Well-Rested Eagles Host Sac State for Homecoming

Oct. 27, 2008 

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Sacramento State has had Eastern's number at Woodward Field in the new millennium.

Since 2000, the Hornets have handed Eastern Washington University three home defeats at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., and this week the Eagles are hoping it won't be a fourth. Kickoff Saturday (Nov. 1) in EWU's 82nd Annual Homecoming Game is 2:05 p.m. Pacific time.

The Eagles enter Saturday's game well-rested and perhaps even healed from a rash of injuries that occurred in late September and early October. Eastern is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference, and hasn't played since scoring the final 21 points in a 34-17 victory over Montana State on Oct. 18.

"It was a very good time for us to have a bye week because of our injury situation," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, whose team practiced just twice during the week off after playing three games without several injured starters and key backups. "But it is vital that we don't come back rusty against Sacramento State. We are going to do everything that we can to keep a little bit of that flow going from the Montana State game. The way we practiced before that game, and even the way we practiced before Montana, was an improvement maybe from the weeks before that. We have to understand that our best chance to win a game on Saturday is by what we do from Sunday to Friday. So we are going to keep stressing that."

Sacramento State is coming off a 31-20 loss at home against Montana State on Oct. 18. That means the Hornets, currently 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Sky with a three-game losing streak, have been looking at video of the Eagles for two weeks now. The Hornets followed a 41-31 victory over Portland State on Sept. 27 with consecutive losses to Northern Arizona, Montana and MSU.

Based on Sac State's past success in Cheney, Baldwin knows his team is in for a difficult challenge. Although Eastern leads the all-time series 13-3, all three Sac State victories have come at Woodward Field since 2000. The Hornets knocked off EWU 25-22 that season, then won 48-41 in 2002 and 21-20 in 2006.

"Yes, they are good," said Baldwin. "Every opponent in the Big Sky is a challenge and they are no exception. They are very talented. They beat Portland State earlier in the year and are competing well against everybody they play. They had a chance to beat Colorado State earlier in the season. So they are a very good football team."

Last season, Sacramento State was just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky under first-year head coach Marshall Sperbeck.

"They are much improved," added Baldwin. "I know that the coaching staff does a great job there. It's their second year around as coaches, so you are always going to be improved from the year before. So it's a challenge -- every one of those last four games is a serious challenge for us. So we know it is going to take everything and everybody on our team to help us win."

Reeling from a pair of losses that dropped the Eagles from a top 11 ranking in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision to virtual elimination from the Big Sky title chase, Eastern snapped its two-game losing streak with the victory over the Bobcats. While the offense struggled in the first half, Eastern's defense and special teams kept the Eagles in it until the offense came to life. EWU trailed 17-14, but scored on three-straight possessions to score the final 21 points of the game and pull away.

"It felt good to play as well as we did in the second half," said Baldwin, whose team was 0-for-8 on third downs in the first half and 6-of-8 after halftime. "It was good to execute better, especially on third down and in the red zone."

The Eagles opened league play with a 45-31 victory over ISU on Sept. 27, but suffered losses to Portland State 47-36 and Montana 19-3 that have essentially ended EWU's hopes of a fourth FCS Playoff berth in the last five seasons.

"It's tough to run the table in the Big Sky Conference -- I don't care how good you are. It just doesn't happen very often," said Baldwin of the precarious position his team is in.

"So looking back, you want to avoid situations where you have a two-game skid, and the biggest disappointment in the season so far is not playing well on one side or the other against Portland State and Montana. Had we played a little bit better defensively in the Portland State game the way we did against Montana and Montana State, we would have been in a better position to possibly win. And the Montana game we needed a combination of not turning over the football and playing better offensively like we had in games before that. We just didn't put it all together in both of those games, and it was a little frustrating. Getting a victory in one of those games would have been nice, but that's in the past and we can't think about it anymore."

Following Saturday's game, Eastern plays at Northern Colorado on Nov. 8. The Eagles close the season against two of the Big Sky's top teams -- Northern Arizona at home on Nov. 15 and at Weber State on Nov. 22. Both the Lumberjacks and Wildcats are nationally-ranked and were 4-0 in the Big Sky before then 16th-ranked Weber State's surprisingly easy 42-14 victory at then 15th-ranked Northern Arizona on Oct. 25.

This week, three Big Sky Conference teams remain ranked in The Sports Network's Top 25 rankings. Montana leads the way at No. 6, followed by 13th-ranked Weber State and 19th-ranked Northern Arizona. Eastern received 32 votes to rank 37th.

 

-- National Leader Peach Breaks Career Sacks Record; One Away from Season Mark -- With a five-game tear that has seen him record at least three sacks in four separate games, senior defensive end Greg Peach has become a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the nation's top defensive player.

Peach leads the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision in both sacks (2.0 per game) and tackles for loss (2.29 per game). He has a total of 14 sacks for the season, with 8 1/2 being the next-best overall mark in FCS and 1.06 the next-best per game average.

After failing to get a sack in his first two games of the season, Peach had three against Western Washington and Idaho State, then had one against Portland State. He registered four versus Montana (the most in a single game in FCS this season) then had three versus Montana State to break the school's career record.

Peach now has 14 this season and a school-record 31 1/2 in his career. He broke the previous career record of 30 set by Frank Staudenraus (1982-85), who also holds the single season record with 15 in 1985.

"It was great to see," said Baldwin of Peach's record-setting day against MSU. "Greg Peach is having a great season, he's had a great career, and he just keeps going. It is going to be fun to keep watching him for these last four games of the regular season and see what he can do there. Obviously, he's a tremendous player. Teams that play against him know where he is. He's not someone who is coming out of nowhere on them. They know where he is and they know whether they can game plan around it, but they are still unable to stop him from putting up the numbers that he is. It helps him to have the guys he has around him."

 

-- Kelley Earns Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Honor -- Senior cornerback Ryan Kelley was selected Big Sky Conference co-Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting two passes against his former school Oct. 18 in a 34-17 victory at Montana State University.

Kelley, who was at MSU in 2004 and 2005, had a pair of interceptions, including one he returned 37 yards for a first-half score. That interception, with 5:03 left in the second quarter, helped Eastern to a 14-all tie at halftime despite just 93 yards from EWU's offense. His other interception came earlier in the quarter when he returned it nine yards to the MSU 21-yard line, but the Eagles were unable to score. Kelley also had five tackles in the game.

Kelley has started all seven games this season and has 45 total tackles with a pair of passes broken up. He had just two interceptions in the first 18 games of his EWU career, but duplicated that in the first 25 minutes of his return trip to Bozeman. In his 19-game career (12 as a starter), he now has 81 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes broken up.

He is a 2004 graduate of Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., but was born in Los Angeles and considers that as his hometown. After redshirting in 2004 and playing sparingly in 2005 at MSU, he played at San Mateo Junior College in California in 2006. He attended EWU and played for the Eagles for the first time in fall 2007.

Just prior to spring practice in 2008, Kelley spent a week in the hospital battling for his life with a bout of bacterial meningitis. He lost 12 pounds after overcoming the sometimes-deadly disease that put him in critical condition in an intensive care unit, as well as an induced coma, in late March. Kelley returned to practice during EWU's final week of spring drills, but only because weather delays and postponements forced the Eagles to practice the week after the Red-White Spring Game. He still has some lingering hearing loss in his left ear, and likened it to a constant bell ringing

"That was exciting to see and I know that it was special for him," said Baldwin. "At one time he was with Montana State, so to go back there and have a game like that and score a touchdown was a highlight for him. He's getting better and better. Our secondary, as a whole from these last two games, continues to get better and better about making opponents earn things and not giving up big plays."
 

-- EWU Outscores Opponents 49-0 in Fourth Quarter in Wins; Outscored 57-18 in Losses -- If Eastern wins, expect it to include a huge fourth-quarter surge. At least that's been the trend so far this season as the Eagles have out-scored opponents 49-0 in the fourth quarter in their three wins this season over Western Washington, Idaho State and Montana State. However, in losses to Texas Tech, Colorado, Portland State and Montana, EWU has been out-scored 57-18 in the final stanza.

"I've been pleased with how we've finished games in the fourth quarter in our wins, including against Montana State," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "We've done a great job at times of taking over the fourth quarter."

 

-- Defense Much-Improved in Last Two Games -- Eastern's defense gave up 623 passing yards and 597 total yards three games ago in a 47-36 loss at Portland State. But in the two games since, it has surrendered just 36 points, 447 passing yards and 680 total yards.

 

-- Injury Woes at Middle Linebacker  -- At middle linebacker, Makai Borden has missed the last three starts with an ankle injury, a year after fighting toe and foot injuries. In his two seasons at EWU, the Eagles are 11-3 when he is in the starting lineup and 1-5 when he is not. A 34-17 win over Montana State on Oct. 18 is the first time the Eagles have won when he hasn't started.

"That's a compliment to what Makai brings to our team," said Baldwin. "He's a great player, but he also brings a lot of emotion to the defense."

Making the injury to Borden that much more difficult was a shoulder injury to backup Marcus Walker that limited him to one series the last three weeks. As a result, Eastern has moved linebackers from other positions -- namely freshman Zach Johnson and junior Kyle Wilkins -- to fill that role in the middle. Wilkins, at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, held his own with seven tackles versus Montana on Oct. 11 and four at Montana State a week later.

"Kyle Wilkins did a great job against Montana despite playing very little middle linebacker," praised Baldwin. "Without Makai and Marcus in there, I was proud of the way Kyle came in and battled at a position where he has had very few reps."

 

-- EWU in National Statistics -- The Eagles feature the sixth-best passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (300.7 yards per game) and are also 28th in total offense (404.0) and 31st in scoring offense (31.1).

Eastern remains last among 118 teams in FCS in passing defense (364.9), and is 112th in total defense (454.0) and 98th in scoring defense (32.7). Oddly enough, Eastern is 12th in rushing defense (89.1), fourth in sacks (3.4 per game) and second nationally in tackles for loss (9.3 per game). However, the most important statistic might be turnover margin, and Eastern is 79th in FCS with a negative 0.3 turnovers per game. Before the MSU game, Eastern was 100th with a negative 0.8 per game.

 

 -- EWU Individual Leaders -- National awards candidates Greg Peach and Matt Nichols continue to rank high in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics.

Peach, a senior defensive end on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, has had all 14 of his sacks in EWU's last five games. He had four in the Montana game on Oct. 11 and three a week later against Montana State to maintain his FCS lead in that category (2.0 per game). He also leads in tackles for loss (2.29 per game).

A junior on the Walter Payton Award watch list, Nichols has already had four 300-yard passing performances, and is sixth in FCS in passing offense (299.9). He is also eighth nationally in total offense (303.1) and 52nd in passing efficiency (126.9).

Junior receiver Aaron Boyce, with 22 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games against PSU and Idaho State, is 17th in FCS in receptions per game (6.4). He is also 29th nationally in reception yards per game (80.1).

Although he missed the Portland State game on Oct. 4 with a sprained ankle, junior receiver Tony Davis has already caught 34 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. Davis is 31st nationally in receptions per game (5.7) and 75th in receiving yards (60.0). Brynsen Brown is 53rd in receptions per game (5.0) and 40th in receiving yards (75.9).

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 of the three longest field goals in FCS and is the only player with two of 50-plus yards. Punter Fritz Brayton has also been impressive, averaging 41.8 yards per kick to rank 22nd in FCS.

Defensively, twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of freshman redshirts, have combined for 106 tackles thus far to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach is sixth in the Big Sky (8.1 per game) and 80th nationally, and Matt is 13th in the league (7.0). Zach also has four passes broken up and ranks 21st nationally and third in the league in tackles for loss (1.4 per game). Matt has three interceptions to rank 39th in FCS and fourth in the league (0.43 per game). J.C. Sherritt missed one game with an ankle injury, but is ninth in the Big Sky in tackles per game (7.5). Defensive end Jason Belford has four total sacks this season to rank 50th in FCS and sixth in the league.

-- Sac State in National Statistics -- Like the Eagles, the Hornets have one of the best rush defenses in FCS, ranking 17th (94.6 per game). The Hornets are 71st overall in defense (366.4) but just 109th in pass defense (271.8). Offensively, Sac State is 48th in total offense (364.1) and 43rd in passing offense (228.3).

Receiver Tony Washington is the highest-ranking Hornet, ranking fourth in FCS in receiving yards per game (113.5) and ninth in receptions (7.3). Mike Brannnon ranks third in FCS and second in the league in sacks (1.00 per game), ranking behind national leader Greg Peach from EWU. Also, Bryan Hilliard is 43rd nationally and fourth in the Big Sky in rushing (80.2); Juan Gamboa is 30th in FCS and fourth in the league in field goals (1.0 per game); and Oscar De Alba is 27th nationally and seventh in the Big Sky in punting (41.2).

 

-- Nichols Has Four 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has had four 300-yard passing games this season, giving him a total of 10 in his 31-game career thus far. 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 (8,122) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus Portland State. Nichols is now also second in passing yards (7,592), surpassing Tenneson's mark of 7,492 versus Montana State. 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 sixth in efficiency rating (135.2), second in touchdown passes (56, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), second in completions (608) and third in attempts (1,006).

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 404 catches for 5,552 yards and 37 touchdowns in 88 games worth of experience (73 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 fifth in catches (165), seventh in touchdown catches (19) and fifth in receiving yards (2,340). Interestingly, all of Boyce's touchdown catches have come from Matt Nichols. Of the 37 touchdowns total Boyce, Brown and Davis have caught, all but two of them have come from Nichols (Brown and Davis each caught a TD pass from Chris Peerboom in 2006).

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.

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.

 

-- 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 five 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. Freshman redshirt Taiwan Jones made the first start of his career against Montana on Oct. 11 after missing EWU's first four games of the season after suffering a broken fibula in preseason practices. Against Montana State on Oct. 18, Ashton Gant made his starting debut when EWU started the game with four wide receivers.

 

-- 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 (213 starts by 20 players) -- Greg Peach 36, Jason Belford 32, Lance Witherspoon 25, Kevin Hatch 20, Makai Borden 17, Lonnie Hosley 13, Shawn Powell 12, Ryan Kelley 12, Matt Johnson 7, Zach Johnson 7, Marcus Walker 6, Josh Jacobson 5, J.C. Sherritt 6, Tyler Jolley 5, Renard Williams 3, Taiwan Jones 2, Kyle Wilkins 2, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Will Edge 1.

Offense (213 starts by 17 players) -- Matt Nichols 30, Aaron Boyce 29, Brynsen Brown 27, Charlie Wulff 26, Dale Morris 18, Tony Davis 17, Chris Thomas 14, Alexis Alexander 10, Nathan Overbay 8, Brice Leahy 8, Bryan Smith 7, Ryan Forney 7, Toke Kefu 5, A.J. Jimerson 3, Matt Martin 2, Ashton Gant 1, Sean Rock 1.

 

-- Injury Report -- Eastern is hoping the bye week will help return the Eagles to full strength for the stretch run, particularly linebackers Marcus Walker and Makai Borden. Walker suffered a shoulder injury against Idaho State on Sept. 27 and did not play against Portland State and Montana State, and played just one series versus Montana on Oct. 11. Borden suffered an ankle injury before the PSU game and hasn't played since.

Besides Walker and Borden, running back Dale Morris (knee) didn't play versus Montana State. All three players are probable for this week's game.

Two others were also injured in practice the week of the PSU game and didn't play against the Vikings, including starting wide receiver Tony Davis (ankle) and backup receiver Ashton Gant (hamstring). Davis returned to play versus Montana, but Gant also missed the Montana game.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Taiwan Jones, who broke his fibula the first week of pre-season practices, made his Eagle debut against Portland State and his starting debut versus Montana. He had even more playing time versus PSU than what was expected when cornerback Lonnie Hosley left the game with a foot injury. Hosley missed the Montana and Montana State games, and is expected to be out this week as well.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Hart is out for the season with a broken scapula suffered against Idaho State on Sept. 27. Hart has played as a backup running back as well as returning punts and kickoffs.

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 Montana State Win -- "I knew that going into it that it might be a little bit of a slugfest so to speak. A couple of people asked me what were going to be important aspects of winning that ballgame, and I thought turnover margin and special teams. Both of those things really proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of that game. Obviously, we would have liked to perform a little better offensively in that first half. We were just not efficient on third down -- we were just short by a yard on a few of them. The good thing is that our defense was able to play great on the road and our special teams were solid all day. Once we got rolling on offense, it wasn't a game that was already out of hand or you are having to come from behind. Our whole team was staying with it, staying with it."

-- 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 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."

  

SERIES HISTORY

-- Series History -- The Eagles lead the series 13-3, but just once in the last eight games has the home team come out victorious (2004 in Cheney). Eastern is 9-0 in Sacramento and 4-3 in Cheney in the 16-game history of the series. Eastern lost to Sac State 25-22 at home in 2000 on a last-second Hornet field goal, and again in 2002 by a 48-41 margin in the first two losses in the series versus Sac State. In their stunning victory over EWU in 2006, the Hornets scored the last two times they had the ball to rally from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter and end a 19-game road losing streak.

In the last 12 meetings, Eastern has had running backs with rushing performances of 298 yards (school record by Jesse Chatman in 2001), 214 yards (Jovan Griffith in 1999), 201 (Rex Prescott in 1997), 170 (Mike MacKenzie in 1998), 164 (Joe Sewell in 1996), 130 (Reggie Witherspoon in 2003), 112 (Jesse Chatman in 2000), 101 (Mike MacKenzie in 1997), 97 (Darius Washington in 2004), 92 (Jovan Griffith in 2002) and 92 (Dale Morris in 2007).

In 2006 in Cheney, an Eastern interception at the end of the first half helped ignite a 21-point second-half effort by Sacramento State as the Hornets snapped a 19-game road losing streak and eight-game skid overall with a 21-20 victory over the Eagles. The Hornets scored the last two times they had the ball to rally from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. The turning point in the game came late in the first half with the Eagles ahead 10-0. The Eagles drove 95 yards to the Hornet 2-yard line, but Eagle freshman redshirt Matt Nichols was intercepted with 18 seconds left by Sac State's Cyrus Mulitalo. Nichols, making just the fourth start in his young career, also had interceptions in two of Eastern's last three possessions. He was 21-of-42 for 329 yards and one touchdown, and his last interception came with 1:05 left after Sac State took the lead for the first time in the game. Aaron Boyce finished with seven catches for 96 yards, Tony Davis had six catches for 62 yards and Brynsen Brown had five grabs for 104 yards. Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense, but had just 67 yards in its last three possessions. Sac State had just 351 yards, but 171 of those came on scoring drives of 95 and 81 yards in the fourth quarter.

In the first 24 minutes alone in EWU's 2005 game in Sacramento, quarterback Erik Meyer had 312 yards passing and wide receiver Eric Kimble had 124 receiving yards as the Eagles jumped out to a quick 24-0 lead. The Eagles also responded to a third-quarter Hornet rally to score the final two touchdowns of the game and win by a final margin of 45-17. Meyer finished with a career-high 470 yards (the second-most in school history at that time) on 28-of-33 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His 85 percent completion percentage helped him finish the game with an impressive 234.5 passing efficiency rating. Kimble finished with 189 yards on 10 receptions, which at the time was the eighth-most yards and 11th-most catches all-time at EWU. Tight end Tim Calhoun added career highs of 123 yards on six catches. Eastern's defense was led by the 11 tackles of Bryan Jarrett. The only downside to Eastern's performance were the 200 yards on six kickoff returns (33.3 average per return) that Sac State had, including an 84-yarder that set-up a Hornet touchdown.

In 2004, Eastern out-gained the Hornets in total offense 431-201 and held Sac State to a minus 34 yards rushing as the 25th-ranked Eagles won easily in Cheney. It was the fewest rushing yards the Eagles have allowed in at least the last 197 games since EWU joined the Big Sky in 1987. The previous fewest in the last 18 years was minus two against Northern Arizona in 1992. Coupled with a 51-7 victory at Weber State the previous week, Eastern scored the most points (96) ever in back-to-back Big Sky games in 135 conference games. Also, it was the fewest points (17) EWU has allowed in back-to-back Big Sky games since 1987. Despite sustained winds between 28 and 35 miles per hour, quarterback Erik Meyer completed 20-of-33 passes for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both touchdowns were to Eric Kimble, who finished with 74 yards on five receptions. Darius Washington also rushed for 97 yards and a pair of scores on 26 carries, and senior Reggie Witherspoon chipped in 59 on just four carries. Defensively, the Eagles were led by Brandon Keeler's eight tackles. Gregor Smith returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown and linebacker David Eneberg added six tackles and a pass broken up.

In 2003 in Sacramento, Eastern Washington intercepted five passes with four of them leading to touchdowns as the Eagles defeated the Hornets 38-21. Sophomore cornerback Isaiah Trufant had two of the interceptions, including a 69-yard return for a touchdown that iced the win. Jessy Hansen, Ryan Phillips and A.J. Williams also had picks. Sacramento State had just 337 yards of total offense while the Eagles finished with 431. Erik Meyer completed 23-of-33 passes for 226 yards in the win.

In Eastern's loss at home in 2002, the Eagles scored 28 fourth-quarter points but couldn't recover from a 21-point deficit en route to a disappointing 48-41 loss. The Eagles scored touchdowns on their final four possessions of the game on drives of 65, 67, 48 and 60 yards. Included were scores within 19 seconds of each other following an onside kickoff recovery with less than five minutes left. Two other onside kickoffs failed, however, and the Hornets scored touchdowns on three-straight possessions in the fourth quarter before running the final 54 seconds off the clock. Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship completed 22-of-42 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns, with Kyler Randall catching nine passes for 94 yards. Running back Jovan Griffith rushed for 92 yards and three touchdowns. The game started as a one-sided affair as the Hornets built an early 17-0 lead. In the first quarter alone, Sacramento State had 179 yards of offense on 28 plays, while Eastern had the ball for just 3:23 in the quarter and had six yards on six plays. The Eagles finished with 474 yards of total offense, including more than 200 in the fourth quarter alone. The Hornets finished with 543, including 350 on the ground.

In a 42-35 overtime victory in 2001 in Sacramento, running back Jesse Chatman rushed for a school-record 298 yards to became the all-time leading rusher in school history. He carried five-straight times for all 25 yards in overtime, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run. Eastern's Anthony Griffin knocked away a fourth-down pass by Sac State to preserve the Eagle win. For the game, Chatman carried the ball 39 times (three away from the school record) and had four touchdowns. The two teams combined for 956 yards of offense, including 342 rushing by the Eagles and 230 rushing for the Hornets. Eastern finished with 534 yards, and Sac State finished with 422. Fred Salanoa completed 19-of-33 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in the win, with Kyler Randall catching five passes for 57 yards.

In 2000, Sacramento State's Jimmy Sanchez made a 23-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the Hornets a 25-22 Big Sky Conference victory over the Eagles at Woodward Field. Although scoring was scarce early, Eastern scored on its final three possessions of the game while the Hornets scored on their last two. Eastern rallied from a 15-9 deficit in the second half, but came up short as Sacramento State recorded its first win in nine tries against Eastern. Eastern held All-American running back Charles Roberts to just 90 rushing yards on 22 carries, but the Eagle defense couldn't stop Hornet quarterback Ricky Ray as he completed 17-of-24 passes for 236 yards. Eastern tied the game at 22 with 3:09 left on a 32-yard field goal by Troy Griggs, but the Hornets shattered Eastern's overtime hopes by using up the remainder of the time remaining. Sacramento State marched 63 yards on seven plays, capped by Sanchez's field goal.

In a 26-21 victory in 1999 at Woodward Field, Jovan Griffith had the 10th-best rushing performance in school history (now 14th) with 214 yards, including all 46 yards on Eastern's game-winning drive. Eastern scored the final four times it had the ball, finishing with 19 points in the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Eastern scored the last 12 points of the game. Griffith had just 51 yards at halftime, but 163 in the second half as the Eagles got their running game untracked. Griffith accumulated his 214 yards on 37 carries, which now ranks as the fifth-most rushes in school history. Eastern finished the Sacramento State game with 251 net rushing yards, including 202 in the second half. Sacramento State finished with just 125 as I-AA leader Charles Roberts was held to 75. Chris Samms completed 12-of-23 passes for 183 yards, a touchdown and one interception. Lamont Brightful was Eastern's leading receiver with three catches for 54 yards, and had two kickoff returns for 68 yards with a long of 45.

In the 1998 meeting, Bashir Levingston had three electrifying kickoff returns for touchdowns en route to a record-breaking day as Eastern Washington rallied for a 31-25 win. Levingston scored on kickoff returns of 84, 90 and 92 yards to finish with 326 total kickoff return yards and set a variety of single game and single season NCAA Division I-AA, Big Sky Conference and school records. A total of seven individual I-AA records and four team I-AA records were tied or broken in the game. Levingston helped break 34 school, Big Sky and I-AA records in 1998. Running back Mike MacKenzie added 170 yards on the ground, but Levingston stole the show. His first kickoff return was an 84-yarder that came after Sacramento State took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Hornets led by 12 with 1:08 left to play in the third quarter when Levingston's 90-yard return pulled Eastern to within 22-17 and gave the Eagles new life entering the decisive fourth quarter. After a Hornet punt, MacKenzie ran 10-straight running plays on a monstrous 10-play, 66-yard drive that gave the Eagles the lead back at 23-22 with 9:31 to play. After a Sac State field goal, the Hornets kicked to Levingston again, and he responded with a 92-yard return to put the Eagles on top for good. Sacramento State failed to get a first down on their next two possessions as they turned the ball over to the Eagles on downs both times. Levingston finished with a school-record 353 all-purpose running yards (receiving, rushing, returns). Eastern's offense struggled most of the day, and finished with just 283 yards of total offense. Sacramento State finished with 356 total yards as Charles Roberts had 246 yards on the ground. Eastern starting quarterback Griffin Garske was just 9-of-21 for 88 yards and two interceptions after completing six of his first eight passes. He was replaced in the second half by Scott Mitchell, who was 1-of-2 for three yards. Keish Levingston, Bashir's cousin, was Eastern's leading receiver with three catches for 32 yards. Starting linebackers Brad Packer, Greg Belzer and Britt Lentz combined for 32 tackles, with Belzer adding an interception in the second quarter that led to a 22-yard field goal by Nick Reynolds.

In 1997, the Eagles won 30-17 at home as Eastern rushed for 283 yards with Rex Prescott finishing with 201 and Mike MacKenzie adding 101. The Eagles led 24-17 after three quarters, then used a pair of Josh Atwood field goals in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Britt Lentz had nine tackles and a pair of passes broken up in his only start of the season. Charles Roberts had 62 yards on 20 carries for the Hornets. Eastern out-gained Sacramento State in total offense 428-305.

In 1996, Eastern took a quick 23-0 lead, then held on for a 51-34 victory. Griffin Garske completed 12-of-30 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Joe Sewell rushed for 164 yards as the Eagles had 505 yards of total offense compared to the 527 of Sacramento State.

 

-- 2007 Revisited -- Eastern Washington 38, Sacramento State 30 -- Eastern needed every bit of a 21-point third-quarter lead, four takeaways and two fourth-down stands to win for the ninth-straight time in Sacramento, Calif. Sophomore Matt Nichols returned to his home territory to pass for 328 yards and three touchdowns as Eastern held-off Sacramento State 38-30 on Oct. 27 at Hornet Stadium.

Eastern had a 21-point lead in the third quarter, but needed a goal line stand and fumble recovery in the fourth quarter to preserve its win. Eastern was out-gained in total offense 469-466, but forced four turnovers while having just one itself.

Sophomore Aaron Boyce caught nine passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Junior Dale Morris had a 92 yards rushing and a score, including a key third-down conversion in the final minute. The Eagles held Sac State scoreless for the final 8:51 as the Eagles are now 9-0 all-time in Sacramento and lead the all-time series 13-3.

Eastern's goal-line stand came after an errant EWU snap gave Sac State the ball on EWU's 8-yard line with 6:16 to play and the Hornets trailing 38-30. But Eastern held, with Anthony Dotson and Bryan Jarrett making a tackle on fourth down to give EWU the ball back.

The fumble, forced by Ira Jarmon and recovered by Kevin Hatch, came with 1:36 remaining in the game at the EWU 33-yard line. A 12-yard rush by Morris on third down iced the game for the Eagles.

Jarmon finished with 11 tackles to lead EWU's defense, with Ryan Kelley adding nine tackles and a pass broken up. Hatch had a pair of fumble recoveries, five tackles and a pass broken up.

Nichols, who attended high school 131 miles away from Sacramento in Cottonwood, Calif., completed 20-of-29 passes for 328 yards, no interceptions three touchdowns, including a pair of 46-yard strikes to Boyce.

Both teams scored the first two times they had the ball as the Eagles opened a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. Eastern's drives were 80 and 65 yards, capped by a 13-yard pass from Nichols to Brynsen Brown and an eight-yard run by receiver Nicholas Ramos, respectively.

Eastern could have broken the game open on its next two possessions, but lack of execution held the Eagles to a lone field goal and 17-10 advantage. On the first possession, Nichols mis-fired on a pass to a wide-open receiver for a sure touchdown. On the second, Boyce dropped a pass in the end zone that would have also been a TD.

The Eagles were out-gained 253-243 in total offense in the first half, but interceptions by Anthony Dotson and Jared Kuhl helped Eastern keep the Hornets out of the end zone the rest of the half. Early in the second half, Lance Witherspoon batted down a pass on fourth down that squelched another threat.

Nichols and Boyce took over to start the second half, with twin 46-yard touchdown connections coming within 5 1/2 minutes of each other. The first capped a six-play, 80-yard drive and the second was the first play following a Hornet punt and gave EWU a 31-10 lead with 6:59 to play.

But after the Hornets cut the lead to 14 on a 50-yard pass play, Eastern's offense suddenly turned sluggish and had to punt three times. A forced fumble by Witherspoon that was recovered by Hatch helped preserve EWU's two-touchdown lead, but Sac State scored with 14:10 left in the game to cut the score to 31-24.

Eastern, helped by two roughing the passer calls on Sacramento State, put together an 80-yard scoring drive on 11 plays that took 4:31 off the clock. An 18-yard TD run by Morris on a draw play helped Eastern regain a 38-24 advantage with 9:39 to play.

A 62-yard touchdown pass just 1:08 later pulled the Hornets to within a touchdown yet again. But that was the last score of the game as defense, absent for most of the first 51 minutes of the game, took over from there.

 

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