Nov. 19, 2007
From 3-8 to 8-3. From a school-record 17 interceptions to the cusp of a school record for touchdown passes.
If Eastern Washington University's football program is the comeback team of the 2007 college football season in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, then Matt Nichols is the comeback player, or at the very least, most improved.
Nichols was selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week after helping Eastern conclude an improbable late-season run with a 38-16 victory over Weber State last Saturday (Nov. 17) at rain-soaked Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
The sophomore from Cottonwood, Calif., passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another 103 yards in EWU's fourth-straight win overall and fifth-straight league victory. Eastern finished 8-3 to advance to the FCS Playoffs where it will play second-seeded McNeese State this Saturday (Nov. 24) at 5 p.m. Pacific time in Lake Charles, La.
Last year, Nichols endured a 3-8 record as a freshman when he had a school-record 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. This season, Nichols has completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,125 yards, 30 touchdowns, just six interceptions and a passing efficiency rating of 161.4 to rank seventh in that category in FCS.
Nichols accounted for 359 of EWU's 426 yards of total offense in the win over Weber State as EWU scored 24 unanswered points to overcome a 16-14 second-half deficit.
"He did a great job and took advantage of the things that were working well for us," said Wulff. "He did some big things in a big game today. It was a good thing for him to come in and play well back-to-back weeks."
It was the third POW honor for this season for Nichols, who was 17-of-22 for 316 yards and five touchdowns a week earlier versus Northern Arizona when he also earned national player of the week accolades. His 30 touchdown passes is just one away from the school record of 31 set two years ago by the player he replaced, 2005 Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer.
Nichols also broke the school's single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he now has 313 to break the record of 275 set by Mark Laitala in 1978. Meyer holds the career record with 681, and Nichols already has 428 in his career.
With 103 rushing yards against WSU, Nichols more than doubled his previous career-best of 48 rushing yards set a week earlier in a 52-24 victory at NAU.
A slippery field caused by day-long rain slowed down Eastern's offense in the first half, and the Eagles fell behind 16-14 with 7:55 to play in the third quarter. But a 51-yard kickoff return by Tony Davis was followed by passes of 21 yards to Aaron Boyce and 22 yards for a touchdown to Brynsen Brown. That gave Eastern the lead for good as EWU trailed for all of 28 seconds.
Eastern went on to score 17 more unanswered points, including a back-breaking 36-yard pass from Nichols to tight end Nathan Overbay late in the third quarter. That came on a fourth-and-inches play as Nichols faked a sneak into the line, but pulled back and tossed to a wide-open Overbay.
"It was a play we worked on, and we knew we needed to take our shots in this game," said Wulff. "We were going to use all the tricks we had if we needed to."