No. 20 Eagles Battle for Playoff Lives at NAU
Nov. 5, 2007
Two down, two to go.
Standing in the way of Eastern Washington University's football playoff hopes is a Northern Arizona team playing its best football of the season as the Eagles make the long trek to Flagstaff, Ariz., this week to play the powerful Lumberjacks. Kickoff Saturday (Nov. 10) at the Walkup Skydome is 2:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Eastern, ranked a season-high 20th in this week's Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision top 25 poll, has narrowly defeated Sacramento State (38-30 on Oct. 27) and Northern Colorado (17-7 on Nov. 3) in consecutive weeks. Eastern still must win its last two games to finish the regular season with a four-game winning streak and keep its postseason hopes alive.
That would leave the Eagles 8-3 overall and in sole possession of second place in the Big Sky with a 6-2 record. However, Northern Arizona is also fighting for second with a current record of 5-2 in the conference and 6-4 overall.
Northern Arizona has won four of its last five games after a 2-3 start, and the lone loss in that span was 21-16 setback to undefeated Montana. With losses to the league champion Grizzlies, as well as Sacramento State, Appalachian State and Arizona, NAU's playoff hopes would appear to be dashed. But those slight hopes would definitely be enhanced with a season-ending win over the nationally-ranked Eagles.
Last year, NAU scorched the Eagle defense for 541 yards of total offense as the Lumberjacks scored 24-straight points in the second half to beat EWU 44-36 in Cheney, Wash. Alan Henderson, who is Northern Arizona's leading rusher with 838 yards and six touchdowns this season, had 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU. The two teams combined for 1,005 yards of offense, with Eastern finishing with 464.
Eastern enters this week's game 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference, and has guaranteed itself of its 12th winning season in the last 16 years and seventh in eight seasons under head coach Paul Wulff. But for Eastern to continue its late-season success, the Eagles will have to improve on disappointing offensive and defensive performances the last two weeks against teams with a collective record of 2-17 overall and 2-10 in the conference. In the next two weeks, including a Nov. 17 home date with Weber State, Eastern plays teams with a collective record of 10-9 overall and 9-5 in the Big Sky.
Eastern was out-gained in total offense 469-466 against Sacramento State, then edged UNC 382-313 last week. The offensive output for the Eagles against the Bears was 74 less than their season average and came against a UNC team that was allowing 516 yards per game -- last among 116 teams in FCS.
However, the Eagles won the turnover battle in both games, including a 4-1 advantage in the victory over Sacramento State that also included two key fourth down stops. Eastern had a 3-1 advantage against Northern Colorado, forcing two turnovers inside EWU's own 2-yard line and recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown.
The Eagles have now forced 24 turnovers (16 interceptions and eight fumbles) this season while having just 12 themselves (five fumbles and seven interceptions). The 1.3 advantage per game ranks 11th in FCS and the team's 16 interceptions is sixth. Northern Arizona is also impressive in that regard, with 23 takeaways (16 interceptions and seven fumbles) and 13 giveaways (seven fumbles and six interceptions) to rank 20th in turnover margin (1.0 advantage per game). The Lumberjacks are tied with EWU for sixth nationally in interceptions.
Eastern is trying to win four-straight Big Sky Conference games, something that has happened just twice since becoming a league member in 1987. The Eagles won their last four games in 1993 to just miss the playoffs with a 7-3 record, and in 1997 the Eagle won their last five league games en route to a 12-2 finish and semifinal appearance in the FCS Playoffs. Even in EWU's playoff years in 1992, 2004 and 2005, Eastern was not able to win four-straight league games.
Eagle Head Coach Paul Wulff on Lumberjacks: "Here we are the second week of November and we are still in the playoff hunt, and not a lot of people can say that. We have a big game ahead of us in a tough place to play. Our players are going to have to handle it, and play extremely well to come away with a victory."
Wulff Wins 50th: Eastern head coach Paul Wulff, currently in his eighth season at the helm, won his 50th game as head coach at EWU when the Eagles edged Northern Colorado 17-7 on Nov. 3, 2007. His total is third-best in school history behind record-holder Dick Zornes (89 victories in 15 seasons from 1979-93) and Red Reese (66 wins in 13 seasons from 1930-41 and 1946).
Wulff owns Eastern's record with 32 Big Sky Conference victories, and his .561 winning percentage (32-25) is tops among the three coaches who have coached the Eagles since EWU became a league member in 1987. Zornes was 26-28 (.481) from 1987-93 and Mike Kramer was 37-32 (.522) from 1994-99.
In addition, the victory over UNC assured Eastern of a winning season, its seventh in eight seasons under Wulff. It was also EWU's 12th winning season in the last 16 years, with Kramer having four winning seasons (in six years) and Zornes finishing his career with a pair of winning seasons. Eastern failed to have a winning record overall in EWU's first five seasons as a member of the Big Sky.
In the last 16 seasons, EWU has won four Big Sky Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs all four of those seasons (1992, 1997, 2004, 2005). Wulff has been at Eastern for the last 15 years, joining Eastern's staff as a volunteer assistant in Zornes' last season in 1993.
Is Four-Game Winning Streak Asking Too Much of Young Team?: Since Eastern Washington joined the Big Sky Conference in 1987, the Eagles have won or shared Big Sky titles in 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2005. In all four of those years, Eastern advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
However, Eastern has won four-straight Big Sky Conference games only once among those four seasons and just twice overall in 21 years as a league member. The Eagles won their last four games in 1993 to just miss the playoffs with a 7-3 record, and in 1997 the Eagles won their last five league games en route to a 12-2 finish and semifinal appearance in the FCS Playoffs.
This year's Eagle team features an offense with just five seniors currently starting and a defense with four. Of Eastern's 24 starters (including its kicker and punter), there are seven sophomores, eight juniors and nine seniors.
Last year's 3-8 finish and this year's season thus far are similar to the pre-1997 building seasons the Eagles had when they had similar youth and inexperience. In 1995, the Eagles were 3-8 and in 1996 the Eagles were 6-5 with four of their five losses by a combined total of 19 points. In 1997, the senior-laden team lost one league game (17-7 to Montana State) and fell to Youngstown State 25-14 in the semifinals of the playoffs. Eastern finished 12-2 that season, setting a school record for victories.
Eagles Up Four Spots to a Season-High 20th: Eastern moved up four spots to a season-high 20th as the Eagles are ranked for the fifth time this season in The Sports Network NCAA Football Championships Subdivision top 25 poll of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors.
Last week, the Eagles were 24th and edged Northern Colorado 17-7, but the previous two times EWU was ranked it suffered defeats. Most recently, a 35-13 victory over 11th-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13 put the Eagles back into The Sports Network rankings at No. 22. But a 42-7 loss to Brigham Young on Oct. 20 knocked the Eagles back out of the rankings.
Before that, Eastern's convincing 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22 helped Eastern move up four spots to a season-high 21st, but the Eagles dropped out after losing to Portland State 28-21 on Sept. 29. When EWU was ranked 25th on Sept. 17, the Eagles earned their first national ranking since 2005 in the TSN poll. Eastern hadn't been nationally ranked since it finished the 2005 season 13th in the TSN poll.
In the Sagarin computer ratings released after EWU's win at Idaho State, Eastern was No. 6 among FCS schools to rank three spots ahead of No. 9 Montana. Following the PSU loss, Eastern fell to 19th in the Sagarin ratings and have fallen to current ranking of 32nd as the rest of the Big Sky falls as well. Montana is unbeaten but is only ranked 16th.
Here is a listing of EWU's 2007 opponents in this week's FCS rankings (four polls are distributed nationally on a weekly basis), in addition to the Sagarin computer ratings:
The Sports Network: 1. Northern Iowa; 3. Montana; 20. Eastern Washington.
FCS Coaches: 1. North Dakota State; 3. Montana; 21. Eastern Washington; 32. Northern Arizona.
AGS (anygivensaturday.com): 1. Northern Iowa; 4. Montana; 23. Eastern Washington; 31. Northern Arizona.
Football Gazette Top 40 Rankings: 1. North Dakota State; 3. Montana; 19. Eastern Washington; 27. Northern Arizona.
Sagarin Computer Ratings Among FCS Schools (overall rank including FBS schools): 1. Northern Iowa (30th overall); 13. Montana (97th overall); 36. Eastern Washington (146th overall); 37. Northern Arizona (147th overall); 44. UC Davis; 61. Weber State; 62. Montana State; 64. Portland State; 73. Sacramento State; 98. Northern Colorado. Also, 44. (overall) Brigham Young.
Nichols in Top 10 Nationally in Three Passing Categories: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols ranks in the top 10 in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., is seventh this week in FCS in passing offense (283.7), ninth in total offense (301.7) and ninth in passing efficiency rating (155.5).
Nichols has now passed for 2,553 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions this season after having 17 interceptions and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. His yardage total is already the 10th-best in school history with at least two games left to play this season. His average of 283.7 yards per game is currently fifth and his 2,715 yards of total offense is seventh.
At his current pace, he will finish an 11-game season ranked sixth in school history in passing yards (3,120), fourth in total offense (3,318), sixth in TD passes (25) and fifth in passing efficiency. In most categories, he would rank just behind the quarterback he replaced -- Erik Meyer, the 2005 winner of the Walter Payton Award.
Nichols has thrown just six interceptions in 295 attempts this season after throwing a school-record 17 interceptions a year ago. His ratio last season was an interception every 15.2 attempts and this year thus far it is one for every 49.2 attempts. His passing efficiency rating thus far is 155.5 compared to a 109.0 rating as a freshman.
Nichols was 15-of-24 for 257 yards and three touchdowns in an Oct. 13 win over Montana State, and added 43 rushing yards. He had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- third best in school history -- in Eastern's disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. He completed 19-of-30 passes against Portland State, and his 363 yards ranks as the 24th best in school history. His previous career high was 329 as a freshman against Sacramento State.
Nichols completed 17-of-30 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown in Eastern's 34-7 victory at Idaho State on Sept. 22. On Aug. 31, Nichols earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors when he had a school-record six touchdown passes against Montana-Western.
Boyce in Top Five Nationally in Receptions and Yards: Sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce already has 69 catches for 1,127 yards and eight scores. His catch total already ranks fifth all-time at EWU and his yardage total is fourth.
In Football Championship Subdivision statistics, Boyce is fifth in receptions (7.7 per game) and third in receiving yards (125.2). He has had six 100-yard performances this season.
At his current pace, he will finish an 11-game season ranked second in school history for catches (84) and third in receiving yards (1,377). He would rank only behind the 87 catches Eric Kimble had in 12 games in 2005 and the 1,453 yards Kimble had in 13 games in 2004 and the 1,419 Kimble had in 2005.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
Boyce played just one year of high school football, but was a standout on the basketball court. As a junior, he teamed with former Eastern standout and current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey to lead Kentwood to the 2004 State 4A Championship.
Nichols on Boyce: "Aaron is amazing. At any time I can really just throw the ball up and Aaron can make a play. It's great having a guy like that. Not every quarterback gets that luxury. If I get in trouble, I'm going to No. 9 and he gets open. Teams know where he is on the field and double team him, but he still gets open."
Other EWU Statistical Leaders: Eastern Washington is averaging 448.2 yards of offense after nine games, good for ninth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern is also 33rd in scoring offense (29.8), eighth in passing offense (294.6) and 65th in rushing offense (153.7). Eastern is also ninth in passing efficiency (155.9) with 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The Eagles, behind a veteran offensive line that includes four senior starters, has allowed 21 quarterback sacks to rank 84th nationally (2.3 sacks per game), down from third after the ISU game when EWU had allowed just one in its first three games.
Defensively, Eastern is 73rd in total defense (382.7), 33rd in scoring defense (21.7), 19th in rushing defense (118.4), 111th in passing defense (264.2) and 31st in passing efficiency defense (113.0).
Through its first four games of the season, the Eagles had a plus 2.5 margin per game to rank first in turnover margin among the 116 teams in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Currently, Eastern is 11th with 12 turnovers this season (seven interceptions and five fumbles) while opponents have 24 (16 interceptions and eight fumbles). Eastern ranks seventh in interceptions (total of 15). Last season, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers and had 24 themselves.
Junior Dale Morris, who had 92 rushing yards against Sacramento State on Oct. 27 and another 65 versus Northern Colorado, is 84th in rushing (63.9 per game). Punter Fritz Brayton ranks 47th nationally (39.8 per punt) and kicker Felipe Macias is 90th in scoring (6.4) and 56th in field goals (0.89, total of eight). Junior defensive end Greg Peach is 12th in sacks (0.78 per game, total of seven).
Northern Arizona National Leaders: The Lumberjacks are solid on both sides of the ball, ranking 30th in total offense (410.2 yards per game) and 59th in total defense (369.7). Northern Arizona is 14th in rushing (225.7), 73rd in passing (184.5) and 32nd in scoring (29.8). Defensively, NAU is 48th in rushing defense (118.9), 80th in pass defense (220.5), 48th in passing efficiency defense (118.9) and 53rd in scoring defense (25.3). Northern Arizona is also fourth in net punting (39.0), 21st in fewest sacks allowed (1.2) and 20th in turnover margin (1.0 advantage per game).
Individually, quarterback Lance Kriesien is 29th in total offense (235.1) and 69th in passing efficiency (115.5). Alex Watson is 22nd in receptions (5.7) and 98th in receiving yards per game (64.3), and Alex Henderson is 54th in rushing (82.). Robbie Dehaze is sixth in punting (43.3), fifth in field goals (1.7, total of 17) and 29th in scoring (8.2).
Alfred and Hanni Have Each Started 42 Games: Eastern offensive linemen Rocky Hanni and Matt Alfred have each started 42 games dating back to their freshman seasons in 2004. Hanni started the first four games of his career, missed two games with a concussion and has started every game since (38 consecutive). Alfred hasn't missed a start since early in the 2004 season, giving him a streak of 42-straight starts.
Eagles Nominate Eight for Academic All-America Honors: Eastern Washington has nominated eight players for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). To qualify, players must have at least a 3.2 grade point average and play in at least half of the team's games, as well as be a significant contributor to the squad. Eastern nominated one player for every position the Eagles had a student-athlete who qualified. Here is the complete list:
Tight End - Tom McAndrews - Finance and Economics - Senior - Spokane, Wash.
Offensive Line - Chris Carlsen - Mechanical Engineering - Senior - Poulsbo, Wash.
Wide Receiver - Tony Davis - Interdisciplinary Studies - Sophomore - Olympia, Wash.
Linebacker - Marcus Walker - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - Pullman, Wash.
Running Back - Toke Kefu - Health and Fitness - Senior - San Mateo, Calif.
Defensive Line - Jacob Kragt - Biology - Sophomore - Ritzville, Wash.
Quarterback - Alex Smart - Interdisciplinary Studies - Junior - North Bend, Wash.
Defensive Back - Brett Igbinoba - Biology - Sophomore - Cheney, Wash.
Wide Receiver Quartet Ahead of Previous Quartet: Eastern's returning receiving corp includes a senior and five sophomores who are learning their trade via trial by fire. Three of the sophomores - Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce - combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006. Jeffrey Solomon added seven catches as a true freshman but is redshirting in 2007. So far in their careers, Davis, Brown and Boyce have combined for 239 catches for 3,445 yards and 22 touchdowns in 56 games worth of experience (43 starts).
Those four young players are reminders of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts).
In 2005, Meyer and those players won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
"They are not at that level yet, but at the same stage of their careers, they are clearly ahead of those guys," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff of his corp of sophomore receivers early in the 2007 season. "Whether they can continue to make themselves better and get them to play at a higher level, that remains to be seen. But there is talent there, and if they are mature about how they handle their business, then they have a chance to really improve. As much as the coaches drive them and push them, ultimately it's their responsibility to make themselves better athletes, better players and ultimately better people."
Nichols on Receiving Corp: "We have a great group of receivers, including our starting sophomore corp. They are really talented and find holes, especially with a year under our belts. We know how to work against defenses a lot better than we did last year. I think that really showed in our first few games. We know how to find holes and know where the weaknesses are in certain coverages."
EWU Injuries Mount After Portland State Loss: Eastern has now lost eight players for the season because of injuries, with most of the injuries occurring against Portland State on Sept. 29.
In that game, eight players left the field with injuries. Among them were wide receiver Tony Davis (shoulder), center Chris Carlsen (knee), fullback Toke Kefu (hand), tight end Nathan Overbay (hand), long snapper Mark Lathim (shoulder) and free safety Kevin Hatch (shoulder). Even rover Anthony Dotson (knee) and kicker Felipe Macias (knee) were helped off the field with injuries, but both were able to return.
In addition, starting strong-side linebacker Makai Borden (toe) was injured in practice before the PSU game and missed that game, as did starting defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon (ankle). Both returned to play sparingly against Montana and returned to starting positions versus Montana State.
Carlsen missed a pair of games and Davis missed four. Davis returned to play sparingly against Northern Colorado. Kefu and Overbay are now able to play with their injuries, however, Kefu will limit his action to the scout team as he uses an injury redshirt to return in 2007.
Besides Kefu, the list of players out for the season includes several significant starters or backups. Safeties Ethen Robinson (Achilles tendon) and Jesse Hoffman (elbow) were lost for the season with injuries suffered in Eastern's season-opener against Montana-Western. Jesse's brother, wide receiver Shane Hoffman (toe), is also out for the year. Before the season started, senior safety Gregor Smith was lost for the year with a nagging shoulder injury. Sophomore wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon is redshirting after a back injury that has kept him sidelined since practices began in August. The other players lost for the year were freshman redshirt Joe Beitinger (shoulder) and true freshman Chris Powers (shoulder).
Six Players Make Starting Debuts for Eagles in Opener: Just six position players made their starting debuts for Eastern Washington when the Eagles hosted Montana-Western on Aug. 31.
Powell is a junior two-year letter winner who graduated in 2004 from Shadle Park High School in Spokane, Wash. Hatch is a sophomore from Freeman (Wash.) High School, and lettered as a backup and special teams player last year. Hosley is a 2005 graduate of Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Wash.
A freshman redshirt, Leahy is a 2006 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, the same school that produced All-America guard Matt Alfred (2003 graduate). Overbay, whose uncle Lyle Overbay plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, is from Chehalis, Wash., and graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School. Martin, a freshman redshirt from La Crosse-Washtucna (Wash.) High School, made his debut when the Eagles started in a two tight end formation.
Hatch and Leahy are taking the place of returning veterans who have to miss the season. Offensive tackle Julian Stewart is academically ineligible and free safety Gregor Smith will miss the year with a nagging shoulder injury.
Besides those new starters, Eastern has new special teams players. Taking over at kicker is Felipe Macias, a junior college transfer from Moorpark College in California. Washington State transfer Fritz Brayton takes over at punter.
Since the opener, only three Eastern players have made starting debuts this season. Against UC Davis on Sept. 15, sophomore left tackle Chris Thomas made the first start of his career. Thomas is a 2004 graduate of Sumner (Wash.) High School, the same school senior Rocky Hanni graduated from in 2003. A.J. Jimerson made the first start of his career at fullback in EWU's win at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Jimerson is a 2004 graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle. Junior college transfer Ryan Kelley made the first start of his career against Northern Colorado on Nov. 3 and had an interception and six tackles.
Here are the number of career starts by Eastern players in the 2007 season:
Defense (179 starts by 18 players): Greg Peach 25, Bryan Jarrett 23, Jason Belford 21, Ira Jarmon 20, Lance Witherspoon 14, Anthony Dotson 11, Makai Borden 10, Shawn Powell 9, Kevin Hatch 9, Lonnie Hosley 8, Jared Kuhl 9, Gregor Smith 7, Josh Jacobson 5, Marcus Walker 4, Ryan Kelley 1, Adam Macomber 1, Jacob Kragt 1, Dezmon Cole 1 (includes one start on offense).
Offense (264 starts by 21 players): Rocky Hanni 42, Matt Alfred 42, Zach Wasielewski 31, Aaron Boyce 19, Matt Nichols 19, Chris Carlsen 16, Charlie Wulff 16, Brynsen Brown 16, Tom McAndrews 10, Alexis Alexander 9, Tony Davis 8, Dale Morris 8, Chris Thomas 6, Shane Eller 6, Julian Stewart 4, Toke Kefu 3, A.J. Jimerson 2, Nathan Overbay 2, Matt Martin 2, Brice Leahy 1, Jeffrey Solomon 1, Ryan Forney 1.
Series History: Eastern leads the overall series 14-10, and has won seven of the last 10 meetings. Eastern is 8-4 at home (6-3 at Woodward Field, 2-1 at Albi Stadium) and 6-6 on the road against NAU.
In 2005 in Flagstaff, Eastern Washington out-gained Northern Arizona 583-185 in total offense and the 15th-ranked Eagles surged past the Lumberjacks 42-14 on Oct. 8. The Eagles scored the first two times they had the ball in each half en route to the easy win. Ryan Cole rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown versus the Lumberjacks. Erik Meyer added 314 passing yards on 23-of-31 passing, with wide receiver Eric Kimble finishing with seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles finished with 35 first downs -- just four from the school record -- while limiting NAU to only nine. Eastern rushed for 261 yards and had 322 passing, while NAU finished with 69 on the ground and 116 through the air. Eastern's defense had three sacks and held NAU to 11-of-24 passing. Eastern had the ball for 41:58 and ran 100 plays. Northern Arizona had the ball for just 18:02 and had just 40 offensive plays. The 28-point win was Eastern's largest victory in 12 games in Flagstaff, with the previous best a 28-6 victory in 1986. The last time Eastern played at NAU, the Lumberjacks scored 54 points on the Eagles in a 54-31 blowout.
In 2004, Erik Meyer and Eric Kimble connected on three first-half touchdown passes to lead Eastern to a 45-14 victory over 16th-ranked Northern Arizona. Meyer was nearly perfect in Eastern's fourth-straight victory, completing 19-of-21 for 290 yards and four touchdowns (passing efficiency rating of 269.3). Kimble finished with five catches for a then career-high 165 yards. He started his day with an 81-yard touchdown reception from Meyer, and added touchdown catches of 28 and 39 yards. Senior Darius Washington rushed for 127 yards on 23 carries for EWU. Eastern finished with 557 yards of offense, and the Eagles held the Lumberjacks to 209 yards.
In 2003 in Flagstaff, NAU took advantage of early Eastern Washington punting mistakes to score the first five times it had the ball as the 14th-ranked Lumberjacks went on to a 54-31 victory in Eastern's 800th game of all-time. The Lumberjacks out-gained Eastern 570-395 in total offense, and held the Eagles to 33 yards rushing after allowing a net of zero at halftime. Eastern's woes started with its punt team as a 15-yard punt by Jesse Nicassio, a fumbled snap by Nicassio and a 30-yard punt return by the Lumberjacks helped NAU to a quick 13-0 lead. Meyer completed eight of his first nine passes in the game, and finished 22-of-33 for 300 yards and an 83-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Randall. Randall caught nine passes for 139 yards. NAU true freshman Jason Murrietta finished the game 21-of-36 for 360 yards, two touchdowns passing and two rushing.
In the 2002 meeting, senior quarterback Josh Blankenship passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns as the Eagles held on to defeat the 16th-ranked Lumberjacks 41-29. Eastern took a 25-point lead, allowed NAU to score 23-straight points, then regained its composure to put the Lumberjacks away in the fourth quarter. With Eastern held to single digit rushing yards much of the game, Blankenship's arm was called on to lead the Eagles. He had three touchdown passes in the first half as Eastern jumped out to 28-3 lead in the second quarter. But NAU scored 20 points in a 1:04 span in the third quarter to pull within 28-26. However, Blankenship responded by completing 6-of-7 passes for 79 yards on an important eight-play, 80-yard drive that gave Eastern some breathing room with 13:19 to play. After a Northern Arizona field goal, Eastern's four-play, 65-yard drive provided the final points of the game with 4:42 left. Eastern receiver Eric Kimble caught seven passes for 153 yards and touchdown passes of 14 and 37 yards from Blankenship.
In 2001, NAU's Marcus King rushed for 248 yard and three touchdowns as Northern Arizona overcame a 21-7 deficit and then held off Eastern Washington 42-33 in Flagstaff. NAU's offense finished with 509 yards of offense against an Eastern defense missing four starters out with injuries. Eastern, meanwhile, had 481 yards of offense and three crucial turnovers. Standout Eagle running back Jesse Chatman finished with 104 yards on 23 carries, but was held 94 yards below his season average. The Eagles scored the first three times they had the ball, scoring on drives of 80, 78 and 21 yards to score three touchdowns in a span of just 4:46.
In 2000, Jesse Chatman rushed for 196 yards and all four of Eastern's touchdowns as the Eagles broke open a close game in the fourth quarter to defeat Northern Arizona 27-9 at Woodward Stadium. After a scoreless third period, the Eagles scored twice within a two-minute span in the fourth quarter. After driving 85 yards on 12 plays to take a 20-9 edge with 7:26 left, NAU fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. Chatman scored again five plays later, giving Eastern an insurmountable 27-9 lead with 5:33 to play. Eastern rushed for 239 yards and passed for 165 to finish with 404 for the game. Eastern held the Lumberjacks to 236 yards of total offense, including 98 on the ground and 138 through the air.
In 1999, with the odds stacked against it, Eastern's defense had a memorable performance against Northern Arizona in leading the Eagles to a 14-10 win in Flagstaff. Eastern entered the game having allowed averages of 450.8 yards and 37.8 points per game for the season, and had given up 89 points in its last two Big Sky outings. Eastern had the league's worst pass defense, allowing opponents to pass for a .632 completion percentage, 1,075 yards and 14 touchdown passes, while intercepting just one pass in 114 opponent throws. Furthermore, the Eagle defense was missing four starters who were out with injuries. However, the Eagles responded to allow just 377 yards of total offense and intercept four Lumberjack passes. The Eagles allowed 296 passing yards, but just 81 on the ground. The Lumberjacks put together an 11-play, 74-yard scoring drive to open the game with a field goal, but after that their longest drive of the game was 56 yards. NAU's only other score came on a two-play, 23-yard drive that came after an Eastern interception. After NAU took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Eastern shut-out the Lumberjacks in their final nine possessions. Britt Lentz had the first interception of his career in the second quarter, and returned it 15 yards to the NAU 1-yard line to set-up a 1-yard touchdown run by Jesse Chatman. At the end of the first half, Claude Jean-Baptiste had an interception at the goal line that stopped a potential NAU scoring drive. And in the third quarter, Julian Williams had the second pick of his career to give Eastern the ball at the NAU 35-yard line. The Eagles followed with the final points of the day with 6:04 left in the quarter on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Chris Samms to Dan Curley that capped a four-play, 35-yard drive. Injury replacement Travis Reed led the Eagles with a career-high 13 tackles, and Lentz added 12.
In 1998, the clock was Eastern Washington's best friend as the Eagles held off Northern Arizona 21-17 in Cheney. Taking over on their own 26-yard line with 3:10 left to play, the Lumberjacks drove the ball deep in Eastern territory. On the 14th play of the drive, Ole Olesen stopped NAU quarterback Clay Brown after a 4-yard gain to the Eagle 8-yard line with less than 10 seconds to play. But the Lumberjacks, who had no timeouts remaining, were unable to run another play before time ran out. The Eagles led from start to finish, taking a 21-7 lead before NAU scored the final 10 points of the game. Eastern scored with 13 minutes left in the third quarter on a 45-yard touchdown catch and run by Lamont Brightful from Griffin Garske. The Eagles were unable to score again in the game as NAU outgained Eastern in total offense 379-343. Greg Belzer, who suffered a concussion on the third-to-last play of the game, had 14 tackles to lead the Eagle defense.
Eastern's 31-14 victory over the Lumberjacks in Flagstaff, Ariz., in 1997 snapped a three-game losing streak to NAU and clinched at least a share of the Big Sky Conference title. Rex Prescott scored on an 80-yard run on the second play of the game, and the Eagles led the rest of the way. Prescott finished with what was then an EWU single-game rushing record of 272 yards on 25 carries as the Eagles finished with 592 yards of total offense. Eastern held NAU to 295 total yards, and had five sacks, limiting Travis Brown to 18-of-42 passing for 221 yards. Josh Martin and Britt Lentz each had sacks for the Eagles, and Jimmy Lake had eight tackles. Eastern lost to NAU in Cheney 30-16 in 1995 and 13-10 in 1996. In the 1996 game, NAU's Mark Jagodzinski kicked a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds left to give the Lumberjacks the victory.
Last Season -- Northern Arizona 44, Eastern Washington 36: Northern Arizona piled up 541 yards in the game and scored 24-straight points in the second half to hold off Eastern Washington University 44-36 in a Big Sky Conference football shootout Oct. 28 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern rallied behind backup quarterback Chris Peerboom with two touchdowns in the last 8:49 of the game. But Northern Arizona made big plays down the stretch to hold off the rally. The two teams combined for 1,005 yards of offense, with Eastern finishing with 464 after managing only 164 a week earlier in a 34-0 loss to Portland State.
"We gave up too many big plays on defense," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We moved the ball well today on offense, but we still had some opportunities we didn't capitalize on. We dropped some balls and made some mistakes. But the bottom line is our kids played hard and whenever you do that you give yourself a chance to win."
Eastern trailed 44-22 in the fourth quarter before scoring on a pair of touchdown passes by Peerboom, the second with 2:32 remaining. Eastern just missed recovering the ensuing on-side kick, then Northern Arizona picked up a pair of first downs to seal the win.
Peerboom rotated at quarterback with starter Matt Nichols, who left the game for good at the end of the third quarter with an injury. Peerboom completed 13-of-23 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, while Nichols was 10-of-21 for 117 yards and a score. Nichols also scrambled for 42 net rushing yards despite getting sacked twice.
"At the end of the game NAU was playing a soft zone coverage and Peerboom made some nice throws and did a really nice job -- but so did Nichols," said Wulff. "I think they both did a nice job. Peerboom did a really nice job of helping us rally back at the end."
"We had a plan that we would rotate Peerboom and Nichols every two series in the first half," added Wulff. "Neither one of them warranted being pulled at all -- they both did some good things."
Kicker Brett Bergstrom made field goals of 27, 35 and 52 yards, making him 14-of-15 for the season. Punter Ryan Donckers punted four times for a 42.8 average, including a school-record 71-yarder with the wind at his back.
The steady wind, although only nine miles per hour when the game began, was a huge factor in the scoring. Of the 80 points scored by both teams in the game, 65 were scored with the wind at their backs. Northern Arizona scored 17 points in the first quarter and 21 in the third. Eastern scored 13 in the second and 14 in the fourth.
Safety Bryan Jarrett led the Eagles with seven tackles, and cornerbacks Ira Jarmon and DeNique Ford each had six. Linebacker David Eneberg, Eastern's leading tackler with 61 entering the game, played sparingly and had just three tackles after injuring his shoulder early in the game.
"(Eneberg) is a leader and an awfully good football player," said Wulff. "When someone like that goes out of the game it hurts."
Northern Arizona scored the first 14 points of the game, but Eastern stayed close thanks to Bergstrom's three field goals and a 4-yard touchdown pass from Peerboom to redshirt freshman tight end Nathan Overbay. Eastern trailed 20-16 at halftime, then took its only lead of the game to open the third quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Brown's 29-yard touchdown reception from Nichols gave Eastern a 22-20 advantage.
But NAU put together touchdown drives of 71, 60 and 42 yards to pull away, and a 47-yard field goal by Robbie DeHaze gave the Lumberjacks a 44-22 advantage with 11:07 left.
Alan Henderson rushed for 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU, and Jason Murrietta completed 14-of-22 passes for 238 yards and three scores. Alex Watson caught eight of the passes and two of the touchdowns.
"NAU has been scoring in the mid 30's all year, particularly in league play, so we knew there was a chance they could put up good offensive numbers," said Wulff. "I think we gave up a few more points than we anticipated giving up coming into the game."
EAGLES IN PRO FOOTBALL
Starting Dolphins Running Back Jesse Chatman Featured Twice in Sports Illustrated: Now a starting running back for the Miami Dolphins, former Eastern running back Jesse Chatman had a full-page spread in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated talking about how he lost 60 pounds after eating himself out of the National Football League.
He made his first NFL start on Oct. 28 in a 13-10 loss to the New York Giants in the first-ever NFL regular season game at Wembley Stadium in London. He finished with 79 yards on 16 carries (4.9 per carry), and had three catches for 21 yards.
Injuries caused him to starting gaining weight when he played for the San Diego Chargers in 2004, and subsequently he was released and did not play in 2005 and 2006. He ballooned to a high as 283 pounds before diet and exercise helped him lose the weight. Chatman started working out at all hours, and switched from fried food all the time to oatmeal, spinach and stir-fry.
Eventually, he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins and is the team's backup running back behind Ronnie Brown and is returning kickoffs. Now weighing 223 pounds, he earned a roster spot in the preseason when he had a team-leading 116 rushing yards (6.4 per carry) with two touchdowns, and added six receptions for 52 yards.
During the preseason, he was listed in the "Who's Hot" section in the Aug. 20 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Here's what the magazine had to say about Chatman, who rushed for 4,173 yards and 53 touchdowns from 1999-2001 at Eastern:
"Running back Jesse Chatman gained 392 yards (on just 65 carries) for the Chargers in 2004. Then he gained 50 pounds and missed two seasons. Now looking svelte in a Dolphins uni, he broke off a 74-yard TD run last Saturday. Chatman: "I'm not going to take this for granted."
Three Players Remain on NFL Rosters: Michael Roos (Tennessee Titans), running back Jesse Chatman (Miami Dolphins) and defensive end Keith Grennan (San Diego Chargers) all secured spots on NFL teams when final cuts were announced in early September in the 2007 season. Roos and Chatman are on the active roster and Grennan is a practice squad player.
In his team's 2007 opener, Chairman rushed seven times for 15 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Roos helped the Titans rush for a club-record 282 yards in a 13-10 win over Jacksonville.
Former Eastern football star Erik Meyer was one of seven former Eagles who started the 2007 season with NFL teams. The others three were kicker Brett Bergstrom (New Orleans Saints), safety Brandon Keeler (Arizona Cardinals) and offensive lineman Harrison Nikolao (Cincinnati Bengals). Those three, as well as Grennan, were rookies after playing for Eastern in 2006.
Meyer capped a record-breaking year in NFL Europa by signing a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks during the summer. He attended Seattle's training camp in Kirkland, Wash., in August, a camp that formerly took place in EWU's hometown of Cheney, Wash.
A year ago, Meyer was with Cincinnati before getting cut and Eric Kimble was with Miami. Kimble suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and missed the 2006 season, then was released on March 1, 2007.
Other current pros include Jesse Hendrix who is now in Montreal of the Canadian Football League, along with fellow Alouettes Luke Fritz and Dario Romero. Lamont Brightful started the 2007 season with Montreal and is now with Calgary. Other former Eagles still active in the CFL are Ryan Phillips (British Columbia) and Bashir Levingston (Toronto). Isaiah Trufant is in the ArenaFootball League, joining the Kansas City Brigade in 2007 after playing for the Spokane Shock in af2. Raul Vijil is a current member of the Shock, and other current af2 players include Josh Blankenship (Tulsa Talons) and Muhammad Shamsid-Deen (Tri-Cities Fever).
Several former EWU coaches have also spent time in the professional ranks, including Jimmy Lake, Jim McElwain, Keith Murphy, Randy Hansen, Bill Diedrick Jr., and Aaron Best. Diedrick, a 2007 inductee into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame, and Best are now offensive coaches for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.
Meyer Sets NFL Europa Completion Percentage Record That Will Never Be Broken: Former Eastern quarterback Erik Meyer completed 68.8 percent of his passes in the 2007 season for the Cologne Centurions, setting a NFL Europa record that will never be broken. Shortly after the season ended, the National Football League decided to cease existence of the league.
Meyer led the Centurions to a 6-4 record. He ranked second among NFLE quarterbacks with a passer rating of 101.1. He completed 141-of-241 passes for 1,612 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Meyer also added 138 rushing yards and one touchdown. Shortly after the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
He was NFL Europa's Player of the Week after his performance for the Cologne Centurions in a key victory over the Amsterdam Admirals on June 9. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Cologne's 31-13 victory. That performance gave him a league-best quarterback rating of 138.1 in the game, edging his previous league-best performance of 136.9 earlier this season against Berlin.
He earned the starting position in week three with a 14-6 victory over the Rhein Fire. At the time, the win moved the Centurions into second place in the standings behind the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy.
While at EWU, Meyer was named the Big Sky Offensive MVP in 2004 and 2005 and his senior year was named the Walter Payton Award winner. He helped lead Eastern to back-to-back Big Sky Conference co-championships and two NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff berths.
He broke the NCAA Championship Subdivision record for efficiency rating (166.5) by quarterbacks with at least 400 completions. He had 10,261 yards and 84 touchdowns in 42 career games.
Blankenship Helps Tulsa Advance to ArenaCup8 Title: Former Eastern quarterback Josh Blankenship helped the Tulsa Talons to the championship game of the af2 indoor football league. However, a mid-season injury made his contribution minimal after leading Tulsa to victories in its first seven games of the season. Tulsa won the title with a 73-66 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but Blankenship did not play.
Blankenship, who earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for EWU in 2002, passed for 43 touchdowns in those first seven games before suffering a foot injury (strained arch support). He played in just five games after that as Justin Allgood took over as the starter and has held that position ever since. In 12 games, Blankenship has completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards, 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tulsa is 17-2 this season, including three playoff victories.
MORE SEASON NOTES
Happy Homecoming for Californians: It was a happy homecoming for several Eagles playing in their home state of California, including quarterback Matt Nichols, in Eastern's 38-30 victory over Sacramento State on Oct. 27.
Nichols is a 2005 graduate of Cottonwood High School, located just 131 miles from Sacramento. Other Eagles returning included receiver Shane Eller (Corning), center Charlie Wulff (Woodland), receiver Nicholas Ramos (Winters), kicker Felipe Macias (Oxnard), cornerback Ryan Kelley (Los Angeles) and safety Terry Mixon (Compton). In addition, head coach Paul Wulff is a 1985 graduate of nearby Davis High School in Davis, Calif.
Eastern's entire allotment of 150 complimentary tickets were used by players and coaches, but many more EWU fans also attended to give Eastern one of its best-ever road crowds among the total of 4,706 that were in attendance. In fact, one player purchased additional tickets for the approximately 30 family and friends who were on hand.
Nichols, who shook hands along the railing after the game with the 100 family and friends on hand to watch him play, said it was a "very good feeling" to come away with a victory in his first visit to California as EWU's starting quarterback. "It was a big day for me to be able to come back here and compete," he said. "I had a good game in front of them and I had a lot of fun."
On Eastern's pre-game radio show, Nichols and Eller recalled competing against each other in high school in 2004 while Eller was at Red Bluff High School. Red Bluff beat Cottonwood earlier in the season, but in the playoffs, Nichols was victorious. Eller intercepted Nichols in the playoffs but was hurt on the return and did not play the remainder of the game as Red Bluff suffered its first defeat of the season.
4.0 Student Tom McAndrews Semifinalist for Draddy Trophy: Senior 4.0 student-athlete Tom McAndrews was one of 153 semifinalists -- 40 from the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision -- for The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) 2007 Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth.
As one of those 153 student-athletes, he was among the candidates for the NFF 2007 National Scholar-Athlete Awards. However, he was not among the list of finalists announced on Oct. 25.
McAndrews, a 6-foot, 240-pound tight end is a double major in finance and economics at EWU. He will complete his bachelor's degree in December 2007, and then begin work sometime soon on his master's in business administration.
With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, he has been named to the Dean's List 12 out of a possible 12 quarters at Eastern. He is expected to be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the fourth-straight year in 2007. He will be nominated for ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and for a NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
McAndrews was the 2006 recipient of the "Iron Eagle" Award for EWU Football academic and athletic achievement. He was awarded a Trustee's Scholarship (2006), Washington Promise Scholarship (2003) and Red Reese Scholarship (2003). He also became a member of Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society (2007).
He scored the first touchdown of his Eastern career against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007, on an 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the 41-31 win. Mainly used as a blocking tight end, fullback and on special teams, he entered the 2007 season with 12 catches for 125 yards in 29 games played (five as a starter). In 2005 he was EWU's Most Improved Player and helped Eastern Washington win Big Sky Conference titles in 2004 and 2005, earning berths in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
His community service activities include serving as a PLUS (Program Leading to Undergraduate Success) Facilitator in business law for the EWU Academic Support Center (2006). He was an intern as Community and Economic Development Assistant for the Cheney community/EWU campus development group called Pathways to Progress (2005). He has also been a volunteer for Harvest Food Bank, Spokane Guild School, Habitat for Humanity and the Cheney School District.
McAndrews was also a 4.0 student at Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., where he was the 2003 Valedictorian.
Wulff on Resiliency of His Team: "There is great resiliency on this football team. They are a great team -- they get along with each other and they enjoy being around each other. These players are a lot of fun for the coaching staff to be around. We have faced a lot of obstacles over time, so being behind doesn't faze them. We were down 14 at Montana and came back without any hesitation. I didn't feel like it would be any different against BYU. Despite the margin, I didn't think we ever went into a shell."
Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members: Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-15 all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus FBS foes. Here is Eastern's complete list of games versus FBS members since 1983.
Year - Opponent - Result
1983 - Cal State-Long Beach - W, 20-17
1985 - at Cal State-Long Beach - W, 30-23
1986 - at Cal State-Long Beach - L, 34-35
1990 - at #10 Houston - L, 21-84
1994 - at Utah State - W, 49-31
1996 - at Boise State - W, 27-21
1996 - at Idaho - L, 27-37
1997 - Idaho - W, 24-21
1998 - at Idaho - L, 14-31
1999 - Idaho - L, 21-48
1999 - at Boise State - L, 7-41
2000 - at Oregon State - L, 19-21
2000 - at Boise State - L, 23-41
2001 - at Connecticut - W, 35-17
2002 - at Arizona State - L, 2-38
2003 - at San Diego State - L, 9-19
2003 - at Idaho - W, 8-5
2004 - at Air Force - L, 20-42
2005 - at San Jose State - L, 21-35
2006 - at Oregon State - L, 17-56
2006 - at #6 West Virginia - L, 3-52
2007 - at Brigham Young - L, 7-42
EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006 and 2007: Eastern's 2007 game at sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for largest crowd the Eagles have ever played in front of. Strong winds, rain, snow and temperatures ranging from 37-45 degrees didn't keep many fans at home as the announced crowd of 64,522 was even larger than the stadium's listed capacity of 64,045.
Eastern's 2006 game versus West Virginia at sold-out Milan Puskar Stadium was attended by 59,504 fans -- the largest crowd by nearly 20,000 fans the Eagles have ever played against. The previous record was 39,581 set at Arizona State in 2002. Eastern's game at Oregon State in 2006 is now the fourth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 14 crowds in excess of 20,000 the Eagles have ever played against.
Attendance - Opponent - Date - Result
64,522 - at Brigham Young - Oct. 20, 2007 - L, 7-42
59,504 - at West Virginia - Sept. 9, 2006 - L, 3-52
39,581 - at Arizona State - Aug. 31, 2002 - L, 2-38
38,071 - at Oregon State - Aug. 31, 2006 - L, 17-56
34,389 - at Air Force - Sept. 11, 2004 - L, 20-42
30,782 - at Oregon State - Sept. 2, 2000 - L, 19-21
27,323 - at U.S. International - Oct. 28, 1967 - W, 44-19
25,493 - at Boise State - Oct. 14, 2000 - L, 23-41
23,739 - at Montana - Oct. 15, 2005 - W, 34-20
23,329 - at Montana - Nov. 15, 2003 - L, 10-41
23,226 - at Montana - Oct. 6, 2007 - L, 23-24
21,981 - at Boise State - Oct. 9, 1999 - L, 7-41
21.487 - at Boise State - Sept. 21, 1991 - L, 17-31
21,145 - at San Diego State - Aug. 30, 2003 - L, 9-19
Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon and Quarterback Matt Nichols Lead Eastern to Impressive Win: Sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols returned from a stomach contusion to throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles pull away from 11th-ranked Montana State for a 35-13 Big Sky Conference football victory Oct. 13. But the play of Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week Lance Witherspoon was also very noteworthy as he earned the league's defensive player of the week honor for his efforts.
Witherspoon, who missed one full game and parts of two others with a high ankle sprain, led the defensive charge as Eastern out-gained MSU 475-315 in total offense. In the second half, the Eagles had a 248-101 advantage as they scored the final 21 points of the game.
Nichols completed 15-of-24 passes a week after throwing 59 times at Montana in a 24-23 loss. He finished with 300 yards of total offense against the Bobcats as the Eagles rushed for an additional 183 yards en route to a 475-yard day on offense. He had 203 yards of offense in the second half alone, and was not sacked in the second half after getting sacked twice in the first half.
"We had to settle him down at halftime," said Wulff. "I am really proud of him because he came back and played well in the second half after being rattled physically. He ran the ball effectively to get us some key first downs and he was accurate, so he did a really good job."
Witherspoon returned to his starting position to register a team-high and career-high 10 tackles in the win. He was credited with four unassisted tackles and six assisted stops. He had one sack for a loss of eight yards, and three other tackles for loss totaling 10 yards. His sack came on third down and led to a MSU punt with Eastern leading 28-13 in the third quarter.
"It's nice to have Lance back -- we have missed him for awhile now and it hurts our defense not having him," said Wulff of the junior from Federal Way, Wash. "Having him back, we are a better defense."
Boyce Selected as National Offensive Player of the Week by The Sports Network: For years, Aaron Boyce has watched his good friend Rodney Stuckey take his tremendous basketball ability to the national stage. Now it's Boyce's turn.
After a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6, the sophomore wide receiver was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week.
Boyce, a 2005 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17. He finished the 24-23 loss to top-ranked Montana with 232 receiving yards to rank second in school history.
"It's pretty rewarding, but it would have felt better with a win," said Boyce, whose team had a 565-289 advantage in total offense in the game. "It was a frustrating game to lose and sort of puts a chip on our shoulder. We came up short but that adds to our hunger to play better and win next time."
Boyce played just one season of football at Kentwood and was better known there as a teammate of Stuckey, who led Kentwood to the Washington State 4A Championship in the 2003-04 season. Stuckey went on to earn national Freshman of the Year honors at Eastern, as well as a pair of honorable mention All-America accolades, before becoming a first-round draft choice by the Detroit Pistons in last June's NBA Draft.
"Aaron is a converted basketball player who is becoming a really good football player," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "He has a lot of upside and still has room for improvement. He has a bright future ahead of him if he keeps working hard."
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone against the Grizzlies. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. He played much of the game at an inside receiver position usually held by fellow sophomore Tony Davis, who missed the game with shoulder injury.
"He had a great day, especially considering he was playing a new position," said Wulff. "He did a great job adapting and caught everything that was thrown his way. It was a very solid performance."
Boyce was four catches away from the Big Sky single game record of 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 -- 1968 by Bob Picard, 1976 by Tom Bassett and 1986 by Jon Vea.
His yardage mark ranks only behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana when he had a 99-yard pass reception. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
"I've never been around a receiving performance like that, let alone a game when a team has thrown it 59 times," added Wulff. "Hopefully we'll see that kind of production down the road as those players and our offense continues to develop."
Nichols and Boyce Produce Record-Breaking Game to Remember: A victory would have made it that much sweeter, but at least the sophomore passing duo of Matt Nichols-to-Aaron Boyce has a couple of school records to show for a disappointing 24-23 loss to Montana on Oct. 6. But best of all, the pair of sophomores will have two more cracks at the Grizzlies ahead of them in the next two seasons.
Nichols had a school-record 37 completions on 59 attempts for 451 yards -- all career highs in just the 15th start of his EWU career. His yardage total was the third-most in school history and 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 behind the record of 264 set by Jason Anderson in 1994 against Montana. Eastern lost that game to the Grizzlies, also in Missoula, by a 49-29 margin.
Thanks to a defense that was dominant against the Grizzlies, Eastern had a huge, 565-289 advantage in total offense. Eastern had 26 more offensive plays than Montana and had a six-minute edge in time of possession. But Eastern couldn't establish a consistent running attack and that led to Nichols throwing the ball 59 times while the team rushed just 29 times. The Eagles were scoreless the first six times they had the ball, then scored on four-straight possessions to take a 20-14 lead. However, Eastern managed only a single field goal in its last six times with the ball and came up a single point short in its upset bid.
Only two other times has an Eastern quarterback attempted more passes -- Rick Worman versus Nevada (10/12/85) and Tommy Thompson against Puget Sound (11/16/68). The previous record for completions was by Josh Blankenship against Western Oregon (9/14/02). The only Eastern quarterbacks to throw for more yards were Bernett and the player Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer, who had 470 against Sacramento State (10/29/05).
Boyce had long catches of 41, 37 (touchdown), 28 and 24 yards, and caught six passes for 116 yards in the third quarter alone. He only had one catch for seven yards in the first quarter. Nichols had just 22 yards in the first quarter, but then had 185 in the second quarter, 163 in the third and 82 in the fourth.
Nichols' totals for passing yards and total offense (478) are both the top performances in the Football Championship Subdivision thus far this season. Boyce also has the top performances for catches and yards. Interestingly, No. 2 in passing yards is Portland State's Brian White (442) and second in receiving yards is PSU's Tremayne Kirkland (225 on 14 catches) with performances they had in a one-point, 44-43 loss to Northern Arizona on the same day as the EWU-Montana contest.
Wulff on Receiver Aaron Boyce and Passing Game Versus Montana: "We felt like we could throw the ball if we could protect the quarterback and if Matt figured out where he was hot and where he wasn't. Some of the routes were designed to go to Aaron. When it was there, Matt hit him. Matt is very comfortable with Aaron. When you do that there are going to be some statistical numbers out there, but I'm not a big fan of statistics. I'm a big fan of winning."
Boyce on His Big Day: "With the zone coverage Montana was playing, in film study we saw that we could take advantage of that. We just ran the routes we had practiced all week. Our coaches had a great game plan that put us in spots to make plays. I'm always thinking I can get open, but I wasn't paying much attention (to how many catches I had). I was just running what we practiced. It just happened to be my day today."
Nichols on Performance Against Montana: "I calmed myself down and played like it was practice. I didn't let any of the pressure of the crowd get to me. I just made plays when they were there. Our line protected me well all day and our receivers were getting open. I felt like I had it -- almost every pass I threw was on target."
Nichols on Scoring 20 Points in Four-Straight Possessions: "We felt like our passing game was going well. We felt like we could move down the field whenever we wanted. Momentum was just going our way."
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. In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana's record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana's record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the six matchups in the last 12 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally-ranked:
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis Have Two of EWU's Longest Non-Scoring Plays: Sophomores Brynsen Brown and Tony Davis now own two of the longest non-scoring plays in school history after having long receptions in back-to-back games against Idaho State and Portland State.
Davis had a non-scoring 78-yard reception from quarterback Matt Nichols against ISU on Sept. 22 that ranked as the second-longest non-scoring pass play in school history. It ranks only behind the 82-yard connection from Erik Meyer to Raul Vijil in Eastern's 2004 playoff victory over No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois.
In Eastern's next game against PSU on Sept. 29, Brown had a non-scoring 85-yard reception that broke Vijil's record. Eastern's longest non-scoring rush in recorded school history was 80 yards, so Davis and Brown own two of the four longest non-scoring plays in recorded school history.
From 0-3 to 3-0: Eastern, 3-0 on the season, matched its win total from a year ago with a 34-7 victory over Idaho State on Sept. 22. Eastern had a 27-0 lead at halftime and had a 391-100 advantage in total offense when it took that advantage.
It was Eastern's first road trip of the season, and the Sept. 22 date equals EWU's latest road opener since 1987. Each of Paul Wulff's seven previous seasons as head coach had begun with games on the road.
Eastern hasn't started a season 3-0 since beginning the 1997 season with four-straight wins en route to a 12-2 finish. The Eagles were just 3-8 overall and 3-5 in league play last season after winning Big Sky Conference titles and earning NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths each of the previous two seasons.
Eastern started the 2006 season with losses to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Oregon State and West Virginia, as well as a setback to NCAA Division II Central Washington.
Wulff on 3-0 Start Setting Up Team for a Successful Season: "It sure does. It gives us an opportunity to have success, it helps the program to grow, it helps recruiting and it helps the school. It's very challenging when you have to play a very difficult schedule early in the year. It feels like you are always trying to make it up the whole year. It's all about direction and what you are trying to accomplish with your program."
Wulff on Nichols After Three Games: "He's done a nice job and has worked hard. He's very committed to being a good football player and his commitment has shown up by his improvement. He still has a lot of things to get better at, but hopefully we can build off each week's performance. It's very important that we do that. He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around."
Happy 60th Birthday Coach Wulff!: Paul Wulff won't be 41 until Feb. 25, 2008, but that didn't stop his players from giving him a birthday wish on the plane flight home from EWU's game at Pocatello. The flight attendant wished Wulff a happy 60th birthday over the loudspeaker, which resulted in a roar of applause and laughter from the team. Upon arrival in Spokane, Wulff began an immediate investigation to identify and punish the culprit. Initial reports blamed the quarterback.
Brayton Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week: Junior Fritz Brayton was selected as the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance in Eastern's 34-7 victory over Idaho State.
Brayton punted six times for a 47.7 average, with a long punt of 53 yards and two downed inside the Idaho State 20-yard line. The average field position for ISU was their own 20-yard line. In the second half, he had punts that were downed at the ISU 8 and 9 yard lines.
Brayton is a transfer from Washington State University and 2004 graduate of Westview High School in Portland, Ore. He is taking the place this season of Ryan Donckers, who averaged 42.4 yards per punt as a senior to rank third in school history. His career average of 40.5 also ranks third.
Brayton's father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at Washington State from 1971-73. The junior Brayton is the grandson of WSU baseball legend Bobo Brayton and his cousin Tyler Brayton plays in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders.
Jarrett Helps Lead Impressive Effort by Defense: Safety Bryan Jarrett, one of just four seniors on the starting defense, had seven tackles and a key first-half interception in Eastern's 34-7 road win at Idaho State.
His interception at mid-field and 36-yard return led to a field goal that gave Eastern a 3-0 lead. He also had a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half, and had two other tackles that led to an Idaho State punt (in the first half) or loss of the ball on downs (in the second half).
Eastern would go on to score 24 more points -- including 10 more points off turnovers -- to take a 27-0 lead at halftime. When Eastern took its 27-0 lead, the Eagles had a 291-100 advantage in total yards. Idaho State scored its first points with 9:09 left in the game on a 92-yard drive. Idaho State finished with 400 yards, but 296 came in the second half.
The Eagles forced five turnovers against ISU, including three in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Jarrett, a 2003 graduate of Puyallup, Wash., High School, hopes to put an injury-plagued 2006 season behind him. He started Eastern's first three games and last three games in 2006 at free safety, and finished the season with 48 tackles despite missing two games and five starts with an ankle injury. He had 16 tackles in back-to-back games late in the season versus Northern Arizona (10/28/06) and Weber State (11/4/06), finishing with a season-high nine stops against the Wildcats. As a junior, he earned first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He started Eastern's last eight games at whip safety, taking over for injured starter Gregor Smith and then never relinquishing his position. Jarrett played the 2003 season at Western Washington University where he started four of the nine games he played.
Eagles Add JC All-America Safety: Two-time junior college All-America defensive back Terry Mixon joined the Eastern football program on Sept. 11 and was able to play for the Eagles four days later against UC Davis. He finished with five tackles in his Eagle debut.
"He did well with the limited plays he received," Eagle head coach Paul Wulff said. "But that's how it is going to have to work for him right now. We'll try to get him a little more each game and get him ready. He's not in great shape but he's getting there. And he has to learn the system a little bit. Obviously he will be a great benefit for us."
Mixon left the Washington State University program the previous week after coming to the Cougars from Grossmont Community College near San Diego. Since classes don't start at EWU until Sept. 26, Eagle head coach Paul Wulff was able to get Mixon admitted and enrolled at EWU. It was a much-needed boost for an Eastern team that lost three safeties for the season after just the first game of the year because of injuries.
"We were very fortunate to acquire somebody on such late notice," said Wulff, who lists Mixon as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. "We have a huge need right now at safety because of the three season-ending injuries we've already had at that position."
Wulff said Mixon could possibly play at free safety, but most likely the rover (strong safety) position. Senior Gregor Smith (shoulder), sophomore Jesse Hoffman (elbow) and freshman redshirt Ethen Robinson (Achilles) have been lost for the season at free safety.
In 2006 as a sophomore at Grossmont, Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the nation. As a sophomore, he repeated as both an All-Foothill Conference first team pick and junior college All-America selection. He was All-California Region III first team and helped his team to 10-2 record and a second-round berth in state playoffs. He was named conference player of the week three times.
As a freshman, he helped Grossmont to a 13-1 record and the California State Championship. He was a four-time Foothill Conference Player of the Week. He earned all-conference first team honors and was named a junior college All-American.
Mixon was a quarterback and defensive back at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. He started at quarterback as a senior and rushed for almost 800 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 12 touchdown passes. He was a SuperPrep All-Far West selection (No. 70) as a defensive back. He had over 100 tackles, along with five interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
He was born Dec. 20, 1985, in San Diego, Calif. His parents are Timothy Mixon and Betty Randall.
First Big Sky Player of the Week Won by Nichols: One game doesn't make a season, but the sophomore football campaign for Eastern Washington University's Matt Nichols has gotten off to an impressive start after a not-so-impressive season as a freshman redshirt.
The quarterback from Cottonwood, Calif., equaled a 20-year school record with six touchdown passes to lead Eastern to an easy 52-13 non-conference football victory over Montana-Western in EWU's season-opener Aug. 31 at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
As a result, he was awarded with the first Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor of the 2007 season. It was the first of what is hopefully many conference honors in the still young career of Nichols. He also earned team offensive player of the week accolades as well.
Nichols completed 20-of-26 passes for 229 yards against the Bulldogs as he tied the TD passes record originally set by Rob James in 1987 against Weber State. His passing efficiency rating of 227.06 was much better than the 109.0 rating he had in 2006 as a redshirt freshman.
"He did good things, he was very accurate and he ran the offense like we coached him to do," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "I think he's gained some confidence."
In his debut season, Nichols had just eight touchdowns the entire season and equaled a school-record 17 interceptions. The first start of his career came against nationally-ranked West Virginia on Sept. 9, 2007, when he completed 13-of-25 passes. His talent allowed him to start 10 games in 2006, but his inexperience and inconsistency caused him to be replaced in five of those outings.
Wulff on Sophomore Debut for Nichols: "The way he was practicing we thought there was a chance he would do well in this first game. We felt like we had better athletes outside at the receiver positions, and we knew that if we gave him enough time, he would be able to hit them. And that's what he did. His accuracy was good and I think of the six incompletions he had, three were dropped balls -- they were right in their hands."
Wulff on Reason for Early Success for Nichols: "The (biggest reasons) are last year's experience and the amount of work he has put in to get better. He's gotten to know his teammates better and doesn't have receivers that are freshmen to throw to. That is just part of college football and the maturation you have to go through. We went through that last year and we're better now because of it."
Lower Division Opener Something New: For a change, Eastern got to see how it feels to open the season on the other end of the collegiate football food chain.
A 52-13 win over Montana-Western marked the first lower division opener for Eastern since 1997. It was also the first time Eastern opened the season at Woodward Field since 1997, when Eastern finished 12-2 and advanced to the "Final Four" of the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
In eight of nine seasons from 1997-2006, Eastern opened the season on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe (formerly I-A). Just once in those nine seasons -- a 35-17 victory at Connecticut -- has Eastern opened the season with a victory.
Eastern Has Burning Desire to Improve: Eastern is coming off a 3-8 finish last year that included a 3-5 record in Big Sky Conference play after losing all three of its non-conference games. Eastern head coach Paul Wulff is expecting his team to be championship contender once again after sharing the Big Sky Conference title in both 2005 and 2006 and advancing to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs both seasons.
"I think there is a burning desire to get back to playing well and playing good football," he said. "That includes coaches and players. We have built enough expectations of success in our program that last year was not acceptable. We will prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can to come back this season and play better."
Eagles Are Still Youthful: Eastern enters the season with much more experience under its belt than last year, but the Eagles are still young. In the team's opener against Montana-Western, only three seniors were in the team's starting lineup on defense and four were on the starting offense.
All four of those seniors on offense are linemen as Eastern returns a pair of past All-Americans (Matt Alfred in 2005 and Rocky Hanni in 2004), as well another All-Big Sky tackle in Zach Wasielewski. The lone non-starting senior on the offensive line, Julian Stewart, is academically ineligible to play in 2007 and has been replaced by freshman redshirt Brice Leahy and sophomore Chris Thomas.
"That was a little bit of a hit, but we do have some experience there and it is an area that needs to be a strength," said Wulff of losing Stewart. "They are a group that should play well and get us out of the gate and play well early. There is a lot of pressure on those guys to perform well."
Eastern's offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols and five other sophomores expected to play key roles as offensive skill players. They include wide receivers Tony Davis, Aaron Boyce, Jeffrey Solomon and Brynsen Brown, as well as tight end Nathan Overbay. Solomon is injured and will probably redshirt.
"All of those youthful players have good experience," Wulff said. "We are still going to be a youthful football team, but I do believe we should be a good football team. How fast we grow as the season progresses is really going to be the indicator of how well we end up doing at the end of the season."
Wulff on Progress of Team: "This team continues to grow. We aren't there yet but we're on the right track. I think as we go along this year and in the next couple of years, this team is going to be pretty good."
Wulff on Alexis Alexander and Dale Morris: "They are emerging as our best ballcarriers. Toke Kefu gives us good balance in there with those two guys. We have a good chance to be very good at that position. But they have to stay healthy and to continue to work hard to get themselves in great condition. And our offensive line has some work to do but the makings are there. We have to get them rolling and executing a little better."
Wulff on Young Receivers: "They've worked hard and put themselves in a position to make a lot of improvement. Now it's about producing on game day. We expect big things from them and we should. They have some youth, but they also have some experience. We are going to need them to make plays. Tony Davis is going to do a lot of different things. I think that fits his talent."
Wulff on Applying for Sixth Year for Gregor Smith: "We don't even have the results from his MRI yet to know exactly what the possibility is to get himself healthy again. We have to go back through and look at all the time he's missed -- counting this year. I don't know all the rules and details yet to see if he qualifies for a sixth year, but I would like to think he does and we will apply for it."
Wulff on Alexander Earning Repetitions at Running Back: "He's handled it great -- he gets to carry the ball more. It was becoming clearer that when we put the ball in his hands more good things happen. It's something we've thought about over the summer and has evolved in camp. We have to get the ball in his hands. He's good enough to catch it and good enough to run it. As long as he keeps producing and playing at a high level he's going to carry the ball. We'll make sure he helps this football team and he clearly does. He's a tough guy to tackle."
Wulff on Dale Morris: "So far Dale is healthy and getting in football shape. He's missed a tremendous amount of football -- it's basically been a year since he even put his pads on. But anybody who misses a year in their sport is going to be a little rusty. Hopefully as the season progresses we'll see him continue to improve and break off a lot of that rust. He's doing a nice job in camp to get himself in shape."
Eagles Play Six Home Football Games: Eastern will open a six-game home schedule on Friday, Aug. 31, with a non-conference home game versus Montana-Western. After a bye week, Eastern plays another non-conference game against UC Davis on Sept. 15.
Big Sky Conference play begins at Idaho State on Sept. 22, followed by the EWU Athletics Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 29 against Portland State. After playing at Montana on Oct. 6, Eastern hosts Montana State on Oct. 13.
A difficult road trip at NCAA Division I Bowl Division (formerly I-A) member Brigham Young follows on Oct. 20, then the Eagles play at Sacramento State on Oct. 27. Eastern's Homecoming game is Nov. 3 against Northern Colorado, and the Eagles conclude the regular season with a road game at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10 and a home game versus Weber State on Nov. 17.
Last season, Eastern finished 3-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference with a schedule that included two NCAA Division I Bowl Division members West Virginia and Oregon State. The Eagles, young and inexperienced at several positions including quarterback and wide receiver, closed the year with a convincing 40-6 victory over Idaho State.
Eastern is 7-0 all-time against Western Montana, but hasn't played the Bulldogs since 1982 when both were affiliated with NAIA. Montana-Western is still a NAIA member while Eastern is now a member of the NCAA Division I Championship Division (formerly I-AA).
UC-Davis is also in the NCAA Division I Championship Division and is a member of the Great West Conference. The Aggies, who were 6-5 in 2006, will be eligible for the postseason for the first time since 2002 when it was still a member of NCAA Division II. In the only meeting between the two teams, Eastern beat UC Davis 24-6 on Nov. 19, 2005, at fog-shrouded Woodward Field.
Brigham Young finished the 2006 season ranked 15th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 16th in the Associated Press top 25. The Cougars won their final 10 games, including a 38-8 victory over Oregon in the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl to finish the season with an 11-2 record.
The Cougars finished the season ranked fourth nationally in passing offense (323.5 yards per game) and total offense (465.5). The BYU offense also ranked fifth in scoring offense with an average of 36.8 points per game. Additionally, the Cougars had a 167.08 passing efficiency rating on the season to rank second nationally.
Defensively, the Cougars finished the season ranked 10th in scoring defense, allowing just 14.7 points per game. BYU ranked 16th in passing efficiency defense (106.2) and 38th in total defense (319.2).
Since 1982 when it became a member of NCAA Division II (the Eagles became a I-AA team in 1983), Eastern is now 8-13 all-time versus Bowl Division teams. A 35-17 win over Connecticut on Sept. 8, 2001, snapped a five-game losing streak versus I-A foes. Eastern has lost its last four since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003.
Montana is the defending Big Sky Conference champion, a title it has won outright or shared for the past nine seasons. The Grizzlies advanced to the playoffs for a record 14th straight season, and won twice in the playoffs before falling to Massachusetts 19-17 in the semifinals. Montana finished its season ranked third in The Sports Network poll with a 12-2 record.
Montana State won its first playoff game in 22 years, downing Furman 31-13 in the first round in Bozeman. The Bobcats' season came to an end with a 38-17 loss at eventual national champion Appalachian State. Montana State finished its season 8-5, and ranked 10th in The Sports Network poll.
Eagles Picked to Finish Fifth in Big Sky: The Eastern football team has been picked to finish fifth in the 2007 Big Sky Conference football season as the preseason polls were released July 16 at the league's Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
Eastern is coming off a 3-8 season in 2006 that included a 3-5 record in the Big Sky. Eastern finished in a tie for sixth in the 2006 league race after being picked to place second by the coaches and sixth by the media.
This season, Eastern returns 13 starters and a total of 46 letter winners. Picked to finish exactly in the middle of the nine-team league, Eastern was picked to finish behind Montana, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Arizona. The Eagles were picked ahead of Weber State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
"That doesn't bother me at all, and I don't think it bothers anybody else on our team at all," said EWU senior safety Gregor Smith. "It's that record at the end of the season that shows how you do."
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., was EWU's player representative at the media gathering and meetings in Park City.
Alfred, Hanni Honored on Preseason All-America Teams: Senior offensive guard Matt Alfred has been selected to a pair of preseason NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision All-America football teams. He was a member of the College Sporting News squad, and was a second team selection by The Sports Network. In addition, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alfred was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team. Fellow offensive lineman Rocky Hanni was on the Sports Network's third team.
A 2003 graduate of Gig Harbor (Wash.) High School, Alfred was an All-American in 2005 and has earned three previous postseason All-BSC honors at EWU (second team in 2004 and 2006 and first team in 2005). He enters the 2007 season with 33-straight starts as an Eagle.
Hanni earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2004 when he was the Big Sky Conference's Newcomer of the Year. He has also started 33 games at Eastern.
Former 1,000-Yard Rusher Among New Hall of Fame Members: Five individuals and two teams comprise the eighth class of inductees into the Eastern Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in ceremonies that took place on Sept. 29, 2007, in Cheney, Wash.
The new inductees include record-setting All-West Coast fullback Meriel Michelson, who held the school's career rushing record for nearly 40 years. He finished with 2,517 yards, including the school's first 1,000-yard season as he led Eastern to 29 victories and three conference titles. He had 1,049 in 1950 when he led the nation in rushing and was selected to the United Press Little All-West Coast team. Michelson, who was a counselor and teacher in Pasco, Wash., for more than 30 years, passed away recently on July 18 after a battle with lung cancer.
The other individual inductees include All-America cross country and track standout Kari McKay and former gymnastics coach and long-time supporter Thorne Tibbitts. The other two individual inductees were members of Eastern's highly-successful volleyball program in the late 90's -- player Kim Exner and her coach Pamela Parks, who has been a fixture for more than 30 years in the Eastern athletic department.
Two teams will also be inducted as Eastern celebrates the 25th anniversary of the school's 1982 NCAA Division II cross country title and the 30th anniversary of the 1977 NAIA wrestling championship.
Established in 1996, this year's inductees will bring to the total number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 40 and teams to five. More information may be found at: http://goeags.cstv.com/hallfame.
McKay was an All-American in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 NCAA Track & Field Championships and also made two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The graduate of nearby Almira (Wash.) High School went on to a successful road-racing running career, including a string of six-straight years as the top area female finisher at the annual Lilac Bloomsday race.
Tibbitts has been recognized as one of 34 "pioneers" of the sport of gymnastics in the State of Washington. He coached Eastern to a second-place finish at the 1965 NAIA Championships, and helped lay the groundwork for the school's future success in that sport. He has been a fixture in Cheney ever since, and has been a huge supporter and contributor to the athletic department.
Exner led Eastern to 46 victories in her last two seasons (1997 and 1998), including a NCAA Tournament berth and co-Big Sky Conference title. Twice she was the league's MVP and earned All-Region VIII honors as she finished her career with school and Big Sky records for kills (1,860). Formerly from Vernon, B.C., she is married to former Eastern and current Washington State assistant football coach Timm Rosenbach.
Parks began her legacy at Eastern as a volleyball player, then won 291 matches in 18 seasons as the school's head coach. In her tenure, Eastern had six 20 victory seasons, won two Big Sky Conference regular season titles, one BSC tournament title and advanced to three NCAA Tournaments. She remains on staff as an associate athletic director.
Timing Rule Changes Rescinded: Two timing rules put into effect in 2006 were rescinded for the 2007 season. The changes were originally designed to speed up play, but as a result provided for less plays in the game as the game clock in 2006 was started sooner in several situations. In most circumstances the clock started on a change of possession on the ready-for-play signal instead of when the ball is snapped. It also started when the ball is kicked on free kicks (kickoffs), where previously it started when the ball was touched in play. In 2006, there were an average of 126.9 plays per game (both Eastern and its opponents). In 2005, there were an average of 147.0 plays and the year before that the average was 146.5.
Terms I-A and I-AA Eliminated: The terms I-A and I-AA are no longer being used by the NCAA in distinguishing teams in NCAA Division I football. Schools in I-A are now referred to as the "NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision" or "FBS" and I-AA will change to "NCAA Football Championship Subdivision" or "FCS." The Collegiate Commissioners Association helped develop the new labels and were approved by the NCAA Board of Directors.
The new term is designed to distinguish Division I institutions for purposes of governing football, the only sport for which such a distinction is necessary. Members felt the old nomenclature inaccurately tiered Division I institutions in all sports, not just football, and produced instances in which media outlets and other entities incorrectly cited institutions as being Division I-AA in basketball or baseball, for example.
"All Division I institutions, regardless of whether they sponsor football, are in fact and should be referred to as Division I members," said Board Chair and University of Connecticut President Philip Austin. "The only reasons for labeling are the need to distinguish the two football subdivisions for the purpose of governing the sport and to maintain separate statistics. The Board is stressing that the nomenclature reflect the totality of the Division I membership whenever possible and that the subdivision labels be used sparingly. Still, there are instances in which we need to use them, and we feel the new labels are more accurate."
Big Stat Totals in Spring: Eastern's starting and backup offensive units were impressive in four spring scrimmages (including the Red-White Game), with 1,598 total yards and an average of 7.2 yards per play. Offensive units rushed for 586 yards (5.2 per play) and completed 65 percent of their passes (72-of-111) for 1,012 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Nichols, who started as a redshirt freshman a year ago, completed 38-of-58 passes (66 percent) for 591 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Junior backup Alex Smart completed 68 percent of his passes (28-of-41) for 335 yards, three scores and no picks. Smart had an impressive passing efficiency rating of 161.1, compared to 181.8 for Nichols. Third-string quarterback Jason Harris completed 6-of-12 passes for 86 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis was the team's big playmaker, catching 13 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing eight times for 134 yards and two more scores. Sophomore Jeffrey Solomon had 12 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 60 yards and a score.
The team's leading receiver was senior Shane Eller with 17 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Aaron Boyce added nine catches for 141 yards. Sophomore Nicholas Ramos added eight grabs for 100 yards and two scores.
Leading the running game was sophomore Jesse Hoffman with 124 yards on 25 carries (5.0 per carry) and one touchdown. Senior Toke Kefu had 27 rushes for 140 yards (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown. A.J. Jimerson played in two scrimmages, and had 75 yards on 16 carries (4.7 per carry) with a touchdown.
Defensively, sophomore safety Kevin Hatch had 17 tackles and a four passes broken up, and sophomore cornerback Lonnie Hosley had 14 stops with a pass broken up. Linebackers Shane Cooley and Jared Kuhl had 14 and 16 tackles, respectively. Cooley is a freshman and Kuhl is a senior.
Eagles Announce Spring Award Winners: Center Chris Carlsen from Poulsbo, Wash., was a double winner as EWU handed out awards at the conclusion of spring practice. The 2003 graduate of North Kitsap High School received one of four strength and conditioning awards handed out and was one of two recipients of "Iron Eagle" awards for academic and athletic achievement.
The "Iron Eagle" for defensive players was given to senior defensive back Ira Jarmon, a 2003 graduate of Clover Park HS in Lakewood, Wash. Others winning strength and conditioning awards were senior defensive back Bryan Jarrett from Puyallup, Wash. (Puyallup HS '03), junior defensive end Greg Peach from Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS '05), and sophomore wide receiver Tony Davis from Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS '05).
Sturdy Takes Over as Offensive Coordinator: St. Ambrose University head football coach Todd Sturdy decided to leave his post to take the offensive coordinator position at Eastern, it was announced on March 13, 2007.
Sturdy was 85-40 in 12 seasons as head coach for SAU, which is located in Davenport, Iowa. Sturdy, 39, was selected as NAIA Region 2 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association after coaching the Fighting Bees to a perfect 10-0 regular season finish. The team's season came to an end with a 38-31 double-overtime loss to Morningside in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
Wulff has known Sturdy for seven years, dating back to when Timm Rosenbach joined the EWU coaching staff after a stint at St. Ambrose. Rosenbach is now the quarterbacks coach at Washington State University. Jody Sears also worked for Sturdy at St. Ambrose.
"He has a proven track record as an assistant and has accomplished even more as a head coach," said Eastern head coach