Sept. 1, 2008
It’s never easy, but for the second-straight week, the schedule is downright difficult for the Eastern Washington University football team.
After opening the season with a 49-24 loss at 12th-ranked Texas Tech, Eastern plays its second-straight NCAA Football Bowl Division foe and member of the Big 12 Conference when the Eagles play at Colorado this Saturday (Sept. 6). Kickoff is 12:30 p.m. Pacific time at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo.
Eastern, a member of the Big Sky Conference, entered last week’s game with a preseason ranking of seventh in the NCAA Football Subdivision rankings. This week, Eastern remained at seventh while Colorado, despite its win, did not receive any votes in the Associated Press FBS poll (Texas Tech remained 12th). A year ago, Eastern finished eighth in the national rankings after a 9-4 finish.
After falling behind 21-0 to TTU, the Eagles won the second quarter 17-7 and stayed within striking distance of the Red Raiders for most of the second half. It was a promising performance that will keep Eastern’s confidence level high headed into this week’s game versus the powerful Buffaloes, who recorded a convincing, 38-17 season-opening victory over Colorado State.
"We’re going to build on it," said first-year Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of his team’s opener. "We went into the Texas Tech game believing, and our mindset was to go down there to win. Going into this next week our mindset is to beat Colorado."
Colorado returns its starting quarterback, Cody Hawkins, who happens to be the son of third-year head coach Dan Hawkins. He completed 56 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman in 2007 for 2,693 yards and 19 touchdowns. In the win over CSU, he was 20-of-29 for 214 yards and a touchdown.
Colorado is coming off a 6-7 record a year ago that included a third-place finish in the Big 12 North with a 4-4 mark. The Buffaloes went on to close the season with a 30-24 loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl. Earlier in the season, Colorado defeated Texas Tech 31-26 on Oct. 27.
The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006, in the CU coaching debut for Hawkins. Colorado finished 2-10 in 2006 in its first season under Hawkins, who was coach at Boise State from 2001-2005 and Willamette from 1993-97.
"We know it’s not easy -- it’s tough to play up a level," Baldwin said. "And we’re not only playing up a level, but we’re playing against quality, quality FBS teams. We’ll practice hard all week, put in a great game plan and let the players let’er rip again on Saturday and go out there to get a victory."
Eastern finished with 364 yards of total offense against the Red Raiders, including 341 through the air as Eastern tied a school record with 38 pass completions. Eastern out-gained Texas Tech in the second quarter 134-107. After falling behind by three touchdowns, Eastern was only outscored 28-24 the rest of the game.
"I’m so proud of our players," said Baldwin. "We grinded and battled against a great team. We had to go against a team with great size on their offensive line and some great football players. But we have great football players and a ton of heart on this team. I’m proud of the leadership and the work ethic of the players on this Eastern football team."
However, Eastern had three turnovers, including an interception on the first offensive play of the game after the ball went through an Eastern receiver’s hands. That helped the Red Raiders open their early 21-0 lead.
Interestingly, Colorado took advantage of early Colorado State sloppiness to take leads of 14-0 and 21-7, and never trailed. A Ram miscue on a mis-handled snap on a punt led to a Colorado score and, later, the Buffaloes returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Colorado went on to out-gain the Rams in total offense 367-258.
"We need to clean-up a little bit of the sloppiness," said Baldwin. "One of our goals is to have one or fewer turnovers then we’ll feel solid about it, and we had a few turnovers against Texas Tech. Sometimes those are created by great plays by the defense -- it’s not always a bad play by the offense. We just need to clean-up some of the sloppiness and keep getting better each day at every position. That’s all we can do right now. We need to flush the Texas Tech game and go down to Boulder with the mindset we’re going to win."
Defensively, Eastern surrendered 639 yards to TTU, including 536 through the air against a program that led FBS in passing offense and ranked second in total offense in 2007.
But best of all, Eastern came out of the Texas Tech game fairly healthy. The only player to leave the game with an injury was Alexis Alexander, who tweaked his knee on his touchdown run in the second quarter.
"I know some guys are tired and beat-up because they played so hard," said Baldwin. "A lot of our players played the whole game because it was close and we were going down there to win. Hopefully all the injuries we did have were minor, and everybody will be back next week -- I think Lex will as well."
-- Ahead For the Eagles -- Following Saturday’s game, Eastern has a week off before concluding its non-conference schedule with a Sept. 20 game versus NCAA Division II opponent Western Washington. The following week, Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at home versus Idaho State. The Bengals are coached by John Zamberlin, who Baldwin served as an assistant coach under for six seasons (1997-2002) at Central Washington University.
Western Washington was 2-10 last year and 1-7 in the North Central Conference. The Vikings opened the 2007 season on Sept. 1 with a 28-21 win at UC Davis, a team Eastern defeated 41-31 two weeks later. Western lost eight of its final nine games, including a 63-42 loss at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota.
Running back Craig Garner returns after rushing for 989 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games for the Vikings. He ranked 25th in NCAA Division II in rushing (109.9 per game) and was 20th in all-purpose yards (157.0). Western opens its 2008 season on Sept. 6 at home versus Western Oregon.
Besides Idaho State, Eastern plays league home games in 2008 versus Montana (Oct. 6), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15). Eastern’s four Big Sky opponents at home had a collective 23-22 record overall and 18-14 league mark in 2007, led by Montana’s 11-1 record overall and perfect 8-0 record in the BSC. Eastern’s 2008 road opponents were 15-30 overall and 12-20 in the conference.
-- Like 2006, Eagles Open Versus Pair of FBS Teams -- Like 2006, Eastern opens the 2008 season with a pair of games versus NCAA Football Bowl Division teams -- Aug. 30 at Texas Tech and Sept. 6 at Colorado. In 2006, Eastern opened the season with a 56-17 loss at Oregon State and a 52-3 setback at nationally-ranked West Virginia.
"There were so many freshmen and sophomores on the field in ’06, it was going to be hard," said Baldwin of his recollections of 2006 when he was EWU’s offensive coordinator. "It didn’t matter if we were playing Big Sky opponents or Pac 10 opponents that season. But now we have a veteran group that has played in a lot of big games against larger schools and in a couple of big playoff games last year. They’ve been in those situations. Not only are we a more talented team than ’06, but more than anything, we’re more mature and understand the situation because we’ve already been down that road."
After a 49-24 loss to Texas Tech, Eastern is now 7-16 all-time versus FBS opponents, but hasn’t won its last six meetings since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003. Eastern also lost in 2007 to Brigham Young 42-7. Several current Eagles played in those FBS games in 2006 and 2007, including Nichols, who made his starting debut against West Virginia.
"They understand what it’s all about," said Baldwin. "We’ve talked about those games and situations we were in during the past two seasons. But this is a different bunch -- they’re older and they’ve been down that road. The biggest thing for them is to not wait a quarter to figure out that their 11 guys put on their pads and cleats like we do. That sometimes can happen to younger players, but our veterans are doing a great job of leading. I have no doubt in my mind they’ll come out swinging from play one."
-- Nichols Has Seventh 300-Yard Passing Game -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols had the seventh 300-yard passing game in his 25-game career when he completed 36-of-61 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown against Texas Tech on Aug. 30. Currently on the 2008 Walter Payton Award Watch List, his completions and attempts in that game both ranked as the second-most in school history.
On EWU’s career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including third in passing yards (5,828), average yards per game (233.1) and total offense (6,322). He is also fifth in efficiency rating (135.8), fifth in touchdown passes (43), third in completions (459) and fifth in attempts (760).
Nichols finished his 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols passed for 3,744 yards, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2007 after having 17 interceptions (equaling a school record) and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Among the five school records he set in 2007, he broke the school record of 31 touchdown passes set by Erik Meyer in 2004.
Nichols also broke the school’s single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 to break the record of 275 set by Mark Laitala in 1978. Meyer holds the career record with 681, and Nichols already has 507 in his career.
The other records he broke were the school’s single season completions record (280) and single game marks for touchdown passes (six versus Montana Western) and completions (37 at Montana).
Nichols’ passing yardage total is the second-most in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). His average of 288.0 yards per game was fourth and his 4,136 yards of total offense were second. He ranked just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award -- who set school records in 2005 with 4,003 passing yards, a 333.6 average per game and 4,224 total yards.
Nichols had just nine interceptions in 440 attempts in 2007 after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year earlier. His ratio as a sophomore was an interception every 15.2 attempts and in 2007 it was one for every 48.9 attempts. His passing efficiency of 156.5 was much-improved from his 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- third best in school history -- in Eastern’s disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He came close to that with 34 completions in 44 attempts for 434 yards -- sixth-best all-time at EWU -- in a playoff win over McNeese State on Nov. 24. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards in that game now ranks as the 25th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State.
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#25 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#38 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
-- Davis Has Second-Best Receiving Performance in School History -- Junior Tony Davis, who missed four games last season with a shoulder injury, led the Eagles with 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in Eastern’s 49-24 loss to Texas Tech on Aug. 30. His catch total equaled the second most in school history, ranking only behind the 17 teammate Aaron Boyce had in 2007 against Montana. Davis, a 2005 graduate of Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., now has four 100-yard receiving performances in his Eastern career. In 21 total games, he has 96 receptions for 1,153 yards and seven touchdowns.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Davis
100-Yard Receiving Games for Davis
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Idaho State - 9/22/07
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State - 11/24/07
114 (13 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Central Washington - 9/16/06
-- Twin Stat Line for Johnson Twins -- The stat lines were nearly the same for twin brothers Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson as both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern’s 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. Both 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School, Matt started at strong safety and Zach started at strong-side inside linebacker.
The Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.
"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin of the twins. "They’re coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."
-- Macias Kicks 55-Yarder to Rank Third in School History -- Senior kicker Felipe Macias booted a 55-yard field goal against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 to pull Eastern to within 28-17 at halftime. It was the third-longest in school history behind boots of 57 and 56 yards. Brett Bergstrom kicked a 56-yarder in 2006 while the school record is a 57-yarder that Eric Stein had in 1987. However, both of those kicks came at much higher altitudes and thinner air. Bergstrom’s was in Greeley, Colo. (elevation 4,711), and Stein’s was in Bozeman, Mont. (4,872). Macias kicked his in high humidity in Lubbock, Texas (elevation 3,222), but did have the wind at his back.
-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern’s receiving corp in 2008 includes three juniors – Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce – who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 314 catches for 4,308 yards and 27 touchdowns in 71 games worth of experience (58 starts). They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007.
That trio is a reminder of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). But after their first two seasons as Eagles, that quartet had just 121 catches, for 1,774 yards and 17 touchdowns -- less than half of the production that Davis, Brown and Boyce had in their first two years.
In 2005, Meyer and his teammates won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
-- Baldwin Likes Team’s Character and Leadership -- With 15 starters and 43 total letter winners returning from last year’s squad, Eastern is hoping to continue the momentum from the 2007 season when the Eagles returned to the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision scene with a 9-4 finish after a dismal 3-8 record the year before. Eastern advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and closed the year ranked eighth in the final Sports Network poll of the year.
"I like the makeup of our team a lot," said Baldwin. "Not only do we have great talent, but we have great character and leadership. Those are things your team has to have if they don’t want to be just good but strive to be great. We are nowhere near that at this moment, but in my opinion we have the right makeup to be consistent throughout the year."
-- Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members -- Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-16 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern’s complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
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 Texas Tech - L, 24-49
2008 - at Colorado
-- EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006-2008 -- Three of the five largest crowds Eastern has ever played in front of have come in the last three seasons. The 49,887 on hand in Lubbock, Texas, for EWU’s 2007 game versus Texas Tech was third in history.
Eastern’s 2007 game at BYU in sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for the largest crowd the Eagles have ever played in front of. Strong winds, rain, snow and temperatures ranging from 37-45 degrees didn’t keep many fans at home as the announced crowd of 64,522 was even larger than the stadium’s listed capacity of 64,045.
Eastern’s 2006 game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern’s game at Oregon State in 2006 is now the fifth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 15 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
64,522 - at Brigham Young - Oct. 20, 2007 - L, 7-42
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - L, 3-52
49,887 - at Texas Tech - Aug. 30, 2008
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
23,226 - at Montana - Oct. 6, 2007 - L, 23-24
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
-- Five Players Make Starting Debuts -- Five players, including three on defense and two on offense, made their starting debuts at Texas Tech.
The defensive debuts were made by weak-side outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt, strong-side inside linebacker Zach Johnson and strong safety Matt Johnson. Sherritt is a sophomore from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06) and the Johnson twins are redshirt freshmen from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07). The Johnson twins were playing in their first collegiate football game.
On offense, both new starters were offensive guards. Ryan Forney, a junior from Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap ’05) started at left guard and Bryan Smith, a senior from Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) started on the right.
-- Starting Experience Leads to Wins -- Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field. In the last six years, EWU’s top three win-loss records (collective 25-13) were recorded by teams that returned at least 245 starts. The worst three records (collective 15-18) were by teams with 225 returning starts or fewer.
The Eagles entered the 2008 season with 26 players returning with starting experience totaling 272 starts. Broken down, Eastern returns 136 starts on both defense and offense (13 players each) for a total of 272 starts returning.
By contrast, Eastern entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. The Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern’s 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2008 - 26 - 272 - 5 - ?
2007 - 31 - 245 - 6 - 9-4 (total of 11 new starters used during the year)
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2008 roster -- Defense (147 starts by 16 players) -- Greg Peach 30, Jason Belford 26, Lance Witherspoon 19, Makai Borden 14, Kevin Hatch 14, Shawn Powell 12, Lonnie Hosley 9, Ryan Kelley 6, Marcus Walker 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Tyler Jolley 2, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Matt Johnson 1, Zach Johnson 1, J.C. Sherritt 1.
Offense (147 starts by 15 players) -- Aaron Boyce 24, Matt Nichols 24, Charlie Wulff 21, Brynsen Brown 21, Tony Davis 13, Dale Morris 13, Alexis Alexander 9, Chris Thomas 8, Nathan Overbay 3, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 2, Bryan Smith 1, Ryan Forney 1.
-- Injury Report -- Senior starting nose tackle Shawn Powell suffered a knee injury before practices even began and is out for the season. Another starter out for about a month with a broken fibula is freshman redshirt cornerback Taiwan Jones.
Beau Baldwin QUOTES
-- On Battling Back Versus Texas Tech -- "You go down 21-0 to any team -- let alone Texas Tech -- and it’s going to be hard to try to fight back from that. But our guys did. They fought back and made a few plays. We kept believing and that was the key thing. I’m not into moral victories, but I was very proud of the way our guys left it on the field."
-- On Second Half Versus TTU -- "We had basically won the second quarter 17-7, and there was no reason why we couldn’t win the third quarter 17-7 or something along those lines. We wanted to keep building momentum -- we had it in the second quarter and I told our team to do everything they could to keep that momentum. We knew Texas Tech was too well-coached and had too many good football players not to come out angry after halftime. It was going to be a tough fight, no question. But we kept fighting in that third quarter, and because of a few plays here and there it just slipped away from us in the end."
-- On Red Raider Defense -- "Texas Tech has a really good scheme with really good players. Their secondary is extremely athletic and its tough to get open against them. We saw that on film from last year -- it was tough for all teams in the Big 12 to run routes and get open against their defensive backs. So that’s going to be a challenge for any receiver."
-- Baldwin on Texas Tech and Colorado -- "Not only are they FBS teams, but they are good ones at that. It’s going to be a challenge, but our guys are excited about that. We went through a situation where we played two FBS teams at the start of 2006, but the only similarity between ’06 and ’08 is the schedule. We have a veteran group this season whereas we were very young in ’06. Our goal in every game on our schedule is to win. We are going to believe we can win and prepare to win. But it is going to be tough on the road. You have play perfect football to be in the right situation at the end."
-- Baldwin on Preseason National Polls -- "There is some merit to be near the top because that can help you when it comes to the playoffs. That can sometimes make it a little easier to stay in the top 16 rather than to have to climb all the way into it."
-- Baldwin on Improvement by Nichols in 2007 -- "I wouldn’t say it totally surprised me by any stretch. That’s especially true when you understand how hard he works in the off-season and how hard he works the week before games. Once the games got going last season, he was just having fun. He put in a lot of time understanding what he had to do to be successful."
-- Baldwin on Nichols -- "You never expect a freshman that struggles a little bit to come back and be Player of the Year in the Big Sky. But if you would have asked me going into last year if he had the talent to do that, I would have said yes. And he obviously proved that."
-- Baldwin on Nichols Wanting Big Sky Title -- "I think he would trade 100 Big Sky MVP trophies for one Big Sky championship. That’s just his mindset."
-- Baldwin on Future Improvement of Nichols -- "He can just keep getting better and better. There were times last year when there were things he could have done to spread the ball out even more, and that’s something I want to see him do better this season. Sometimes you get comfortable with a certain player, and he and Boyce, obviously, had a special connection. I think Matt will be that much better if he can use his other receivers even more."
-- Baldwin on Nichols to Boyce Passing Combo -- "It’s pretty special -- they’ve developed an incredible rapport and had a great year. But I’ve talked to both guys about the fact we’ll be even more successful in some ways if there are less pass completions between Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce. The more we can spread it out and involve seven, eight or nine players catching balls in the passing game, we will be that much better. Both Aaron and Matt might have better years even if their stats aren’t as good. I think we can become better as an offense because of that."
-- Baldwin on Boyce and Receiving Corp -- "I’m excited to coach Aaron again, and the rest of the receiving corp. It’s a good group and has a lot of relatively young players."
-- Baldwin on Nichols and Boyce -- "You not only are talking about talented players, but you’re talking about two mature student-athletes. They are great people and that is part of the reason for their success. They have great character off the field as well, and that will help keep those two grounded and keep them progressing. You don’t want them to get their heads in the clouds thinking they have it all figured out, and then all of the sudden an off year slaps you right in the face. I don’t see that happening to those two guys."
-- Baldwin on Future of Talented Junior Class -- "Each year is different, and a lot of things happen between your sophomore year and junior year, and your junior year and senior year. You can never predict the future. But I’m very fortunate to be in this situation. We have a ton of great weapons on offense."
-- Baldwin on Defensive Line -- "There are seniors up there who have all played significant roles since as far back as 2005. They are a veteran group. No matter how young you are at linebacker and in the secondary, if you are good on the defensive line you give those back seven guys a great chance to be successful. And vice versa -- if you’re not good on the defensive line, even All-America corners can’t cover for eight seconds. It’s huge for us from a defensive standpoint to have an experienced defensive line. All the great defenses are always going to start with the guys up front."
-- Baldwin on Offensive Changes -- "To an outsider looking at our team, you’re probably not going to see a lot of changes. There are some subtle changes we are making that are things I believe in and want to do. But it’s not going to be an overhaul. I don’t think you come into a program with a lot of success and make 180-degree changes. If you do, I think you’re letting your ego get in the way a little bit. I want to keep a lot of things familiar for those guys."
-- Baldwin on Defensive Changes -- "We have a new defensive coordinator, so it will be a little different. In the past we’ve started with a one-high safety philosophy and now we’ll use two high safeties as our base. We’ll still have the ability to roll down to an eight-man front. Our defense will probably have more changes than our offense from a scheme standpoint."
-- Baldwin on Winning Big Sky -- "The Big Sky is such a great league and such a fun league to compete in. No matter what you do in your non-league schedule, you still have a new opportunity when the league schedule starts. It’s always an exciting time for us as coaches and players."
-- Baldwin on Big Sky Opener Against His Former Mentor John Zamberlin -- "It’s against Idaho State and a person I have a lot of respect for. That will be a fun game. He came to Central in 1997 and retained three of us that were on staff. That was good of him to do that and that he had faith in us and trusted us. We were fortunate to have a coach come in from all the way across the country and keep us."
MORE 2008 NOTES
-- Eagles Picked to Finish as Big Sky Runner-up -- Preseason predictions aside, there is no doubt the Eastern Washington University football team believes it can win the Big Sky Conference title in the 2008 season.
The Eagles have been picked to finish second behind 10-time defending champion Montana by both the media and the league’s head coaches in polls released July 22 at the Big Sky’s Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
"Our expectations are extremely high," said Eastern fullback/running back Alexis Alexander, who was Eastern’s player representative in Park City. "We discovered how good of a team we were last year and our confidence levels are up there. We plan on winning the Big Sky Conference -- we talk about that every day.
"When we’re in the weight room and running, we talk about what we are putting in all the hard work for," said the 2001 graduate of Medical Lake, Wash., High School. "We know we have the personnel to win the conference if we can stay healthy and go out and execute."
Montana earned 23 first-place votes and 361 total points by the media, with Eastern close behind with 19 first-place votes and 350 points overall. In the coaches’ poll, Montana received seven of the nine first-place votes and had 63 points. Eastern had one first-place vote and 52 points overall.
"It’s flattering and humbling in a lot of ways," said first-year head coach Beau Baldwin. "And it’s a compliment to our players for what they accomplished last year and what they are capable of this season. But the goal is to be up there at the end of the year in the middle of November. That’s obviously what really matters."
With a large group of players returning, Eastern is hoping to continue the momentum from the 2007 season when the Eagles returned to the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision scene with a 9-4 finish after a dismal 3-8 record the year before. Eastern advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and closed the year ranked eighth in the final Sports Network poll of the year. The Eagles won their last five conference games of the year to finish the league season 6-2.
"Honestly, a let down is not an option," said the confident Alexander, who played three years of minor league baseball before returning to football. "This is my senior year and we have a number of other seniors on this team, and we sit down and talk all the time. We know we can do it, and it’s all about staying healthy and executing our assignments. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do, I don’t think anybody can beat us."
Last year, Montana finished the regular season 11-0 and 8-0 in the Big Sky before losing in the first round of the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Playoffs. The Grizzlies have won 16-straight league games, including last season’s 24-23 victory over EWU in Missoula in which the Eagles out-gained the Grizzlies 565-289. 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.
While Eastern has 15 starters returning to its team this year, Montana has just 10.
"They’ve earned that right," added Baldwin of Montana’s No. 1 ranking. "I don’t care if they lose every player at every position, they’ve proven they are the team to beat year after year."
In 2008, the Grizzlies and Eagles meet at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., on Oct. 11 in an early showdown between Big Sky rivals. Eastern was the last team besides Montana to win the outright Big Sky title, with that coming in 1997. Since then, the Grizzlies have won or shared the league title the past 10 seasons, including 2004 and 2005 when Eastern also won a piece of the title. The Grizzlies have advanced to the FCS Playoffs 15-straight seasons.
Last season, Eastern was picked to finish fifth in the league. In 2005, Eastern was picked to win the title in both polls, but had only one-point advantage in the media poll and received five more votes from the coaches. Both teams finished as league co-champions.
-- Nichols and Peach on Watch Lists -- The Sports Network has released its Payton Award and Buchanan Award "Watch Lists" for the 2008 season, and Eagles have been selected to each list of the top 16 defensive players and top 16 offensive players in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has been named to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, an honor given to the top player in FCS. That award was won in 2005 by the EWU quarterback Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer. Senior defensive end Greg Peach was picked for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the top defensive player in FCS.
Nichols finished the 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in FCS. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, a school-record 34 touchdowns and had just nine interceptions in 2007. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Nichols also broke the school’s single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 yards.
Peach helped the Eagles rank 38th last season in FCS in rushing defense a year ago (144.1) en route to earning first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Peach finished with 63 tackles, including 11 sacks to rank as the fifth-best performance in school history and 11th in FCS (0.85 per game). He entered his senior season with 17 1/2 sacks that rank ninth in school history.
The Payton and Buchanan awards will undergo two revisions, one in October and one in November, before ballots are sent out to a panel of sports information directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries on Nov. 24. The Sports Network awards banquet will be held Dec. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn., on the eve of the FCS national championship game.
The Eddie Robinson Award, which goes to the FCS national coach of the year will also be awarded that night. The Robinson Award ballot will be announced in November.
The Sports Network established the Payton and Robinson awards in 1987, and began sponsoring the Buchanan Award in 1995. Georgia Southern quarterback Jayson Foster was the 2007 Payton Award winner, while Montana defensive end Kroy Biermann took home the Buchanan Award.
Walter Payton Award Watch List
Walter Payton Award Watch List
Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly, 6-5, 230, Senior
Nathan Brown, QB, Central Arkansas, 6-2, 209, Senior
Liam Coen, QB, Massachusetts, 6-2, 220, Senior
Herb Donaldson, RB, Western Illinois, 5-11, 225, Senior
Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State, 6-0, 185, Junior
Terrell Hudgins, WR, Elon, 6-3, 235, Junior
Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty, 6-1, 230, Senior
Rodney Landers, QB, James Madison, 6-1, 220, Senior
Corey Lewis, RB, Northern Iowa, 6-0, 197, Senior
Mike McLeod, RB, Yale, 5-11, 200, Senior
Matt Nichols, QB, Eastern Washington, 6-2, 220, Junior
Dominic Randolph, QB, Holy Cross, 6-3, 223, Senior
Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel, 5-11, 175
Tyler Roehl, RB, North Dakota State, 5-10, 232, Senior
Jordan Scott, RB, Colgate, 5-11, 205, Senior
Javarris Williams, RB, Tennessee State, 5-11, 215, Senior
Buck Buchanan Award Watch List
Buck Buchanan Award Watch List
Bobby Abare, LB, Yale, 6-2, 210, Senior
Colt Anderson, SS, Montana, 5-11, 185, Senior
Pierre Banks, LB, Appalachian State, 6-0, 210, Senior
Jovan Belcher, DE, Maine, 6-2, 228, Senior
Mario Brown, LB, Gardner-Webb, 6-2, 230, Senior
Bobby Daly, LB, Montana State, 6-1, 226, Senior
Zach East, LB, Prairie View, 6-2, 230, Senior
John Faltoese, DT, UC Davis, 6-3, 290, Senior
Cyrus Mulitalo, LB, Sacramento State, 6-1, 245, Senior
Greg Peach, DE, Eastern Washington, 6-3, 255, Senior
Andy Romans, LB, Lafayette, 5-11, 215, Senior
Andy Schantz, LB, Portland State, 6-1, 235, Senior
Pierre Walters, DE, Eastern Illinois, 6-5, 261, Senior
Lardarius Webb, FS, Nicholls State, 5-11, 180, Senior
Jason Williams, LB, Western Illinois, 6-3, 235, Junior
Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State, 6-2, 200, Junior
-- Four Eagles on Preseason All-America Team -- Like all preseason predictions, it’s how you’re regarded at the end of the season that counts most.
However, a quartet of Eastern Washington University football players -- equaling the most from any one school among the 125 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams -- have been selected to The Sports Network’s preseason All-America team released Aug. 22.
Senior defensive end Greg Peach was honored on the second team while junior wide receiver Aaron Boyce, senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon and senior fullback Alexis Alexander were on the third team. All four played high school football in the State of Washington.
Peach and Boyce were also second team selections on the College Sporting News Preseason All-America team. In addition, Eastern Witherspoon was on the third team.
In addition, quarterback Matt Nichols was selected as the FCS Offensive Player of the Year by Lindy’s Football Preview and was ranked as the fourth-best FCS quarterback by The Sports Network. Boyce received second-team preseason All-America honors from Phil Steele’s College Football and Peach earned the same honor from Lindy’s.
Also, Nichols, Boyce, Peach and Witherspoon were selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference squad.
Boyce (Kent, Wash. - Kentwood HS ’05), Peach (Vancouver, Wash. - Evergreen HS ‘05) and Witherspoon (Federal Way, Wash. - Decatur HS ‘04) earned season-ending All-America honors a year ago. Alexander (Medical Lake, Wash. - Medical Lake HS ’01) was a second-team All-Big Sky fullback in 2006 before being slowed by a sports hernia in 2007.
Peach and Witherspoon helped the Eagles rank 38th in FCS in rushing defense a year ago (144.1) en route to earning first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Peach finished with 63 tackles, including 11 sacks to rank as the fifth-best performance in school history and 11th in FCS (0.85 per game). He will enter his senior season with 17 1/2 sacks that rank ninth in school history. Witherspoon, a former walk-on, ended the 2007 season with 44 tackles, a sack and 12 total tackles for loss to earn second team All-BSC accolades.
Boyce had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdown receptions to rank 14th in FCS in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6). His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. A first team All-Big Sky selection in 2007, Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17 against the Grizzlies.
Alexander saw action at tailback a year ago after starting as EWU’s fullback. He had 267 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and also caught five passes for 61 more yards and a score. He has started a total of nine games in his career.
Alexander, a transfer in 2006 from Washington State University, played three years of minor league baseball before returning to football. Alexander, who will turn 26 in November, nearly signed a letter of intent out of high school to play football for Big Sky rival Montana.
The Big Sky Conference dominated the All-America Team with 18 picks, including four each by Eastern and fellow league member Northern Arizona.
-- Eagles Seventh in The Sports Network Preseason Poll -- The Eagles were ranked seventh in The Sports Network preseason NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) poll announced on Aug. 19. The Eagles were one notch ahead of Big Sky Conference rival Montana, which was ranked eighth.
Eastern opens the season on Aug. 30 against a Texas Tech team that was ranked 12th in last week’s Associated Press preseason poll for the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
"There is some merit to be near the top because that can help you when it comes to the playoffs," said first-year EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. "That can sometimes make it a little easier to stay in the top 16 rather than to have to climb all the way into it."
Eastern Washington was picked to finish second behind Montana by the coaches and the media in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls, but those positions were reversed nationally. The Eagles received 1,951 total points from The Sports Network in the poll of media and sports information directors, while Montana received 1,848 points.
Eastern finished the 2007 season 9-4 and ranked eighth in the final poll of the year. The Eagles lost in the FCS Playoff quarterfinals by three points to eventual national champion Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are the three-time defending national champion and began the 2008 season ranked No. 1. The Mountaineers earned 97 of the 101 first-place votes, and 2,546 total points. North Dakota State was ranked second, followed by Northern Iowa, Richmond and Massachusetts.
James Madison was sixth, followed by EWU and Montana. Rounding out the top 10 were Delaware and McNeese State, which was unbeaten in 2007 until EWU beat them 44-15 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
Montana is gunning for its 11th straight Big Sky Conference title. Montana went 11-1 in 2007, losing in the first round of the FCS playoffs to Wofford. The Grizzlies, who play at EWU on Oct. 11, ended 2007 ranked 10th in the nation.
Three other Big Sky teams also received votes in the poll as Northern Arizona just missed out on cracking the top 25. The Lumberjacks earned 249 total points, most among teams not in the top 25. Montana State received 146 points (32nd), while Weber State received 17 (47th).
In addition, Eastern was ranked eighth in the FCS Coaches Poll. Earlier in the summer, EWU was listed at No. 6 in the consolidation of rankings distributed by College Sporting News. Eastern’s highest preseason ranking came from The Sporting News, which has Eastern fifth. Three organizations -- Lindy’s Preview, Phil Steele’s College Football and Sports Media Entertainment Network -- all rank the Eagles sixth. Anygivensunday.com rated Eastern as the ninth-best team in FCS and the SME Network (http://www.smebroadcasting.com) picked Eastern as the favorite to unseat Montana as Big Sky champions.
-- Coaching Staff Mostly New -- There are lots of familiar faces in the Eagle program, but the coaching staff is a different matter. Five new coaches will don the red and white of Eastern after coming from nearby Central Washington where they wore red and black. Included is new Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who directed the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and its own quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
Baldwin is no stranger to EWU’s program, and particularly the offense, which welcomes back six starters from one of the top-producing offensive units in the country. Baldwin spent four years as Eastern offensive coordinator before departing for CWU, and his past tutelage of quarterback Matt Nichols -- the 2007 Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP -- is a major reason why he returned. Baldwin takes the reins from former Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who left to become head coach at Washington State University.
Baldwin, who was named as EWU’s head coach on Jan. 4, has four coaching carryovers from EWU’s staff from last year -- Joe Wade, Chris Hansen, Jeff Schmedding and Chris Peterson -- while Aaron Best returns after one year away. The new additions from CWU include John Graham, Ryan Sawyer, Torey Hunter and Nat Conley.
Wade will take over as offensive coordinator and will also coach quarterbacks. Hansen, a cornerbacks coach last year, will coach tight ends and handle administrative duties such as recruiting and helping with coordination of summer camps. Schmedding will move from safeties to linebackers and Peterson will move from running backs to wide receivers. Schmedding and Peterson will co-coordinate special teams.
Best, a former EWU All-America center who spent the 2007 season as an assistant coach with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, will return for his eighth season as an EWU offensive line coach.
Graham will be the team’s defensive coordinator after spending the last 13 seasons at Central. Sawyer will coach the defensive line, Hunter will direct EWU defensive backs and Conley will coach running backs.
Besides Hansen taking over coordination of recruiting, other administrative duties will be handled by Best (academics), Peterson (camps), Hunter (travel), Schmedding (video) and Wade (pro football liaison).
-- Boyce in Top 14 Nationally in Receptions and Yards in 2007 -- With one of the most productive receiving seasons in school history, receiver Aaron Boyce had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 scores in 2007. In Football Championship Subdivision statistics, Boyce was 14th in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6).
His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth. His catch total ranks only behind the 87 catches Eric Kimble had in 12 games in 2005. Boyce’s yardage total ranks behind the 1,453 yards Kimble had in 13 games in 2004, the 1,419 Kimble had in 2005 and the 1,376 Jeff Ogden had in 14 games in 1997.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
Boyce played just one year of high school football, but was a standout on the basketball court. As a junior, he teamed with former Eastern standout and current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to lead Kentwood to the 2004 State 4A Championship.
Boyce, whose top yardage performance as a freshman in 2006 was 96 yards, had six 100-yard receiving performances in 2007. His teammates added five more 100-yard performances (plus one of 99) to give EWU a total of 11 in the 2007 season. Here is a complete list:
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
Other 100-Yard Receiving Games for Returning EWU Players
Other 100-Yard Receiving Games for Returning EWU Players
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Idaho State - 9/22/07
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - Tony Davis - McNeese State - 11/24/07
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Tony Davis - Central Washington - 9/16/06
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Brynsen Brown - Weber State - 11/17/07
-- Other EWU Statistical Leaders in 2007 -- Eastern Washington averaged a league-leading 462.3 yards of offense after 13 games, good for fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern was also 18th in scoring offense (33.6), eighth in passing offense (295.4) and 50th in rushing offense (166.8). Eastern was also 10th in passing efficiency (155.6) with a school-record 36 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that included four senior starters, allowed 25 quarterback sacks to rank 62nd nationally (1.9 sacks per game), down from third after the Idaho State game when EWU had allowed just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern was 80th in total defense (390.7), 30th in scoring defense (22.2), 38th in rushing defense (144.1), 104th in passing defense (246.6) and 24th in passing efficiency defense (112.3).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern finished 20th with 21 turnovers (11 interceptions and 10 fumbles) while opponents had 33 (22 interceptions and 11 fumbles). Eastern ranked third in interceptions (total of 22), with 12 different players picking off passes. In 2006, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Junior Dale Morris, who had 512 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in Eastern’s last six games, was 71st in rushing (71.5 per game). He finished just 70 yards from the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Punter Fritz Brayton ranked 47th nationally (39.8 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias was 64th in scoring (6.9) and 58th in field goals (0.85, total of 11). Junior defensive end Greg Peach was 11th in sacks (0.85 per game, total of 11).
-- Morris Puts Injury Woes Behind Him -- The injury woes of running back Dale Morris went in a different direction in 2007. The brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, he missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a knee injury as well as a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he was at full strength again in 2007 after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals. He finished the season with 930 yards rushing, including 512 yards and eight touchdowns in Eastern’s last six games. He also had 11 catches for 77 yards and a score.
-- Kefu Takes Advantage of New Rule -- Thanks to a revised NCAA rule, running back Toke Kefu is able to return for the 2008 season. Kefu was injured in Eastern’s fourth game of the 2007 season versus Portland State, and in any other year previous to that he would have played one too many games to be eligible for an automatic injury hardship. However, NCAA rules were revised in 2007 and enabled football players to play in as many as four games and be able to get the year back.
-- A Former Minor League Baseball Player, Alexander Sees Action at Running Back -- A 2001 graduate of Medical Lake, Wash., High School who will turn 26 during the season, Alexis Alexander nearly signed a letter of intent out of high school to play football for Big Sky rival Montana. Now, seven years later, the 25-year-old Alexander found himself the butt of good-natured ribbing from other Big Sky players during the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff he attended as EWU’s player representative.
"All the other players were making fun of me, saying, "Oh my god, are you really that old?" laughed Alexander, whose nicknames at EWU are grandpa and pops. "They saw me eating fruit and told me I needed to eat that way to stay healthy and asked if I wanted some calcium to keep my bones healthy. They were all over me but I told them that I’m used to it by now.
"Go ahead and give it to me -- I’m old, I’m old," he continued. "I’ll be 26 in November playing against 18-year-olds. They call me old until I hit them."
As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team’s Offensive Player of the Year. He also saw action at running back in the 2007 season, and had 122 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007. However, he missed EWU’s last five games after suffering an abdominal injury that was later diagnosed as a hernia.
He started six games in 2006 at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000.
He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League.
-- Noteworthy Relatives -- A quartet of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of former Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who is now at Washington State. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is former Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. The elder Walker, whose children Marcus, Taylor (daughter), Payton (daughter) and were named after NFL standouts Marcus Walker, Lawrence Taylor and Walter Payton, respectively, is now on the coaching staff for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
Also, tight end Nathan Overbay is the nephew of Major League Baseball player Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays. And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU, has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers after previously playing for the Oakland Raiders and in college at Colorado.
-- A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry -- In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Eight recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern’s 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane’s Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one’s covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. 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 was 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, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana’s record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana’s record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 12 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
-- Eagles Looking for 1,000 -- Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 13 seasons from 1995-2007, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games. The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington’s season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern’s second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott’s single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern’s season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern’s first 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded – 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
-- Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games -- After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)
-- Watch Out for Eagles in 2017 -- Eastern has had three of its best seasons in school history in years that end in "7," so the Eagles can expect big things from their football program 10 years from now in 2017.
Eastern’s 9-4 record in 2007 included a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Ten years ago in 1997, Eastern was 12-2 and advanced to the semifinals. Thirty years prior to that, Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game and finished 11-1.
The 1987 (4-7) and 1977 (5-4) teams didn’t fare as well. But Eastern also had some pretty good teams in 1957 (5-2-1), 1947 (6-1-1) and 1937 (6-1).
-- Eagles in the Playoffs -- Eastern’s 2007 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs was the school’s sixth berth in school history. It was also the third in the last four years as EWU’s appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-6 record in six playoff appearances.
In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU’s first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.
Until 2004, Eastern hadn’t appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school’s only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU’s playoff games:
2007 - at Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
-- EWU Playoff Tidbits -- The 2007 playoff appearance was EWU’s sixth playoff appearance and third in the last four seasons under former EWU head coach Paul Wulff. Only 10 teams out of the 116 schools in FCS in 2007 played in three of the last four tournaments.
The 2007 season was Eastern’s fourth time advancing to the second round, but only once has Eastern won a quarterfinal game. In 1997, Eastern beat Western Kentucky 38-21 before bowing out of the playoffs with a loss to eventual champion Youngstown State in the semifinals.
Eastern earned one of eight at-large playoff berths in 2007 after winning its last four games overall and last five league games. The only loss for the Eagles in their last six outings of the regular season was a 42-7 setback on Oct. 20 at Brigham Young, which ranked 14th in the final Associated Press NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision poll of the season. The Cougars finished the regular season 10-2 and advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl.
A regular season-ending 38-16 win over Weber State was EWU’s fifth-straight Big Sky victory in 2007, matching Eastern’s winning streak in 1997 when the Eagles won their last five league games en route to a 12-2 finish and semifinal appearance in the FCS Playoffs. Even in EWU’s playoff years in 1992, 2004 and 2005, Eastern was not able to win four-straight league games.
-- Eastern Repeats History -- In the process of beating McNeese State 44-15 in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2007, Eastern repeated a bit of history.
In 2004, in the first of what is now three playoff berths in the last four seasons for the Eagles, Eastern drew No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois. The Eagles went on to defeat the Salukis 35-31 before falling at home in the quarterfinals to Sam Houston State.
In both upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally.
Eastern also avoided a bit of history in the win over the Cowboys. Eastern held a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but based on the last two EWU playoff games, that wasn’t necessarily a good omen.
In the loss to Sam Houston State, Eastern led 34-14 with 14:54 left before falling 35-34. The next year, in a first round game at Northern Iowa, the Eagles led 38-24 with 11:03 remaining but lost 41-38.
This time, Eastern held McNeese State scoreless the final 24:12 of the game and the Eagles scored their final touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. That clinching score followed an interception by senior Bryan Jarrett, who redshirted at EWU in 2004 and played in the disappointing loss the following season at Northern Iowa.
Eastern’s 626 yards of total offense against McNeese State was the most for the Eagles in 10 years against a FCS opponent, and the most in five years overall. At one point, Eastern scored on five-straight offensive possessions behind an offensive line that featured four senior starters. The defense, with four senior starters, forced three turnovers as EWU won the turnover battle 3-2 against a team that ranked fourth nationally with a plus 1.64 margin per game (plus 18 overall). Eastern’s defense was right behind at 10th nationally entering the game (1.27 per game, plus 14 overall). Eastern held McNeese State to just 312 yards of offense.
-- Bracketology -- Apparently, Eastern’s upset over McNeese State was too much for the NCAA to believe. For a short time after EWU’s 44-15 win, a bracket on the NCAA’s web site mistakenly listed the Cowboys as the winner.
-- Well-Wishes from the NFL -- During EWU’s 44-15 win over McNeese State, Eastern received a well-wishes via text messaging from a pair of former Eagles now in the NFL. Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Michael Roos listened to the radio broadcast via internet in Cincinnati where he was preparing to play the Bengals and said he "just wanted to wish EWU good luck the rest of the game." Former Eastern assistant coach Keith Murphy, now an assistant coach with the St. Louis Rams, texted his "congrats" while the Eagles were safely ahead.
-- EWU East of the Mississippi -- Eastern had never played a team from the Southern Conference until its quarterfinal round game of the playoffs against Appalachian State on Dec. 1, 2007. In fact, it was just the fifth time Eastern has played a game East of the Mississippi.
The most recent came on Sept. 9, 2006, when Eastern lost 52-3 at West Virginia, which was ranked sixth at the time in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. That game marked the starting debut for current Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols.
The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of FBS, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eastern also played in Morgantown, W.Va., at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.