Nov. 12, 2007
Junior defensive end Jason Belford has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week and sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols earned the same honor on offense after they helped lead Eastern to a 52-24 Big Sky Conference football win at Northern Arizona on Nov. 10.
The overwhelming victory kept the Eagles alive for an at-large berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, but a powerful Weber State team is standing in their way this week. The Wildcats, who have averaged 57.7 points and 602.7 yards of offense in their last three games, visit Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., this Saturday (Nov. 17) for a huge game that starts at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Belford intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown barely a minute into the game last week against the Lumberjacks. The 2004 graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., also had eight tackles, including three for losses totaling eight yards.
"He was always around the ball and made a lot of tackles," said EWU head coach Paul Wulff of Belford. "He played well."
Eastern allowed Northern Arizona to finish with 469 yards of offense, but the Eagles did a good job of containing NAU running back Alan Henderson. He entered this year's meeting with 838 yards and six touchdowns this season, and had 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU last year against EWU. He finished with just 70 on 17 carries in this year's meeting.
Nichols was selected as Big Sky Offensive POW for the second time this season. The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., passed for 316 yards, 186 in the first quarter alone, as EWU ended the game with 556 yards of total offense. Nichols completed 17-of-22 passes for 317 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions for an impressive efficiency rating of 273.3.
Nichols also had 48 yards on the ground to finish with 365 yards of total offense. It was the fifth 300-yard passing game in his 20-game career, including his fourth this season.
"He did a nice job taking care of the football," praised EWU head coach Paul Wulff. "He didn't force anything, which was important. He had a good game, but if we are going to win games, he has to."
Eastern had 280 of its offensive yards in the first quarter on just 19 plays as EWU scored 28 points. Eastern added 21 points in the third quarter as the 52 points EWU scored was the second most in a Big Sky Conference victory and equaled the third-most overall in 158 Big Sky games all-time for the Eagles.
Nichols ranks in the top seven in three statistical categories in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. He is fifth in FCS this week in passing efficiency rating (163.6), sixth in passing offense (286.9) and seventh in total offense (307.9).
Nichols has now passed for 2,869 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions this season after having 17 interceptions and eight touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. His yardage total is already the seventh-best in school history -- easily the most-ever for an EWU sophomore (Erik Meyer had 2,301 as a sophomore in 2003). His average of 286.9 yards per game is currently fourth and his 3,079 yards of total offense is sixth.
At his current pace, he will finish an 11-game season ranked sixth in school history in passing yards (3,155), fourth in total offense (3,386), fourth in TD passes (28) and third 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 317 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 52.8 attempts. His passing efficiency rating thus far is 163.6 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.
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#24 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07