Sept. 11, 2006
With the grueling portion of its schedule behind it, it's a nine-game schedule now for the Eastern Washington University football team.
In its final non-conference game before beginning its attempt to win a third-straight Big Sky Conference football title, the Eagles host Central Washington Saturday (Sept. 16) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff between the two former rivals is 6:05 p.m. Pacific time on Youth Football Night and CenturyTel Night.
Eastern didn't fare well against two NCAA Division I-A opponents to open the 2006 season. After absorbing a 56-17 thumping at the hands of Oregon State of the Pacific 10 Conference, Eastern stepped up another notch to play sixth-ranked West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va. The Mountaineers won 52-3 as they out-gained Eastern in total offense 591 to 185.
"We are going to move forward," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his team's 0-2 start. "We are trying to build for a nine-game season which starts this week. We feel like we came out fairly healthy, and now we need to get a lot better for Central Washington."
After this week's Central Washington game, the Eagles play eight-straight league games. The opener is Sept. 23 at Montana State, which opened its season with a 19-10 victory over NCAA Division I-A opponent Colorado. Eastern won a share of last year's league title with Montana and Montana State with 5-2 records, and the year prior tied Montana at 6-1.
Wulff hopes what happened to Montana State last week doesn't happen to his squad this week. The Bobcats followed their Colorado win with an equally-stunning 35-24 loss to NCAA Division II Chadron State. Central Washington is also a D-II school.
"We'll see how we respond from it as the season goes along," Wulff said of playing at West Virginia a week after playing OSU. "I think it was great for our players. I'm a big picture kind of guy -- I'm not always looking at whether we win all the time because there are a lot of other factors in life. Our players had a great experience coming across the country, and played good, hard football and lost."
"We are going to learn from it," he added. "We have a chance to win a conference championship and compete for a national championship in I-AA. Those are our program goals, and this game gave us a flavor of how to play at a high, high level. We need to do that."
Central Washington, a member of NCAA Division II and making its debut appearance in the North Central Conference, is now 1-1. The Wildcats led pre-season league favorite North Dakota 14-0 in their opener, but allowed the Fighting Sioux to score the last 28 points in the 28-14 loss. Central followed that win a 20-0 road win at Humboldt State.
This will be Eastern's fifth meeting in the last eight years against the Wildcats, who are coached by former Eagle assistant coach John Zamberlin. Eastern and Central were long-time rivals in the NAIA, with the Eagles currently owning a 33-29-4 advantage in the 66 previous meetings.
In 2004, Eastern won easily 39-8 for their seventh-straight win over CWU. But in the previous season in 2003, the Eagles needed to score 27 of the final 34 points in the game to overcome a 22-21 CWU lead and win 48-29. The last time Central defeated Eastern was in 1977 by a 27-21 score.
Despite his team's 0-2 start, Eagle head coach Paul Wulff expects the Eagles to continue their current streak of seven-straight winning seasons. But he's also hoping for much more -- and fellow coaches in the conference agree. The Eagles have been picked to finish second behind Montana, while the media picked EWU to finish fifth.
Interestingly, in 2004 the Eagles also started the season 0-2 and were picked second by the coaches. The media picked the Eagles to finish fourth, and EWU went on to win nine of its next 10 games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. They started that impressive run with the 39-8 triumph over the Wildcats.
Wulff on Central Washington Game: "That's where we start. We have a big week in front of us. It's going to be a big week of practice for us and we are going to have to get after it on Saturday against Central. We really take pride in who we are and play how we have to play. We have to play at a high level and execute."
Central Grads Galore on Eagle Staff: Eastern Washington University's coaching staff is a who's-who of Central Washington University graduates.
Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin and defensive line coach Malik Roberson are former Wildcat students and football players. Defensive ends coach Brian Strandley was an assistant for nine seasons before joining the EWU coaching staff in 2006.
Eastern men's basketball coach Mike Burns and his assistants Carl Howell and G.E. Coleman are former CWU students, as was golf coach Marc Hughes and sports information director Dave Cook.
Baldwin was a Wildcat quarterback and coached at Central for nine years as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. As a player, Baldwin was a two-time team captain and completed 121-of-197 passes for 1,655 yards and eight touchdowns. His career completion percentage of .614 is a school record. In a 38-35 win versus Simon Fraser in 1991, he set single-game school records for attempts (52), completions (32), yards (467), total plays (66) and total yards (550). He had a 6-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left to give the Wildcats the win.
Roberson started his playing career at Washington State, but resumed his playing career at Central Washington in 1994 when he earned first team All-Columbia Football Association honors (Mount Rainier Division). He was injured much of his senior season in 1995, but served as co-captain and helped lead the Wildcats to a 10-3-1 record and the NAIA Championship. He attended the NFL Combine after his senior season, but was unable to continue his playing career because of a neck injury.
Trading Places: Eastern has a former Central player on its roster -- Keith Grennan -- who is in his second season as an Eagle defensive lineman after redshirting the 2004 season. Grennan was a tight end in 2003 for the Wildcats, and had his best game of the season against the Eagles when he caught five passes for 82 yards.
Central is coached by John Zamberlin, a former NFL linebacker who spent three seasons as Eastern's defensive line coach from 1992-94. Eastern won the Big Sky Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs his first year at EWU, and were a collective 18-14 in his three seasons as an Eagle. Zamberlin is now in his 10th season at the helm of the Wildcats, with a current record of 58-37. Wildcat wide receiver Reggie Ford and running back Chris Anderson were all at one time in the Eagle program. Central assistant coach Lance Gibson lettered at EWU as a defensive end from 1999-2000.
Interestingly, Grennan missed one of Eastern's spring scrimmages last year after Anderson accidentally hooked him in the back of the head when they were fishing at Badger Lake near Cheney.
Eagles 0-2 Start Rare: This is just the third time since 1983 that the Eagles have started the season 0-2 (EWU became a member of NCAA Division I-AA in 1984). The last time came in 2004 when the Eagles opened with losses at Nicholls State and Humboldt State. The Eagles went on to win nine of their next 10 games -- starting with a victory over Central Washington -- to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.
In 1998, Eastern lost its first three games of the season after going a school-record 12-2 the year before and advancing to the semifinals of the I-AA Playoffs. The Eagles started the 1988 season with a tie, then lost their next two games en route to a 2-8-1 finish. In 1983, EWU lost its first five games then won its last five to finish 5-5. Before 2004, the 1982 season was the last time Eastern started 0-2 and finished with a winning season as the Eagles won their final eight games to finish 8-2.
Eagle head coach Paul Wulff has lost his opening game in six of his seven seasons at the helm, but five of those games were against NCAA Division I-A opponents. In 2001, Eastern opened the season with a 35-17 win at I-A Connecticut.
Eastern Surrenders Lots of Points, But Doesn't Cough Up Ball Against Mountaineers: Although Eastern was out-scored 108-20 in the two games against I-AA opponents, the Eagles improved significantly in turnovers from one game to the next.
Against Oregon State, Eastern fumbled away the ball on the second offensive play of the game, then had three more turnovers in its next six possessions. The Beavers turned three of them into touchdowns en route to a 35-0 lead after the first 19 minutes of the game.
Eastern had just one turnover against West Virginia, and none of them were fumbles. An interception thrown by Matt Nichols was Eastern's only miscue as EWU made the Mountaineers earn their points.
Eagles Play Nationally-Ranked I-A Opponent for Second Time: Playing the likes of a nationally-ranked West Virginia was virtually uncharted territory for the Eagles. Eastern is 7-13 all-time versus NCAA Division I-A schools, and the only other time the Eagles played a ranked I-A opponent came in 1990 when Eastern fell 84-21 to Houston. That game was played in the Houston Astrodome as the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll.
Eastern lost 52-3 to a West Virginia team that was 11-1 last year and defeated Georgia 38-35 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl after winning the Big East Conference title with a perfect 7-0 record. The Mountaineers have now won 28 of their last 32 games.
Eastern played in Morgantown 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.
Incidentally, Eastern's two trips to Morgantown are half of the four the Eagles have made previously East of the Mississippi River. 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 I-A, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Matt Nicols on Playing I-A West Virginia: "We just played a top-five team that has a chance to win the national championship. That will help when we drop back down and play in our division. It helps us get used to the speed of the game, especially for myself and our redshirt freshmen wide receivers. It's a great experience to see how major college football is played."
Eagles at a Glance: Eastern is coming off back-to-back seasons in which it won a share of the Big Sky Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern returned 41 letter winners from that team, including 19 on offense, 20 on defense, its kicker and its punter. In all, 14 starters are back, with experience heaviest at safety and along the offensive and defensive lines.
But replacing the incredible contributions of eight amazingly productive seniors will prove to be difficult indeed. Eastern lost the 2005 Walter Payton Award winner and Big Sky Offensive MVP (quarterback Erik Meyer), the Big Sky Defensive MVP (middle linebacker Joey Cwik), a two-time All-America receiver (Eric Kimble), three other wide receivers and a pair of starting cornerbacks.
Wulff will replace Meyer with junior Chris Peerboom and freshman redshirt Matt Nichols. They will split playing time early in the season to see which quarterback leads the offense the best. Replacing the play-making abilities of Kimble will be equally difficult.
"They are two of the best players to ever play in this conference," said Wulff. "But in the game of football there are 11 players on the field, and we feel like we have a program that can be extremely successful with whatever 11 players we put out there. That's not going to change."
Among the players returning are 11 players who earned All-Big Sky Conference accolades in 2005. First team selections included safety Bryan Jarrett and offensive guard Matt Alfred, who also earned a pair of All-America accolades as well.
Second team choices returning include former OSU running back Ryan Cole, who rushed for 879 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Eagles last year. Safety Brandon Keeler, tight end and Tim Calhoun, defensive lineman Harrison Nikolao were also second team picks, but Nikolao has moved over to a starting offensive guard position for his senior season.
Honorable mention All-Big Sky picks a year ago included Rocky Hanni (offensive guard), Nick Denbeigh (outside linebacker), David Eneberg (inside linebacker), Sheldon Weddle (kicker) and Shea Emry (special teams). As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was honored as an All-American after earning Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year honors -- the only offensive lineman in the history of the award to win that honor. He has moved to tackle this season.
"Our goals are to win the conference championship, get to the playoffs and make a run for the national championship," added Wulff. "Our seniors sure as heck want to push it as long and far as we can take it. We expect that and our players know what it takes to get there. Anything other than that is contrary to what our goals are."
"Is it going to happen? . . . you never know. But it is a realistic goal for us."
Nichols and Wulff Get First Starts Against Sixth-Ranked Mountaineers: Quarterback Matt Nichols and center Charlie Wulff couldn't have asked for a tougher assignment in their first starts of their careers last week against sixth-ranked West Virginia.
Nichols started in place of Chris Peerboom, whose concussion suffered in the Oregon State game kept him from making the trip to Morgantown, W.Va. Wulff started in place of Chris Carlsen, who suffered a minor knee injury against the Beavers and also didn't play at WVU. Wulff is the nephew of Eagle head coach Paul Wulff.
Matt Nichols on Starting Debut Against West Virginia: "It's easy when you have a great offensive line and good players around you. I had confidence from the coaches and that makes it easy to have confidence in the game plan. Our offensive line played absolutely amazing. They gave up no sacks and we moved the ball. Our running game was a lot better than Oregon State. We did what we were taught on our (scoring) drive. We just have to finish them."
Only Five Players Make Debuts Against OSU: Just five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- made their starting debuts against Oregon State. None of them were linemen.
Sophomore Shea Emry started at middle linebacker where he replaces 2005 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Joey Cwik, who started 40 games and never missed a game in his EWU career. The other debut on defense was made by junior Ira Jarmon at cornerback. Emry is a 2004 graduate of Vancouver College Prep in Vancouver, B.C., and Jarmon is a 2003 graduate of Clover Park High School in Lakewood, Wash.
On offense, quarterback Chris Peerboom filled the starting position held for 35 games the past three seasons by 2005 Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer. Freshman redshirt wide receiver Aaron Boyce and sophomore fullback Alexis Alexander also made their starting debuts. Peerboom is a 2003 graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., Boyce graduated in 2005 from Kentwood HS in Kent, Wash., and Alexander is a 2001 graduate of nearby Medical Lake, Wash., High School. Alexander transferred from Washington State where he was a scout team linebacker and prior to that played three seasons of minor league baseball.
In all, the Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them. Five players entered with between 22 and 24 starts each.
Last year, 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.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2006 season:
Defense (125 starts by 15 players): Nick Denbeigh 26, Brandon Keeler 26, David Eneberg 17, Bryan Jarrett 10, Greg Peach 7, Gene Piffero 6, Keith Grennan 6, Gregor Smith 4, Charles Searcy 4, DeNique Ford 5, Lance Witherspoon 3, George Lane 3, Jason Belford 4, Shea Emry 2, Ira Jarmon 2.
Offense (144 starts by 17 players): Harrison Nikolao 26 (includes 23 on defense), Rocky Hanni 25, Matt Alfred 24, Tim Calhoun 16, Zach Wasielewski 14, Ryan Cole 12, Chris Carlsen 11, Tyler Coleman 5, Tom McAndrews 2, Aaron Boyce 2, Dezmon Cole 1, Toke Kefu 1, Dale Morris 1, Alexis Alexander 1, Chris Peerboom 1, Matt Nichols 1, Charlie Wulff 1.
Peerboom and Nichols Have Shared Quarterback Duties Thus Far: Much like they did in the 2001 season, the Eagles have utilized two quarterbacks during the pre-season in hopes of finding a full-time starter. Junior Chris Peerboom started against Oregon State and directed Eastern's offense in six possessions before leaving the game early in the second half with a concussion. Freshman redshirt Matt Nichols saw action in nine possessions, then played most of the West Virginia game when Peerboom was left home to recover.
In two games thus far, Nichols is 22-of-43 (51 percent) for 207 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He passed for 90 yards against West Virginia and led the Eagles on a 73-yard scoring drive that culminated in a field goal. Nichols was 9-of-18 for 117 yards against the Beavers but couldn't get the Eagles in the end zone. He had an interception and fumbled away the ball twice, and his other possessions yielded five punts and a lost possession on downs.
Against OSU, Peerboom completed 3-of-8 passes for 23 yards, and his possessions yielded a touchdown on a four-play, 51-yard drive in the second quarter, a field goal after an OSU turnover, a fumble on a botched handoff and three punts.
"They have done a nice job to get themselves better," said Wulff before the Oregon State game. "It really isn't about out-doing the other person -- it is about themselves getting better as individuals."
Eastern utilized two quarterbacks at the start of the 2003 season when Erik Meyer and Skyler Allen were battling for the job. They shared possessions and each started one game before Meyer, then a sophomore, won the job against Central Washington and started his last 34 games for the Eagles (35 total). He concluded his record-breaking career by winning the 2005 Walter Payton Award as the top quarterback in NCAA Division I-AA.
EWU Play in Front of Largest Crowd in School History: Eastern's 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 is now the third-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 12 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - :L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
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
Wulff on West Virginia Crowd: "It was loud, but I thought it was a good crowd. Our players handled it extremely well. We play in a very loud environment too at the University of Montana. More and more the last few years our players have been exposed to these types of crowds and so they are able to adapt to it."
Eagles Versus I-A Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a I-AA team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus I-A teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus NCAA Division I-A 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
EWU Injury Report: Eastern came out of its matchups with I-A teams pretty healthy. Wulff reported injuries in the West Virginia game to Gregor Smith (groin), Brady Smith (shoulder) and Jacob Kragt (concussion). At Oregon State, injuries were suffered by quarterback Chris Peerboom (concussion) and center Chris Carlsen (knee) as both players did not make the trip to West Virginia.
Safety Nick Denbeigh suffered a broken bone in his hand versus OSU, but was still able to start against West Virginia. Dale Morris (foot), who was injured during the pre-season, is the lone Eagle out for an extended period of time.
PAUL WULLF QUOTES
On Focus During Pre-Season Games: "We want to do everything we can to get our players more experienced than they are now. Even our veterans need that experience because there isn't a player that can't get better than they already are today. Our goal is to give players a lot of opportunity to play so that we are a much better football team in our fourth game than we are in our first."
On Playing I-A Opponents: "All of the coaches in our conference take pride in playing I-A programs. At the end of the game those opposing players and coaches realize we are well-coached and play good football. Generally we garner a lot more respect after we played them than entering the ballgame. At the same time you want to take care of your team first and get better."
On Needing Improvement from Running Game: "We have to. Between Ryan and the rest of our running back corp, we have to have those guys really perform well for us. The running game really has a chance to be our strength, at least for the first few weeks as we develop and allow those younger, inexperienced players to mature a little bit."
On Inexperienced Players: "It's one of those situations where it's going to be baptism by fire, and we'll just have to find out. I think our players will go in, play well, compete and learn a lot. We are going to make plays and we're going to make mistakes too. But I'm excited, and in the big picture, those games will help us once we get into conference play."
On Secondary: "I think our safety position is the best it's ever been at this university. We have some great players there. We feel very comfortable with one cornerback and need to develop one more, but I think our safeties are outstanding."
On Big Sky Race: "This is going to be a year where some teams are going to emerge halfway to three-quarters through the season. I'll be honest, I think it can be any one of eight teams -- I don't think anybody knows. Teams change throughout the season."
On Legacy Left by Erik Meyer and Eric Kimble: "They provided a different level of play in terms of performance, excitement and higher expectations. They left a mark that will never be taken away. The provided expectations and competitiveness that other players can look up to. They can see what it takes to be a great player and what it takes to be a trendsetter. Those guys were."
On Offensive Line: "I think there is potential to be really good, but to be honest, they have yet to prove that they are really good. It's all based on speculation and returning veterans with experience. They have not gelled and they have not had the opportunity to really do great things yet. And this season we need them to and we are really hoping they develop into a fine unit. Ultimately we need them to help us win ballgames."
On Opening League Play at Montana State: "It will be the second year in a row we've opened league play on the road. Playing at Montana State is a big game for us -- they are tough and that is a tough place to play. It will be a very challenging ballgame. Our first league game is a very critical game for us. If we lose it we still have a chance to win the conference. But it's always nice to get off on the right foot."
On Defense in the Big Sky: "We have some very good defenses this year. I think defense is going to be the strong point of this conference."
On Building Streak of Seven-Straight Winning Seasons: "It's what you work a lot of long hours for over the course of time to develop your program. By no means we where we want to be, but we have definitely made some steps and we are going in the right direction. We've made some strides and we need to keep moving forward."
On Standouts from First Game: "For a freshman, Tony Davis did some nice things. So did Aaron Boyce and Shane Eller. These are players who never played college football in their lives, and they had the opportunities to make a few big plays in the game. Brandon Keeler had a solid game and we need him to play well all season. He did some good things in the ballgame and that was encouraging. Alexis Alexander did well playing in his first game since high school (in 2000) and was our offensive player of the week and special teams player of the week. We had a lot of players getting their first taste of college football against Oregon State and they did some darn good things. Now they need to take it to the next level and improve on their first-game experience."
PRE-SEASON RANKINGS & INDIVIDUAL HONORS
Eagles Unranked in Pre-Season Poll: After spending the entire 2005 season and most of 2004 nationally-ranked, Eastern Washington started the 2006 season out of the Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Top 25 Poll. That snapped a string of 20-straight polls in which EWU was ranked by the media members and sports information directors who vote in the TSN poll.
However, the Eagles received enough votes to rank 26th. Eastern was ranked 23rd in the AGS (Any Given Saturday) pre-season poll and was also ranked 23rd in the pre-season by the Football Gazette. Eastern's 2006 opponents in the TSN pre-season poll include Montana (2nd) and Montana State (17th).
The Eagles finished 13th in the final Sports Network NCAA Division I-AA Poll of the 2005 season. Eastern entered 2005 ranked fourth nationally, but slipped to sixth after losing its season-opener at San Jose State. Eastern was fifth for two-straight weeks before a loss at Idaho State dropped it to 14th. Eastern spent one week at 15th before moving up to 12th prior to knocking off Montana, which catapulted the Eagles into sixth. But a 28-23 home loss to Weber State on Oct. 22 dropped the Eagles eight spots to 14th before jumping up to 11th a week later. A 40-35 loss at Cal Poly dropped Eastern to 21st -- the lowest ranking for the Eagles all season. Eastern moved to 19th after a 35-14 home win over 11th-ranked Montana State, then was 15th after closing the regular season with a win over UC Davis.
Eastern finished the 2004 season ranked a season-high seventh, thanks to a victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs. Eastern ranked in the top 25 seven times in the 2004 season, including the last six times the poll was released.
Coaches Pick Eagles Second: As expected, the Eastern Washington University football team has been picked to finish anywhere from second to fifth as the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches and media polls were released July 17 at the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
The Eagles, who shared Big Sky titles the last two years and advanced to the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs both seasons, were picked second by the coaches and fifth by the media. In 2005, Eastern was picked to win the title it eventually shared with Montana.
The uncertainty, however, is created by the fact the Eagles lost Payton Award-winning quarterback Erik Meyer, four receivers including record-breaking Eric Kimble, a pair of cornerbacks and middle linebacker Joey Cwik, who was the Big Sky's Defensive Player of the Year. But with 41 letter winners back -- including 10 who earned All-Big Sky Conference recognition a year ago -- the Eagles expect to contend for the title once again in 2006.
"I think this will be a year where we will surprise a lot of teams," said Eagle lineman Harrison Nikolao, who was Eastern's player representative at the Summer Kickoff. "Everyone has lost a lot of players throughout the conference. People look at us and see that we lost Erik Meyer, Eric Kimble and the core of our wide receivers. Teams are going to look at us as being suspect in certain things and weak in certain areas, which we are. But we're going to be stronger as a team this year than in the past three years."
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Nikolao will be a key figure in that strength. He was a second team All-Big Sky defensive lineman last year, but has moved to an offensive guard position heading into his senior season. The 2002 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., has a team-high 24 games of starting experience as an Eagle, including a stint as a two-way player in 2004.
"We thrive on competing and that is not going to change," Nikolao added. "We are only going to improve. That's what Eastern Football is all about."
In the coaches poll, Montana was picked to win the title and received eight of the nine first-place votes. Montana State was picked third and plays the Eagles in the league opener for both teams on Sept. 23 in Bozeman, Mont. Portland State was picked fourth followed by Idaho State, Weber State, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and league newcomer Northern Colorado.
The media poll also had Montana on top, with the Grizzlies receiving 28 of 32 first-place votes. Montana, which plays at Eastern on Oct. 7, was followed by Montana State, Weber State, Portland State, Idaho State, Eastern, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado.
Alfred and Hanni Earn Pre-Season All-America Honors From The Sports Network and I-AA.Org: After two productive seasons as underclassmen, Eastern Washington University offensive linemen Matt Alfred and Rocky Hanni have been selected as pre-season All-Americans by The Sports Network and its NCAA Division I-AA executive director Matt Dougherty. Later, that same duo earned the same honor as first team All-America selections by I-AA.Org.
Alfred, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound guard from Gig Harbor, Wash. (Gig Harbor HS '03), was selected to the first team. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni earned honorable mention, and is from Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS '03).
Alfred was a first team All-America and All-Big Sky pick in 2005 after helping the Eagles rank fourth nationally in total offense with an average of 477.8 yards per game. He has started as either a guard or tackle in Eastern's last 22 games the past two seasons as EWU has won a share of two Big Sky Conference titles, made two appearances in the I-AA Playoffs and has a 16-9 record.
As a freshman in 2004, Hanni was the first-ever offensive lineman to win Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors. The 6-5, 290-pound Hanni also earned All-America honors that season and has started all 23 games as an Eagle. He moved from tackle to guard as a sophomore, but is expected to return to tackle in 2006.
Football Gazette Honors Seven In-State Eagles: Seven Eastern Washington University football players -- all from the state of Washington -- have been selected to the Football Gazette preseason NCAA Division I-AA All-America team.
The remainder of players recognized received honorable mention. They included tight end Tim Calhoun from Zillah, Wash., offensive tackle Rocky Hanni from Sumner, Wash., linebacker David Eneberg from Mukilteo, Wash., defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash., and Brandon Keeler from Federal Way, Wash.
Trio of Eagles on Preseason All-Big Sky team: Eastern Washington senior tight end Tim Calhoun, junior offensive guard Matt Alfred and junior safety Bryan Jarrett have been selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by members of the media.
All three players received All-Big Sky recognition a year ago when Calhoun was selected to the second team and Alfred and Jarrett were both first team selections. Alfred also earned All-America honors.
Calhoun is a 2002 graduate from Zillah, Wash., High School, and has caught 46 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns in his career. He earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors as a true freshman before missing the 2003 and 2004 seasons because of injuries.
Alfred has started 22 career games as a guard and tackle, and is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School. In each of the last two years, Eastern has ranked fourth in NCAA Division I-AA in offense with averages of nearly 500 yards per game. His younger brother Kenny is an offensive lineman at Washington State University.
Jarrett transferred to Eastern after playing one season at Western Washington University, and is a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School. He had 59 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception as an eight-game starter in his first season as an Eagle in 2005.
Those players helped lead the Eagles to a second-straight league title and NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth in 2005.
Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: At Eastern's Red-White Spring Football game, head coach Paul Wulff announced that junior guard Matt Alfred and senior linebacker David Eneberg will serve as co-captains in the 2006 season. Alfred is a 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor, Wash., High School, and Eneberg graduated in 2002 from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash.
Also at the game, Wulff handed out strength and conditioning awards to Alfred, running back Ryan Cole, cornerback Adam Macomber and defensive end Jason Belford. Selected as most improved were cornerback Anthony Dotson and offensive guard Julian Stewart. Winning the "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement during the year were tight end Tom McAndrews and defensive back Bryan Jarrett.
SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
Series History: Former rivals when both were members of NAIA and the Evergreen Conference, the Eagles and Wildcats have played just five times since 1979 when Eastern left NAIA for NCAA Division II and eventually NCAA Division I-AA.
With the first Eastern-Central game taking place in 1921, Eastern leads the all-time series 33-29-4, including a 38-20 win in 1984 in Spokane, a 44-14 triumph in 1999 at Woodward Field and a 38-21 victory in 2001, also in Cheney. In 2003, the Eagles won 48-29 at Woodward, needing to score 27 of the game's final 34 points to overcome a 22-21 deficit. Eastern scored 29 points in the first quarter the last time the two teams met in 2004 en route to a 39-8 Eastern win.
Big, early leads have been commonplace since the series resume in 1984. In 1999, Eastern opened a 31-0 lead mid-way through the third quarter. In the 1984 game played at Albi Stadium, Eastern opened a 35-0 lead in the first 21 1/2 minutes of the game and led 38-7 at halftime. In the 2001 game, Eastern's Lamont Brightful scored three touchdowns in a 15-minute span as Eastern took a 24-7 lead early in the second half.
In 1999, the EWU-CWU match-up was Central's first football game as a member of NCAA Division II. That was the year the Wildcats and most other Northwest small colleges made the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II or III.
Looking Back to 2004 - Eastern Washington 39, Central Washington 8: Eastern Washington scored on its first offensive play of the game en route to a 29-point first quarter, and went on to thump Central Washington 39-8 Sept. 18, 2004, at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The NCAA Division I-AA Eagles scored touchdowns on their first five possession to record their first victory of the season after two losses to open the year. Central, a NCAA Division II school, fell to 1-3.
"To be quite honest, we executed real well the first part of the game," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, whose team had a 255-51 advantage in total offense after the first 15 minutes. "It just seemed like that first quarter lasted for an hour. It was a long quarter, but we did some awfully good things in the early part of the game."
The Eagles started the game with a flea-flicker play that resulted in a 58-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Erik Meyer to Craig McIntyre. The extra point attempt was botched, but resulted in a two-point conversion on a pass from Chris Peerboom to Skyler Allen.
"We wanted to get out there and get started," Wulff said. "We knew we had a good idea that could work. We wanted to get something going."
A 22-yard touchdown run by Reggie Witherspoon capped a 90-yard scoring drive on just seven plays on Eastern's next possession, then Eric Kimble had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown to make it 22-0.
Eastern added a 71-yard drive at the end of the quarter capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Darius Washington, then had a 67-yard drive early in the second quarter to open a 36-0 lead. That drive was capped by a 41-yard scoring pass from Meyer to Richmond Sanders.
Meyer completed 13-of-16 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. A year earlier against the Wildcats he was 22-of-29 for 304 yards and five touchdowns.
Washington finished with 92 yards rushing on 13 carries, and Raul Vijil led EWU receivers with four catches for 72 yards. Eight different players caught passes, and five different players carried the ball.
Freshman Gregor Smith, seeing the first action of his Eagle career after missing two games with a groin injury, had an interception, sack and three tackles. Ryan Phillips had an interception, Brandon Myers added a sack and Brandon Keeler led the Eagles with nine tackles.
The Eagles finished with 491 yards of total offense, compared to 323 for CWU.
The only negative aspect of Eastern's night was in penalties as the Eagles had 18 for a school-record 203 yards, shattering the previous record of 13 set on Oct. 20, 1983 versus Cal State-Long Beach. The total was just three yards from a Big Sky record.
"Last week we had two penalties, the week before that six," said Wulff of the penalties. "I'm very disappointed, but I don't want to take away from our win or anything way from everything else."
Most of all, Wulff was pleased to be able to play most of the players on his roster, and register a much-needed win after a 37-14 road loss to Nicholls State and a 42-20 setback at Air Force.
"We did play a lot of kids," Wulff added. "We were flying around, and we wanted our kids to play hard tonight. We challenged them to play on the edge and get after it. I thought our kids for the most part played pretty well."
OTHER NOTES & QUOTES
Ryan Cole on EWU's Performance at OSU: "We came in prepared, but we didn't execute. We had some mistakes and physical errors in the first quarter, and it snowballed from there. We weren't really able to come back and rebound. But it's a first game of the season. We knew we weren't going to play our best football because I don't believe any team plays its best football in the first game of the season. But it was a harsh loss and we made them look good.
Ryan Cole on Returning to OSU Where He Previously Played: "It was great to see some familiar faces after the game. I applaud Oregon State because they played a heckuva game. I wish them the best of luck and hopefully they can be successful in the Pac 10 and be league champs. I always wish them the best."
Rule Change Means Quicker Games: In a rules change designed to speed up play -- but as a result will provide for less plays in the game -- the game clock will be started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock will start on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It will also start when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play.
Wulff on Rule Changes Regarding Game Clock for 2006: "They expect there will be anywhere from 20 to 25 less plays in a game, and that's a big impact. You have to be that much more efficient and maximize your plays. I think it will affect the game."
Term I-AA Eliminated in December: At the conclusion of this season, the term I-AA will no longer be used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in I-AA Football. The NCAA Board of Directors approved on Aug. 3 two new labels for NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A will now be referred to as the "Football Bowl Subdivision" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels.
The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.
"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."
Eagles in the Playoffs: Eastern's 2005 appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs was the school's fifth berth in school history, and the first time the Eagles have made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern's 2004 appearance in the second round was the third time Eastern advanced past the first round. Eastern now has a 4-5 record in five playoff appearances after losing at Northern Iowa 41-38 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU's first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern hadn't appeared in the I-AA playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school's only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU's playoff games:
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
Eagles in I-AA Statistics in 2005: After leading NCAA Division I-AA in offense much of the year, the Eagles finished fourth with an average of 477.8 yards per game.
Quarterback Erik Meyer was second in I-AA in individual total offense as the Payton Award candidate averaged 352.0 yards per game, just behind Grambling's Bruce Eugene at 367.0 per game. Meyer also finished fourth nationally in passing efficiency with a 169.3 rating, and his average of 333.6 passing yards per game was second. Meyer became just the 12th player in I-AA history to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a single season (he finished with 4,003).
Eastern finished second in I-AA in passing offense at 341.8, just behind Grambling (357.7). Eastern finished the season as the I-AA leader in total offense in both 1997 (505.6) and 2001 (514.5), and has now led the Big Sky Conference in total offense in four of the last five years.
Eastern was also 14th in scoring (35.0) and seventh in passing efficiency (161.4). The Eagles were 69th out of 116 I-AA teams in rushing (136.1 per game), up from 96th (104.0 per game) after three games.
Defensively, Eastern finished 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense (103.3) after entering the playoffs ranked fifth (97.3). The Eagles finished 62nd overall in defense (363.2), 60th in rushing defense (160.1) and 45th in scoring defense (23.4).
Eagle receiver Eric Kimble finished fifth in receiving yards (118.3) and fifth in receptions (7.3) per game. Raul Vijil was right behind Kimble, ranking 12th in receiving yards (90.0) and 16th in receptions (6.0). That duo ranked first and second in the Big Sky in both categories. Kimble also closed the year ranked 13th in all-purpose yards with an average of 142.2 per game.
Defensively, cornerback Jesse Hendrix was 10th in passes defended with a total of 16 (1.33 per game), with 14 passes broken up and two interceptions.
Injury Epidemic in 2005: A total of 20 key players -- 15 of them starters at one time during the season -- lost playing time and practice time after being injured since the season started in September. In all, those 20 players missed a total of 90 games and a total 55 starts. Early in the year the injury rate was severe, with nine players suffering injuries in Eastern's first three games (three in each game) that kept them out of practice and games.
Here is a list of the injured players in 2005 that are on EWU's 2006 roster.
Name Played/Starts Games/Starts Missed
TOTALS (20 Players) 90/55
LB David Eneberg (ankle) 11/10 1/2 (UCD, UNI)
NG Harrison Nikolao (sternum) 12/10 0/2 (Sac, CP)
TE Tom McAndrews (knee) 7/1 5/0 (Sac, CP, MSU, UCD, UNI)
RB Dale Morris (knee) 9/1 3/0 (UM, WSU, Sac)
S Gregor Smith (knee) 7/4 5/8 (NAU, UM, WSU, Sac, CP)
DE Jason Belford (calf) 3/2 9/9 (lost for season after PSU game)
DT Keith Grennan (back) 10/4 2/0 (PSU, Sac)
DE Jacob Kragt (shoulder) 2/0 10/0 (redshirted)
QB Chris Peerboom (finger tendon) 3/0 8/0 (WOU, ISU, PSU, NAU, UM, WSU, Sac, CP)
Eagles Close, But Last Shutout Back in 1987: Eastern Washington hasn't recorded a shutout in their last 209 games (208 entering 2006) dating back to a 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin in 1987. But twice recently -- Nov. 19, 2005, at home against UC-Davis and Oct. 23, 2004, at Weber State, the Eagles have held their opponents without an offensive score. Versus UC Davis, the Aggies scored on a 50-yard interception return in the third quarter. Against Weber State, the Wildcats scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery with just 4:43 left to play.
Eastern has held opponents to single digits in 23 games since the last shutout, but haven't been able to shut them out. On Sept. 18, 2004 in a 39-8 victory, Eastern held Central Washington to eight points as the Wildcats scored with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Holding Idaho scoreless for the final 54:29 in an 8-5 victory in 2003 was about as close as Eastern has come to a shutout, as well as a 1994 game when Cal Poly scored with 21 seconds left in Eastern's 61-7 blowout win. The five points Idaho scored were the fewest Eastern has allowed since beating Idaho State 37-3 in 1992. The 13 combined points were the fewest in an EWU game since the 3-0 win over Stephen F. Austin.
A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry: In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years - including 2005 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 21-10-1. Eastern is 4-11-1 in Missoula, 5-9 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally-ranked.
Seven 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 21 times in 32 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 653 yards of total offense in 1997 in a 40-35 win, and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 21 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.4 points. In six of those 21 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 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 NCAA Division I-AA record-tying winning streak 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 10 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 Fall Short of 1,000: Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has now had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 11 seasons from 1995-2004, including six different players. In 2005, the Eagles just missed having a running back finish with 1,000 as Ryan Cole finished with 879.
Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games in the 2004 season. 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 other 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)