginning of the year, no question. But even more than that, there is a comfort level and trust that the quarterbacks and receivers have together. They are on the same page, and it shows on video from the last two games. It's good to see that process."
Mitchell's performances in the last two games have helped take some of the offensive pressure off Eastern's running game, which has struggled without a healthy Taiwan Jones in the lineup. Jones played for the first time since suffering a pelvic contusion two weeks ago, and finished with just 48 rushing yards on 16 carries against NAU.
He entered as the sixth-best rusher in FCS (129.5 per game), but NAU's rush defense entered sixth nationally (84.0) and held EWU to a net total of 66 yards. A candidate for the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in FCS, Jones had an average of 238.8 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game entering the game versus the Lumberjacks, but has slipped to fourth with a current average of 200.6 per game.
However, Jones showed flashes of brilliance against NAU that has Baldwin excited for the day when Jones is fully healthy again. After his fumble was recovered in the end zone for a NAU touchdown, he left the game for good early in the fourth quarter with an ailing back and hip.
"He definitely wasn't where he can be when he's fully healthy," said Baldwin. "He's an impact player and gives us a lot of things. You can tell he was just finding himself again, and on some runs he was just trying to do too much -- and that's natural sometimes. But anytime we can get that No. 22 back it's a good thing."
As an Eastern cornerback as a freshman in 2008, Jones returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in versus Northern Colorado.
First Six Opponents Nationally-Ranked, Including Top Four Picks in League Race: Eastern started the season against a Nevada team that played in last year's Hawaii Bowl, and the schedule has been difficult ever since.
Eastern lost that game 49-24, and Nevada has since gone 6-0 and ranks 19th in this week's Associated Press poll of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Central Washington has been ranked as high as fifth in NCAA Division II, and was 12th when the Eagles edged them 35-32 at the "Showdown on the Sound" in Seattle on Sept. 11.
Since then, Eastern has played the top four picks in the league's preseason predictions besides itself, and all four have been nationally ranked in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Montana, which Eastern defeated 36-27 on Sept. 18, was ranked sixth in the nation the week Eastern played them, but was No. 1 the week before that. Eastern was ranked a season-high ninth after the win over UM, but lost 30-7 to a Montana State team that was 17th at the time and this week is a season-high ninth.
The Eagles have won their last two games, including a 35-24 victory over a Weber State team ranked as high as 19th this year. On Oct. 9, Eastern defeated a Northern Arizona team ranked 26th in the Sports Network poll and 24th in the coaches poll.
Eastern was picked to finish second in the league behind Montana, with Montana State picked to finish third. Weber State was selected fourth and NAU fifth, followed by Sacramento State, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Idaho State.
The Sagarin computer rankings illustrate Eastern's strength of schedule thus far. In fact, the Big Sky is the top-rated FCS conference in the country this week. Nevada is 14th nationally among all FCS and FBS schools, while Montana State is 50th to rank third among all FCS schools. Eastern is ninth in FCS and 74th overall, followed by NAU (10th/84th), Portland State (16th/96th), Montana (17th/101st), Sacramento State (18th/102nd), Southern Utah (38th/144th), Weber State (40th/146th), Northern Colorado (73rd/190th) and Idaho State (87th/206th).
Eastern 2-0 at the "Inferno": Now 2-0 at home this season, Eastern had a successful debut on its new red synthetic Sprinturf surface Sept. 18 in Cheney, Wash., defeating rival Montana 36-27 in the first game at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Eastern scored the go-ahead points with four seconds left on a 31-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett, then added a fumble return for a touchdown on the final play to create bedlam after a record crowd of 11,702 attended the game against the 12-time defending league champions.
Eastern followed that with a 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona three weeks later on Oct. 9, needing a huge defensive effort in the fourth quarter to hold-off the Lumberjacks. The Eagles had five turnovers in the game and NAU had 30 more offensive plays and a 10-minute edge in time of possession, but EWU stopped NAU three times on downs in its final three possessions of the game. Those drives ended at the Eastern 36, 3 and 38 yard lines, with 17:45, 11:33 and 3:37 left in the game.
"It's only the beginning, but we're very happy to have it," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of its home-field advantage. "It's something that our players have really grabbed on to as their own. It's their home and they take pride in it."
Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show: Starting Oct. 11, Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin will show video from the previous game and provide commentary prior to his appearance on the Eagle Coaches Show at the Q Sports Bar and Restaurant at Northern Quest Casino and Resort. The "meet and greet" begins at 5:30 p.m. each Monday, followed by his appearance on the radio show at 6 p.m.
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. 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/sports/m-footbl/2010-11/releases/10fbAug26Coaches_Show.doc
PDF Link to Fact Book: The complete version of
the 2010 EWU football fact book may be found at:
More Eagle Football Links and Headlines:
EWU Football Web Page - http://goeags.com/sports/m-footbl/index
Big Sky Conference Football - http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=football&path=football
Spokane Spokesman-Review EWU Football Page - http://www.spokesman.com/sections/eagles
The Sports Network (FCS Football) - http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=cfoot2/indexpic.htm
NCAA FCS Football - http://www.ncaafootball.com/index.php?s=&url_channel_id=36&change_well_id=1
NCAA Statistics - http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/mainpage.jsp?year=2010
College Sporting News - http://www.collegesportingnews.com
Championship Subdivision News - http://www.championshipsubdivisionnews.com
RECENT EWU FOOTBALL HEADLINES:
October 11, 2010 - J.C. Sherritt Earns National & Big Sky Player of the Week Accolades
October 11, 2010 - Baldwin to Show Video Prior to Coaches Show
October 9, 2010 - No. 13 Eagles Survive for 21-14 Victory Over No. 26 Lumberjacks
October 7, 2010 - Sherritt & Reinstein Initial Scholar-Athletes
October 7, 2010 - Q and A: Standout Football Player J.C. Sherritt
October 2, 2010 - No. 16 Eastern Surge Past Wildcats 35-24
September 25, 2010 - No. 17 Bobcats Romp Past No. 9 Eagles 30-7
September 20, 2010 - Taiwan Jones Wins National Accolades as Eagles Climb to No. 9
September 18, 2010 - Late Scores Lift No. 18 Eagles Past No. 6 Grizzlies 36-27
September 16, 2010 - Q&A: Football Player Zach Johnson
September 15, 2010 - Pair of Events Help Inaugurate Red Turf
September 15, 2010 - Eagles Schedule Another Game Versus UW for 2014
September 13, 2010 - Red Turf Inaugurated as No. 18 Eastern hosts No. 6 Montana
September 11, 2010 - No. 17 Eagles Gear-Up for Red Turf Debut With 35-32 Victory
September 9, 2010 - Q and A: Football Coach Zak Hill
September 6, 2010 - Payton Award Candidate Wins First Award of 2010 Season
September 6, 2010 - Nathan Overbay Signed to Practice Squad by Dolphins
September 2, 2010 - Taiwan Jones Has Big Day, But Eastern Falls to Wolf Pack 49-24
September 1, 2010 - Eagles-Grizzlies Reserved Tickets Sell Out in 23 Minutes
August 27, 2010 - Eagles Open 2010 Season at Powerful Nevada
August 27, 2010 - Red Turf Gets Overwhelming Approval from Eagle Players
August 26, 2010 - Radio Show Featuring Baldwin Airs Live From Northern Quest
August 25, 2010 - EWU-PSU to Play for the Dam Cup
August 16, 2010 - Eagles 13th in The Sports Network Preseason Poll
August 13, 2010 - Red Turf is Exciting, But Eagles Have Lots of Work Ahead
August 3, 2010 - Red Sprinturf Arrives; Installation Probably Starts Wednesday
August 2, 2010 - Football Practices Begin Aug. 9
July 27, 2010 - Red Sprinturf Set to Arrive Aug. 3
July 26, 2010 - More Preseason Honors for Eagle Trio
July 21, 2010 - Buck Buchanan Watch List Includes Eastern J.C. Sherritt
July 20, 2010 - Eagles Picked to Finish Second Behind Grizzlies
July 19, 2010 - Sherritt is Big Sky's Choice as Preseason Defensive POW
July 13, 2010 - Taiwan Jones on Walter Payton Watch List
June 28, 2010 - Eastern Games to Air on 700 ESPN The Ticket
June 12, 2010 - "Turfbreaking" Begins Excavation Work for Red Turf Project
June 5, 2010 - 2009-10 Awards Presented to Eastern Student-Athletes at "EeeWoos"
May 20, 2010 - With Addition of New Turf, a New Name for Eastern's Football Field
Buck Buchanan Candidate Has 10th Performance of 15 Tackles or More in Win: Buck Buchanan Award candidate J.C. Sherritt has earned recognition as a national Sporting News All-Star and the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in last Saturday's (Oct. 9) 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona.
The 2006 graduate of Pullman, Wash., High School had 16 tackles -- the 10th time in his career he has had at least 15 tackles -- in the win over the Lumberjacks. He also had an interception, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
Sherritt is EWU's leading tackler thus far with 66 for the season, an average of 11.0 per game that ranks 16th in FCS. Last season he led FCS with an average of just over 14 per game.
"He's already had a couple of key interceptions and he's gotten better in his pass defense," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "When he needs to step up and make tackles he does it, and time after time he's tough to block. All the way back to last year has been playing like a Buck Buchanan Award candidate. I think that sometimes when you are a little bit better as a whole on defense certain individual stats might go down a little bit. But that takes nothing away from how he is playing -- he's doing other things that sometimes don't get noticed even that much better."
Eastern's defense stepped up big in the second half, stopping NAU on downs in its last three possessions. Eastern held the Lumberjacks to 317 total yards (3.6 per play) despite NAU having an 87-57 advantage in total plays. The Lumberjacks had 278 passing and just 39 rushing.
"I'm proud of the defense for stepping up," said Baldwin. "I'm still proud of the entire team for staying together and finding a way to win. But our defense was put in a tough spot a number of times and they found a way to get stops. That was great."
The Eastern strong-side inside linebacker now has 322 tackles to fifth sixth in school history, and five career interceptions to go along with 10 passes broken up. He needs 78 more tackles to break the school record of 399 held by Greg Belzer (1997-2000). He also set school and league records with 24 tackles against Weber State on Oct. 10, 2009.
Sherritt had an interception and 11 tackles to go over the 300-tackle mark in his career in Eastern's 35-14 victory over Weber State. His interception against the Wildcats was one of three the Eagles had that their offense turned into touchdowns. Sherritt returned his pick at the goal line 33 yards to help lead to a 67-yard drive and a 35-17 advantage. Interestingly, on the previous possession middle linebacker Tyler Washburn also had an interception on the goal line that he returned 32 yards to set-up a 68-yard drive.
He also had 11 tackles at Weber State, 11 against Montana State, 12 in Eastern's 36-27 victory over sixth-ranked Montana, 11 and a pass broken up versus Central Washington and he had five tackles and broke-up two passes in Eastern's opener against Nevada on Sept. 2.
A year after finishing second in the voting, Sherritt was selected to the 20-player watch list for the 2010 Buck Buchanan Award awarded by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Sherritt, a 2006 graduate of Pullman (Wash.) High School, averaged 14.17 tackles per game (170 total) as a junior in 2009 to lead FCS and catapult him into contention for the Buchanan Award. Arthur Moats from James Madison won the award last year, and in 2008 the winner was Eastern's Greg Peach (now playing for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League).
Since 2000 when the Big Sky and FCS began keeping statistics as a record, Sherritt's total was a league record and the seventh-most in FCS, and his average of 14.17 was also a league record and 13th in FCS history. Besides his 170 tackles, Sherritt had 14 tackles for loss, four passes broken up, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception he returned for a touchdown.
Sponsored by Fathead.com, the Buchanan Award is in its 16th season and will be presented on Thursday, Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas -- the night before the championship game of the FCS Playoffs.
Besides Sherritt, other finalists from 2009 on this year's watch list include Grambling State senior defensive end Christian Anthony (fourth), Appalachian State senior strong safety Mark LeGree (fifth) and Richmond senior defensive tackle Martin Parker (13th). Two other Big Sky Conference players are on the list -- defensive end Christian Clark of Sacramento State and Montana junior cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
The Buchanan Award Watch List was updated on Oct. 4 and will be revised again on Oct. 25. Ballots will be sent to a panel of approximately 200 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries after the regular season on Nov. 22.
The Sports Network also presents the Walter Payton and Eddie Robinson awards, which are also sponsored by Fathead. The Payton Award honors the FCS player of the year and the Robinson Award honors the FCS coach of the year. Those two awards, like the Buchanan, will be presented at the national awards banquet.
Mitchell Impressive in Back-to-Back Victories: Southern Methodist University transfer Bo Levi Mitchell has been very accurate in his last two outings, completing 69 percent of his passes (43-of-62) with seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an average of 312.5 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 181.61. In his first four games of the season, he completed 51.4 percent of his passes for six touchdowns, four interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 236.8 yards per game and a passing efficiency rating of 113.07.
His efficiency rating for the season has ballooned to 133.31, good enough to rank 32nd in FCS. After four games, he ranked 70th. In his most recent outing, Mitchell had a 20-of-26 performance for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Northern Arizona.
"He'll be the first to tell you he didn't play like he is capable, especially with his second interception," Baldwin said of Mitchell's performance versus NAU. "He's hard on himself but he's certainly made strides in these last two games. We have to keep our players understanding to let the game come to them. We are going to have our big plays, but just don't try to force it if it's not there."
Mitchell had his first 300-yard passing performance as an Eagle in EWU's 35-24 victory at Weber State on Oct. 2, completing 23-of-36 passes (64 percent) for 337 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He led the Eagles on scoring drives of 66, 65, 80, 68 and 67 yards, including the final three during a 21-0 scoring run in the second half that turned a 17-14 deficit into a 35-17 advantage. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.
"He took each play one at a time and kept taking what they would give him," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "He took underneath routes when they were there and led us to first downs. And when it was time to go over the top he put it in spots where our guys could catch it. I thought from the get-go all the way back to the spring that he has those tools. It takes time in a new system and time getting used to things. I'm really proud of him because what he did in practice carried over into the game. He did a great job."
So far this season Mitchell has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 1,572 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 133.31. In FCS statistics, he ranks 16th in passing offense (262.0 yards per game), 17th in total offense (263.2) and 32nd in efficiency.
In Eastern's opener against Nevada, he was a respectable 19-of-35 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that by going 16-of-27 for 188 yards and a pair of scores against Central Washington, and was 17-of-37 for 234 yards versus Montana. In EWU's loss versus Montana State, he was 24-of-49 for 272 yards as his 49 attempts equaled the 14th-most in school history.
Mitchell secured the starting quarterback position with outstanding performances in three spring scrimmages, and was named the starter on April 29 -- barely three weeks into spring drills.
Mitchell came to Eastern from Southern Methodist where he started all 19 of the games he played. In his career, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell completed 385-of-676 passes (57.0 percent) for 4,590 yards (241.6 per game) with 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. He was also 29-1 as a high school starter at Katy (Texas) High School.
"He's performed extremely well considering he had to learn a new system," Baldwin said before the season began. "He has all the tools to be a great collegiate quarterback at any level. He can make every throw in our offense and do them all well -- and a lot of them are not easy."
Eastern had entered the spring taking a look at six players competing for the starting quarterback position. Returning letter winners Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett were in the mix, as well as 2009 redshirts Nick Gauthier and Anthony Vitto. Minnerly and Burgett are both sophomores, but had only 10 pass attempts between them as redshirt freshmen in 2009. Gauthier is a junior who transferred from Bakersfield College in California, and Vitto is a freshman. The sixth was Greg Panelli, a strong-armed, 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns at Modesto Junior College and twice earned All-Golden Gate Conference honors.
Minnerly, however, was moved to safety during spring practice, and is now Eastern's starter at free safety. Vitto and Gauthier are the backups behind Mitchell on the depth chart.
In three spring scrimmages, Mitchell completed 24-of-36 passes (67 percent) for 352 yards and three touchdowns -- all to sophomore Nicholas Edwards -- with just one interception. He helped the White to a 20-0 victory over the Red in EWU's Spring Game, completing a pass for 61 yards to Greg Herd on the game's first play before scoring on an 8-yard scamper.
In his lone scrimmage of fall practices, Mitchell was 10-of-16 for 151 yards as he led the offense on two long touchdown drives. He capped a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to open the scrimmage, then later ended a five-play, 70-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Herd.
In six total scrimmages in the spring and fall, Vitto was 32-of-58 for 352 yards, one touchdown and had two interceptions. Gauthier was 33-of-63 for 304 yards, two TDs and four picks. Burgett and Panelli played in four scrimmages each, and Burgett was 12-of-20 for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Panelli was 8-of-13 for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Jones Falls to Fourth in All-Purpose Yards: After getting just 16 touches of the ball and 48 yards (all rushing) against Northern Arizona, ailing junior running back Taiwan Jones has slipped to fourth in NCAA Championship Subdivision in all-purpose yards per game. He missed one game with a pelvic contusion suffered against Montana State, and was also sidelined with spasms in his back and hip late in the game against Northern Arizona.
A candidate for the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in FCS, Jones has an average of 200.6 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game, and is also 11th in rushing (113.2 per game) and 72nd in scoring (6.0 per game with five total touchdowns).
Jones, who averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore, was named to the initial 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List this past summer by The Sports Network. And so far, he's lived up to that billing with a current average of 6.9 yards per rush (7.8 entering the NAU game).
Jones has a career average of 150.1 all-purpose yards per game to currently rank as the school record, his 1,016 kickoff return yards are seventh and his average of 23.1 yards per kickoff return is 10th. His total all-purpose yardage of 3,603 ranks 10th, and by the end of the season he should be on Eastern's all-time lists for rushing yards (currently with 1,779), scoring (144) and touchdowns (25).
He now has eight plays in his career of 71 yards or more, 13 of at least 50 and 27 of at least 32 yards. Five have been for at least 80 yards, including a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Nine times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has eight rushing performances of at least 100 yards.
Jones earned Big Sky Conference and national accolades for his career-high 221-yard rushing performance in Eastern's 36-27 victory over Montana Sept. 18 in the inaugural game on EWU's new red synthetic Sprinturf surface at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field).
Jones was honored nationally as one of five College Sporting News All-Stars for the week, and was also the FCS performer of the week at running back by College Football Performance Awards. In addition, he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time in his career and second time this season, having also won the award following EWU's game at Nevada on Sept. 2.
His total of 305 all-purpose yards against the Grizzlies (second-most in his career behind the 322 against Nevada) was his ninth career performance of at least 200 yards. His 27 carries were also a career high by nine as Eastern finished with 503 yards of total offense.
Jones scored on a 72-yard run in the second quarter and also had a 45-yard pass reception. But perhaps the biggest run of the day for Jones was a 13-yard run during Eastern's final scoring drive, including a brilliant spin move that got him the extra yards needed for an important first down. It was on a third-and-10 play, and was just Eastern's second third down conversion of the day in 14 attempts -- including a string of nine-straight misses to start the game. Jones accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on that 12-play drive.
"He's huge," praised Baldwin. "He comes up big in big games -- that's the type of player he is. At the same time, he's an amazing teammate. He cares about his teammates and his team first more than anything else. He never ceases to amaze me. You put him in that position and he's one of those guys who have talent but he also has a huge heart. He's not afraid of any situation."
En route to earning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, Jones had a career-high 322 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) in Eastern's season-opening 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2. His performance included an 82-yard touchdown reception and a non-scoring 74-yard run. Jones rushed 12 times for 145 yards, had another 92 yards on two receptions and 85 yards on four kickoff returns. His previous career high was 279 yards against Sacramento State on Sept. 26, 2009.
He added 235 yards and three touchdowns against Central Washington on Sept. 11. He finished the game with 14 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 63 yards (including a 46-yard score) and had 83 yards in returns.
Jones also received honorable mention nationally by College Football Performance Awards and was the team's offensive player of the week after the Nevada game.
"It's almost to a point where I'm not surprised, but he made a few more plays against Nevada that make you marvel at how he can make plays," praised Baldwin following the Nevada game. "Even when things aren't there he is able to make them. He has a toughness and grit to him -- he bangs it up in there so he's not just a fast guy. He's a special football player and obviously the big-play guy in our offense."
A cornerback as a freshman at Eastern in 2008, Jones scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back in 2009. Jones started and ended his season with a 100-yard game, finishing with a total of six for the season to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He was a third team selection on The Sports Network's FCS All-America Football Team, and was a third team choice as an all-purpose back on the Associated Press All-America squad.
Jones, who is from Antioch, Calif., and graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007, finished with 1,213 rushing yards in 2009 to rank as the sixth-most in school history. He ranked in the top 10 in FCS in rushing (ninth, 101.1 per game), scoring (sixth, 9.50 per game) and all-purpose yards per game (second, 195.4). His 2,345 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) were the second-most in school history, and his 19 touchdowns and 114 total points both rank fourth.
His talent has been augmented by the addition of a synthetic turf surface at Roos Field. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Woodward Field in 2008, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU's other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.
The Walter Payton Award is given annually to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Big Sky Conference players have captured the honor six times, most recently by Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer in 2005. Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols finished fourth in the voting as a senior in 2009.
There were 20 players on the initial Watch List, including five from the Big Sky Conference. Besides Jones, the list also includes Montana running back Chase Reynolds, Grizzly quarterback Andrew Selle, Northern Arizona quarterback Michael Herrick and Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins.
This year's award is being sponsored by Fathead.com. The winner will be announced on the eve of the Division I National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.
Johnson Twins Produce Big Numbers Again in Victories: Junior strong safety Matt Johnson and his twin brother Zach Johnson, a starting weak-side linebacker, have had big games in consecutive weeks.
In a 21-14 win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, Zach helped make a stop on a fourth-and-12 play at the EWU 38-yard line with 3:37 to play to help preserve EWU's victory. Zach also had 11 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss, the sixth time in his 17-game career that he has had double figures in tackles. Matt added nine tackles and a pass broken up.
In Eastern's 35-24 victory over Weber State, Matt Johnson had the 13th interception of his career that led to a first-quarter scoring drive for the Eagles. He ranks fourth in school history, and he is now just five interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93) with 17 each. Matt also had six tackles versus Weber State and Zach finished with 10 tackles.
Matt now has 228 tackles in his career to rank 15th all-time at Eastern. He has three interceptions this season, an average of 0.50 per game that ranks 32nd in FCS. So far this season, Matt is second on the team with 44 tackles and Zach is right behind with 42.
Matt also had a big game against Montana on Sept. 18, finishing with eight tackles and a pair of interceptions to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career. His second interception versus Montana came with 7:31 left in the game after Montana had driven to Eastern's 27-yard line while trailing by three.
Zach also had a big game against Montana with 11 total tackles and a forced fumble on UM's final kickoff return of the game. The Johnson twins are both 2007 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School, but a blood clot in Zach's leg sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.
As freshmen in 2008, the brothers combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team, with Zach finishing with 96 and a team-high seven passes broken up, and Matt closing the year with 83 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008, and Matt repeated on that squad in 2009.
Zach currently has 21 tackles this season and 117 in his career.
Eagles Play Nine of 11 Games on Synthetic Turf: With the addition of its own red Sprinturf surface this fall, Eastern will play nine games on synthetic turf this fall. The only games on grass will be against Weber State on Oct. 2 and Northern Colorado on Oct. 16.
"We're going to practice on it every day we can," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "We'll be on turf more than we ever have before we play a turf game. It will be an advantage when we get the chance to practice it on it all week heading into a game on turf."
Other Debuts: Besides quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, just four other players made their starting debuts as Eagles against Nevada. The three players on offense were freshman redshirts Steven Forgette at left guard and Brandon Murphy at right tackle, as well as junior running back Darriell Beaumonte. On defense, sophomore Jeff Minnerly made his starting debut as a free safety after playing the last two seasons as a quarterback.
Five more players made starting debuts in Eastern's next game against Central Washington on Sept. 11 -- freshman Anthony Larry at defensive end, sophomore Will Post at right tackle, sophomore Artise Gauldin at cornerback, freshman redshirt Zack Gehring at tight end and Nick Gauthier at quarterback.
The lone starting debut in the Montana game was by sophomore Josh Antonson at fullback. Normally an offensive lineman, Antonson filled in for injured senior tight end/fullback Jason Harris (concussion). There were no new starters against Montana State, but David Gaylord made the first start of his career against Weber State at defensive end. Paul Ena also started at the other defensive end -- his starting debut at that position after starting a pair of games at middle linebacker to end the 2009 season.
The only starting debut since then came against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9 when true freshman Ryan Seto started as EWU's second tight end. He later had his first career touchdown, a 9-yard catch in the third quarter that turned out to be EWU's final points in the 21-14 win.
Gauldin also had a memorable starting debut for the Eagles with a sack, a forced fumble and nine total tackles. His forced fumble came following an Eastern punt as he timed his hit on the punt returner perfectly, and the fumble was recovered by EWU snapper Jake Potter at the CWU 12-yard line and led to an Eagle touchdown.
Several redshirt freshmen made their first EWU game appearances at Nevada. Most true freshman will redshirt, but running back Mario Brown will play this season and had four rushes for 18 yards and a kickoff return for 20 yards versus Nevada. In two fall scrimmages, he rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries. The only other true freshman currently playing is Seto.
A total of 24 players with starting experience (total of 196 starts) returned for the 2010 season. Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2010 roster:
Defense (178 starts by 19 players): Matt Johnson 29, J.C. Sherritt 26, Tyler Jolley 22, Renard Williams 20, Zach Johnson 17, Evan Cook 13, Tyler Washburn 10, Dante Calcote 9, David Miles 8, Jesse Hoffman 7, Jeff Minnerly 6, Paul Ena 4, Artise Gauldin 1, David Gaylord 2, Anthony Larry 1, Will Edge 1, Rusty Haehl 1, Grant Williams 1 (includes one start on offense in 2009).
Offense (150 starts by 19 players): Chris Powers 18, Nikolai Myers 18, Gabriel Jackson 17, Nicholas Edwards 17, Taiwan Jones 16 (includes four on defense in 2008), Brice Leahy 11, Matt Martin 11, Brandon Kaufman 11, Steven Forgette 6, Ashton Gant 5, Bo Levi Mitchell 5, Will Post 5, Darriell Beaumonte 3, Tyler Hart 2, Zack Gehring 1, Brandon Murphy 1, Nick Gauthier 1, Josh Antonson 1, Ryan Seto 1.
Five Players Selected as Co-Captains: In voting conducted by members of this year's squad, five players have been selected as EWU's co-captains for the 2010 season. Senior captains on defense include tackle Tyler Jolley and linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who was also a captain in 2009. The players selected on offense were senior tight end Matt Martin, senior offensive guard Nikolai Myers and junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
Three of the captains are local products who graduated from state of Washington high schools in 2006 -- Jolley from Spokane's East Valley High School, Sherritt from Pullman HS and Martin from La Crosse-Washtucna HS. Myers is a 2006 graduate of Ingraham High School in Seattle, and Mitchell is a transfer from Southern Methodist University and a 2008 graduate of Katy, Texas, High School.
Williams Has First Sack of 2010 Season: Eastern defensive tackle Renard Williams, who had nine sacks to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago, had his first sack of the season against Weber State on Oct. 2. He now has 12 in his career as he nears Eastern's all-time leaders list. Currently 12th, with 15.5 sacks, is Brandon Moore (1999-02). Williams has 82 tackles in his 29-game career, including 24 1/2 for losses totaling 137 yards.
Zuber's Average Up to Fourth in School History: Senior punter Cameron Zuber had just two punts versus Northern Arizona, but he made them count with punts of 50 and 43 yards that were downed at the NAU 22 and 13 yard lines, respectively. He has a 41.83 average this season to rank 15th in FCS, with 11 of his 28 punts downed inside the 20.
"He's been a huge player for us the last two years," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "He's done a great job and keeps getting better every week. I've been very happy with the way our punt unit has performed."
One game earlier, he averaged 50.0 yards in seven punts at Weber State on Oct. 2, including a long of 60 and one punt downed inside the Wildcat 20-yard line. His 60-yard effort at WSU -- which equaled the 18th-longest in school history -- was the second-longest of his career behind the 64-yarder he had last year that ranks eighth all-time at EWU.
Zuber currently has a 40.7 career average, good enough to rank fourth in EWU history. Last year he had a 39.9 average with 14 of his 43 punts downed inside the 20.
A bad snap led to a 10-yard punt for senior on his first punt of this season at Nevada, but he averaged 48.8 yards on his next four punts. He finished with a 41.0 average on five punts, with a long of 51 and one punt downed at the Wolf Pack 4-yard line. He followed that with a 45.0 average on three punts against Central Washington Sept. 11, including a pair downed inside the 20.
Zuber had been attending EWU since he graduated in 2006 from W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash., but 2009 was his first season as an Eagle football player. He originally walked-on in spring 2007 but did not make the team. He then returned in fall 2009 through the recommendation of Eastern tight end Nathan Overbay, who was a 2005 graduate of W.F. West.
Ena Returns to End After 2009 Move to Linebacker: Continuing as one of Eastern's most versatile players, sophomore Paul Ena is back at defensive end for the Eagles, and started at that position against Weber State on Oct. 2. David Gaylord was another first-time starter at that position for the Eagles against the Wildcats. Their insertion into the starting lineup was partly due to the lingering knee injury of Anthony Larry, whose patella was dislocated against Central Washington on Sept. 11 and fluid continued to build up and needed to be drained. Larry returned for limited snaps against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9.
Ena played in 2009 as a backup defensive end as a true freshman, then started at middle linebacker in the regular season finale against Northern Arizona (11/21/09) and finished with a team-high 16 tackles. He started again in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs against Stephen F. Austin (11/28/09) and had 20 tackles to rank as the sixth-most in recorded school history. He finished the season fifth on the team with a total of 63 tackles.
He was Eastern's fourth player to be on EWU's depth chart as a starter at middle linebacker in 2009. Returning starter Zach Johnson did not play because of a blood clot that developed following knee surgery during the summer, then Kyle Wilkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice before Eastern's seventh game. Freshman redshirt Tyler Washburn started four games until he also suffered a knee injury.
Ena was a linebacker at Inglemoor High School in Seattle, finishing his senior season in fall 2008 with 162 total tackles (65 solo, 97 assisted) and two sacks. His father Tali Ena was a standout running back at Washington State University and went on to play for the Seattle Seahawks.
Injury Report: Running back Taiwan Jones has had a difficult time staying healthy this season, and Eastern is hoping the old Timex adage proves to be true -- "it takes a licking, but keeps on ticking."
Jones is listed as borderline doubtful/probable for this week after suffering back and hip spasms late in EWU's win over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9. He was held out of EWU's game at Weber State because of pain from a pelvic contusion suffered in Eastern's 30-7 loss against Montana State on Sept. 25. After just one touch in the second half on a rushing attempt midway through the third quarter, he finally departed the game for good. Two games earlier, Jones sat out the final 11:39 of the game versus CWU after getting tackled during a 65-yard drive that ended when EWU came up empty on a fake field goal attempt. What was originally thought to be a minor concussion was actually dehydration from the game and being sick earlier in the day.
Freshman defensive end Anthony Larry, who made his first career start against Central Washington but suffered a dislocated patella early in the game, missed three games. He was expected to be back for the Weber State game, but his knee continued to build up fluid and needed to be drained. He returned to play limited snaps against Northern Arizona
A trio of safeties -- all returning letter winners -- all missed Eastern's first five games, including Billy Lechtenburg (high ankle sprain), Ethen Robinson (knee) and Domonic Shepperd (knee). Shepperd returned to play against Northern Arizona on Oct. 9, while Lechtenburg, who played as a true freshman in 2009, will probably redshirt and Robinson isn't expected to return.
Reserve tight end and fullback Jason Harris suffered a concussion against Nevada is not expected to play the remainder of the season. Backup running back Chase King, whose knee injury in the preseason turned out to be an injured anterior cruciate ligament, is also expected to be lost for the season with probable surgery.
Players who didn't take part in spring practices because of injuries include Matt Johnson (shoulder), Robinson (shoulder), Jakob Pugsley (knee) and Jakob Scott (collarbone). All-American Taiwan Jones, who had surgery in December to repair a sports hernia, saw limited action in the spring as he continued to build strength from injuries to both shoulders and a hand during his debut as a running back in 2009. Johnson and Zach Gehring (shoulder) also had surgeries following the season.
Brice Leahy Returns for First Action Since Catastrophic Injury: Senior Brice Leahy, a 2008 honorable mention All-Big Sky performer, saw his first action in nearly two years in Eastern's 21-14 victory over Northern Arizona. The imposing 6-foot-7, 295-pound tackle suffered a catastrophic injury just below his knee in a non-football related accident in June 2009 and missed the 2009 season and most of 2010 spring practices.
"Just the fact he battled through winter conditioning was impressive," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin before the season began. "Considering the accident and the injury that occurred, it's amazing in my opinion. I would love it if he can get all the way back to where he was in 2008. But if he does everything he can to get better every day, anything he can give us is going to be better than Brice not being back. He's a great leader, a hard worker and he's shown that he wants to be back and around his teammates.
"It would have been very easy for him to just move on and finish school," Baldwin continued. "Instead, he's busted his butt in the weight room and has done everything he can to put himself back on the field. My hope and belief is that if he keeps on his current path, he will be back to where he was in 2008. Even if he's still not quite there, he's going to add a lot to our team."
Series History: Since Northern Colorado became a member of the Big Sky Conference in 2006, Eastern has won all four meetings by a collective 98-23 score (an average score of 24-6). Eastern is 6-1 in the all-time series, including a 3-1 record in Greeley and a 3-0 mark in Cheney. The last time the teams met in Greeley, Eastern won 31-16 -- two years after a 34-0 romp there in 2006.
Last Season . . . Eastern Registers 16-0 Shutout in Big Sky Opener -- The defense forced four turnovers and was equally effective on fourth down as Eastern Washington University shut-out Northern Colorado 16-0 Sept. 19 in the Big Sky Conference football opener for both schools at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles recovered three fumbles and had an interception in Eastern's first shutout at Woodward Field since 1983. The Eagles have had six other shutouts since then either on the road or in Spokane, including a 34-0 win over UNC in 2006.
Eastern also held the Bears to a 0-of-4 performance on fourth down, 4-of-14 on third down and had four sacks.
"We made a point of emphasis to let the players play," EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said of his team's defensive effort. "At times the opponents might get a little bit, but we're not giving up the big play. We're making them earn everything. And when we get down in the red zone we are stingy and we're also doing a great job of ripping on the ball and creating turnovers.
"Obviously coach (John Graham) and the defensive staff did an incredible job of preparing for this ballgame," he continued. "Ultimately, players made plays on the field. I was proud of their effort."
Senior quarterback Matt Nichols had two touchdown passes in EWU's win over the Bears, and Mike Jarrett added a 28-yard field goal. But the Eagles managed only 292 yards of total offense while holding Northern Colorado to 238.
Nichols finished 14-of-25 for 146 yards, but was sacked three times. Taiwan Jones rushed for 95 yards on 18 carries for EWU, with Aaron Boyce and Tony Davis each catching four passes.
Jones, who finished with 164 yards of all-purpose yards, also had an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown shortened to 52 yards because of an illegal block penalty. Eastern finished the game with 10 penalties for 79 yards, but had no turnovers.
The rest of the day belonged to the Eagle defense, as the Big Sky's leading tackler -- linebacker J.C. Sherritt -- finished with 16. He also recovered a fumble, and three of his tackles were for loss. Middle linebacker Kyle Wilkins added 11 tackles.
Safety Kevin Hatch had eight tackles, an interception and a pass broken up. Eastern recorded four sacks, including 1 1/2 by defensive end Jacob Kragt. Hatch's interception led to EWU's first score, a 5-yard touchdown pass from Nichols to tight end Nathan Overbay with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
Another UNC turnover -- this time a fumble on a punt that was forced by EWU's Jason Harris and recovered by Nicholas Ramos at the Bear 6-yard line -- helped Eastern take a 13-0 lead just before halftime. Nichols passed nine yards to Boyce for the touchdown.
Even Without Jones, Five Scoring Drives Help Eastern Knock Off Wildcats: Eastern had an offensive performance to be proud of in its 35-24 win at Weber State, especially considering the fact the Eagles didn't have Taiwan Jones available as he continued to nurse a pelvic contusion.
Eastern scored touchdowns on drives of 66, 65, 80, 68 and 67 yards, including the final three during a 21-0 scoring run in the second half that turned a 17-14 deficit into a 35-17 advantage. Junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell led Eastern's 465-yard offensive attack by completing 23-of-36 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. He nearly had a fifth, but was intercepted at the goal-line on a 68-yard Eagle drive in the first quarter.
The Eagles also received a 78-yard rushing performance by Jones' replacement, Darriell Beaumonte, who scored once on a rush and another on a TD reception. Receiver Brandon Kaufman caught five passes for 138 yards and Ashton Gant had career highs with four catches for 86 yards.
Start of School Has Sometimes Translated to Setbacks for Eagles -- The start of classes in late September for EWU signals the end of the month-long, football-only period for the Eagles. And in the last 11 years, it's made winning on the field that much more difficult.
From 2000-2010, Eastern is 5-5 in the first game after school begins (includes one bye), including a 30-7 loss at Montana State on Sept. 25. But in the game after the first full week of school, Eastern is 4-7 since 2000, including EWU's 35-24 triumph over Weber State on Oct. 2.
In 2009 the Eagles avoided any start of school pratfalls. The 2009 fall quarter began on Sept. 23, followed by EWU's 56-30 victory at Sacramento State. The Eagles followed that with an equally-convincing 38-3 win at Idaho State on Oct. 3 to improve to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
Special Teams Were Special Versus Griz: Led by the three field goals of junior kicker Mike Jarrett -- including the game-winner for all intents and purposes -- Eastern's special teams were special in Eastern's 36-27 victory over Montana on Sept. 18.
Jarrett was short on his first field goal attempt from 41 yards out, but made a pair of 20-yarders before his clutch 31-yard kick with four seconds to play in the game. His boot broke a 27-all tie, and Eastern added a touchdown on the game's final play to win by nine.
Last season Jarrett was 5-of-10 kicking field goals with a long of 49. A former walk-on, Jarrett's brother Bryan was an All-Big Sky Conference safety while playing for EWU from 2005-07.
"We were struggling a little bit with our red zone offense -- we couldn't punch it in there," said Baldwin. "But I'm so proud of Mike Jarrett for making three field goals, including the last one."
Junior Darriell Beaumonte also had a huge special teams play by blocking a punt and returning it six yards for a score -- EWU's first blocked punt returned for a TD since 2004. Matt Johnson also forced a fumble on a punt return that was recovered by sophomore Artise Gauldin, and freshman redshirt J.C. Agen recovered a fumble on yet another UM punt return.
"Special teams were huge," added Baldwin. "We've put an emphasis on special teams this year. We're giving out special teams awards and we're doing things like letting them eat first at team meals. We feel like we needed to improve on that, and that was an area in the past that I felt Montana had an edge on us. Based on what I saw live, I felt like we created it to be an advantage for us this year."
Griz-Eagle Matchup Lives Up to Hype: In a series full of drama, the 2010 meeting between Eastern and Montana was the ninth time in the last 15 meetings that both teams entered the game nationally ranked. And it went down to the wire as the Eagles pulled out a 36-27 victory.
The first football game on Eastern's new red Sprinturf surface was a huge success as the 18th-ranked Eagles knocked off the No. 6 Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference opener for both schools on Sept. 18 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Junior Mike Jarrett nailed a 31-yard field goal with four seconds left to give Eastern a 30-27 lead, then the Eagles iced it on the final play of the game with a 34-yard fumble return for a touchdown by junior defensive tackle Renard Williams after a sack and forced fumble by sophomore end Jerry Ceja with additional pressure by senior Tyler Jolley. Junior All-America running back Taiwan Jones had 305 all-purpose yards -- including a career-high 221 rushing yards -- to lead EWU's 503-yard offensive output.
It was Eastern's first victory over Montana since 2005, giving Eastern's seniors their first win over the Grizzlies. Since 1990, Eastern has won four times on UM's home field in Missoula, but Eastern had won just twice at home in that span until this year. The lone win since then at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) came in 1991, and Eastern's change to a red synthetic Sprinturf surface and change of name altered its success in Cheney where the Eagles had a six-game losing streak.
Montana now leads the series 25-11-1, and has still won six of the last eight meetings. Since winning three-straight over Montana from 1990-92, Eastern has won just four times -- 40-35 in 1997 (in Missoula), 30-21 in 2002 (at Albi Stadium in Spokane), 34-20 in 2005 (in Missoula) and 36-27 in 2010 (in Cheney) -- in the last 18 meetings. Overall, Eastern is 4-13-1 in Missoula, 6-11 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites.
The Eagles shared the 2004 and 2005 Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
Nine 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 25 times in 37 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, 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005 and 503 in a 2010 victory in Cheney. In fact, in the last 25 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.6 points. In seven of those 25 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-34 Grizzly win in Missoula in 2009.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. Besides the late-game heroics by the Eagles in 2010, Eastern knotted the 2009 meeting at 34 with 4:58 to play, only to have the Grizzlies drive for the winning score with 1:18 left in a 41-34 victory. 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. Eastern wide receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-best receiving effort in Big Sky Conference history with a school-record 17 catches to earn NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week honors from The Sports Network. His 232 receiving yards were the second-most in school history, and Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 451 yards to rank third all-time at EWU.
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 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, 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 eight matchups in the last 14 seasons when both
squads have entered the game nationally ranked:
2010 - #18 Eastern Washington 36, #6 Montana 27 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2009 - #3 Montana 41, #21 Eastern Washington 34 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2008 - #12 Montana 19, #23 Eastern Washington 3 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34, #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 (2 overtimes in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 40, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
A QB Six Months Earlier, Minnerly Leads Eagles in Tackles in Opener: A quarterback last March when spring drills began for the Eagles, less than six months later Jeff Minnerly found himself as the team's leading tackler in Eastern's 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2.
He finished the game with eight tackles, including seven unassisted stops. A sophomore who graduated from Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., in 2008, Minnerly made his first career start at free safety. After earning EWU's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year while redshirting in 2008, Minnerly completed 4-of-8 passes for six yards in 2009 while serving as the backup to All-American and two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year Matt Nichols.
But he was caught in a logjam of quarterbacks last spring, including Southern Methodist transfer Bo Levi Mitchell. Minnerly's move to defense took place on April 13, and he had an interception in a scrimmage that very day. He is also EWU's holder on placekicks and Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said the decision to move from quarterback was to enable the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore a greater chance to use his athletic ability to contribute to the team.
"Few players are gifted enough physically and mentally to make a significant move like that," explained Baldwin. "We thought it would be the best thing for the team and Jeff to make this move, and we feel like he has all the tools to be an excellent safety. He still had a chance to compete for our quarterback position, but he has an even better opportunity to compete and earn playing time at the safety position."
Minnerly earned first team 4A All-State honors as a quarterback from WashingtonPreps.com, and was the Offensive Most Valuable Player in the Greater Spokane League after throwing for 27 touchdowns and just one interception as a senior. Also known for his scrambling ability, he was MVP for the East when he directed his team to a game-winning, 93-yard drive in the final 3:31 for a 17-14 victory in the 4A/3A East-West All-State Game.
Minnerly was also a starter for the two-time WIAA State 4A Champions in basketball, who were 29-0 both seasons. Ferris was the first 4A school to go unbeaten two consecutive seasons. He was a 4.0 student in high school and was his school's male recipient of the prestigious Greater Spokane League Scholar-Athlete award.
"Jeff is a great competitor," Baldwin added. "He's demonstrated his great football skills during agility drills in the winter, as well as his ability as a quarterback to cover ground and move. He'll bring leadership and intelligence to the safety position, and that will be huge."
Starting Over . . . Again: Eastern has been down this road before.
Much like 2005 when quarterback Erik Meyer graduated after winning the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eagle fans are wondering what Eagle Football will be like without 17 Eagle seniors who combined for 350 starts in their careers.
Most notably, the Eagles lose All-American and Big Sky Conference all-time passing leader Matt Nichols, who was the league's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009. Nichols replaced Meyer at quarterback in 2006 and helped the Eagles to 26 victories and a pair of FCS Playoff berths. In all, Nichols broke 14 school records and six Big Sky Conference marks.
"I still remember after the 2005 season that somebody said to me, 'we'll see what you're like in the post-Erik Meyer era,'" said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who concluded his second season as head coach and sixth overall at EWU. "It was tough for a year for sure, but Matt came along after that and proved to be pretty good. We'll get the same questions this year."
Interestingly, neither Meyer nor Nichols locked-up the starting quarterback position during the spring before their starting debuts. Meyer and Skyler Allen were locked in a tight competition in spring 2003, and it wasn't until the third game of the season that Meyer locked up the starting job. Nichols and Chris Peerboom shared snaps early in the 2006 season, and Peerboom started the team's opener before Nichols started the final 10 games that season and 45 of the 47 games he played in his career.
More Position Changes: A trio of returning Eagle letter winners changed positions in the spring, including defensive lineman-turned-linebacker Paul Ena. Ena took over at that position for the final two games of the 2009 season, and will stay there this season. Others making a move include Jason Harris from linebacker to tight end, Tyler Hart from running back to wide receiver and Grant Williams from fullback/running back to linebacker. In the fall, Daniel Johnson was moved from running back to receiver as well, and Allen Brown and Chandler Gayton shifted to safety from cornerback.
Hope Up Front: One of Eastern's hopes for the 2010 season is that a more experienced defensive unit up front will control the line of scrimmage more and, overall, the defensive side of the ball won't be on the field as much as they were in 2009. A productive running game will help Eastern toward that goal after Eastern's quick-strike offense in 2009 helped lead to an average of 76 plays per game for opponents. That was nearly six more per game than EWU, which had a half-minute deficit in time of possession despite out-gaining opponents 462-428 per game.
A year ago, Eastern finished sixth in FCS in turnover margin, averaging 1.25 less turnovers per game than its opponents. That will continue to be an emphasis after Eastern was 6-0 during the regular season when it won the turnover battle, with a 22-4 advantage in those six games.
"We obviously want to expand on that because we thought it was a huge part of our success in 2009," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin.
Eagles Schedule Another Game Versus UW for 2014: The Eagles are making up for lost time.
Eastern Washington University has scheduled a second football game against the University of Washington, giving the Eagles games in both 2011 and 2014 versus the Huskies of the Pacific 10 Conference. The announcement of the agreement was made jointly by EWU and UW on Wednesday (Sept. 15).
Eastern will open the 2011 season at Husky Stadium on Sept. 3, then will return on Sept. 6, 2014. The Eagles will play at Washington State in 2012 and Oregon State in 2013, giving Eastern four-straight games against Pac 10 opponents. Besides games in 1907 and 1908 against Washington State, Eastern's only other games versus Pac 10 opponents have been against Oregon State (2000 and 2006), Arizona State (2002) and California (2009). Eastern has also played recent Pac 10 recruit Colorado (2008).
Eastern has never played Washington.
"We are extremely excited about scheduling Washington again in 2014," said Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves. "Given the roster makeup of our team, those two games against the Huskies affords the many student-athletes we have from the west side of the state the opportunity to play at 'home' against Washington. That will no doubt be a memorable experience and thrill for not only our players and coaches, but our fans and alumni as well."
Eastern was a member of the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) for most of its history before becoming a member of FCS in 1984. But despite playing 26 games against NCAA Football Bowl Division members since 1983 -- including four against the Pacific 10 Conference -- the Eagles have not played Washington State or Washington during that time span.
The Eagles are scheduled to make the short 90-mile trek to Pullman, Wash., on Sept. 8, 2012, to face Washington State University in the first varsity meeting between the two schools in more than 100 years. Eastern lost to the Cougars in 1907 (46-0) and 1908 (73-0), and were 8-10-1 from 1921-46 against WSU's junior varsity or freshman teams.
Washington State is coached by Paul Wulff, who was 53-40 with three NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff berths as Eastern's head coach for eight seasons (2000-2007). He spent a total of 15 seasons at EWU as a coach, and several members of his staff are former Eagle coaches.
Chaves also said the Eagles are scheduled to play at Idaho -- also located about 90 miles from EWU's campus -- in Moscow, Idaho, on Sept. 1, 2012.
The last time Eastern played Idaho was in 2003 when Eastern won
8-5 in the Kibbie Dome. Eastern is 5-15 all-time against its former
Big Sky Conference rival, and 2-3 since the Vandals moved to FBS in
2011 EWU Tentative Schedule -- 9/3 - at Washington; 9/10 - TBA; 9/17 - at Montana; 9/24 - Montana State; 10/1 - Weber State; 10/8 - at Northern Arizona; 10/15 - Northern Colorado; 10/22 - at Sacramento State; 10/29 - Portland State; 11/5 - Bye; 11/12 - at Cal Poly; 11/19 - at Idaho State.
2012 Schedule -- 9/1 - at Idaho; 9/8 - at Washington State; 9/15 - Idaho State; 9/22 - Sacramento State; 9/29 - at Portland State; 10/6 - Montana; 10/13 - at Montana State; 10/20 - at Northern Colorado; 10/27 - Northern Arizona; 11/3 - Cal Poly
11/10 - at Weber State; 11/17 - Bye.
2013 Schedule -- 8/31 - at Oregon State
2014 Schedule -- 9/6 - at Washington
Eagles Versus The Pacific 10 Conference -- Since the early 1980's when it began the move to become a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (in 1984), Eastern is now 7-19 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. Against the Pacific 10 Conference, EWU is 0-4. 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
2008 - at #12 Texas Tech - L, 24-49
2008 - at Colorado - L, 24-31
2009 - at #10 California - L, 7-59
2010 - at Nevada - L, 24-49
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's made its seventh appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2009 when the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round. It was also the fourth berth in a six-year span 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 5-7 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 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:
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)
Nichols and Overbay Released, But Overbay Signed to Practice Squad by Dolphins: Former Eagle tight end Nathan Overbay was signed Sept. 6 to the Miami Dolphins practice squad after getting released by the Denver Broncos. Quarterback Matt Nichols was also released by the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 19 before the 2010 regular season began.
Both had signed free agent contracts following the conclusion of their careers at EWU in 2009. Nichols completed 10-of-16 passes for 81 yards and two interceptions in two preseason games. Overbay played but did not catch any passes in the preseason for Denver. Another Eagle signed in the offseason was former San Diego Charger Keith Grennan by the Cleveland Browns. But he was cut in July before training camp began.
Eastern's only current active NFL player is sixth-year player Michael Roos, who started all four preseason games for the Titans. That gives him a total of 143 straight starts as an offensive tackle dating back to his sophomore season at Eastern in 2002. He started 35-straight games at EWU, and the other 108 have come as a Titan (25 preseason games, 80 regular season games, 2 playoff games and the Pro Bowl in February 2009).
Active professionals currently playing in the Canadian Football League are Greg Peach (Edmonton), Shea Emry (Montreal), Ryan Phillips (British Columbia), Luke Fritz (Winnipeg) and Dario Romero (Edmonton).
Less Than a Year in the Making, the Country's First-Ever Red Synthetic Turf Made Debut Sept. 18: In describing the spontaneity of fund-raising efforts for Eastern Washington University's Red Turf Project, Marc Hughes thinks of it as "gasoline on a fire."
If it wasn't for the incredibly generous $500,000 gift of Michael and Katherine Roos, the Eastern associate athletic director for development knows the entire project would have gone up in smoke before it even started. But that initial gift --gasoline on a fire if you will -- ignited the subsequent generous giving by other friends of Eastern and made the project a reality in time for the 2010 season.
"Without Michael and Kat, we aren't where we are today," Hughes admits. "That's a given."
Impressively, the project was less than a year in the making, with a cost of approximately $825,000. From the initial proposal presented to the Roos family to the conclusion of turf installation, the project lasted a mere 8 1/2 months.
Despite the quick turnaround, the results are simply astonishing.
On Sept. 18, the generosity of those Eagle fans and friends -- including a large group of former players -- came to fruition when the Eagles played their first football game on the new Sprinturf surface.
Before playing the first game on the turf, Eastern had a dedication and open house two days earlier as the name of the field officially became Roos Field. Dave Woodward and his wife, Gay, attended and participated as a plaque was unveiled commemorating the 78 years the field was named after his father, Arthur C. "Woody" Woodward. Michael and Katherine Roos were not able to attend because the Titans played at home that week, but were represented by his former offensive line coach at EWU, current Eastern offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Best.
The Need for Turf . . .
Built in 1967, Eastern's stadium has had a grass field since its inception. Modern artificial turf provides a safe, fast, low-maintenance surface for football, and is particularly desirous in regions with inclement weather.
Besides the obvious advantages of synthetic turf in inclement weather, Eastern typically has additional practice issues late in the season in dealing with darkness and class schedules. With artificial turf, the Eagles can practice on their game field under the lights at their convenience with minimal field condition worries.
"When all is said and done, the most important aspects of this Red Turf Project are the ways it benefits student-athletes at EWU," Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. "It gives us a surface that's better to play on, and it's extremely important for us to be able to practice on our game field more often."
Besides that, the speed and skills of Eastern players -- featuring running back Taiwan Jones -- made the timing of the project even more important. Jones has two more years in Eastern's program after a 1,000-yard season in 2009 helped him earn All-America honors as a sophomore. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Woodward Field, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU's other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.
Eastern becomes the sixth of nine universities in the Big Sky Conference to convert to artificial turf, with Sacramento State also converting its field in summer 2010. The turf installation will also benefit EWU and the environment through a savings of approximately 300,000 gallons of water per year.
The Initial Donation . . .
Finding reasons to have a synthetic surface were incredibly easy to come up with compared to the obstacle of funding it. There was a vision, but no plan in the works when Hughes sat down on Dec. 22, 2009, with Michael and Katherine and presented them a proposal to contribute to a new synthetic surface.
Roos, already a mainstay at left offensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League, had quickly established a generous legacy of giving back to his alma mater since ending his EWU career in 2004. Through the Michael Roos Foundation, he had established a dinner, sports auction and poker tournament; partnered with EWU's Orland Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction; hosted the inaugural Fish & Chip Tournament in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and contributed to Eastern Athletics, Special Olympics in Washington and Boys and Girls Clubs of Spokane County. In addition, the Roos family has donated two sets of uniforms to the Eastern football program.
His generosity was deep rooted because of the opportunity Eastern afforded him. After moving to the United States from Estonia in 1992, he played just one season of high school football before EWU recruited him almost by accident in 2000. The Eastern coaching staff was watching another prospective player on video when they noticed Roos, then saw him for the first time in person playing high school basketball.
"I am grateful for my time at EWU," said Roos, a 2008 All-Pro selection and a starter in that season's Pro Bowl. "Not only did I meet my wife during my time at the university, but Eastern's leadership, coaches and football program paved the way for my professional success in football. It is exciting to be able to give back."
After spending his first two years in the program as a tight end and defensive end, he finally moved to offensive line where he started 35-straight games for EWU. By the time he ended the 2010 season for the Titans, his string of consecutive starts as a football player had reached 139. He graduated in 2005 with a finance and economics degree; Katherine, a former Eastern tennis player, graduated a year earlier with a degree in urban and regional planning.
But the pitch for artificial turf was not a small one, and Hughes was more concerned with fulfilling the wishes of the Roos family in directly helping the Eagle football program. Roos, who also remains in close contact with EWU offensive coordinator Aaron Best (his offensive line coach while he was an Eagle), was aware that Baldwin felt artificial turf was the most immediate need for his program. The idea of red turf was kicked around, but never a given.
"Michael liked the idea of red initially and Kat also liked it," explained Hughes. "Michael wanted to make sure the football coaches were okay with the red color."
A simple text message came to an overjoyed Hughes on Jan. 7, 2010, part of which read, "count me and Kat in for 500k." That created the momentum to institute a fundraising plan, and, as it turned out, the gasoline was red.
The announcement of the pledge -- and the unique color of the turf -- was made on Jan. 26, 2010.
"We cannot thank Michael and Katherine enough for their generous gift," said Chaves at the time of the announcement. "As former student-athletes, their leadership takes the thought of 'learning, earning and returning' to an entirely new level. Our hope is that this will inspire others to join Michael and Katherine in helping complete this project. We are sincerely grateful."
The Publicity . . .
What made the announcement out of the ordinary was the fact Eastern's new turf would be the first red synthetic playing surface not only in NCAA Division I but in the entire country. That made it a magnet for instant publicity on a national scale.
Coverage of the turf announcement in late January included mentions on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, SportsNation, The Dan Patrick Show, the New York Times, as well as a story run nationally by Associated Press. After the announcement went viral via the web, an estimated 16 million media impressions were made nationally about the project through the internet, blogs, newspaper stories or broadcast reports.
The publicity took off again in the summer when the turf was actually being laid, including a story in the Wall Street Journal, coverage from the Reuters News Agency and mentions on ESPN. A turf cam (at www.goeags.com) had more than two million hits as fans watched the progress.
The Gasoline on the Fire . . .
The Eastern Washington University Board of Trustees, the EWU Foundation and Eastern administrators worked together once the original pledge was made by the Roos family. EWU Foundation executive director Mike Westfall, director of development Tim Szymanowski, athletic director Bill Chaves and Hughes were now tasked to essentially match the initial donation by the Roos family to fund the project. If they could secure funds by June 1, the turf could be installed by the fall.
Alumni and friends of Eastern came through magnificently and generously.
ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd, a former Eastern student, announced his $50,000 gift toward the project on Feb. 12, and then returned to Eastern to serve as host for the Killin Dinner, Dance and Auction on April 24. Another large gift was made by former Eagle Kurt Schulz (1991 EWU graduate, football letter winner 1988-91, 10-year NFL safety).
Others would follow with significant gifts as well, including Tim Bradbury (1984 EWU graduate, football letter winner 1981-82-83, now President, New Media for American City Business Journals) and Jim McElwain (1985 EWU graduate, football letter winner 1981-82, former EWU assistant coach and now offensive coordinator at Alabama), as well as the Rockwood Clinic.
In March, the "Play it on the Red" fund-raising effort began to raise money through the contributions of former Eastern players. Leading the effort was Eastern Hall of Famer Dick Zornes, a former EWU football player, assistant coach, head coach and athletic director. He wrote hand-written notes to players, teammates and fellow coaches from his tenure, which was no small task considering the length of his 26-year association with Eastern.
"Coach Zornes helped us galvanize a group of former football players and other friends to support the project," says Hughes. "These members of the EWU family continued the positive momentum of generosity ignited by Michael and Kat."
Honoring the Roos Family . . .
With fundraising going well, Eastern set its sights on making sure the project could meet an aggressive timeline and be completed in time for the 2010 season. Though the project was managed by the EWU Foundation via Westfall, its success was a team effort as a core group of individuals, including Chaves, Syzmanowski, Hughes and EWU facilities representative Mike Davis, spent countless hours meeting with engineers and turf companies. Eventually the EWU Foundation sent out and received bids back for the project.
But as that was going on, the school wanted to thank the Roos family for their philanthropic efforts. On May 20, Eastern made the announcement that Woodward Field would be re-named to "Roos Field" upon project completion.
"We are thrilled to be able to acknowledge in this manner the incredible contributions Michael and Katherine have made to Eastern Washington University," said Chaves. "We felt this was the most appropriate honor we could give them, but at the same time, we regard highly the legacy left by Mr. Woodward. Regardless of the name change, we will permanently remember the Woodward family at our stadium."
A plaque commemorating the 78 years Eastern's football stadium has been named Woodward Field will be placed on the new entrance. The stadium originally was located in two different places, but was moved to its present site in 1967. When the field was dedicated in 1932, Eastern was known as Cheney Normal before going through three name changes (Eastern Washington College of Education, Eastern Washington State College and Eastern Washington University).
The stadium was named for Arthur C. Woodward, who was Eastern's head football coach in 1927 and 1928. More importantly, Woodward was head of Eastern's department of physical education and health for 23 years from 1927 to 1950. He was insistent that every interested student should have the opportunity to engage in competitive sports through intramural activities. He endeared himself to students, and, as a result, Woodward Field was named in his honor in 1932.
His son, Cheney native Dave Woodward, is 85 and now living in Pueblo, Colo. Dave went on to become a pioneer in scuba diving and in April 2009, was given the International Legends of Diving Award in Freeport, Grand Bahamas for his 54-year diving career. His start in that endeavor began after his father gave him a pair of new swim fins that were provided by the Voit Rubber Company, and he tried them out in the pool located in the basement of Eastern's Showalter Hall.
A few short days after the name change announcement, the EWU Board of Trustees gave its formal approval of the project's gift agreement with the EWU Foundation, allowing the project to be constructed by the Foundation and gifted to EWU at its conclusion. On June 2, the project received formal approval from the EWU Foundation Board of Directors, including the financing plan between U.S. Bank and the EWU Foundation.
The Results . . .
The official start of the project began under sensational blue skies on June 12 with a "turfbreaking" ceremony. Michael and Katherine Roos helped uncover the first mounds of sod from the nearly 40-year-old stadium. They were joined by Eastern President Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo and EWU Foundation Board Chair Rob Neilson.
It was announced that Sprintfurf Inc., based in Wayne, Pa., received the contract to install the first red turf. The excavation and prep work sub-contractor was Pauletto Trucking and Excavation in Spokane, which was also a sub-contractor for the Sprinturf field that was installed in 2005 at Gonzaga Prep High School in Spokane. Other contractors involved in the project included Coffman Engineers and Geo Engineers, both based in Spokane.
The first month of the project included the removal of 18 inches of sod and dirt before beginning the prep work, which included a sophisticated drainage system and 12 inches of granular sand with a coating of gravel. That process also included highly-technical laser leveling.
Finally, a truck carrying a partial shipment of the new turf arrived on Aug. 3, and the installation crew rolled out the first turf on the field the next day. Once all the turf was laid, all that was left was final stitching and gluing, installation of logos and the final step of the field being infilled with millions of rubber pellets. In three weeks, the project was completed and ready for play by Aug. 27 when the Eagles practiced on the turf for the first time.
The Future . . .
The turf is only the beginning.
By mid-August 2010, as the project was nearing completion, fund raising efforts had yielded more than $900,000 in pledges, with the extra funds applied to turf financing costs and a future scoreboard project. The scoreboard is long overdue in its own right. The Woodward Field scoreboard was first installed in 1989, but without video and other bells and whistles that help make the fan experience at games and other campus events special. A new scoreboard would also provide an increased advertising revenue stream and provide recruiting advantages as well.
In the long term, Baldwin sees several significant advantages thanks to the investment. His team has already developed into a solid, championship contender in the Big Sky Conference. And now, just like where the turf helped take EWU in the national conscience, he hopes his football program will contend yearly for national titles.
"First of all, the generosity and loyalty Michael Roos has shown to our football program at EWU are unparalleled," Baldwin said. "Top to bottom, the players and coaches -- everyone associated with our program -- knows it's a sizable and generous gift, and can't be more excited about the opportunity to play and practice on the new surface."
The momentum created by the Roos family and the legion of other donors has Baldwin excited about the possibility of replacing the old scoreboard and its impact on his program.
"It's huge for recruiting because potential student-athletes can see the progress we are making and the positive direction of our program," he continued. "With all the different events that can take place at Roos Field and a stronger game-day experience, it's bound to bring more exposure to our program. We already feel proud about the great things we are doing, but hopefully this project will continue our evolution as a nationally-recognized program and university."
Eastern is hoping for more results that ignite like gasoline on a fire.