Finally in the Win Column, Eagles Host Hornets
Sept. 25, 2006
Winning is one thing but stringing together victories is another.
Coming off a huge road win in its league opener, the Eastern Washington University football team hosts Sacramento State Saturday (Sept. 30) in the first of two-straight Big Sky Conference home games at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Nationally-ranked Montana visits the following week as the Eagles try to continue the momentum created from a 19-10 road victory at Montana State in the league opener for both teams. Kickoff the next two Saturdays is 2:05 p.m. as Eastern enters this week's game with a 1-3 record.
"Winning at Montana State is going to help our momentum, and hopefully it helps us this next week," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "All we can concern ourselves with right now is the Sacramento State game."
Sac State is 0-3 after losing 59-14 at Montana last week, and hasn't won at all since defeating Azusa Pacific on Oct. 8, 2005. The last Big Sky win for the Hornets came on Oct. 1, 2005, when they beat Northern Arizona 38-24.
The Hornets have lost all 18 road games under fourth-year head coach Steve Mooshagian. The overall road loss streak is 19 games, with the last road victory coming at Eastern on Oct. 26, 2002, by a 48-41 score.
Wulff is well aware of the dangers of reading anything into those facts. He warns that Eastern and Montana State are now a combined 0-4 at home this season, so winning at home is not a given. Plus, Sac State opened the season with a 45-0 loss to Boise State, but fell just 17-10 to nationally-ranked Cal Poly.
"Their 0-3 record is very much misleading," said Wulff. "They are a much better and much improved football team. They run the ball well and defensively they are experienced. They have excellent, excellent talent."
Wulff will also guard against looking past the Hornets to the showdown with the Grizzlies. The Eagles have shared the last two Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.
Although EWU has appeared in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, Eastern entered last week's game at MSU looking for some simple answers following a 0-3 start. The Eagles were coming off a disappointing 21-14 loss to NCAA Division II Central Washington, spoiling EWU's home opener that was witnessed by a crowd of 7,943. Prior to that, 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.
In those first three games, the Eagles were outscored 129-34 and had just 629 yards of offense compared to 1,413 yards for their opponents. But changes followed. Six players made their EWU starting debuts against the Bobcats and Eastern also made a change at running back. The result was a 301-235 advantage in total yards and an advantage of nearly 15 minutes in time of possession.
"When you go on the road and win your opening game in the league, that obviously is a big win," said Wulff of putting the 0-3 start behind them. "It was our third road game out of four, so it was good to get a win on the road. But we have to get better. There's a strong team coming to our place next week."
Eastern leads the all-time series versus Sac State 12-2, but both of the losses came at Woodward Field in the 2000 (25-22) and 2002 (48-41) seasons. Eastern has won the last three meetings by a combined 128-48 margin.
The Eagles still have their work cut out for them if they are to continue their current streak of seven- straight winning seasons. They would have to win five of their next seven games -- a feat that would also put them in a the hunt for a third-straight league title. The streak of winning seasons started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern has never overcome a 0-3 start to finish with a winning record.
Eagles & Hornets in NCAA Statistics: For a program that ranked fourth in NCAA Division I-AA in total offense each of the last two seasons, the Eagles are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory in I-AA statistics.
The Eagles are 107th out of 116 I-AA teams in total offense (232.5), and are 110th in rushing (73.0), 71st in passing (159.5) and 100th in scoring (13.3).
Defensively, Eastern is 102nd in total defense (412.0) while ranking 105th in rushing defense (217.0), 96th in passing efficiency defense (150.9) and 106th in scoring defense (34.8). Eastern is ranked first nationally in punt return average (29.5 per return), but has only two returns that include a 60-yard touchdown.
Kicker Brett Bergstrom, who had four field goals against Montana State and has six for the season, is 11th in field goals (1.50 per game). Punter Ryan Donckers, coming off a 45.8 average in six punts against Central Washington and a 53.3 average in three punts at Montana State, is 16th in punting with a 41.1 average. Defensive back Anthony Dotson has two interceptions (0.50 per game) to rank 25th in I-AA. Tony Davis is 55th in receiving (4.5 per game).
Sacramento State is last in I-AA (116th) with an average of 149.3 yards per game, and is second-to-last in passing offense (67.7). The Hornets are also 103rd in rushing offense (81.7) and 112th in scoring offense (8.0). Defensively, Sac State is 95th in total defense (398.7), 70th in rushing defense (153.), 113th in pass efficiency defense (173.0) and 111th in scoring defense (40.3).
Individually, Mitch Lively is 10th in punting (42.0) and Cyrus Mulitalo is 36th in tackles (9.3 per game).
Eneberg and Bergstrom Win Big Sky Honors: A week earlier, Eagle senior linebacker and team co-captain David Eneberg helped organize a closed-door, players-only team meeting. On Sept. 23, he and kicker Brett Bergstrom were reveling in the results.
Eneberg was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Monday (Sept. 25) and Bergstrom earned the same award on special teams. Eneberg had 13 tackles and Bergstrom kicked four field goals in Eastern's 19-10 league victory at Montana State Saturday (Sept. 23).
Eastern takes its 1-0 Big Sky record into a pair of home games at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles play Sacramento State Saturday (Sept. 30) before hosting Montana on Oct. 7. Kickoff in both games is 2:05 p.m.
Eneberg is from Mukilteo, Wash., and is a 2002 graduate of Kamiak High School. Bergstrom is from North Bend, Wash., and graduated the same year from Mount Si High School before playing two seasons at Shasta Junior College in California.
The honors were the first player of the week honors for both players. Eneberg was an honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last year and Bergstrom is in his first year as Eastern's placekicker after previously spending time at safety, wide receiver and defensive end in the Eagle program.
"Both are deserving of those awards," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "David had a great week of practice and it showed in the ballgame. Without a question he's one of our best team leaders."
Eneberg also had a sack and pass broken up against the Bobcats, and both came on third down plays that forced punts in the first half as EWU opened a 9-0 lead at halftime it wouldn't relinquish. Eastern won for the fourth-straight time over MSU and the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Eneberg has played big roles in all four.
As a freshman in 2003, he intercepted a pass that helped seal Eastern's 35-25 win at Albi Stadium in Spokane. A year later, he batted-down a fourth-and-goal pass in overtime to secure Eastern's come-from-behind 51-44 victory that gave Eastern a NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth. He had four tackles and broke-up a pass in last year's 35-14 victory at Woodward Field.
Eneberg's performance helped Eastern's defense allow just 10 points and 235 yards versus MSU. In the first three games, Eastern allowed an average of 43.0 points and 471.0 yards per game.
"Our defense was much-improved," added Wulff. "We're still not playing championship football yet. But it was an improved effort and now we need to step it up that much more going into game five."
A senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to this season, Bergstrom kicked field goals of 21, 53, 39 and 30 yards versus the Bobcats, with his 53-yarder ranking as the fourth-longest in school history. Three of the kicks came in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime. His fourth helped Eastern re-gain a nine-point lead in the second half.
So far this season, Bergstrom has made all six of his field goal attempts and all three of the extra points he's kicked.
"He's a veteran player and has a strong leg," said Wulff. "We really feel like we have a player that can help us win games. And he did against Montana State."
The strong-legged Bergstrom specialized in kickoffs in 2005 before edging out fellow senior Sheldon Weddle for this year's placekicking chores. He averaged 61.0 yards per kickoff as a junior with 23 touchbacks. So far this season, he is averaging 61.0 yards with six touchbacks.
Bergstrom Finally Finds His Niche: It took a few years and a few positions, but Eagle senior Brett Bergstrom has found his niche.
A senior who had never attempted an EWU field goal prior to this season, Bergstrom kicked four field goals in Eastern's 19-10 victory at Montana State on Sept. 23. He kicked field goals of 21, 53, 39 and 30 yards versus the Bobcats, with his 53-yarder ranking as the fourth-longest in school history. Three of the kicks came in the first half to give Eastern a 9-0 lead at halftime.
So far this season, Bergstrom has made all six of his field goal attempts and all three of the extra points he's kicked.
"He's a veteran player and has a strong leg," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We really feel like we have a player that can help us win games. And he did against Montana State."
Not bad for a player who came to Eastern three years ago and went through three positions before finding his calling. He redshirted as a safety in 2004, moved to receiver and even tried defensive end before earning the kicking job.
"It was very frustrating because I thought I had a chance at playing as a safety," Bergstrom said. "But things happen, so I changed positions."
Bergstrom was a kicker at Mount Si High School in North Bend, Wash., then went to Shasta Junior College in California for two seasons. He kicked there too, but initially didn't ask his Eastern coaches to give him an opportunity to kick until about a year ago.
"I never really showed them that I could kick," he said. "But last year I asked them if I could try it, and now I have the chance."
The strong-legged Bergstrom specialized in kickoffs in 2005 before edging out fellow senior Sheldon Weddle for this year's placekicking chores. He averaged 61.0 yards per kickoff as a junior with 23 touchbacks. So far this season, he is averaging 61.0 yards with six touchbacks.
Kicking camps in Texas, California and Boise, Idaho, helped him hone his skills in summer 2006. His improvement has turned the kicking game into a strength for the Eagles.
"It does feel good," he said. "At first I didn't really like it because it wasn't that much fun. But I finally got into it this past summer and worked hard at it. I have a lot more things to work on and I just want to get better from here."
Eastern's field goal record is 57 yards set by Eric Stein in a 1986 game at Montana State. That record could be in jeopardy if game situations give Bergstrom the opportunity.
"He kicked a 58-yarder in the rain and wind in our practice at Montana State," added Wulff. "He is certainly capable of kicking it from 60."
"It's all about confidence," added Bergstrom. "You just can't have any doubt that you're going to make it. If you do, you are going to miss it."
Six Players Make Starting Debuts Against Montana State: The Eagles had a shake-up in their starting lineup after the team's 0-3 start, with six players make their EWU starting debuts at Montana State on Sept. 23. Some were because of injuries but others were designed to improve Eastern at various positions.
Those five players included wide receiver Brynsen Brown, offensive tackle Julian Stewart, wide receiver Shane Eller, nose tackle Josh Jacobson, rover Anthony Dotson and linebacker Makai Borden. In addition, Davis started at the tailback position but quickly gave way to Toke Kefu, who came off redshirt to play versus the Bobcats.
Prior to that, eight starting debuts were made by Eagles in Eastern's first three games. Five players -- two on defense and three on offense -- made their starting debuts in the opener 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 (147 starts by 18 players): Nick Denbeigh 28, Brandon Keeler 28, David Eneberg 19, Bryan Jarrett 11, Greg Peach 9, Gene Piffero 7, Keith Grennan 8, DeNique Ford 7, Jason Belford 6, Ira Jarmon 4, Gregor Smith 4, Charles Searcy 4, Lance Witherspoon 3, George Lane 3, Shea Emry 3, Anthony Dotson 1, Makai Borden 1, Josh Jacobson 1.
Offense (166 starts by 21 players): Harrison Nikolao 28 (includes 23 on defense), Rocky Hanni 26, Matt Alfred 26, Tim Calhoun 18, Zach Wasielewski 16, Ryan Cole 13, Chris Carlsen 11, Tyler Coleman 5, Aaron Boyce 4, Tom McAndrews 3, Matt Nichols 3, Charlie Wulff 3, Tony Davis 2, Dezmon Cole 1, Toke Kefu 1, Dale Morris 1, Alexis Alexander 1, Chris Peerboom 1, Brynsen Brown 1, Julian Stewart 1, Shane Eller 1.
Nichols Assumes Starting Quarterback Position: Freshman redshirt Matt Nichols has secured the starting quarterback position, helping his cause with an improved performance against Montana State on Sept. 23. He is the first freshman quarterback to start for the Eagles since Griffin Garske in 1996.
Nichols, making just the third start of his career versus MSU, was 11-of-19 for 176 yards. He completed 10 of his last 14 passes in the final three quarters. In four games thus far, Nichols is 51-of-96 (53 percent) for 596 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 98.3.
Entering the season, Nichols shared time with junior Chris Peerboom in hopes of finding a full-time starter. 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. 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.
Nichols saw action in nine possessions, then played most of the West Virginia game when Peerboom was left home to recover. He played the entire Central Washington game as Peerboom missed his second-straight game. Nichols was 9-of-18 for 117 yards against the Beavers but couldn't get the Eagles in the end zone. He passed for 90 yards against West Virginia and led the Eagles on a 73-yard scoring drive that culminated in a field goal. Eastern scored just twice versus Central Washington on first-half drives of 76 and 86 yards.
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.
Eagle Tidbits: Rover Brandon Keeler has 29 tackles this season, giving him 205 in 36 games as an Eagle. He ranks 21st in Eastern history, and needs just three tackles to move into a tie for 19th with current South Kitsap High School head coach D.J. Sigurdson (1986-89). At his current pace of 7.2 tackles per game (currently 10th in the Big Sky), Keeler would finish with 86 tackles this season and 262 in his career which would rank eighth on Eastern's all-time leaders lists. The senior also has four interceptions (one this year versus Central Washington) and seven passes broken up . . . Punter Ryan Donckers has been consistent in his three seasons as Eastern's punter with a 39.0 average in both 2004 and 2005, and a current average of 41.1 this season. His career average of 39.5 currently ranks fifth in school history . . . Running back Ryan Cole went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his career versus Central Washington. He now has 1,036 yards in 15 career games with 17 total touchdowns (16 rushing) . . . Freshman redshirts Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce hooked-up for a 9-yard touchdown pass against Central Washington. It was the first career touchdown pass for Nichols and the first career touchdown reception for Boyce. Another redshirt freshman receiver, Tony Davis, is still looking for his first career touchdown reception. He came within inches of scoring against Montana State on a 28-yard pass from Nichols. He is the team's leading receiver with 18 catches for 228 yards. His first career touchdown was a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Oregon State in his first game as an Eagle . . . Eastern has had five interceptions already this season, including two by junior Anthony Dotson. The other three have been recorded by DeNique Ford, Ira Jarmon and Brandon Keeler . . . Eastern has four sacks in four games, but only one by a defensive lineman. Linebacker David Eneberg has two and Marcus Walker has one, and Greg Peach had the first by a defensive lineman on Montana State's final offensive play of the game.
EWU Injury Report: Eagle head coach Paul Wulff reports that safety Bryan Jarrett (ankle) is questionable this week after missing the Montana State game because of an injury against Central Washington. Center Chris Carlsen (knee) is also questionable and hasn't played since suffering his injury at Oregon State.
Running back Dale Morris (foot), who was injured during the pre-season, is the lone Eagle out for an extended period of time. Safety Nick Denbeigh suffered a broken bone in his hand versus OSU, but was still able to start against West Virginia.
2006 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 has replaced Meyer with junior Chris Peerboom and freshman redshirt Matt Nichols. They were to split playing time early in the season to see which quarterback leads the offense the best, but Peerboom missed two games with a concussion suffered in the opener against Oregon State. 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," said Wulff before the season began. "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."
Last season, Eastern garnered the automatic berth with a 7-4 record overall and 5-2 conference mark following an eventful final two weeks of the regular season. The 21st-ranked Eagles defeated the 11th-ranked Bobcats 35-14 on Nov. 12 and the following week MSU upset Montana 16-6 to force a three-way tie for the title and give EWU the automatic berth by virtue of a season sweep over the Montana schools.
In the Big Sky Conference preseason polls, Eastern was picked to finish second by the coaches and sixth by the media. Montana State was picked third by the coaches and second by the media. Montana, which shared the conference title last year with EWU and MSU, was picked first in both polls.
Paul Wulff QUOTES
On Ryan Cole Moving from Starting Tailback to Backup Fullback: "He's handled it as well as anybody could. He's a good team player and got an opportunity to play some fullback (against Montana State). He's going to play more and more, but it's a new position for him. He's not done carrying the ball -- there will probably be some opportunities for him to run the football for us."
On Running Game Helping Passing Game Versus Montana State: "There is no question that the running game loosens up the other team's defense. Their pass rush isn't as effective and gives our quarterback more time to throw the ball. It gave Matt Nichols some confidence. What he didn't do against Central but did against Montana State was step up in the pocket. It's a credit to him that he stepped up and made plays."
On Offensive Line After MSU Game: "They are still not where we need them to be. They have to play better for this football team to win tough football games. We have yet to be dominant in our offensive front."
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 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 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."
SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
Series History: The Eagles lead the series 12-2, but just twice in the last eight games has the home team come out victorious (2004 and 1999 in Cheney). Eastern is 8-0 in Sacramento and 4-2 in Cheney in the 14-game history of the series. Eastern lost to Sac State 25-22 at home in 2000 on a last-second Hornet field goal, and again in 2002 by a 48-41 margin in the only two losses in the series versus Sac State.
In the last 10 meetings, Eastern has had running backs with rushing performances of 298 yards (school record by Jesse Chatman in 2001), 214 yards (Jovan Griffith in 1999), 201 (Rex Prescott in 1997), 170 (Mike MacKenzie in 1998), 164 (Joe Sewell in 1996), 130 (Reggie Witherspoon in 2003), 112 (Jesse Chatman in 2000), 101 (Mike MacKenzie in 1997), 97 (Darius Washington in 2004) and 92 (Jovan Griffith in 2002).
In 2004, Eastern out-gained the Hornets in total offense 431-201 and held Sac State to a minus 34 yards rushing as the 25th-ranked Eagles won easily in Cheney. It was the fewest rushing yards the Eagles have allowed in at least the last 197 games since EWU joined the Big Sky in 1987. The previous fewest in the last 18 years was minus two against Northern Arizona in 1992. Coupled with a 51-7 victory at Weber State the previous week, Eastern scored the most points (96) ever in back-to-back Big Sky games in 135 conference games. Also, it was the fewest points (17) EWU has allowed in back-to-back Big Sky games since 1987. Despite sustained winds between 28 and 35 miles per hour, quarterback Erik Meyer completed 20-of-33 passes for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both touchdowns were to Eric Kimble, who finished with 74 yards on five receptions. Darius Washington also rushed for 97 yards and a pair of scores on 26 carries, and senior Reggie Witherspoon chipped in 59 on just four carries. Defensively, the Eagles were led by Brandon Keeler's eight tackles. Gregor Smith returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown and linebacker David Eneberg added six tackles and a pass broken up.
In 2003 in Sacramento, Eastern Washington intercepted five passes with four of them leading to touchdowns as the Eagles defeated the Hornets 38-21. Sophomore cornerback Isaiah Trufant had two of the interceptions, including a 69-yard return for a touchdown that iced the win. Jessy Hansen, Ryan Phillips and A.J. Williams also had picks. Sacramento State had just 337 yards of total offense while the Eagles finished with 431. Erik Meyer completed 23-of-33 passes for 226 yards in the win.
In Eastern's loss at home in 2002, the Eagles scored 28 fourth-quarter points but couldn't recover from a 21-point deficit en route to a disappointing 48-41 loss. The Eagles scored touchdowns on their final four possessions of the game on drives of 65, 67, 48 and 60 yards. Included were scores within 19 seconds of each other following an onside kickoff recovery with less than five minutes left. Two other onside kickoffs failed, however, and the Hornets scored touchdowns on three-straight possessions in the fourth quarter before running the final 54 seconds off the clock. Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship completed 22-of-42 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns, with Kyler Randall catching nine passes for 94 yards. Running back Jovan Griffith rushed for 92 yards and three touchdowns. The game started as a one-sided affair as the Hornets built an early 17-0 lead. In the first quarter alone, Sacramento State had 179 yards of offense on 28 plays, while Eastern had the ball for just 3:23 in the quarter and had six yards on six plays. The Eagles finished with 474 yards of total offense, including more than 200 in the fourth quarter alone. The Hornets finished with 543, including 350 on the ground.
In a 42-35 overtime victory in 2001 in Sacramento, running back Jesse Chatman rushed for a school-record 298 yards to became the all-time leading rusher in school history. He carried five-straight times for all 25 yards in overtime, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run. Eastern's Anthony Griffin knocked away a fourth-down pass by Sac State to preserve the Eagle win. For the game, Chatman carried the ball 39 times (three away from the school record) and had four touchdowns. The two teams combined for 956 yards of offense, including 342 rushing by the Eagles and 230 rushing for the Hornets. Eastern finished with 534 yards, and Sac State finished with 422. Fred Salanoa completed 19-of-33 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in the win, with Kyler Randall catching five passes for 57 yards.
In 2000, Sacramento State's Jimmy Sanchez made a 23-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Hornets a 25-22 Big Sky Conference victory over the Eagles at Woodward Field. Although scoring was scarce early, Eastern scored on its final three possessions of the game while the Hornets scored on their last two. Eastern rallied from a 15-9 deficit in the second half, but came up short as Sacramento State recorded its first win in nine tries against Eastern. Eastern held All-American running back Charles Roberts to just 90 rushing yards on 22 carries, but the Eagle defense couldn't stop Hornet quarterback Ricky Ray as he completed 17-of-24 passes for 236 yards. Eastern tied the game at 22 with 3:09 left on a 32-yard field goal by Troy Griggs, but the Hornets shattered Eastern's overtime hopes by using up the remainder of the time remaining. Sacramento State marched 63 yards on seven plays, capped by Sanchez's field goal.
In a 26-21 victory in 1999 at Woodward Field, Jovan Griffith had the 10th-best rushing performance in school history (now 14th) with 214 yards, including all 46 yards on Eastern's game-winning drive. Eastern scored the final four times it had the ball, finishing with 19 points in the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Eastern scored the last 12 points of the game. Griffith had just 51 yards at halftime, but 163 in the second half as the Eagles got their running game untracked. Griffith accumulated his 214 yards on 37 carries, which now ranks as the fifth-most rushes in school history. Eastern finished the Sacramento State game with 251 net rushing yards, including 202 in the second half. Sacramento State finished with just 125 as I-AA leader Charles Roberts was held to 75. Chris Samms completed 12-of-23 passes for 183 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Lamont Brightful was Eastern's leading receiver with three catches for 54 yards, and had two kickoff returns for 68 yards with a long of 45.
In the 1998 meeting, Bashir Levingston had three electrifying kickoff returns for touchdowns en route to a record-breaking day as Eastern Washington rallied for a 31-25 win. Levingston scored on kickoff returns of 84, 90 and 92 yards to finish with 326 total kickoff return yards and set a variety of single game and single season NCAA Division I-AA, Big Sky Conference and school records. A total of seven individual I-AA records and four team I-AA records were tied or broken in the game. Levingston helped break 34 school, Big Sky and I-AA records in 1998. Running back Mike MacKenzie added 170 yards on the ground, but Levingston stole the show. His first kickoff return was an 84-yarder that came after Sacramento State took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Hornets led by 12 with 1:08 left to play in the third quarter when Levingston's 90-yard return pulled Eastern to within 22-17 and gave the Eagles new life entering the decisive fourth quarter. After a Hornet punt, MacKenzie ran 10-straight running plays on a monstrous 10-play, 66-yard drive that gave the Eagles the lead back at 23-22 with 9:31 to play. After a Sac State field goal, the Hornets kicked to Levingston again, and he responded with a 92-yard return to put the Eagles on top for good. Sacramento State failed to get a first down on their next two possessions as they turned the ball over to the Eagles on downs both times. Levingston finished with a school-record 353 all-purpose running yards (receiving, rushing, returns). Eastern's offense struggled most of the day, and finished with just 283 yards of total offense. Sacramento State finished with 356 total yards as Charles Roberts had 246 yards on the ground. Eastern starting quarterback Griffin Garske was just 9-of-21 for 88 yards and two interceptions after completing six of his first eight passes. He was replaced in the second half by Scott Mitchell, who was 1-of-2 for three yards. Keish Levingston, Bashir's cousin, was Eastern's leading receiver with three catches for 32 yards. Starting linebackers Brad Packer, Greg Belzer and Britt Lentz combined for 32 tackles, with Belzer adding an interception in the second quarter that led to a 22-yard field goal by Nick Reynolds.
In 1997, the Eagles won 30-17 at home as Eastern rushed for 283 yards with Rex Prescott finishing with 201 and Mike MacKenzie adding 101. The Eagles led 24-17 after three quarters, then used a pair of Josh Atwood field goals in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Britt Lentz had nine tackles and a pair of passes broken up in his only start of the season. Charles Roberts had 62 yards on 20 carries for the Hornets. Eastern out-gained Sacramento State in total offense 428-305.
In 1996, Eastern took a quick 23-0 lead, then held on for a 51-34 victory. Griffin Garske completed 12-of-30 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Joe Sewell rushed for 164 yards as the Eagles had 505 yards of total offense compared to the 527 of Sacramento State.
Last Year - #14 Eastern Washington 45, Sacramento State 17: A fast start was just what the Eastern Washington University football team needed Oct. 29 at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, Calif. But most important was the finish.
In the first 24 minutes of the game alone, quarterback Erik Meyer had 312 yards passing and wide receiver Eric Kimble had 124 receiving yards as the Eagles jumped out to a quick 24-0 lead and went on to defeat Sacramento State 45-17 in must-win Big Sky Conference game for EWU. The Eagles also responded to a third-quarter Hornet rally to score the final two touchdowns of the game and win by 28 points.
"Our offense came out and executed well, and that was big," Eagle head coach Paul Wulff said. "It allowed our defense to kind of settle in. We put Sac State in tough situations on offense, and that helped."
Meyer finished with a career-high 470 yards on 28-of-33 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His 85 percent completion percentage helped him finish the game with an impressive 234.5 passing efficiency rating. His passing yards were the second-most in school history, ranking only behind the 486 Todd Bernett had versus Montana in 1994.
Kimble finished with 189 yards on 10 receptions, good for the eighth-most yards and 11th-most catches all-time at EWU. Tight end Tim Calhoun added career highs of 123 yards on six catches.
"They are great players, and great players do that," Wulff said of Meyer and Kimble. "We've needed them to help us out a lot. They've really helped take pressure off our young offensive line at times."
Getting off to a fast start, Eastern's first five possessions yielded a trio of touchdowns and a field goal, with the lone non-scoring possession coming on a fumble into the end zone on an apparent touchdown pass from Meyer to Kimble.
The Hornets cut the score to 31-17 in the second half, but Meyer had touchdown passes of 18 and 33 yards to Kimble to maintain EWU's lead. Eastern, featuring the top offense in I-AA with an average of 498.4 yards per game, finished with 566 yards while holding Sac State to 289 yards. Eastern had 485 yards passing after entering the game second in I-AA with a 346.9 average per game.
"They were stopping the run and lining everybody up there," said Wulff of his team's 81 net yards of rushing. "It got to a point where we figured if they were just going to play us man-to-man, we're going to throw it all day. And that's what we did. We tried to force them out of stopping the run."
"Any road win in the conference is good," said Wulff. "It was our fourth league win and it keeps us alive and keeps us going. It was a good win for us."
Eastern's defense, which played without eight players who have started at one point this season, were led by the 11 tackles of Brian Jarrett. Senior linebacker Joey Cwik added seven, and safety Brandon Keeler had six tackles and a key interception that set-up Eastern's last score.
In fact, the only downside to Eastern's performance were the 200 yards on six kickoff returns (33.3 average per return) that Sac State had, including an 84-yarder that set-up a Hornet touchdown.
"Our defense played well," praised Wulff. "We gave up two big kickoff returns -- one of them down to the 15. We just gave them one touchdown right there. Other than that, our defense really played well considering all the guys we've had out. We did a real nice job on defense."
The Eagle defense pitched a shutout in the first half until the Hornets scored on a field goal with three seconds left in the half. Eastern out-gained Sac State 340-153 in the first 30 minutes.
"It's a credit to our defensive coaching staff to keep them playing as hard as they play," he added. "We are playing guys that put pads on for the first time in college back in August. To do what they are doing right now is quite amazing. We need to get some of the injured players back, though.
Eastern drove 75 yards on eight plays on its first possession of the game to score on a 14-yard pass from Meyer to Craig McIntyre. A Lars Slind 3-yard run gave Eastern a 14-0 lead as his plunge capped a 68-yard drive.
The Eagles scored again on a 39-yard field goal by Sheldon Weddle before taking the 24-0 lead with their most impressive drive of the game. Meyer completed three-straight passes on a 69-yard drive that took just 45 seconds. A 32-yard pass from Meyer to Kimble set-up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan Cole.
Eastern's three second-half scoring drives were of 79, 47 and 39 yards. Cole added a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter, but could only manage 33 yards rushing in 14 carries as the Hornets held Eastern to 81 rushing yards.
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: 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.
OTHER NOTES & QUOTES
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.
Thus far, there have been an average of 122.8 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). Last year, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
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."
Eagles 0-2 Start Rare, 0-3 Even Rarer: Only four times since 1963 have the Eagles started the season 0-3. Eastern has never overcome a 0-3 start to finish with a winning record.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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."
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.
"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."
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 win over the Eagles was the 28th in 32 games for the Mountaineers.
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 Nichols 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."
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."
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 through CP)
Eagles Close, But Last Shutout Back in 1987: Eastern Washington hasn't recorded a shutout in their last 212 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)
Former Office Mates Wulff and Kramer Share 2005 Coach of the Year Honor: Former co-workers Paul Wulff and Mike Kramer were riding high a year ago after each won a share of the Big Sky Conference title as well as the league's Coach of the Year honor.
Wulff directed the Eagles to their second-straight Big Sky Conference co-championship in 2005 and a second-straight NCAA Division I-AA Playoff berth. Kramer, a former Eastern head coach and assistant, led Montana State to a season-ending 16-6 victory over Montana as the Eagles, Bobcats and Grizzlies shared the 2005 title.
Back in 1993 when Wulff was a first-year volunteer assistant coach and Kramer was the team's offensive line coach, that duo shared an office and coached the line together. When Kramer took over as EWU's head coach in 1994, Wulff became his offensive line coach. Wulff took over as Eastern's offensive coordinator under Kramer in 1998 and 1999, then took over as head coach in 2000 when Kramer left for Bozeman.
"It's great to share the honor with him," said Wulff. "He's a great friend and does a great job at Montana State. He has done wonders for my career since the day I became a coach at Eastern. He gave me a lot of leeway and helped me out so much."