October 1, 2007

Eastern Plays at Top-Ranked Grizzlies

Oct. 1, 2007

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Certainly, some of the luster is lost. But the opportunity is not.

Eastern Washington fell out of the national rankings after suffering its first setback of the season last week, but gets the opportunity to play against the top-ranked team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision this Saturday (Oct. 6) in Missoula, Mont. The Eagles play nine-time defending Big Sky Conference champion Montana at Washington-Grizzly Stadium/John Hoyt Field, with kickoff set for 12:05 p.m. Pacific time.

Ranked 21st at the time, Eastern lost 28-21 to Portland State at home last Saturday (Sept. 29). Earlier in the day, Montana edged past Weber State 18-10 in the fourth of five-straight home games to open the season for the Grizzlies. Eastern fell out of the rankings and is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky. Montana maintained its No. 1 national ranking and is 4-0 on the season and 1-0 in the league.

The Eagles shared the 2004 and 2005 Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.

Had Eastern defeated PSU last week, this week's Eagle-Grizzly match-up would have been the seventh time in the past 12 years both teams entered the game ranked in the top 25. Instead, Eastern takes on a spoiler role and will try to repeat what happened in 2002 in Spokane, as well as the last time the teams met in Missoula.

The Eagles ended a 6-5 season in 2002 with a thrilling 30-21 victory over the No. 1 ranked Grizzlies at Albi Stadium. The loss snapped Montana's FCS record-tying 24-game winning streak, as well as the school's 25-game Big Sky Conference winning streak. In addition, Montana head coach Joe Glenn lost his first Big Sky game in 21 tries. In front of a record 17,142 fans, the Eagles finished with 541 yards of total offense while holding the Grizzlies to 385. Senior quarterback Josh Blankenship passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns, and senior running back Jovan Griffith rushed for 199 yards in the victory.

On Oct. 15, 2005 -- the last time the teams met in Missoula -- Erik Meyer passed for 395 yards and five touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Eagles beat the second-ranked Grizzlies 34-20 in front of 23,732 boisterous Montana fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Eastern won in Missoula for the first time since 1997. Eastern out-gained the Grizzlies 541-361 and converted 9-of-14 third down conversions compared to just 1-of-11 for Montana.

A total of 13 players on this year's Eastern team played in that game, including four starters on offense and one on defense.

But Eastern has lots of work to do -- both on the field and in the training room -- after the PSU loss. Eastern's offense struggled at times against the Vikings and managed just 21 points and 417 yards after entering with averages of 42.3 and 487.7, respectively. The Eagles had eight players who suffered injuries during the game, including at least one out for sure this week (senior center Chris Carlsen). Eastern has also lost starting linebacker Makai Borden indefinitely after suffering a toe injury in practice the week of the PSU game.

Making their task even more difficult is the fact the Eagles face one of the best defenses in the country. Montana leads FCS in scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game. The Grizzlies are sixth in total defense, surrendering only 261.8 yards per contest.

Eastern's offense fell from fourth to fifth in FCS in total offense (470.0 per game) and from fifth to 14th in scoring (37.0).

 

Eagle Head Coach Paul Wulff on Playing Montana After PSU Loss: "We'll bounce back. Our players have a lot of character and we'll fight back and put ourselves in a situation to have more success. We didn't execute well against Portland State and as a coach that drives you nuts. But we'll improve and get it done. I know our players like to play in Missoula and it will be a huge challenge for us like it always is. But it's a game that is winnable and our players know that. If we can improve our execution in all facets of the game, we expect that we will have a great chance to win the game when the fourth quarter rolls around."

 

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 22-10-1. Eastern is 4-11-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 11 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 22 times in 33 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 34.3 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.

As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.

Here are the six matchups in the last 11 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.)

 

Eagle Head Coach Paul Wulff on Playing Montana After PSU Loss: "We'll bounce back. Our players have a lot of character and we'll fight back and put ourselves in a situation to have more success. We didn't execute well against Portland State and as a coach that drives you nuts. But we'll improve and get it done. I know our players like to play in Missoula and it will be a huge challenge for us like it always is. But it's a game that is winnable and our players know that. If we can improve our execution in all facets of the game, we expect that we will have a great chance to win the game when the fourth quarter rolls around."

 

EWU Injuries Mount: Already with four players lost for the season because of injuries, and a fifth redshirting because of his, the Eagles are beat-up even more after falling to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29.

In that game, eight players left the field with injuries. Among them were wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder), center Chris Carlsen (knee), fullback Toke Kefu (wrist), tight end Nathan Overbay (hand), long snapper Mark Lathim (shoulder) and free safety Kevin Hatch (shoulder) were among the injured Eagles. Carlsen is out this week, Kefu is doubtful, Overbay and Lathim are questionable and Hatch is probable. Even rover Anthony Dotson (knee) and kicker Felipe Macias (knee) were helped off the field with injuries, but both were able to return.

In addition, starting strong-side linebacker Makai Borden (toe) was injured in practice before the PSU game and is out indefinitely, and starting defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon (ankle) remains questionable after missing the game versus the Vikings.

Safeties Ethen Robinson (Achilles tendon) and Jesse Hoffman (elbow) were lost for the season with injuries suffered in Eastern's season-opener against Montana-Western. Jesse's brother, wide receiver Shane Hoffman (toe), is also out for the year. Before the season started, safety Gregor Smith was lost for the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon is redshirting after a back injury kept him sidelined during pre-season practices and the first part of the season.

 

Offense Sputtering at Times: Aside from three scoring drives, EWU has struggled in its last 22 offensive possessions. After taking a 27-0 halftime lead against Idaho State on Sept. 22, Eastern's offense has had just five drives of at least 50 yards. Six of those 22 possessions have been three-and-outs and two others ended on turnovers on the second play of a drive. The Eagles scored on just three of those 22 offensive drives -- drives of 88 and 83 yards against Portland State on Sept. 29 and a 62-yard scoring drive versus ISU.

By contrast, Eastern scored on five of its first six possessions against ISU en route to 391 yards of offense before halftime. Since then -- a span of just over six quarters, Eastern has had just 444 yards. Before that, Eastern had 478 yards of offense against UC Davis and 567 versus Montana-Western, a game in which the Eagles scored on seven of its first eight possessions.

 

Eagles Rise and Fall in National Rankings: Eastern's convincing 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22 helped Eastern move up four spots to 21st in The Sports Network NCAA Football Championships Subdivision top 25 poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors. But the Eagles dropped out after losing to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29.

When EWU was ranked 25th on Sept. 17, the Eagles earned their first national ranking since 2005 in the TSN poll. Eastern hadn't been nationally ranked since it finished the 2005 season 13th in the TSN poll.

In the Sagarin computer ratings released after EWU's win at Idaho State, Eastern was No. 6 among FCS schools to rank three spots ahead of No. 9 Montana. Following the PSU loss, Eastern fell to 19th in the Sagarin ratings.

Here is a listing of EWU's 2007 opponents in this week's FCS rankings (four polls are distributed nationally on a weekly basis), in addition to the Sagarin computer ratings:

The Sports Network: 1. Montana; 13. Montana State; 27. Eastern Washington; 38. Portland State; 47. UC Davis.

Coaches: 1. Montana; 13. Montana State; 32. Eastern Washington; 38. Portland State; 46. UC Davis; 49.

AGS (anygivensaturday.com): 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 14. Montana State; 32. Eastern Washington.

Football Gazette Top 40 Rankings: 1. Massachusetts; 4. Montana; 15. Montana State; 28. Eastern Washington; 36. Portland State.

Sagarin Computer Ratings (among FCS schools): 1. Northern Iowa (56th overall); 14. Montana (114th overall); 19. Eastern Washington (123rd overall); 20. UC Davis; 22. Montana State; 27. Portland State; 41. Sacramento State; 43. Northern Arizona; 64. Weber State; 66. Idaho State; 89. Northern Colorado. Also, 30. (overall) Brigham Young.

 

Nichols Still Ranked High Despite Loss: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols suffered his first loss of the season, but his rankings in national statistics didn't suffer after he threw for a career-high 363 yards versus Portland State on Sept. 29.

Nichols currently ranks ninth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision with a 162.6 passing efficiency rating, and his average of 296.2 yards of offense per game is 11th. He is averaging 282.2 passing yards per game to rank ninth.

The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., has thrown just two interception in 128 attempts this season after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year ago. His ratio last season was an interception every 15.2 attempts and this year thus far it is one for every 64 attempts. With 11 touchdown passes in his first two games this season, he has already exceeded his total output of eight in 11 games in 2006. His passing efficiency rating thus far is 162.6 compared to a 109.0 rating as a freshman.

He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards ranks as the 23rd best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State. Nichols completed 17-of-30 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown in Eastern's 34-7 victory at Idaho State on Sept. 22. On Aug. 31, Nichols earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western.

 

Eagles Still Lead FCS in Turnover Margin: The Eagles have just three turnovers this season, while opponents have coughed the ball up 13 times in four games (10 interceptions and three fumbles). Last season, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.

Eastern's plus 2.5 margin per game is first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern ranks sixth in interceptions (2.5 per game, total of 10). Sophomore free safety Kevin Hatch and sophomore Lonnie Hosley are both ranked seventh in interceptions (0.8 per game, total of three).

 

Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington is averaging 470.0 yards of offense after four games, good for fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern is also 14th in scoring offense (37.0), 10th in passing offense (290.0) and 38th in rushing offense (180.0). Eastern is also sixth in passing efficiency (163.7) with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that includes four senior starters, has allowed six quarterback sacks to rank 42nd nationally (1.5 sacks per game), down from third after the ISU game when EWU had just one in its first three games.

Defensively, Eastern is 97th in total defense (420.2), 25th in scoring defense (19.8), 31st in rushing defense (118.8), 115th in passing defense (301.5) and 21st in passing efficiency defense (104.0).

Individually, Aaron Boyce is 25th in receptions (6.0) and 18th in receiving yards (90.3). Tony Davis is 68th in receptions (4.8) and 51st in receiving yards (69.3). Punter Fritz Brayton ranks 17th nationally (42.3 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias is 82nd in scoring (7.5) and 69th in field goals (0.75). Greg Peach is 15th in sacks (.88 per game, total of 3 1/2).

 

Grizzlies Lead Nation in Scoring Defense: Montana features one of the best defenses in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, allowing a nation's-best 10.3 points to per game. The Grizzlies are sixth in total defense (261.8), 12th in rushing defense (90.0), and 24th in pass defense (171.8). On offense, Montana ranks 15th in total offense (439.3), 20th in rushing offense (210.0), 39th in passing offense (229.3) and 21st in scoring offense (34.8). Montana is also 11th in sacks (3.0 per game).

In addition, Montana's special teams are stellar with rankings of eighth in net punting (37.2 per punt), 10th in kickoff returns (26.6) and 33rd in punt returns (11.0).

Individually, Kroy Biermann is fourth nationally in sacks (1.38 per game, 5 1/2 total) and Dan Carpenter is eighth in field goals (1.75) and 16th in scoring (9.3). Quarterback Cole Bergquist ranks 18th in passing efficiency (148.7) and 33rd in total offense (233.5), and Lex Hilliard is 40th in rushing (89.3). Marc Mariani is 15th in punt returns (13.3).

 

Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis Have Two of EWU's Longest Non-Scoring Plays: Sophomores Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis now own two of the longest non-scoring plays in school history after having long receptions in back-to-back games against Idaho State and Portland State.

Davis had a non-scoring 78-yard reception from quarterback Matt Nichols against ISU on Sept. 22 that ranked as the second-longest non-scoring pass play in school history. It ranks only behind the 82-yard connection from Erik Meyer to Raul Vijil in Eastern's 2004 playoff victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois.

In Eastern's next game against PSU on Sept. 29, Brown had a non-scoring 85-yard reception that broke Vijil's record. Eastern's longest non-scoring rush in recorded school history was 80 yards, so Davis and Brown own two of the four longest non-scoring plays in recorded school history.

 

4.0 Student Tom McAndrews Nominated for Academic Awards: Senior 4.0 student-athlete Tom McAndrews has been nominated by Eastern Washington University for the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame National Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship Awards.

The 6-foot, 240-pound tight end is a double major in finance and economics at EWU. He will complete his bachelor's degree in December 2007, and then begin work sometime soon on his master's in business administration.

With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, he has been named to the Dean's List 12 out of a possible 12 quarters at Eastern. He is expected to be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the fourth-straight year in 2007. He will be nominated for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and for a NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.

McAndrews was the 2006 recipient of the "Iron Eagle" Award for EWU Football academic and athletic achievement. He was awarded a Trustee's Scholarship (2006), Washington Promise Scholarship (2003) and Red Reese Scholarship (2003). He also became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society (2007).

He scored the first touchdown of his Eastern career against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007, on an 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 41-31 win. Mainly used as a blocking tight end, fullback and on special teams, he entered the 2007 season with 12 catches for 125 yards in 29 games played (five as a starter). In 2005 he was EWU's Most Improved Player and helped Eastern Washington win Big Sky Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, earning berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.

His community service activities include serving as a PLUS (Program Leading to Undergraduate Success) Facilitator in business law for the EWU Academic Support Center (2006). He was an intern as Community and Economic Development Assistant for the Cheney community/EWU campus development group called Pathways to Progress (2005). He has also been a volunteer for Harvest Food Bank, Spokane Guild School, Habitat for Humanity and the Cheney School District.

McAndrews was also a 4.0 student at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., where he was the 2003 Valedictorian.

 

Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's returning receiving corp includes a senior and five sophomores who are learning their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches as a true freshman but is redshirting in 2007. So far in their careers, Davis, Brown and Boyce have combined for 177 catches for 2,434 yards and 16 touchdowns in 45 games worth of experience (33 starts).

Those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts).

In 2005, Meyer and those players won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.

"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his corp of sophomore receivers. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."

 

Nichols on Receiving Corp: "We have a great group of receivers, including our starting sophomore corp. They are really talented and find holes, especially with a year under our belts. We know how to work against defenses a lot better than we did last year. I think that really showed in our first few games. We know how to find holes and know where the weaknesses are in certain coverages."

 

Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles: Just six position players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31.

The first-time starters include defensive left tackle Shawn Powell, free safety Kevin Hatch, cornerback Lonnie Hosley, offensive left tackle Brice Leahy and tight ends Nathan Overbay and Matt Martin.

Powell is a junior two-year letter winner who graduated in 2004 from Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. Hatch is a sophomore from Freeman (Wash.) High School, and lettered as a backup and special teams player last year. Hosley is a 2005 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.

A freshman redshirt, Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, the same school that produced All-America guard Matt Alfred (2003 graduate). Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, is from Chehalis, Wash., and graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School. Martin, a freshman redshirt from La Crosse-Washtucna (Wash.) High School, made his debut when the Eagles started in a two tight end formation.

Hatch and Leahy are taking the place of returning veterans who have to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart is academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith will miss the year with a nagging shoulder injury.

Besides those new starters, Eastern has new special teams players. Taking over at kicker is Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton takes over at punter.

Against UC Davis on Sept. 15, sophomore left tackle Chris Thomas made the first start of his career. Thomas is a 2004 graduate of Sumner (Wash.) High School, the same school senior Rocky Hanni graduated from in 2003.

Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:

Defense (124 starts by 17 players): Greg Peach 20, Bryan Jarrett 18, Jason Belford 16, Ira Jarmon 15, Lance Witherspoon 10, Gregor Smith 7, Makai Borden 6, Anthony Dotson 6, Josh Jacobson 4, Shawn Powell 4, Kevin Hatch 4, Lonnie Hosley 4, Jared Kuhl 4, Marcus Walker 3, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Dezmon Cole 1 (includes one start on offense).

Offense (209 starts by 21 players): Rocky Hanni 37, Matt Alfred 37, Zach Wasielewski 26, Chris Carlsen 14, Aaron Boyce 14, Matt Nichols 14, Charlie Wulff 11, Brynsen Brown 11, Tony Davis 8, Tom McAndrews 7, Dale Morris 6, Alexis Alexander 6, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, Chris Thomas 3, Nathan Overbay 2, Shane Eller 2, Brice Leahy 1, Matt Martin 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.

 

 

Paul Wulff QUOTES

Wulff on Nichols After Three Games: "He's done a nice job and has worked hard. He's very committed to being a good football player and his commitment has shown up by his improvement. He still has a lot of things to get better at, but hopefully we can build off each week's performance. It's very important that we do that. He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around."

Wulff on Progress of Team: "This team continues to grow. We aren't there yet but we're on the right track. I think as we go along this year and in the next couple of years, this team is going to be pretty good."

Wulff on Alexis Alexander and Dale Morris: "They are emerging as our best ballcarriers. Toke Kefu gives us good balance in there with those two guys. We have a good chance to be very good at that position. But they have to stay healthy and to continue to work hard to get themselves in great condition. And our offensive line has some work to do but the makings are there. We have to get them rolling and executing a little better."

Wulff on Young Receivers: "They've worked hard and put themselves in a position to make a lot of improvement. Now it's about producing on game day. We expect big things from them and we should. They have some youth, but they also have some experience. We are going to need them to make plays. Tony Davis is going to do a lot of different things. I think that fits his talent."

Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."

Wulff on Alexander Earning Repetitions at Running Back: "He's handled it great -- he gets to carry the ball more. It was becoming clearer that when we put the ball in his hands more good things happen. It's something we've thought about over the summer and has evolved in camp. We have to get the ball in his hands. He's good enough to catch it and good enough to run it. As long as he keeps producing and playing at a high level he's going to carry the ball. We'll make sure he helps this football team and he clearly does. He's a tough guy to tackle."

Wulff on Dale Morris: "So far Dale is healthy and getting in football shape. He's missed a tremendous amount of football -- it's basically been a year since he even put his pads on. But anybody who misses a year in their sport is going to be a little rusty. Hopefully as the season progresses we'll see him continue to improve and break off a lot of that rust. He's doing a nice job in camp to get himself in shape."

 

 

SERIES HISTORY

More Series History: Eastern scored 20 or more points in the fourth quarter to pull out Eagle wins in 1990 and 1997, and the Grizzlies scored with 30 seconds left to pull out a win in 1996 to preserve their No. 1 ranking nationally. And the 1986 meeting will go down in history as a Montana win even though television replays showed that officials erred in ruling that a last-minute Eagle touchdown pass was caught out of bounds.

Three of the top nine total offense performances in EWU history (697, 658, 603) have come against the Grizzlies. In addition, three of Eastern's top seven individual passing performances (486, 448, 423), two of the top three receiving performances (264, 217), and two of the six longest pass plays in Eagle history (99, 86) have come versus Montana.

In 2004 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Montana's Shane MacIntyre blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by Sheldon Weddle with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in the Big Sky Conference Oct. 16 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. A stadium record crowd of 10,754 attended the WestCoast Ridpath Hotel Governor's Cup presented by TicketsWest. Eastern rallied in the fourth quarter after Montana had taken a 31-21 lead with 5:45 to play. Junior quarterback Erik Meyer fueled a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive in the next two minutes as he tossed an 11-yard scoring strike to Eric Kimble with 3:44 left. Meyer completed 27-of-41 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown, and was intercepted twice. Kimble and Raul Vijil had six catches each, with Kimble finishing with a team-high 91 yards in receptions. Darius Washington rushed for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Linebacker Doug Vincent led the Eagle defense with 16 tackles. Eastern finished with a 446-387 edge in total offense, but there were some lopsided quarters. Eastern had a 174-18 advantage in the first quarter when it took a 10-0 lead, and Montana had a 172-44 advantage in the second quarter as it took a 14-10 lead at halftime.

In 2003 in Missoula, Eastern was able to generate just 168 yards and no offensive touchdowns in a 41-10 loss. Montana finished with 491 yards of offense including 356 rushing yards. The Eagles managed just two field goals and 104 yards of offense through the first three quarters, yet late in the third quarter found themselves only behind 20-10. However, Grizzly touchdown drives of 80, 82 and 50 yards turned the game into a rout. Eastern finished with its lowest offensive output in its last 96 games since finishing with just 132 against Idaho in 1995. Erik Meyer finished just 6-of-16 for 61 yards, and was the team's leading rusher with 18 yards. Joey Cwik and David Eneberg each added nine tackles, and Isaiah Trufant had an interception he returned 41 yards for EWU's lone touchdown of the day.

In 2002 in Spokane, senior quarterback Josh Blankenship passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns, and senior running back Jovan Griffith rushed for 199 yards as Eastern Washington ended its season with a thrilling 30-21 victory over the No. 1 ranked Grizzlies. The loss snapped Montana's I-AA record-tying 24-game winning streak, as well as the school's 25-game Big Sky Conference winning streak. In addition, Montana head coach Joe Glenn lost his first Big Sky game in 21 tries. The Eagles finished with 541 yards of total offense while holding the Grizzlies to 385. Jesse Hendrix led the Eagles with 11 tackles and a pair of passes broken up. A record 17,142 fans attended the game.

In 2001, missed opportunities -- including three empty trips in the red zone and a missed field goal attempt in overtime -- spelled doom for 15th-ranked Eastern Washington as it fell 29-26 in double overtime to third-ranked Montana. Eastern out-gained the Grizzlies in total offense 522-475, but four Eagle turnovers and a pair of missed kicks limited EWU to just 26 points after scoring 85 points in its first two outings of the season. Down 23-9 in the fourth quarter, Eastern scored twice to send the game into overtime tied at 23. In the first overtime after Montana failed to score, a low snap resulted in Eastern's Troy Griggs missing a 36-yard field goal that would have won the game. Griggs, who also missed an extra point after Eastern's first touchdown of the day, kicked a 42-yard field goal to begin the second overtime. But Etu Molden caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Edwards that won the game for the Grizzlies. Just prior to the game-winning score, the officials ruled against the Eagles on an apparent game-ending fumble by the Grizzlies. Eastern's defense allowed Montana 15 points and 247 yards of offense on 27 plays (9.1 yards per play) in the first quarter, but just 14 points and 228 yards on 55 plays (4.1 per play) in the final three quarters plus overtime.

In 2000, despite two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Lamont Brightful, ninth-ranked Montana used the arm of Drew Miller en route to a 41-31 victory over the 18th-ranked Eagles in a Big Sky showdown at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. With Miller completing 25-of-42 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the game, the Grizzlies took the lead for good in the second quarter and held off Eastern's late surge. The Grizzlies had 411 yards of total offense, but they were aided by a sluggish Eastern offense that managed just 234 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times. Montana had 23 more offensive plays in the game, and out-gained the Eagles in the second half 202-96. Eastern's three turnovers led to three short scoring drives and 17 points by the Grizzlies. A crowd of 15,678 watched the showdown, breaking Eastern's previous home game record of 10,213 set Oct. 20, 1984 against Idaho at Albi Stadium.

In a 25-7 loss to Montana in Missoula in 1999, Eastern Washington was held to just 276 yards of total offense. The Eagle defense did a commendable job in holding Montana to half of its season scoring average, but the Eagles could not capitalize on offense. Of Eastern's 16 possessions, eight ended in punts, seven ended with interceptions and one was an eight-play, 79-yard drive that cut Montana's lead to 13-7 in the second quarter. Six of Eastern's interceptions came in the second half, including the last four possessions of the day for the Eagles. The seven interceptions tied the school record set against Western Oregon on Oct. 15, 1974. Eastern's vaunted running game, ranked 21st in I-AA entering the game, was held to just 86 net yards in the loss to the Grizzlies. Running backs Jovan Griffith (61 yards) and Jesse Chatman (46 yards) were held to a collective total of 107 yards as the Eagles had 129 yards less than their season average and more than 200 less than their average in Big Sky Conference games.

In the 1998 meeting, freshman kicker Nick Reynolds missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 57 seconds remaining in the game as Eastern suffered a wild 30-27 loss to Montana at Albi Stadium in Spokane. The miss by Reynolds came after a blocked punt by Julian Williams with 1:32 to play that gave the Eagles an excellent chance to tie or win the game. Less than one minute earlier with 2:05 remaining, a Montana interception after a tipped pass spoiled another potential scoring drive for the Eagles. Eastern's Griffin Garkse completed 18-of-29 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns with long completions of 51, 45, 42 and 35 yards. Joe Levens, who had the first touchdown catch of his career with a 19-yarder in the second quarter, caught five passes for 57 yards. Mike MacKenzie rushed for 152 yards on 19 carries, and had five catches for 104 yards in a rare 100-100 performance. Lamont Brightful finished with three catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns. The three-point setback was one of four Big Sky Conference losses of the season by four points or less.

The Eagle-Grizzly game in 1997 in front of 19,019 fans was largely viewed as the game that catapulted Eastern to the Big Sky Conference championship and the NCAA Division I-AA "Final Four." Montana entered the game ranked second in the nation and Eastern was 17th. Down 28-20 after three quarters, Eastern exploded for 20-straight points in the fourth quarter and pulled out the impressive win. The way the Eagles rallied was similar to a 1990 victory in Missoula in which Eastern scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to stun the Grizzlies 36-35. Harry Leons completed 20-of-33 passes for 424 yards and four touchdowns in the 1997 win, with Jeff Ogden catching six passes for 217 yards and three of the scores. Their 67-yard hook-up with 9:11 left to play gave the Eagles the lead for good, and then a monster drive minutes later capped the victory. Taking over after a Montana punt with 7:32 to play, the Eagles drove 76 yards on 12 plays, taking a whopping 5:36 off the clock as they ran nothing but running plays. The Eagles snapped Montana's 30-game home winning streak dating back to the 1993 I-AA playoffs, and Montana also saw its string of 32-straight regular season home wins end, a streak that dated back to Eastern's 1992 victory over the Grizzlies.

In the 1996 meeting in Cheney, Montana scored with 30 seconds left for a 34-30 win and spoil Eastern's upset bid against the top-ranked Grizzlies. Eastern was ranked 20th entering the game versus the defending I-AA champions. Montana's Brian Ah Yat completed 32-of-48 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns against EWU. All four touchdown passes -- including a game-winning 39-yarder with 56 seconds left -- were to Joe Douglass, who finished with 14 catches for 279 yards.

 

2005 in Missoula -- #12 Eastern Washington 34, Montana 20: Erik Meyer passed for 395 yards and five touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Eagles beat the second-ranked Grizzlies 34-20 Oct. 15 in front of 23,732 boisterous Montana fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Eastern snapped a two-game losing streak to the Grizzlies, and won in Missoula for the first time since 1997 when Eastern won the Big Sky title outright and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA Playoffs.

"Two years ago we were playing with (a lot of) freshmen and sophomores, and I said we're just not ready," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of a 41-10 loss at Montana in 2003. "We came into this game with some injuries and some players who are still growing, but our program has really matured a lot. We just came out and played football -- nothing too magical."

It was the sixth time in the last 10 meetings that the two teams both entered the game nationally-ranked, but only the second time the Eagles have won. The 14-point victory over the Grizzlies was Eastern's biggest at Montana, and the largest overall against Montana since a 52-19 home victory in 1985.

"It's nice to come in here and get a win," said Wulff. "It's a good win against a good team at a tough place to play. We played these guys tough, but we know we are a good team and a good program."

Meyer completed 28-of-40 passes and had one interception, and added 42 rushing yards to finish with 437 yards of total offense. Eastern out-gained the Grizzlies 541-361 and converted 9-of-14 third down conversions compared to just 1-of-11 for Montana. That was a far cry from two years ago at Montana when Eastern had just 168 total yards and no offensive touchdowns as Meyer was just 6-of-16 for 61 yards. He was also the team's leading rusher with 18 yards.

Eagle senior receivers Eric Kimble, Craig McIntyre and Raul Vijil combined for 22 catches for 376 yards and all five touchdowns from Meyer. Kimble caught 10 for 168 and one score, McIntyre had six for 134 yards and three TD grabs and Vijil added six grabs for 74 yards and a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Running back Ryan Cole added 99 yards on 31 carries. The Eagles held Montana's talented running back Lex Hilliard to 53 yards rushing. Safety Bryan Jarrett led EWU with nine tackles and a forced fumble, and senior middle linebacker Joey Cwik finished with eight stops.

Eastern took 27-10 lead in the second half, but Montana came back to cut the lead to 27-20 with 6:09 to play. But the Eagles followed with their most impressive drive of the game -- a nine-play, 80-yard drive that gave Eastern a two-touchdown advantage with 2:13 remaining. Meyer was 4-of-5 for 70 yards with a pair of third-down conversions on the drive, including a game-clinching 8-yard touchdown pass to Vijil.

 

Last Season in Cheney -- #4 Montana 33, Eastern Washington 17: Fourth-ranked Montana used a fast start and six Eastern Washington University turnovers to record a 33-17 Big Sky Conference football victory Oct. 7 at jam-packed Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

The Grizzlies used a game-opening 56-yard kickoff return, a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown and one of three interceptions by Jimmy Wilson to help open a 21-0 lead. Eastern finished with six turnovers, including a costly fumble in the third quarter after the Eagles had pulled to within 21-10.

"We had too many turnovers, but it wasn't just turnovers (that hurt us)," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We also gave up some big plays on special teams. You can't beat a good team or a bad team when that happens."

"Our kids played hard and they tried -- I liked that," he added. "I felt like our defense was put into some bad situations the whole game and they showed promise, but their backs were against the wall the whole time."

A Woodward Field record crowd of 11,583 attended the game, breaking the previous record set two years earlier when 10,754 attended a 31-28 Grizzly victory over EWU.

"It was a great day to watch a football game. The crowd was really good," said Wulff.

Rob Schulte had a 56-yard kickoff return to start the game, and the Grizzlies turned that into a four-play, 28-yard scoring drive. Eastern then punted on its first possession and Tuff Harris returned that 94 yards for another score. After Wilson intercepted Eastern redshirt freshman Matt Nichols for the first time, Montana scored on a two-play, 36-yard drive to take a 21-0 advantage with 6:51 left in the first quarter.

"I think (Tuff Harris) lost track of where he was on that punt return," said Wulff of Harris fielding the punt instead of letting it possibly go into the end zone for a touchback. "It turned out to be a big play for Montana. Montana made a lot of breaks for themselves -- it was a great play on his part."

"The same thing happened on the opening kickoff that happened on that punt return for a touchdown,"
Wulff said of the opening kickoff. "On both plays we had two kids get washed out of their lanes. Those two plays were huge and they were the telling point in the ballgame."

Eastern scored 10 points in the second quarter on the team's longest drive of the game and a 39-yard field goal by Brett Bergstrom. The scoring drive was 80 yards that took just four plays, and was capped by 43-yard touchdown pass from Nichols to fellow freshman redshirt Brynsen Brown.

After Eastern's defense held Montana scoreless for the last 21:51 of the first half, Eastern went into the lockerroom trailing by just 11 points. But Brown fumbled on the first play of the second half, and Montana recovered at Eastern's 45-yard line. Eight plays later, Montana led 27-10 as the Grizzlies followed with a pair of field goals to score 12 unanswered points and put the game out of reach.

"We opened up the second half and I thought we we're in good shape," said Wulff. "But we threw a screen for 12 yards and we fumbled. You just can't do that."

"The mistakes that we made were big mistakes," he added. "There is a difference between a mistake and a big or critical mistake. We made too many critical mistakes. Those are the mistakes that change the game and give the other team points, and those are the mistakes that are just too big to overcome."

Montana's defense took over after that, holding Eastern to just 127 yards in the second half after Eastern had a 204-132 edge at intermission. Montana had 235 of its yards in the second half. Montana finished the game with 367 yards of offense compared to 337 for the Eagles.

Nichols finished 15-of-23 for 186 yards, but had three interceptions in the first half and one in the second. Chris Peerboom relieved him and completed 4-of-10 for 74 yards and one interception. He closed the scoring in the game with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Charles Searcy with just 45 seconds to play.

Eastern rushed for only 77 yards in the game, including 23 yards by Dale Morris in his first action of the season after suffering a pre-season foot injury. Brown caught seven passes for 92 yards.

Linebacker David Eneberg finished with 10 tackles to lead Eastern's defense. Keith Grennan had two of the team's five sacks and Greg Peach was credited with 1 1/2.

 

PREVIOUS GAME SUMMARY

No. 21 Eastern Falls to Portland State 28-21: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but 21st-ranked Eastern Washington was inconsistent on offense and lost 28-21 to Portland State Sept. 29 in a Big Sky Conference football game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern was held to 74 yards in the opening quarter and 79 in the third quarter as the Eagles fell behind 28-14 with 3:28 to play in the game. Eastern scored late to pull within a touchdown and had the ball on the PSU 42-yard line in the final seconds, but Nichols was intercepted on a desperation heave into the end zone to end the contest.

It was EWU's first loss in four tries this season as the Eagles fell to 1-1 in the Big Sky Conference. Portland State is now 2-3, including a perfect 2-0 Big Sky mark after being picked to finish second in the league standings.

"On offense we just didn't execute all night long and we never got in sync," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, whose team finished with 417 yards of offense, well below their average of 487.7 that ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. "We just didn't play well on offense and it put our defense in a lot of stressful situations."

Eastern allowed Portland State to finish with 520 yards of offense, including 141 rushing yards by Olaniyi Sobomehin. The Vikings entered the game ranked 116th and last in FCS in rushing (21.8 yards per game).

"I thought our defense played well in a lot of situations," said Wulff. "It was just a frustrating game. We just didn't play as well as we hoped we would and we just didn't execute great."

Eastern next plays at No. 1 ranked and nine-time defending league champion Montana on Oct. 6. The Grizzlies edged Weber State 18-10 to remain unbeaten at 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Sky.

"We are a good young team," said Wulff. "We just have to come back from this, and we will."

"We played hard and competed to the end -- that's all we can ask," he added. "It was just one of those days we just didn't have it."

Nichols completed 19-of-30 passes as he eclipsed his previous career high of 329 yards set last year against Sacramento State. His performance equals the 23rd-best in school history.

Sophomore Aaron Boyce finished with six catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. Fellow sophomore Brynsen Brown had five grabs for 139 yards, including a non-scoring 85-yard reception.

Eastern managed just 54 net yards rushing as Nichols was sacked five times. In its previous four games, EWU's senior-dominated offensive line surrendered just one. Dale Morris was the leading rusher with 35 yards on 11 carries with a long rush of seven yards.

Senior Bryan Jarrett led Eastern's defense with nine tackles, and Jared Kuhl and Jason Belford each added eight. Anthony Dotson finished with six tackles and a pair of passes broken up.

Portland State took an early 7-0 lead before Eastern got untracked in the second quarter with back-to-back scores. Brown's 85-yard catch and run led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Alexis Alexander to knot the score 7-7.

Eastern took the lead on its next possession after Eagle Terry Mixon returned an interception 57 yards to the PSU 26. Five plays later, Nichols passed 10 yards to Tony Davis to give EWU its only lead of the game.

Portland State scored three times in the second half to take a 28-14 advantage with 3:28 to play. But Eastern went on a four-play, 83-yard scoring drive that took just 51 seconds, with Nichols completing a pair of passes to Boyce of 51 yards and 23 yards for the touchdown.

Eastern got the ball back with 23 seconds to play, and Nichols completed a pass of 36 yards to Evan Robbins before ending the game with his interception.

 

EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL

Chatman Featured Twice in Sports Illustrated: Former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman, now with the Miami Dolphins, had a full-page spread in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated talking about how he lost 60 pounds after eating himself out of the National Football League.

Injuries caused him to starting gaining weight when he played for the San Diego Chargers in 2004, and subsequently he was released and did not play in 2005 and 2006. He ballooned to a high as 283 pounds before diet and exercise helped him lose the weight. Chatman started working out at all hours, and switched from fried food all the time to oatmeal, spinach and stir-fry.

Eventually, he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and is the team's backup running back behind Ronnie Brown and is returning kickoffs. Now weighing 223 pounds, he earned a roster spot in the preseason when he had a team-leading 116 rushing yards (6.4 per carry) with two touchdowns, and added six receptions for 52 yards.

During the preseason, he was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:

"Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."

 

Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.

In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.

Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.

Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.

A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.

Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).

Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.

 

Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.

Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.

He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier this season against Berlin.

He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.

While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.

He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.

 

Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.

Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa is 17-2 this season, including three playoff victories.

 

MORE SEASON NOTES

From 0-3 to 3-0: Eastern, 3-0 on the season, matched its win total from a year ago with a 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. Eastern had a 27-0 lead at halftime and had a 391-100 advantage in total offense when it took that advantage.

It was Eastern's first road trip of the season, and the Sept. 22 date equals EWU's latest road opener since 1987. Each of Paul Wulff's seven previous seasons as head coach had begun with games on the road.

Eastern hasn't started a season 3-0 since beginning the 1997 season with four-straight wins en route to a 12-2 finish. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.

Eastern started the 2006 season with losses to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a setback to NCAA Division II Central Washington.

 

Wulff on 3-0 Start Setting Up Team for a Successful Season: "It sure does. It gives us an opportunity to have success, it helps the program to grow, it helps recruiting and it helps the school. It's very challenging when you have to play a very difficult schedule early in the year. It feels like you are always trying to make it up the whole year. It's all about direction and what you are trying to accomplish with your program."

 

Happy 60th Birthday Coach Wulff!: Paul Wulff won't be 41 until Feb. 25, 2008, but that didn't stop his players from giving him a birthday wish on the plane flight home from EWU's game at Pocatello. The flight attendant wished Wulff a happy 60th birthday over the loudspeaker, which resulted in a roar of applause and laughter from the team. Upon arrival in Spokane, Wulff began an immediate investigation to identify and punish the culprit. Initial reports blamed the quarterback.

 

Brayton Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week: Junior Fritz Brayton, currently the fifth-best punter in the nation, has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Eastern's 34-7 victory over Idaho State.

Brayton punted six times for a 47.7 average, with a long punt of 53 yards and two downed inside the Idaho State 20-yard line. The average field position for ISU was their own 20-yard line. In the second half, he had punts that were downed at the ISU 8 and 9 yard lines.

Brayton is a transfer from Washington State University and 2004 graduate of Westview High School in Portland, Ore. He is taking the place this season of Ryan Donckers, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history. His career average of 40.5 also ranks third.

Brayton's father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at Washington State from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.

 

Wulff on Brayton: "So far in the season he's done a really nice job when he's punted. A big part of our success has been field position, and he's a big part of that. We need him to show that consistency every week. He replaced a good punter, but so far in the last three games he has done a nice job. As long as the other 10 players on the punt unit are doing their job, it gives Fritz a better chance to have success."

 

Jarrett Helps Lead Impressive Effort by Defense: Safety Bryan Jarrett, one of just four seniors on the starting defense, had seven tackles and a key first-half interception in Eastern's 34-7 road win at Idaho State.

His interception at mid-field and 36-yard return led to a field goal that gave Eastern a 3-0 lead. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half, and had two other tackles that led to an Idaho State punt (in the first half) or loss of the ball on downs (in the second half).

Eastern would go on to score 24 more points -- including 10 more points off turnovers -- to take a 27-0 lead at halftime. When Eastern took its 27-0 lead, the Eagles had a 291-100 advantage in total yards. Idaho State scored its first points with 9:09 left in the game on a 92-yard drive. Idaho State finished with 400 yards, but 296 came in the second half.

The Eagles forced five turnovers against ISU, including three in the first 18 minutes of the game.

Jarrett, a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School, hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.

 

Eagles Add JC All-America Safety: Two-time junior college All-America defensive back Terry Mixon joined the Eastern football program on Sept. 11 and was able to play for the Eagles four days later against UC Davis. He finished with five tackles in his Eagle debut.

"He did well with the limited plays he received," Eagle head coach Paul Wulff said. "But that's how it is going to have to work for him right now. We'll try to get him a little more each game and get him ready. He's not in great shape but he's getting there. And he has to learn the system a little bit. Obviously he will be a great benefit for us."

Mixon left the Washington State University program the previous week after coming to the Cougars from Grossmont Community College near San Diego. Since classes don't start at EWU until Sept. 26, Eagle head coach Paul Wulff was able to get Mixon admitted and enrolled at EWU. It was a much-needed boost for an Eastern team that lost three safeties for the season after just the first game of the year because of injuries.

"We were very fortunate to acquire somebody on such late notice," said Wulff, who lists Mixon as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. "We have a huge need right now at safety because of the three season-ending injuries we've already had at that position."

Wulff said Mixon could possibly play at free safety, but most likely the rover (strong safety) position. Senior Gregor Smith (shoulder), sophomore Jesse Hoffman (elbow) and freshman redshirt Ethen Robinson (Achilles) have been lost for the season at free safety.

In 2006 as a sophomore at Grossmont, Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the nation. As a sophomore, he repeated as both an All-Foothill Conference first team pick and junior college All-America selection. He was All-California Region III first team and helped his team to 10-2 record and a second-round berth in state playoffs. He was named conference player of the week three times.

As a freshman, he helped Grossmont to a 13-1 record and the California State Championship. He was a four-time Foothill Conference Player of the Week. He earned all-conference first team honors and was named a junior college All-American.

Mixon was a quarterback and defensive back at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. He started at quarterback as a senior and rushed for almost 800 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 12 touchdown passes. He was a SuperPrep All-Far West selection (No. 70) as a defensive back. He had over 100 tackles, along with five interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

He was born Dec. 20, 1985, in San Diego, Calif. His parents are Timothy Mixon and Betty Randall.

Eagles Lose Two More Safeties For the Season: Sophomore Jesse Hoffman and redshirt freshman Ethen Robinson both suffered season-ending injuries in Eastern's opener against Montana-Western. Both backups at free safety, Hoffman injured his elbow and Robinson tore his Achilles tendon. Besides those two players, projected starting free safety Gregor Smith was lost for the season with a nagging shoulder injury before practices even began.

Hoffman played considerably as a running back as a true freshman in 2006, but moved to defense when the fate of Smith was known. Hoffman finished with 234 yards, including the team's top performance of the year with 124 yards and a touchdown in a 34-0 win at Northern Colorado.

Sophomore Robert Pearson is now the backup at free safety behind sophomore Kevin Hatch, who was expected to be Smith's backup entering the season.

 

First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols has gotten off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.

The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.

As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.

Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 is much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.

"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."

In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.

 

Wulff on Sophomore Debut for Nichols: "The way he was practicing we thought there was a chance he would do well in this first game. We felt like we had better athletes outside at the receiver positions, and we knew that if we gave him enough time, he would be able to hit them. And that's what he did. His accuracy was good and I think of the six incompletions he had, three were dropped balls -- they were right in their hands."

 

Wulff on Reason for Early Success for Nichols: "The (biggest reasons) are last year's experience and the amount of work he has put in to get better. He's gotten to know his teammates better and doesn't have receivers that are freshmen to throw to. That is just part of college football and the maturation you have to go through. We went through that last year and we're better now because of it."

 

Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.

A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.

 

Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish last year that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.

"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."

 

Eagles Are Still Youthful: Eastern enters the season with much more experience under its belt than last year, but the Eagles are still young. In the team's opener against Montana-Western, only three seniors were in the team's starting lineup on defense and four were on the starting offense.

All four of those seniors on offense are linemen as Eastern returns a pair of past All-Americans (Matt Alfred in 2005 and Rocky Hanni in 2004), as well another All-Big Sky tackle in Zach Wasielewski. The lone non-starting senior on the offensive line, Julian Stewart, is academically ineligible to play in 2007 and has been replaced by freshman redshirt Brice Leahy and sophomore Chris Thomas.

"That was a little bit of a hit, but we do have some experience there and it is an area that needs to be a strength," said Wulff of losing Stewart. "They are a group that should play well and get us out of the gate and play well early. There is a lot of pressure on those guys to perform well."

Eastern's offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols and five other sophomores expected to play key roles as offensive skill players. They include wide receivers Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce, Jeffrey Solomon and Brynsen Brown, as well as tight end Nathan Overbay. Solomon is injured and will probably redshirt.

"All of those youthful players have good experience," Wulff said. "We are still going to be a youthful football team, but I do believe we should be a good football team. How fast we grow as the season progresses is really going to be the indicator of how well we end up doing at the end of the season."

 

Eagles Play Six Home Football Games: Eastern will open a six-game home schedule on Friday, Aug. 31, with a non-conference home game versus Montana-Western. After a bye week, Eastern plays another non-conference game against UC Davis on Sept. 15.

Big Sky Conference play begins at Idaho State on Sept. 22, followed by the EWU Athletics Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 29 against Portland State. After playing at Montana on Oct. 6, Eastern hosts Montana State on Oct. 13.

A difficult road trip at NCAA Division I Bowl Division (formerly I-A) member Brigham Young follows on Oct. 20, then the Eagles play at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Eastern's Homecoming game is Nov. 3 against Northern Colorado, and the Eagles conclude the regular season with a road game at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10 and a home game versus Weber State on Nov. 17.

Last season, Eastern finished 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference with a schedule that included two NCAA Division I Bowl Division members West Virginia and Oregon State. The Eagles, young and inexperienced at several positions including quarterback and wide receiver, closed the year with a convincing 40-6 victory over Idaho State.

Eastern is 7-0 all-time against Western Montana, but hasn't played the Bulldogs since 1982 when both were affiliated with NAIA. Montana-Western is still a NAIA member while Eastern is now a member of the NCAA Division I Championship Division (formerly I-AA).

UC-Davis is also in the NCAA Division I Championship Division and is a member of the Great West Conference. The Aggies, who were 6-5 in 2006, will be eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2002 when it was still a member of NCAA Division II. In the only meeting between the two teams, Eastern beat UC Davis 24-6 on Nov. 19, 2005, at fog-shrouded Woodward Field.

Brigham Young finished the 2006 season ranked 15th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 16th in the Associated Press top 25. The Cougars won their final 10 games, including a 38-8 victory over Oregon in the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl to finish the season with an 11-2 record.

The Cougars finished the season ranked fourth nationally in passing offense (323.5 yards per game) and total offense (465.5). The BYU offense also ranked fifth in scoring offense with an average of 36.8 points per game. Additionally, the Cougars had a 167.08 passing efficiency rating on the season to rank second nationally.

Defensively, the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in scoring defense, allowing just 14.7 points per game. BYU ranked 16th in passing efficiency defense (106.2) and 38th in total defense (319.2).

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 Bowl Division teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Eastern has lost its last four since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003.

Montana is the defending Big Sky Conference champion, a title it has won outright or shared for the past nine seasons. The Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for a record 14th straight season, and won twice in the playoffs before falling to Massachusetts 19-17 in the semifinals. Montana finished its season ranked third in The Sports Network poll with a 12-2 record.

Montana State won its first playoff game in 22 years, downing Furman 31-13 in the first round in Bozeman. The Bobcats' season came to an end with a 38-17 loss at eventual national champion Appalachian State. Montana State finished its season 8-5, and ranked 10th in The Sports Network poll.

 

Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team has been picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.

Eastern is coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.

This season, Eastern returns 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.

"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."

Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.

Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred has been selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.

A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and has earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). He enters the 2007 season with 33-straight starts as an Eagle.

Hanni earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2004 when he was the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year. He has also started 33 games at Eastern.

 

Former 1,000-Yard Rusher Among New Hall of Fame Members: Five individuals and two teams comprise the eighth class of inductees into the Eastern Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in ceremonies that took place on Sept. 29, 2007, in Cheney, Wash.

The new inductees include record-setting All-West Coast fullback Meriel Michelson, who held the school's career rushing record for nearly 40 years. He finished with 2,517 yards, including the school's first 1,000-yard season as he led Eastern to 29 victories and three conference titles. He had 1,049 in 1950 when he led the nation in rushing and was selected to the United Press Little All-West Coast team. Michelson, who was a counselor and teacher in Pasco, Wash., for more than 30 years, passed away recently on July 18 after a battle with lung cancer.

The other individual inductees include All-America cross country and track standout Kari McKay and former gymnastics coach and long-time supporter Thorne Tibbitts. The other two individual inductees were members of Eastern's highly-successful volleyball program in the late 90's -- player Kim Exner and her coach Pamela Parks, who has been a fixture for more than 30 years in the Eastern athletic department.

Two teams will also be inducted as Eastern celebrates the 25th anniversary of the school's 1982 NCAA Division II cross country title and the 30th anniversary of the 1977 NAIA wrestling championship.

Established in 1996, this year's inductees will bring to the total number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 40 and teams to five. More information may be found at: http://goeags.cstv.com/hallfame.

McKay was an All-American in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 NCAA Track & Field Championships and also made two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The graduate of nearby Almira (Wash.) High School went on to a successful road-racing running career, including a string of six-straight years as the top area female finisher at the annual Lilac Bloomsday race.

Tibbitts has been recognized as one of 34 "pioneers" of the sport of gymnastics in the State of Washington. He coached Eastern to a second-place finish at the 1965 NAIA Championships, and helped lay the groundwork for the school's future success in that sport. He has been a fixture in Cheney ever since, and has been a huge supporter and contributor to the athletic department.

Exner led Eastern to 46 victories in her last two seasons (1997 and 1998), including a NCAA Tournament berth and co-Big Sky Conference title. Twice she was the league's MVP and earned All-Region VIII honors as she finished her career with school and Big Sky records for kills (1,860). Formerly from Vernon, B.C., she is married to former Eastern and current Washington State assistant football coach Timm Rosenbach.

Parks began her legacy at Eastern as a volleyball player, then won 291 matches in 18 seasons as the school's head coach. In her tenure, Eastern had six 20 victory seasons, won two Big Sky Conference regular season titles, one BSC tournament title and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments. She remains on staff as an associate athletic director.

 

Timing Rule Changes Rescinded: Two timing rules put into effect in 2006 were rescinded for the 2007 season. The changes were originally designed to speed up play, but as a result provided for less plays in the game as the game clock in 2006 was started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock started on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It also started when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play. In 2006, there were an average of 126.9 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). In 2005, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.

 

Terms I-A and I-AA Eliminated: The terms I-A and I-AA are no longer being used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A are now referred to as the "NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision" or "FBS" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision" or "FCS." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels and were approved by the NCAA Board of Directors.

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."

 

Big Stat Totals in Spring: Eastern's starting and backup offensive units were impressive in four spring scrimmages (including the Red-White Game), with 1,598 total yards and an average of 7.2 yards per play. Offensive units rushed for 586 yards (5.2 per play) and completed 65 percent of their passes (72-of-111) for 1,012 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

Nichols, who started as a redshirt freshman a year ago, completed 38-of-58 passes (66 percent) for 591 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Junior backup Alex Smart completed 68 percent of his passes (28-of-41) for 335 yards, three scores and no picks. Smart had an impressive passing efficiency rating of 161.1, compared to 181.8 for Nichols. Third-string quarterback Jason Harris completed 6-of-12 passes for 86 yards.

Sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis was the team's big playmaker, catching 13 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing eight times for 134 yards and two more scores. Sophomore Jeffrey Solomon had 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 60 yards and a score.

The team's leading receiver was senior Shane Eller with 17 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Aaron Boyce added nine catches for 141 yards. Sophomore Nicholas Ramos added eight grabs for 100 yards and two scores.

Leading the running game was sophomore Jesse Hoffman with 124 yards on 25 carries (5.0 per carry) and one touchdown. Senior Toke Kefu had 27 rushes for 140 yards (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown. A.J. Jimerson played in two scrimmages, and had 75 yards on 16 carries (4.7 per carry) with a touchdown.

Defensively, sophomore safety Kevin Hatch had 17 tackles and a four passes broken up, and sophomore cornerback Lonnie Hosley had 14 stops with a pass broken up. Linebackers Shane Cooley and Jared Kuhl had 14 and 16 tackles, respectively. Cooley is a freshman and Kuhl is a senior.

Along the defensive line, junior Greg Peach had four sacks and junior Shawn Powell and senior Lance Witherspoon each had two.

 

Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: Center Chris Carlsen from Poulsbo, Wash., was a double winner as EWU handed out awards at the conclusion of spring practice. The 2003 graduate of North Kitsap High School received one of four strength and conditioning awards handed out and was one of two recipients of "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement.

The "Iron Eagle" for defensive players was given to senior defensive back Ira Jarmon, a 2003 graduate of Clover Park HS in Lakewood, Wash. Others winning strength and conditioning awards were senior defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03), junior defensive end Greg Peach from Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05), and sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis from Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS '05).

Selected as most improved were sophomore linebacker Ryan Buenaflor from Anacortes, Wash. (Anacortes HS '05) and sophomore offensive lineman Sean Rock from Kent, Wash. (Kentwood HS '05).

 

Sturdy Takes Over as Offensive Coordinator: St. Ambrose University head football coach Todd Sturdy decided to leave his post to take the offensive coordinator position at Eastern, it was announced on March 13, 2007.

Sturdy was 85-40 in 12 seasons as head coach for SAU, which is located in Davenport, Iowa. Sturdy, 39, was selected as NAIA Region 2 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association after coaching the Fighting Bees to a perfect 10-0 regular season finish. The team's season came to an end with a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Morningside in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.

Wulff has known Sturdy for seven years, dating back to when Timm Rosenbach joined the EWU coaching staff after a stint at St. Ambrose. Rosenbach is now the quarterbacks coach at Washington State University. Jody Sears also worked for Sturdy at St. Ambrose.

"He has a proven track record as an assistant and has accomplished even more as a head coach," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "I first met him seven years ago and it's a great fit. He's going to bring great leadership, passion and work ethic to our program. He's an excellent worker"

Besides serving as offensive coordinator, Wulff said Sturdy will also coach quarterbacks, assist with special teams and serve as the team's academic liaison. He replaced Beau Baldwin, who left Eastern to become head coach at Central Washington University.

 

Ackerman Joins EWU Coaching Staff: A former starter in the National Football League and one of the greatest offensive linemen in school history, Tom Ackerman took over as offensive line coach when preseason practices for the 2007 season began in mid-August.

Formerly from Nooksack, Wash., Ackerman played eight seasons in the NFL, including the first six with the New Orleans Saints and the 2002 and 2003 seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

Ackerman was the 145th pick overall in the 1996 NFL Draft and was the first offensive lineman in Washington and the Big Sky Conference to be taken. He was a third team All-American at EWU following his senior season in 1995.

"Tom will give us a great presence," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, who came to Eastern in 1993. "I coached Tom when I first arrived here and spent three seasons with him. We see the exact same things and work well together. It will be great for our players."

He played in 105 career games in the NFL, including 21 as a starter. While in the NFL, he started and ran the Ack for Kids Foundation for five years, with proceeds benefiting children in his hometown and Whatcom County. Following his playing career, he returned to the Spokane area and has spent time in private business and as a football coach and strength coach. In 2007, he coached the offensive line for the Spokane Shock in arenafootball2.

Ackerman is a 1991 graduate of Nooksack Valley High School where he earned All-State honors in football as a linebacker and tight end. He started 32 games at Eastern, playing as a guard, tackle, center and long snapper. He earned third team All-America accolades and first team All-Big Sky honors as a senior, and was a second team All-BSC pick as a junior. The Eagles won 21 games in his four seasons, including the Big Sky Conference regular season title in 1992.

Ackerman was born Sept. 6, 1972, in Nooksack, and will turn 35 during Eastern's bye week in the 2007 schedule. He has three daughters - Riley (9), Lexi (8) and Avery (6). His brother T.J., who was an offensive lineman at Eastern and played briefly in the Canadian Football League, is now living in Ferndale, Wash. T.J. is selling real estate along with their father Jim, who is the current mayor of Nooksack.

 

Eagles to Play Colorado in 2008: Eastern has agreed to play the Colorado Buffaloes in the 2008 football season as Eastern will play its first-ever game against a Big 12 Conference foe. The game versus the member of the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2008, in Boulder, Colo.

The Eagles will be just the second NCAA Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent for the Buffaloes, who were upset by Montana State 19-10 on Sept. 2, 2006. Colorado finished 2-10 a year ago under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins and has no FCS opponents on its 2007 schedule.

Colorado is one of three non-league games for the Eagles in 2008. Eastern is also scheduled to play at UC Davis on Sept. 13 and a lower-division home game against an opponent to be determined.

Eastern's eight Big Sky Conference games in 2008 begin Sept. 27 with a home game against Idaho State and conclude Nov. 22 at Weber State. Other league home games include Montana (Oct. 11), Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15).

 

Eastern Football Shirts Get National TV Exposure: A simple trade made in summer 2006 in Finland turned out to be a pretty good swap for Eastern Washington University and the Eagle football team.

A pro football teammate of former Eagle Jake Young wore three different EWU football shirts in July 2007 on the hit CBS television reality show "Big Brother 8." Young, who now lives in Nampa, Idaho, after last playing for EWU's Big Sky Conference championship teams in 2004 and 2005, was simply shocked when he saw his former practice shirt on TV in early July.

"That sucker has my shirt on!," he yelled at his TV.

Nicholas Starcevic -- or Nick as he's know on the show -- is the contestant spreading Eastern to a world-wide audience. He appeared on the show for a month before finally being kicked out by his fellow housemates.

"Isn't that great?," Young said of the exposure EWU and the football team has received. "I knew he was going to be on TV, but I didn't know what show he was going to be on. Now I know where my clothes went -- he has three of my shirts."

Eastern's athletic logo on a helmet and "Eastern Washington" is prominent on one of the shirts, and Big Sky Conference Champions is on the back of another. The back of the third shirt includes the face of Young's former EWU teammate, quarterback Erik Meyer. That shirt commemorates the record-breaking season Meyer had in 2005 when he won the Walter Payton Award.

"We kept getting calls and e-mails from people saying they saw the shirt and wondered what former player of ours is on the show," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "I wish it was a former player because I would have been sending him more shirts and gear than he knew what to do with."

But just how did Starcevic end up with the shirts? At first, many people thought Nick played football at Eastern, but that was quickly dispelled when it was revealed that he was from Kimball, Minn., and played at Minnesota-Crookston. Listed by the show as a former professional football player, Nick's only professional experience came in the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) while playing for the Seinajoki Crocodiles in Finland.

His teammate in 2006 just happened to be Young, and they were two of the three Americans allowed to play on each team in that league. During their successful 11-2 season during the spring and summer months, Young and Starcevic became close friends. Before they departed back to their lives in the United States, they made a couple of trades.

"I have some of his gear and he has some of mine," Young said. "He's one of my best buddies. We had a good time together in Europe."

Young last talked to him this spring, but Starcevic couldn't say much. "But he told me something big was going to happen. He couldn't tell me anything because he said he had to take a lie detector test."

"I had the FBI or an agency like that contact me," Young said of what happened next. "I thought he was in trouble. It was a heckuva background check. Next thing I know, I see him on TV. I said, `oh my gosh!'"

Starcevic was a defensive back and linebacker for the Crocodiles, who finished second in the Maple League and fourth overall in the Euro League in 2006. Young played linebacker, quarterback and wide receiver -- "a little bit of everything," he said.

The third American on the squad was Maurice Drayton from The Citadel. Nick has been wearing a Citadel shirt on the show as well.

Young, who helped Kamiah (Idaho) High School win a State title as a senior in 2000, was impressed by the level of football played in Finland. But to see Nick listed as a pro football player in the show's biographical information elicited a chuckle out of Young.

"I laugh every time I see that," said Young. "But it was definitely pro football -- we got paid for it -- but it was really more like semi-pro football. It was probably comparable to (NCAA) Division II Football."

A backup throughout his career, Young played 23 games at Eastern and finished with 51 tackles, a sack and an interception he returned 46 yards. Eastern won Big Sky titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in both 2004 and 2005, but playing in Finland with Starcevic was yet another football experience Young will never forget.

He remembers a trip to Russia for a game in which he was selected the team's MVP in the victory. On that same trip, despite warnings to not drink the water, Starcevic didn't follow the directive and spent several days -- including during the game -- throwing up with the stomach flu.

"We had some wild times, definitely," Young said. "He was very goofy and one of the funniest people I've ever talked to. But he is also very smart and very athletic. He fits right in (on TV)."

Eastern's current TV exposure is similar to the exposure the school luckily received back in 1992. The Eagles were on a charter flight to play at Northern Iowa in the playoffs, and that same plane was scheduled to later pick-up president-elect Bill Clinton. That gave athletics marketing director Lee Yerty an idea.

Yerty, a former football teammate of Wulff's at Washington State University, gave a flight attendant an EWU hat and asked her to give it to Clinton. She did, and Clinton wore the hat soon after that during an appearance on a beach. Video and still photographs were shown nationwide, including a prominent photo in USA Today of Clinton wearing the hat.

Now, 15 years later, Eastern enjoyed good fortune again.

Young was a walk-on at Eastern, earned a partial scholarship for his junior season and was on full scholarship as a senior. Now, thanks to a trade in Finland, he has more than re-paid his debt to EWU.

"We owed Jake then, and we owe him now," said Wulff. "I guess Jake is a marketing genius for trading those shirts. It was fun to watch and see if Nick would wear our shirts on the show."

 

101st Win Was Long Time Coming: It took a long time for Eastern to record its 101st win at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. Eastern concluded the season with a 40-6 win over Idaho State after EWU lost its first four home games of the season at home. Eastern has never been winless at the current site of Woodward Field as the Eagles entered the 2007 season with a 101-51 record there dating back to 1967. A 24-7 win over UC-Davis on Nov. 19, 2005, at the fog-shrouded stadium was Eastern's 100th victory at Woodward. The last time Eastern went winless at home came in 1962 when it finished 0-4 in Cheney and 0-1 at Spokane's Albi Stadium. The Eagles finished 0-8-1 that season.

 

Eagles in NCAA Statistics in 2006: Eastern finished the 2006 season ranked 77th out of 116 NCAA Championship Subdivision teams in total offense (310.3 yards per game). Eastern, which finished the previous two seasons ranked fourth nationally in offense, was 112th after three games in 2006 and its highest ranking of the year was 70th after seven games. Eastern also finished 86th in rushing (108.4), 34th in passing (201.9) and 77th in scoring (19.5).

Defensively, Eastern was 92nd in total defense (370.6) while ranking 99th in rushing defense (185.8), 87th in passing efficiency defense (134.9) and 91st in scoring defense (26.9). Eastern was 21st nationally with 14 interceptions. The Eagles were also ranked 28th nationally in net punting (34.0).

Kicker Brett Bergstrom, who was 15-of-18 kicking field goals, finished sixth in field goals (1.36 per game). Punter Ryan Donckers was 12th in punting with a 42.37 average. Quarterback Matt Nichols was 63rd in total offense with an average of 169.5 yards per game. Tony Davis finished 63rd in receiving (4.36 per game) and Greg Peach was 52nd in sacks (0.5 per game).

 

Eagle Tidbits From 2006: Eastern's streak of winning seasons came to an end at seven. The streak started in 1999, a year after Eastern began the season 0-3 but recovered well enough to finish 5-6. Eastern also started the 2006 season 0-3. In 1995, a young Eagle team finished 3-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big Sky. Two years later, in 1997, the Eagles finished 12-2, won the Big Sky with a 7-1 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs . . . Eastern set the school's single season attendance record in 2006 as Eastern averaged 7,116 in five home games (35,580 total). It broke the previous record average of 7,090 in 2005 (35,451 total in five home games). The largest crowd in Woodward Field history -- 11,583 -- attended the Eastern-Montana game on Oct. 7. The previous most came two years prior against the Grizzlies when 10,754 attended the game . . . Since coming off his redshirt year versus Montana State, Toke Kefu rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He had 98 yards against Sacramento State and 93 versus Montana State, giving him four performances in his 31-game career of between 89 and 98 yards.

 

EWU Play in Front of Largest Crowd in School History: Eastern's game in 2006 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

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