Oct. 6, 2008
In an early-season league showdown made even more important by road losses for both schools last week, the game matches the 23rd-ranked Eagles against the 12th-ranked Grizzlies. Kickoff is 2:05 p.m. Pacific time at what will be a jam-packed Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., in a game televised live on KSKN Channel 22 in Spokane and throughout Montana via KPAX TV in Missoula.
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.
The game will be a sell-out with less than 100 tickets remaining as of Monday morning (Oct. 6). Additional bleachers are being added to push the capacity of Woodward Field from 8,600 to 10,840. The Woodward Field record for attendance was set two years ago when an announced crowd of 11,563 were on hand.
"I expect the atmosphere to be incredible this week with a lot of fans in the stands," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "Montana always travels well, and them coming off a loss makes it that much tougher for us. It's a fun, challenging situation, but it's going to be difficult for us to get a win. It's going to take everyone on this team contributing throughout the week of practice and in this game to make that happen."
But it won't be a match-up of two top 10 FCS teams after then 11th-ranked EWU lost at PSU 47-36 last Saturday about an hour after third-ranked Montana fell at Weber State 45-28. The victory for the Wildcats snapped the 25-game regular season winning streak for the Grizzlies.
"That win by Weber didn't surprise me, but I don't want to take anything away from Montana," Baldwin said. "That's just saying that any team can knock off another team in this league if you aren't playing your best. I just think there are a lot of teams in this league that are closer together than they've ever been."
Eastern had five turnovers in its loss while UM had four in its setback. The Eagles gave up 623 passing yards and five passing touchdowns to the Vikings, while the Grizzlies allowed four WSU passing TDs.
"Montana is a different outfit than Portland State -- there won't be a lot of carryover scheme-wise," said Baldwin. "We'll just have to be ready to play and play better football."
As a result of last week's losses, Eastern will enter this week's game ranked 23rd in The Sports Network NCAA Football Subdivision rankings after ranking 11th a week ago. Montana will enter Saturday's game 12th, down from third on Sept. 29. Eastern is now 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the league, while Montana is 4-1 and 0-1, respectively.
In last year's meeting, the Eagles had 565 yards of offense while holding Montana to 289. But the Grizzlies converted a key fourth down play before kicking a 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds to play to pull-out a 24-23 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,226 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont. Eastern scored on four-straight possessions spanning the second and third quarters to take a 20-14 lead, but managed just a field goal after that.
Montana has dominated the series with EWU 23-10-1, including victories the last two times Eastern hosted the Grizzlies at Woodward Field (31-28 in 2004 and 33-17 in 2006). Since winning three-straight over Montana from 1990-92, Eastern has won just three times since -- 40-35 in 1997, 30-21 in 2002 and 34-20 in 2005. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. This will be the seventh time in the last 13 meetings that both teams have entered the game nationally ranked.
The Eagles will try to avoid a three-game losing streak in the series against the Grizzlies, something they weren't able to do last week. The loss at Portland State was EWU's third-straight against the Vikings, and was the first time Eastern has had a three-game losing streak or longer to a Big Sky opponent since Montana won four-straight against the Eagles in 1998-2001. There have been only six such streaks now in EWU history, and three of those six have been against Montana (1987-89, 1993-96 and 1998-2001).
"It's a very similar situation to the Portland State game," Baldwin said of this week's revenge factor. "Eastern's team last year thought they had a great opportunity to win against Montana and wasn't able to do that. Besides all that, it's more about our goals this year and what we are trying to accomplish down the road. This is one step. You can think big and have high goals, but this game is part of the process and is a tough step along way. It's going to take all of our energy going toward that effort."
The Eagles feature the second-best passing offense in FCS (345.0 yards per game) to rank only behind fellow league member Portland State (409.8). The Eagles are also seventh in total offense (443.2) and 13th in scoring offense (36.2).
However, Eastern is last among 118 teams in FCS in both passing defense (421.4) and total defense (499.0), and 11th in scoring defense (37.8). Oddly enough, Eastern is 10th in rushing defense (77.6).
Montana counters with a passing offense ranked 12th nationally (284.4), and the Grizzlies are 18th in both total offense (415.0) and scoring offense (34.2). Quarterback Cole Bergquist is seventh in FCS in passing efficiency (164.2), with the team holding that same ranking (165.8).
Montana receiver Marc Mariani is 43rd in FCS and seventh in the Big Sky in receptions per game (5.4) and is fourth nationally and second in the league in receiving yards per game (115.2). Mariani has scored seven receiving touchdowns this season and is averaging 198.0 all-purpose running yards (rushing, receiving, returns) to lead the league and rank fourth in FCS.
"They do everything well," Baldwin added. "They are very solid on special teams and in the red zone, and over the years they've mixed it up well between the run and the pass. Defensively they are physical and they play hard -- they've always played with great effort. They are one of those teams where having a lead on them doesn't really matter, and that's the biggest challenge. You are going to get everything they have for 60 minutes -- you are in for a war on every play."
-- Ahead For the Eagles -- Following Saturday's game, Eastern heads to Bozeman, Mont., to play Montana State on Oct. 18. Following that game, Eastern has a bye prior to playing its final four games of the regular season in November.
Besides Montana, Eastern plays league home games in 2008 against Sacramento State (Nov. 1) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 15). Eastern's four Big Sky opponents at home had a collective 23-22 record overall and 18-14 league mark in 2007, led by Montana's 11-1 record overall and perfect 8-0 record in the BSC. Eastern's 2008 road opponents were 15-30 overall and 12-20 in the conference.
-- A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry -- In a series that has provided plenty of drama over the years -- including 2007 -- Montana now leads the all-time series 23-10-1. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-10 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites. In six of the last 12 meetings between the two teams, both teams have entered the game nationally ranked.
Eight recent games in the series that have been decided by margins of 10 points or less are the exclamation points in a rivalry that has seen the Grizzlies come out on top 23 times in 34 meetings. The winner has usually piled up points and yardage by the ton as evidenced by Eastern's 697 yards of total offense in 1986, 658 yards in 1997 in a 40-35 win, 564 in a 24-23 loss in 2007 and 541 yards by the Eagles in a 34-20 win in Missoula in 2005. In fact, in the last 22 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.9 points. In six of those 22 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane's Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one's covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. Eastern wide receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-best receiving effort in Big Sky Conference history with a school-record 17 catches to earn NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week honors from The Sports Network. His 232 receiving yards was the second-most in school history, and Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 451 yards to rank third all-time at EWU.
In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the seven matchups in the last 13 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally ranked (including 2008):
2008 - #23 Eastern Washington vs. #12 Montana (in Cheney, Wash.)
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.)
-- EWU Individual Leaders -- Several Eagles are among the leaders in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has already had four 300-yard passing performances, and leads the Big Sky and FCS in total offense per game (347.2). He is also second nationally in passing yards per game (343.8) and 31st in passing efficiency (135.9).
Although he missed the Portland State game on Oct. 4 with a sprained ankle, junior receiver Tony Davis has already caught 30 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. Davis is ninth nationally and third in the league in receptions per game (7.4), and is 24th in FCS and seventh in the Big Sky in reception yards per game (85.8). Teammate Aaron Boyce, with 22 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games against PSU and Idaho State, has moved into the national rankings in both categories as well. He is 11th in FCS and fourth in the BSC in receptions per game (7.0) and is 23rd nationally and sixth in the league in reception yards per game (87.8).
In addition, kicker Felipe Macias already has field goals of 55 and 52 yards to his credit -- the only player to have made a 50-yarder in the first two weeks of the season. Entering this week's action, he still has the two longest field goals in FCS and is the only player with two of 50-plus yards. Punter Fritz Brayton has also been impressive, averaging 42.4 yards per kick to rank 16th in FCS.
Defensively, twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of freshman redshirts, have combined for 82 tackles thus far to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach is second in the Big Sky (9.2 per game) and 42nd nationally, and Matt is ninth in the league (7.2). Zach also has four passes broken up and ranks seventh nationally and first in the league in tackles for loss (1.8 per game). Matt has three interceptions to rank 22nd in FCS and fourth in the league (0.6 per game).
Senior defensive end Greg Peach had three sacks in back-to-back games against Western Washington and Idaho State, then had one versus Portland State to move into the FCS lead (1.4 per game). Fellow defensive end Jason Belford has four total sacks this season to rank 14th in FCS and third in the league.
-- Nichols Has Four 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has already had four 300-yard passing games this season, giving him a total of 10 in his 29-game career thus far. Most recently, he had 418 yards against Portland State (10/4/08) to rank as the third-best in his career and 10th-best in school history. A week earlier, he had 382 and five touchdowns against Idaho State (9/27/08) as he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. Currently on the 2008 Walter Payton Award Watch List, his completions (36) and attempts (61) against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 both rank as the second-most in school history.
On EWU's career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top five in all categories, including second in total offense (7,736) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus PSU. Nichols is also third in passing yards (7,212) and second in average passing yards per game (248.7). He is now just 280 passing yards from catching Tenneson (7,492) on that list. The record holder for both passing yards and total offense is 2005 Payton Award winner Erik Meyer (2002-05) with 10,261 passing yards and 10,942 yards of total offense. Meyer is the player Nichols replaced in 2006 as Eastern's starting quarterback.
Nichols is also fourth in efficiency rating (138.2), second in touchdown passes (54, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), third in completions (569) and third in attempts (930).
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
418 - 34x55, 2td - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#10 in school history)
382 - 26x40, 5td - Idaho State - 9/27/08 (#18 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#27 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#40 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
303 - 32x51, 1td - Colorado - 9/6/08
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
435 - 418 passing, 17 rushing - Portland State - 10/4/08
376 - 382 passing, -6 rushing - Idaho State - 9/27/08
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
314 - 303 passing, 11 rushing - Colorado - 9/6/08
-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern's receiving corp in 2008 includes three juniors - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 380 catches for 5,276 yards and 35 touchdowns in 82 games worth of experience (68 starts). They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 2007.
Boyce has already moved onto EWU's career lists, ranking sixth in catches (155), eighth in touchdown catches (18) and eighth in receiving yards (2,218).
That trio is a reminder of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). But after their first two seasons as Eagles, that quartet had just 121 catches, for 1,774 yards and 17 touchdowns -- less than half of the production that Davis, Brown and Boyce had in their first two years.
In 2005, Meyer and his teammates won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (*17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
181 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#14 in school history)
135 (9 catches, 3 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
*School record. #Second in school history behind Aaron Boyce.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Tony Davis
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Idaho State - 9/22/07
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
126 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Western Washington - 9/20/08
114 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Central Washington - 9/16/06
#Second in school history behind Aaron Boyce.
100-Yard Receiving Games Brynsen Brown
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
104 (4 catches, 1 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Weber State - 11/17/07
-- Boyce and Davis Have Second-Best Receiving Performances in School History -- Junior Tony Davis, who missed four games last season with a shoulder injury, led the Eagles with 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in Eastern's 49-24 loss to Texas Tech on Aug. 30. His catch total equaled the second most in school history, ranking only behind the 17 teammate Aaron Boyce had in 2007 against Montana. Davis, a 2005 graduate of Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., had 126 yards and a touchdown on six catches versus Western Washington on Sept. 20. Davis now has five 100-yard receiving performances in his Eastern career.
Boyce, meanwhile, duplicated the 13-catch feat against Portland State on Oct. 13. He finished with 181 receiving yards to rank as the 14th-most in school history. The 2007 All-American caught just 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in his first three games of the 2008 season, but in his next two he caught 22 for 316 yards and four scores.
-- Baldwin Likes Team's Character and Leadership -- With 15 starters and 43 total letter winners returning from last year's squad, Eastern is hoping to continue the momentum from the 2007 season when the Eagles returned to the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision scene with a 9-4 finish after a dismal 3-8 record the year before. Eastern advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and closed the year ranked eighth in the final Sports Network poll of the year.
"I like the makeup of our team a lot," said Baldwin at the start of the season. "Not only do we have great talent, but we have great character and leadership. Those are things your team has to have if they don't want to be just good but strive to be great. We are nowhere near that at this moment, but in my opinion we have the right makeup to be consistent throughout the year."
-- Five Players Make Starting Debuts -- Five players, including three on defense and two on offense, made their starting debuts at Texas Tech on Aug. 30.
The defensive debuts were made by weak-side outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt, strong-side inside linebacker Zach Johnson and strong safety Matt Johnson. Sherritt is a sophomore from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS '06) and the Johnson twins are redshirt freshmen from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS '07). The Johnson twins were playing in their first collegiate football game.
On offense, both new starters were offensive guards. Ryan Forney, a junior from Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap '05) started at left guard and Bryan Smith, a senior from Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS '04) started on the right.
Since then, only four new starting debuts have been made. Sean Rock started at center versus Idaho State and defensive nose tackle Renard Williams and linebacker Kyle Wilkins both made their starting debuts against Western Washington. Against Portland State on Oct. 4, Will Edge started as a nickel back as the Eagles faced the No. 1 passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
-- Starting Experience Leads to Wins -- Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field. In the last six years, EWU's top three win-loss records (collective 25-13) were recorded by teams that returned at least 245 starts. The worst three records (collective 15-18) were by teams with 225 returning starts or fewer.
The Eagles entered the 2008 season with 26 players returning with starting experience totaling 272 starts. Broken down, Eastern returns 136 starts on both defense and offense (13 players each) for a total of 272 starts returning.
By contrast, Eastern entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. The Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern's 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2008 - 26 - 272 - 5 - ?
2007 - 31 - 245 - 6 - 9-4 (total of 11 new starters used during the year)
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2008 roster -- Defense (191 starts by 19 players) -- Greg Peach 34, Jason Belford 30, Lance Witherspoon 23, Makai Borden 17, Kevin Hatch 18, Lonnie Hosley 13, Shawn Powell 12, Ryan Kelley 10, Marcus Walker 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Matt Johnson 5, Zach Johnson 5, J.C. Sherritt 4, Tyler Jolley 4, Renard Williams 2, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Kyle Wilkins 1, Will Edge 1.
Offense (191 starts by 16 players) -- Matt Nichols 28, Aaron Boyce 27, Brynsen Brown 25, Charlie Wulff 24, Tony Davis 16, Dale Morris 17, Chris Thomas 12, Alexis Alexander 9, Nathan Overbay 7, Brice Leahy 6, Bryan Smith 5, Ryan Forney 5, Toke Kefu 4, A.J. Jimerson 3, Matt Martin 2, Sean Rock 1.
-- Injury Report -- Redshirt freshman Tyler Hart is out again this week with a shoulder injury suffered against Idaho State on Sept. 27. Hart has played as a backup running back as well as returning punts and kickoffs.
However, several other players are questionable this week after a rash of injuries kept four other players out of the lineup against Portland State on Oct. 4. Linebacker Marcus Walker also suffered a shoulder injury against Idaho State and did not play against PSU. Three others were injured in practice and didn't play versus PSU, including leading wide receiver Tony Davis (ankle), starting linebacker Makai Borden (ankle) and backup receiver Ashton Gant (hamstring). Walker and Davis are listed as probable for this week, while Borden and Gant are questionable.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Taiwan Jones, who broke his fibula the first week of pre-season practices, made his Eagle debut against Portland State. He had even more playing time than what was expected when cornerback Lonnie Hosley left the game with a sprained ankle. Hosley is listed as doubtful for this week's game.
Eastern came out of its first three game fairly healthy. The only player to leave the Texas Tech game with an injury was Alexis Alexander, who sat out the Colorado game and returned to play against Western. Linebacker J.C. Sherrit left the Colorado game with a sprained ankle suffered on his 48-yard interception return for a touchdown. He missed the Western game but returned to play against Idaho State.
Senior starting nose tackle Shawn Powell suffered a knee injury before practices even began and is out for the season.
Interestingly, injuries to Alexander and Sherritt both occurred on touchdowns. Last year, Tony Davis injured his shoulder on a touchdown reception versus Portland State and missed four games.
Beau Baldwin QUOTES
-- On Giving Up 623 Passing Yards to Portland State -- "We are capable of playing a lot better. We have to find a way to do things right -- our players have to know their alignment and assignment, and as coaches we need to get them in the right situation. We will make some adjustments, and not just because of the loss. We are 2-1 in our last three games, but they've shown us that there are things that need to be altered and need to be changed."
-- On Losing Turnover Battle 5-1 Versus PSU -- "The turnovers were huge and that's a big part of any game. In my opinion, there is no excuse on either side of the ball. Four of our turnovers were at very critical times offensively. On defense we have to create more turnovers, especially against a team that throws it 70-plus times. Whatever we have to do to change it we will, and that has to be our mindset. There is no question turnovers can be the difference in a season, and that's the statistic that means the most when you look at a win-loss record. Most of the time the winner of the turnover battle is the winner of the game."
-- On EWU Needing Similar Late-Season Run as 2007 Season -- "Last year they fought tooth and nail and won some close games. It is a similar scenario for us this season. But the thing we have to think about is that no matter what our situation is, our next game is the most important game. That has to be our mindset and we can't get caught up in thinking any further than that. We need to forget what our record is and concentrate on each week's match-up."
-- On Big Sky Race -- "It's one of those things where every week, in the Big Sky, there is anyone top to bottom that can beat anyone. And I really believe that, maybe this year more than ever. Some of those teams that were considered lower-level Big Sky teams in the last few years, those coaches are (in their) second year. Every one of those Big Sky teams is better than I think they probably were the year before. So, top to bottom, this conference is tough, and every week, if you have any sort of letdown, you will find yourself losing a ballgame."
-- On EWU's Defensive Line -- "They are always going to be the meat and potatoes of our defense. We are going to be as good as our defensive line -- we are going to be in ballgames later on that are 17-10 or 13-7. You never know, those type of games happen too. We just have to make sure we're on the right end of those. I don't care what the final score is as long as we are on the right end."
-- On Narrow Loss to Colorado -- "It's a sting, especially when you have to come back and watch the video. When you watch it you realize the things that might have been a little different could have helped us come out on top. But that's part of it. We need to learn from it and move forward."
-- On Starters Playing All Eight Quarters in Openers -- "Our players are in great shape -- maybe even better shape than I might have thought. And they play with tremendous heart, so we have a group of players who dig deep. Despite the circumstances they found a way to do that, particularly in coming back from the Texas Tech game to do it again against Colorado. We were a little short in the end, but it's still something we can build from and come out with a lot of positive things."
-- On Battling Back Versus Texas Tech -- "You go down 21-0 to any team -- let alone Texas Tech -- and it's going to be hard to try to fight back from that. But our guys did. They fought back and made a few plays. We kept believing and that was the key thing. I'm not into moral victories, but I was very proud of the way our guys left it on the field."
-- On Second Half Versus TTU -- "We had basically won the second quarter 17-7, and there was no reason why we couldn't win the third quarter 17-7 or something along those lines. We wanted to keep building momentum -- we had it in the second quarter and I told our team to do everything they could to keep that momentum. We knew Texas Tech was too well-coached and had too many good football players not to come out angry after halftime. It was going to be a tough fight, no question. But we kept fighting in that third quarter, and because of a few plays here and there it just slipped away from us in the end."
-- Baldwin on Preseason National Polls -- "There is some merit to be near the top because that can help you when it comes to the playoffs. That can sometimes make it a little easier to stay in the top 16 rather than to have to climb all the way into it."
-- Baldwin on Improvement by Nichols in 2007 -- "I wouldn't say it totally surprised me by any stretch. That's especially true when you understand how hard he works in the off-season and how hard he works the week before games. Once the games got going last season, he was just having fun. He put in a lot of time understanding what he had to do to be successful."
-- Baldwin on Nichols -- "You never expect a freshman that struggles a little bit to come back and be Player of the Year in the Big Sky. But if you would have asked me going into last year if he had the talent to do that, I would have said yes. And he obviously proved that."
-- Baldwin on Nichols Wanting Big Sky Title -- "I think he would trade 100 Big Sky MVP trophies for one Big Sky championship. That's just his mindset."
-- Baldwin on Future Improvement of Nichols -- "He can just keep getting better and better. There were times last year when there were things he could have done to spread the ball out even more, and that's something I want to see him do better this season. Sometimes you get comfortable with a certain player, and he and Boyce, obviously, had a special connection. I think Matt will be that much better if he can use his other receivers even more."
-- Baldwin on Nichols to Boyce Passing Combo -- "It's pretty special -- they've developed an incredible rapport and had a great year. But I've talked to both guys about the fact we'll be even more successful in some ways if there are less pass completions between Matt Nichols and Aaron Boyce. The more we can spread it out and involve seven, eight or nine players catching balls in the passing game, we will be that much better. Both Aaron and Matt might have better years even if their stats aren't as good. I think we can become better as an offense because of that."
-- Baldwin on Boyce and Receiving Corp -- "I'm excited to coach Aaron again, and the rest of the receiving corp. It's a good group and has a lot of relatively young players."
-- Baldwin on Nichols and Boyce -- "You not only are talking about talented players, but you're talking about two mature student-athletes. They are great people and that is part of the reason for their success. They have great character off the field as well, and that will help keep those two grounded and keep them progressing. You don't want them to get their heads in the clouds thinking they have it all figured out, and then all of the sudden an off year slaps you right in the face. I don't see that happening to those two guys."
-- Baldwin on Future of Talented Junior Class -- "Each year is different, and a lot of things happen between your sophomore year and junior year, and your junior year and senior year. You can never predict the future. But I'm very fortunate to be in this situation. We have a ton of great weapons on offense."
-- Baldwin on Defensive Line -- "There are seniors up there who have all played significant roles since as far back as 2005. They are a veteran group. No matter how young you are at linebacker and in the secondary, if you are good on the defensive line you give those back seven guys a great chance to be successful. And vice versa -- if you're not good on the defensive line, even All-America corners can't cover for eight seconds. It's huge for us from a defensive standpoint to have an experienced defensive line. All the great defenses are always going to start with the guys up front."
-- Baldwin on Offensive Changes -- "To an outsider looking at our team, you're probably not going to see a lot of changes. There are some subtle changes we are making that are things I believe in and want to do. But it's not going to be an overhaul. I don't think you come into a program with a lot of success and make 180-degree changes. If you do, I think you're letting your ego get in the way a little bit. I want to keep a lot of things familiar for those guys."
-- Baldwin on Defensive Changes -- "We have a new defensive coordinator, so it will be a little different. In the past we've started with a one-high safety philosophy and now we'll use two high safeties as our base. We'll still have the ability to roll down to an eight-man front. Our defense will probably have more changes than our offense from a scheme standpoint."
-- 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, four of Eastern's top nine individual passing performances (486, 451, 448, 423), three of the top four receiving performances (264, 232, 217), and two of the six longest pass plays in Eagle history (99, 86) have come versus Montana.
In 2006 in Cheney, fourth-ranked Montana used a fast start and six Eastern Washington University turnovers to record a 33-17 victory. 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. Freshman Matt Nichols finished 15-of-23 for 186 yards, but had three interceptions in the first half and one in the second. 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. Brynsen 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.
In 2005 in Missoula, Erik Meyer passed for 395 yards and five touchdowns as the 12th-ranked Eagles beat the second-ranked Grizzlies 34-20. 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. 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. 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. Safety Bryan Jarrett led EWU with nine tackles and a forced fumble, and senior middle linebacker Joey Cwik finished with eight stops.
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.
-- 2007 Revisited/Eastern Out-gains No. 1 Montana 565-289 In Loss -- Sometimes, yards and records aren't enough as Eastern Washington University found out Oct. 6 against the top-ranked team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
The Eagles had 565 yards of offense while holding Montana to 289, but the Grizzlies kicked a 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds to play to pull-out a 24-23 Big Sky Conference over EWU in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,226 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Mont.
Eastern scored on four-straight possessions spanning the second and third quarters to take a 20-14 lead. But Eastern managed just a field goal after that to fall to 1-2 in the conference and 3-2 overall. Montana finished out a five-game homestand to open the 2007 season 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the league.
"We played hard and we did a lot of good things," said Eastern head coach Paul Wulff. "But we did enough things poorly to shoot ourselves in the foot. When you come here and lose by one, you're never happy about that."
Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards. His yardage total was the third-most in school history, just 35 yards from the school record of 486 set by Todd Bernett against Montana in 1994.
Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. The record is 21 set by David Pandt of Montana State against Eastern Washington in 1986. The previous school record for catches was 13 set on three previous occasions.
Boyce finished with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history. The record is 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Eastern's defense played superbly this time around, holding Montana to 2-of-14 on third down and forcing the Grizzlies to punt nine times.
However, the Eagles forced no turnovers and had two themselves after entering the game leading the FCS in turnover margin. Eastern had 13 takeaways and just three givewaways in EWU's first four games. And a blown coverage resulted in Montana converting on fourth-and-10 on its game-winning drive.
Just moments before the game-winning kick, Eastern's Felipe Macias kicked a 39-yard field goal -- his third of the day -- to give Eastern a short-lived 23-21 lead with 2:24 to play.
Eastern attempted five field goals in the game and had two turnovers that led to 14 Montana points. The Eagles also finished with 14 penalties for 127 yards.
"Our defense played a great game," said Wulff. "Offensively we did too. We really controlled the game from the second quarter on. But we shot ourselves in the foot too many darn times. You can't win games on the road like this playing like that."
Shane Eller, filling in for the injured Tony Davis, added eight catches for 77 yards and Brynsen Brown caught six for 94 yards and a touchdown. Dale Morris was the team's leading rusher with 49 yards. Greg Peach led Eastern's defense with nine tackles and a sack.
Montana entered the game leading FCS in scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game. The Grizzlies were sixth in total defense, surrendering only 261.8 yards per contest. Meanwhile, Eastern's offense entered the game fifth in FCS in total offense (470.0 per game) and 14th in scoring (37.0).
After a slow start, Eastern caught fire near the end of halftime to trail just 14-10 at intermission. Through the first 20 minutes, Eastern's longest drive in its first four possessions was 20 yards, and two of them were for negative yards. Penalties were Eastern's biggest undoing, with 10 for 94 yards in the first half alone.
Trailing 7-0, the Eagles used a 45-yard pass from Nichols to Brown to help drive to the Montana 4-yard line. But personal foul and holding penalties -- two of the four penalties that were called on Eastern on the drive -- resulted in a missed 42-yard field goal by Macias.
The Eagles forced a punt on Montana's next possession, but Eller fumbled on the punt return and Montana took over at the EWU 37. Four plays later, the Grizzlies scored to take a 14-0 lead.
Eastern totally abandoned the run on its next possession and drove 80 yards on just eight plays. Nichols was 7-of-8 on the drive for 80 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to Brown.
Eastern's pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by EWU's Nicholas Ramos at the Montana 30-yard line with just 25 seconds to go in the half. But another penalty, Eastern's 10th of the half, resulted in the Eagles having to settle for a 32-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter, pulling EWU to within 14-10.
The Eagles had 229 yards of offense in the first half, but 207 came through the air and just 22 were on the ground. Montana had 153 yards, but 64 of those came on their first drive of the game.
Eastern opened the third quarter with a four-play, 72-yard drive that took just 1:37 off the clock. A 37-yard TD pass to a wide-open Boyce after gave a pump-fake by Nichols gave Eastern a 17-14 lead.
On Eastern's next possession, a 41-yard pass from Nichols to Boyce on a Montana safety blitz was the big play and led to a 42-yard field goal by Macias to give EWU a six-point advantage.
Montana took back the lead on its next possession with a 53-yard touchdown drive. But Eastern came up empty on its next four possessions until Macias made his 39-yarder.