Dec. 12, 2008
Expect expectations to be high again in 2009.
Thanks to a three-game winning streak to end the 2008 season -- including a season-ending victory over eighth-ranked and Big Sky Conference champion Weber State -- the Eastern Washington University football team salvaged the 2008 season with its 11th winning season in the last 13 years.
As a result, the off-season will again be filled with high expectations for the 2009 season. The Eagles expect to return 39 letter winners, including nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Among the 18 seniors Eastern had on its 2008 roster, six were starters in addition to the team’s kicker, punter and long snapper.
"You always want to play good at the end of the year," said head coach Beau Baldwin after his first season as a head coach ended with the 33-26 victory over the playoff-bound Wildcats. "I don’t care if you have playoff implications or not, there is always meaning to peaking at the end of the year. Whether it means it’s good carry-over to the off-season or it’s sending the seniors out right, there is always the need for momentum.
"We have a lot of great players returning," he added. "There is no question we had some seniors that will be tough to replace. But we still have a lot of players who have played a lot of football coming back."
The Eagles ended the regular season with a victory for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. Eastern opened November with a 15-13 home loss to Sacramento State to fall to 3-5 for the season, but rallied for wins at Northern Colorado (31-16), at home versus Northern Arizona (28-13) and Weber State.
"It showed what we were able to do when we finally came together," said Baldwin. "We had a new coaching staff and had a lot of new things to learn. In some games we all struggled, but we learned from that and got better. We played our best football at the end of the season, and that gives us momentum as we head into the off-season. Hopefully we can continue that right through to next season when practices start in August."
The Eagles had entered the year as the seventh-ranked team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and had hopes of qualifying for the FCS Playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. But three losses in a four-game stretch from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1 spoiled those hopes.
"I give so much of the credit to these players -- they really stuck with it," said Baldwin. "There were certain expectations and things didn’t go exactly right. It says a lot about this team to win not only the Weber State game against one of the top Big Sky teams I’ve ever seen, but the last three games of the season with two of them coming on the road.
"We had to fight back to achieve that this season after digging ourselves a little bit of a hole," he added. "That’s big in recruiting. We showed that we were capable of playing with any team in this conference. That goes a long way with recruits."
Weber State had entered the game having already clinched at least a share of the Big Sky title and assured itself of the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Football FCS Playoffs. But the loss to EWU, coupled with Montana’s victory over Montana State, also gave the Grizzlies a share of the league title. It was the 11th-straight season UM has won or shared the Big Sky title, and they went on to defeat Weber State in the quarterfinals of the playoffs after both schools picked up first-round wins.
"It was a great way to end the season for the players coming back, but it was also great to see the seniors close out with three-straight wins and a huge win in Ogden," said Baldwin of the season-ending triumph.
"It fell into place nicely for the seniors," he continued. "How fitting for Greg Peach in his last collegiate play to fall on a fumble and seal the win. But it was still hard. We came off that great win and were so ecstatic, but then you look around and see how hard it was for the seniors to even take off their pads. They know that once they take them off, that’s it."
Montana and Weber State both finished with a 7-1 Big Sky record, with fifth-ranked Montana entering the FCS Playoffs 11-1 and the Wildcats entering 9-3 overall. The Eagles finished their season 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky to finish third.
"I said before the season I thought we were the best team (in the Big Sky) and I still think we’re the best," said senior running back Alexis Alexander after he helped Eastern jump out to a 33-7 lead over the Wildcats before holding on for the victory. "We had our ups and downs this season, but it feels good to finish strong. We had so much fun and our team came together in such a great way at the end of the season."
For 18 Eastern seniors, including 11 four-year letter winners, the Weber State game was their final hurrah. Several of those players were in the program since 2004 and had been a part of two Big Sky championships (2004, 2005), three playoff berths (2004, 2005, 2007) and 34 total victories.
"We’ve had incredible adversity and it was a gut-check for our team," said Baldwin, whose team also suffered through several ill-timed injuries that contributed to its downfalls. "They stayed together through tough times and the seniors kept battling. It’s hard to play at the end of the year when you know you are approaching the finish rather than playing for something."
Now, it’s a matter of looking ahead to the 2009 season for the Eagles.
"What we do from January to August is what is going to determine how many games we win," Baldwin explained. "We have to keep believing and buying into that. From September through November, and hopefully December, we’re just having fun.
"No matter what the expectations are and what kind of team you have, that first year is tougher," he added. "It was challenging here in dealing with the dynamics of what they did in 2007. I’m learning a lot too, but they now know us and have been with us for a full year. They know our system and what is expected."
-- More Season-Ending Notes -- In 12 seasons starting in 1997, only twice has EWU failed to end the regular season with a victory (1998 and 2003). Eastern has now ended the regular season with a victory the last five seasons -- as well as nine of the last 10. Included is a 40-6 win over Idaho State to end the 2006 campaign and a 38-16 victory over Weber State in 2007 to wrap-up a playoff berth for the Eagles. Eastern finished 3-8 in 2006 before rebounding for a 9-4 finish in 2007.
Eastern’s defense was superb in the second half of the season, holding five-straight opponents from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 to 19 points or fewer. That is something that EWU has never done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984.
And Eastern did it with a defense that was ranked 118th and last in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing defense, allowing an average of 336.5 yards per game. But Eastern overcame that by ranking 11th in rushing defense (93.5), fifth in sacks (3.1 per game) and ninth in total tackles for loss (7.9).
Offensively, Eastern ranked seventh nationally in passing (299.9 per game) and 24th in total offense (398.5). Individually, national awards candidates Greg Peach and Matt Nichols led the way. Peach, a candidate for the Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in FCS, led the nation in sacks (1.64) and tackles for loss (2.1). Nichols, a Payton Award candidate given to the top offensive player, ranked fifth in total offense (306.9) and sixth in passing offense (299.4).
-- Peach Earns Spot on Walter Camp All-America Team -- Eastern Washington University senior defensive end Greg Peach was one of five Big Sky Conference players to be named to the 2008 Walter Camp Football Foundation 2008 Football Championship Subdivision All-America Team.
Peach, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior from Vancouver, Wash., was named the Big Sky Conference Defensive MVP after leading FCS and the league with averages of 1.64 sacks and 2.1 tackles for loss per game. Peach set school records at Eastern for season sacks (18), season tackles for loss (28), career sacks (35 1/2) and career tackles for loss (63).
He is a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award, which will be presented by The Sports Network on Dec. 18 in Chattanooga. Tenn., on the eve of the FCS Championship game.
Peach was joined on the All-America defense by Montana safety Colt Anderson and Northern Arizona cornerback KJ Gerard. Lumberjack punter Robbie Dehaze and Montana offensive guard Colin Dow was tabbed to the offense.
The team consisted of just 26 players selected from players on the 118 teams in FCS. The Southern Conference had six players on the team, followed by the Big Sky with five, and the Colonial Athletic Association with four. Elon, James Madison, Northern Arizona and Montana each had two players selected to the squad.
Wide receivers Ramses Barden of Cal Poly and Terrell Hudgins of Elon were the only repeat selections.
Walter Camp, "The Father of American Football," first selected an All-America team in 1889. Camp – a former Yale University athlete and football coach – is also credited with developing play from scrimmage, set plays, the numerical assessment of goals and tries and the restriction of play to eleven men per side. The Walter Camp Football Foundation – a New Haven based all-volunteer group – was founded in 1967 to perpetuate the ideals of Camp and to continue the tradition of selecting All-America teams for the Football Bowl and Championship subdivisions.
-- Peach is Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Only Eagle on All-BSC First Team -- Forgive the players on the Eastern football team if they snickered a little bit when they glanced at the 2008 All-Big Sky Conference football team announced Nov. 25. Members of the squad are selected by a vote of the league’s head coaches.
Eagle senior Greg Peach was the lone Eastern player on the first team, but he also claimed the top honor on defense as he was selected as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. His honor is a big step toward winning the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision by The Sports Network (the award will be announced on Dec. 18 on the eve of the FCS Championship Game in Chattanooga, Tenn.).
A total of 21 Eagles were honored on the All-Big Sky squad, including seven on the second team and 13 honorable mention picks. Weber State, a team EWU defeated 33-26 to conclude a 6-5 season for the Eagles, had 12 first team selections. The Wildcats, who won the league title and an automatic berth into the FCS Playoffs, were 7-0 in the league and ranked eighth in the nation at the time Eastern defeated them on Nov. 22.
Second team selections for the Eagles included senior fullback Alexis Alexander and junior wide receivers Aaron Boyce and Brynsen Brown on offense. Senior defensive end Jason Belford and senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon were also on that squad, as well as senior kicker Felipe Macias and senior punter Fritz Brayton.
Of EWU’s 13 honorable mention selections, one of them was junior quarterback Matt Nichols, who was the 2007 Offensive Player of the Year in the league. Seniors receiving honorable mention included running back Dale Morris, center Charlie Wulff and cornerback Ryan Kelley.
Including Boyce, Brown and Nichols, a total of 12 underclassmen were honored by the league. They included six juniors on the honorable mention list -- offensive tackles Brice Leahy and Chris Thomas, wide receiver Tony Davis, tight end Nathan Overbay, inside linebacker Makai Borden and special teams standout Nicholas Ramos. Sophomore outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt received honorable mention, as well as the Johnson twins -- freshman strong safety Matt Johnson and freshman outside linebacker Zach Johnson.
In his final play as a collegian, Peach had a game-clinching fumble recovery with 1:02 left in the victory over Weber State. He finished the season with 18 sacks -- including six multiple sack games -- 72 tackles and 23 1/2 total tackles for loss. He led FCS in both sacks (1.6 per game) and tackles for loss (2.1 per game).
"He’s had one of the most impressive seasons by a player I’ve ever seen at any position," said head coach Beau Baldwin of the new school record-holder for sacks in a season and career (35 1/2). "You can take all positions, and what he’s done statistically, effort-wise and the type of person he is for me to come to that conclusion. His fumble recovery was a very fitting way for him to conclude his career. It was the right way to finish."
Boyce finished with 63 catches for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Brown had 50 for 733 yards and four scores. Boyce was 31st in FCS in receptions per game (5.7) and 27th nationally in reception yards per game (83.4), ranking him fifth in the league in both categories. Brown was 39th in FCS in receptions per game (5.6) and 30th in receiving yards (81.4) after missing the last two games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Alexander, who also earned second team honors as a fullback as a sophomore in 2006, rushed 39 times for 236 yards and an impressive 6.1 average per rush in 2008. He also caught eight passes for 23 yards and scored a total of four touchdowns.
Witherspoon and Belford were the other two seniors besides Peach on Eastern’s experienced defensive line that helped the Eagles rank 11th in FCS in rushing defense (93.5) and hold five-straight BSC opponents to 19 points or less. Witherspoon finished with 34 tackles, 10 total tackles for loss and three passes broken up, and Belford had 28 tackles with six sacks, an interception and four passes broken up.
Macias finished with eight field goals in 12 attempts, including kicks of 55 and 52 yards to his credit that ranked No. 1 and No. 5 in FCS in 2008. Brayton was also impressive on special teams, averaging 42.33 yards per kick to rank 12th in FCS. His season average ranks fourth in school history and his 41.0 career average is third.
-- All But One of EWU’s Seniors Start Versus NAU -- Of the 18 Eastern seniors concluding their careers in the 2008 season, all but one of them were able to start in EWU’s 28-13 victory over Northern Arizona on Nov. 15. Eight seniors started on offense and six on defense, in addition to three specialists.
And that wasn’t easy to do since the Eagles had four senior running backs to get into the lineup. On the initial play on offense, the Eagles started in a wishbone formation before shifting to a more conventional four receiver attack.
"They earned that and it was a fun way for them to play their last home game together," said head coach Beau Baldwin. "We did the best we could to get them all out there, especially offensively. We put some of those running backs in different spots and had fun with that during the week with our switching formations."
Adding to the drama was the fact senior Adam Macomber intercepted a NAU pass on the first possession of the game. As a result, Eastern’s offense was slow to get onto the field as they congratulated the well-liked 5-foot-6 backup cornerback who was getting his second career start as an Eagle.
"That was the first time I had to use a timeout on the first play of a game," Baldwin laughed. "But all of the players were still so jacked up when Adam Macomber had his interception that we were slow getting lined up in our spots on offense. Ultimately, they all deserved to start the game and I was glad we did it."
Of the 18 seniors, 11 of them were four-year letter winners in the 2008 season. Of those 11, nine played and/or redshirted during EWU’s Big Sky Conference Championship season in 2004 that included a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. All 11 of the four-year letter winners played in 2005 and 2007 when EWU made repeat appearances in the playoffs, as well as winning another Big Sky title in 2005. The Eagles won 34 games in the past five seasons -- nine in 2004, seven in 2005, three in 2006, nine in 2007 and six in 2008.
A 12th four-year letter winner would have been defensive lineman Shawn Powell, but he was injured before preseason practices even started and missed the season. The 2004 graduate of Spokane’s Shadle Park High School served as one of the co-captains for the Northern Arizona game. Powell, in fact, was the only senior not to start against NAU.
The 18 seniors finished their careers with a collective 232 starts (not including specialists). In addition, the Eagles will lose their starting kicker, punter and long snapper to graduation.
"It’s not just a great group of players but it’s a great group of young men," Baldwin added. "They all have great futures ahead of them and some of them might be lucky enough to play some more football."
No. - Name - Position - Height - Weight - Letters Won - Hometown (Previous Schools) - Starts
4 - Jason Belford - DL - 6-1 - 240 - Sr. - 4L* - Tacoma, Wash. (Lincoln HS ’04) - 36
5 - Toke Kefu - RB - 5-10 - 240 - Sr. - 4L* - San Mateo, Calif. (San Mateo HS ’04) - 6
62 - Mark Lathim - LS - 6-0 - 225 - Sr. - 4L* - Connell, Wash. (Connell HS ’04)
22 - Dale Morris - RB - 5-9 - 205 - Sr. - 4L* - Chester, S.C. (Marist HS ’04) - 22
12 - Alex Smart - QB - 6-3 - 220 - Sr. - 4L* - North Bend, Wash. (Mount Si HS ’04) - 1
67 - Bryan Smith - OL - 6-3 - 280 - Sr. - 4L* - Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) - 11
8 - Marcus Walker - LB - 5-11 - 210 - Sr. - 4L* - Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’04) - 9
55 - Lance Witherspoon - DL - 6-2 - 275 - Sr. - 4L* - Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur HS ’04) - 29
61 - Charlie Wulff - OL - 6-0 - 270 - Sr. - 4L* - Woodland, Calif. (Woodland HS ’04) - 30
35 - Adam Macomber - DB - 5-6 - 170 - Sr. - 4L - Port Angeles, Wash. (Port Angeles HS ’05) - 3
94 - Greg Peach - DL - 6-3 - 255 - Sr. - 4L - Vancouver, Wash. (Evergreen HS ’05) - 40
42 - Shawn Powell - DL - 6-1 - 250 - Sr. - 3L* - Spokane, Wash. (Shadle Park HS ’04) - 12
44 - Alexis Alexander - RB - 5-10 - 230 - Sr. - 3L* - Medical Lake, Wash. (Medical Lake HS ’01 & Washington State Univ.) - 11
10 - A.J. Jimerson - RB - 6-1 - 215 - Sr. - 3L* - Seattle, Wash. (Garfield HS ’04) - 4
3 - Ryan Kelley - DB - 5-10 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Los Angeles, Calif. (Serra HS ‘03, College of San Mateo JC & Montana State) - 16
46 - Fritz Brayton - P - 6-3 - 190 - Sr. - 2L* - Portland, Ore. (Westview HS ’04 & Washington State Univ.)
96 - Felipe Macias - K/P - 5-9 - 220 - Sr. - 2L - Oxnard, Calif. (Channel Island HS ’05 & Moorpark College)
23 - Shane Hoffman - WR - 6-0 - 190 - Sr. - 1L* - Seattle, Wash. (Shorecrest HS ’04 & Orange Coast CC) - 2
*Used redshirt year.
-- National Sacks Leader and Buchanan Award Candidate Finishes With Game-Clinching Fumble Recovery -- Senior defensive end Greg Peach had a game-clinching fumble recovery with 1:02 left in Eastern’s season-ending 33-26 victory over eighth-ranked Weber State. He finished the season with 18 sacks -- including six multiple sack games -- 72 tackles and 23 1/2 total tackles for loss.
Peach finished second on both the Big Sky Conference single season and career lists. His 18 sacks trailed only Montana’s Andy Petek for single season sacks (19 in 2000) and his 35 1/2 career sacks is behind only Idaho State’s Jared Allen (38 1/2 from 2000-03). Peach also moved into fifth on the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision single season list and fourth in career sacks.
A leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the nation’s top defensive player (it will be awarded on Dec. 18), Peach set the single season school record for sacks when he had a pair in EWU’s 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado on Nov. 8.
"It’s a surreal feeling," said Peach. "Those two are records every defensive lineman wants to break in their career. I was fortunate to break them both -- it’s exciting."
Peach led the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in both sacks (1.64 per game) and tackles for loss (2.1 per game). He had a total of 18 sacks for the season, with 14 1/2 being the next-best overall mark in FCS and 1.32 the next-best per game average. The next-highest tackles for loss average was 1.95.
After failing to get a sack in his first two games of the season, Peach had three against Western Washington (9/20/08) and Idaho State (9/27/08), then had one against Portland State (10/4/08). He registered four versus Montana (10/11/08) for the top performance in a single game in FCS in 2008, then had three versus Montana State (10/18/08) to break the school’s career record. He broke the previous career record of 30 set by Frank Staudenraus (1982-85), who also held the single season record with 15 in 1985.
"I’m really proud of him and it’s an honor to coach Greg," said Baldwin after the Northern Colorado game. "He’s a hard worker and was a winner in high school playing for a state championship team. He’s deserved every bit of it, and everything that has come to Greg he’s earned. He deserves the records."
"It was great to see," Baldwin said following Peach’s record-setting day against MSU. "Greg Peach is having a great season, he’s had a great career, and he just keeps going. Obviously, he’s a tremendous player. Teams that play against him know where he is. He’s not someone who is coming out of nowhere on them. They know where he is and they know whether they can game plan around it, but they are still unable to stop him from putting up the numbers that he is. It helps him to have the guys he has around him."
Peach also broke EWU’s single season and career tackles for loss records, with 28 for 133 yards in losses in 2008 and 63 for 264 yards in his career. Eastern’s historical records have always credited players with a tackle for loss even on assisted tackles for loss. Since the 2000 season when the NCAA began recognizing sacks, tackles and tackles for loss as official statistics, the NCAA has included half-tackles for loss in their totals. Therefore, Peach's current career total under that criteria is 51.0 in his career and 23.5 in 2008.
Below are his single season and career rankings for sacks in Big Sky and NCAA Football Championship Subdivision history (since the 2000 season when the NCAA began recognizing sacks, tackles and tackles for loss as official statistics):
Big Sky Conference Single Season Sacks
1. Andy Petek, Montana - 2000 - 19
2. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2008 - 18
3. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2003 - 17.5
Big Sky Conference Career Sacks
1. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2000-03 - 38.5
2. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2005-08 - 35.5
3. Tim Bush, Montana - 2000-03 - 34.5
FCS Single Season Sacks
1. Chris Gocong, Cal Poly - 2005 - 23.5
t2. Robert Mathis, Alabama A&M - 2002 - 20
t2. Eric Bakhtiari, San Diego - 2007 - 20
4. Andy Petek, Montana - 2000 - 19
5. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2008 - 18
FCS Career Sacks
1. Chris Gocong, Cal Poly - 2001, 03-05 - 42
2. Robert Mathis, Alabama A&M - 2000-02 - 39
3. Jared Allen, Idaho State - 2000-03 - 38.5
4. Greg Peach, Eastern Washington - 2005-08 - 35.5
5. Tim Bush, Montana - 2000-03 - 34.5
-- EWU in National Statistics -- The Eagles finished with the seventh-best passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (299.9 yards per game) and were also 24th in total offense (398.5), 98th in rushing offense (98.5) and 35th in scoring offense (29.4).
Defensively, Eastern was last among 118 teams in FCS in passing defense (336.5), 106th in total defense (429.9) and 72nd in scoring defense (26.8). Oddly enough, Eastern was an impressive 11th in rushing defense (93.5), fifth in sacks (3.09 per game) and ninth nationally in tackles for loss (7.9 per game). The Eagles were also 12th in kickoff returns (22.9 per return).
However, the most important statistic during the season might have been turnover margin, and Eastern was 74th in FCS with a negative 0.18 turnovers per game. In Eastern’s six wins the Eagles were a plus seven in turnover margin (nine giveaways and 16 takeaways), but in their losses EWU was a negative nine in turnover margin (15 giveaways and six takeaways).
Peach, a senior defensive end on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, had 14 of his 18 sacks in a five-game stretch from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18. He had four in the Montana game on Oct. 11 and three against Western Washington, Idaho State and Montana State. Although he had none versus Sacramento State, he had two at Northern Colorado on Nov. 8 and a pair the week after that against Northern Arizona. He led FCS in both sacks (1.64 per game) and tackles for loss (2.1 per game), and was 16th in the Big Sky in tackles (6.45).
A junior on the Walter Payton Award watch list, Nichols had six 300-yard passing performances, and finished sixth in FCS in passing offense (299.4). He was also fifth nationally in total offense (306.9) and 40th in passing efficiency (131.5).
Junior receiver Aaron Boyce, with 22 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games earlier in the season against PSU and Idaho State, was 31st in FCS in receptions per game (5.7). He was also 27th nationally in reception yards per game (83.4). Brynsen Brown, with career bests of 11 catches for 147 yards against Sacramento State, was 39th in receptions per game (5.6) and 30th in receiving yards (81.4) after missing the last two games of the season with a shoulder injury. Although he missed the Portland State game on Oct. 4 with a sprained ankle, junior receiver Tony Davis caught 53 passes after a shoulder injury held him to 35 all of the 2007 season. Davis was 47th nationally in receptions per game (5.3) and 79th in receiving yards (57.9). Davis also averaged 10.3 yards per punt return to rank 27th in FCS.
In addition, kicker Felipe Macias had field goals of 55 and 52 yards to his credit -- the only player to have made a 50-yarder in the first two weeks of the season. He finished with two of the six longest field goals in FCS and one of only two players with two of 50-plus yards.
Punter Fritz Brayton was also impressive on special teams, averaging 42.33 yards per kick to rank 12th in FCS. His season average ranks fourth in school history and his 41.0 career average ranks third.
Defensively, twins Matt Johnson and Zach Johnson, a pair of redshirt freshmen, combined for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 96 tackles ranks 20th in school history, was third in the Big Sky (8.7 per game) and 47th nationally. Matt had 83 total tackles and was eighth in the league (7.6). Zach also had seven passes broken up and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss (0.95 per game). Matt had four interceptions to rank 47th in FCS and sixth in the league (0.36 per game).
Senior Ryan Kelley had three interceptions -- all in back-to-back games against Montana State and Sacramento State -- and was 15th in the league in tackles (6.7). Defensive end Jason Belford had six total sacks to rank 49th in FCS and eighth in the league (0.55 per game).
-- EWU Outscores Opponents 66-10 in Fourth Quarter in Wins; Outscored 60-24 in Losses The Eagles out-scored opponents 66-10 in the fourth quarter in their six wins over Western Washington, Idaho State, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona and Weber State. However, in losses to Texas Tech, Colorado, Portland State, Montana and Sacramento State, EWU was out-scored 60-24 in the final stanza.
-- Defense Has Best Five-Game Roll Since Becoming FCS Member -- Having allowed point totals in the teens of 19, 17, 15, 16 and 13 in a five-game stretch from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15, Eastern’s defense had never had such a stingy stretch in 25 seasons as a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern had a four-game stretch of allowing fewer than 20 points in 1997 when EWU finished with a school-record 12 victories, but that was the only time it has occurred since moving to FCS in 1984.
Eastern’s defense gave up 623 passing yards and 597 total yards in a 47-36 loss at Portland State on Oct. 4. But in the six games after that, the Eagles surrendered just 106 points (17.7 per game), 1,594 passing yards (265.7), 640 rushing yards (106.7) and 2,234 total yards (372.3).
"The defense has done a great job," said Baldwin during his first season as head coach along with first-year defensive coordinator John Graham. "They’ve found a way to get better and better. It takes time sometimes. It was the same players but it’s a new system and new terminology. It’s a group coming together and understanding what their roles are in each situation."
"Our defense has made some good adjustments since the Portland State game," added defensive end Greg Peach. "We have a lot of young guys playing well. The season hasn’t gone quite as we expected, but we’re playing hard and we’ll keep playing hard."
-- Twin Stat Lines Commonplace for Johnson Twins -- Since the first game of their careers against Texas Tech in August, twin brothers Zach Johnson and Matt Johnson produced some incredible defensive numbers as redshirt freshmen.
They combined for 22 tackles in EWU’s 28-13 win over Northern Arizona on Nov. 15 and 27 a week earlier in a 31-16 victory over Northern Colorado. Versus NAU, Zach had 12 stops and Matt had nine, with each breaking up a pass. Versus UNC, Zach had 15 tackles and a key interception in the third quarter while Matt finished with 12 tackles.
"There was no question Zach had a huge pick against Northern Colorado," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin of the 2006 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School. "He did a great job and is a great player. Both of the Johnson twins are great players. At different times this year they were a little banged up because they played a lot of snaps, but those guys kept coming to play."
Both had impressive collegiate debuts in Eastern’s 49-24 loss at Texas Tech on Aug. 30. With Matt starting at strong safety and Zach at strong-side inside linebacker, the Johnson brothers finished with a combined 18 tackles, including eight tackles and three passes broken up by Zach. Matt had a team-high 10 tackles and a game-changing interception in the second quarter. The Eagles trailed 21-0 when Matt intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards to the TTU 7-yard line. Two plays later, Alexis Alexander scored from one yard out to give EWU its first score.
"They are great players and have bought right in," said Baldwin after the Texas Tech game. "They’re coachable, they can run, they can tackle -- they have all the tools to be great defensive players in this league. They left it on the field and went hard. There was no question that a lot of young players stepped up against Texas Tech."
They finished the season combining for 179 tackles to rank 1-2 on the team. Zach, whose 96 tackles ranks 20th in school history, was third in the Big Sky (8.7 per game) and 47th nationally. Matt had 83 total tackles and was eighth in the league (7.6). Zach also had seven passes broken up and ranked eighth in the league in tackles for loss (0.95 per game). Matt had four interceptions to rank 47th in FCS and sixth in the league (0.36 per game).
-- Nichols Has Six 300-Yard Passing Games -- Junior quarterback Matt Nichols had six 300-yard passing games in 2008, giving him a total of 12 in his 35-game career thus far. He had at least 300 yards of total offense in seven games in 2008, including a season-ending 313-yard effort against Weber State (242 passing, 71 rushing).
His latest 300-yard passing game was a 346-yard performance against Northern Arizona on Nov. 15. He had 418 yards against Portland State (10/4/08) to rank as the third-best in his career and 10th-best in school history. A week earlier, he had 382 and five touchdowns against Idaho State (9/27/08) as he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. A Walter Payton Award candidate, his completions (36) and attempts (61) against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 both rank as the second-most in school history.
On Eastern’s single season passing lists, Nichols finished the 2008 season with the second-most attempts (451), completions (3,293) and average passing yards per game (299.4); the fifth-most passing yards (3,293); the ninth-most touchdown passes (21) and the fifth-most total offensive yards (3,376).
On EWU’s career passing lists, Nichols ranks in the top three in all categories, including second in total offense (9,376) as he passed Mark Tenneson (7,428 from 1989-92) versus Portland State. Nichols is now also second in passing yards (8,786), surpassing Tenneson’s mark of 7,492 versus Montana State. The record holder for both passing yards and total offense is 2005 Payton Award winner Erik Meyer (2002-05) with 10,261 passing yards and 10,942 yards of total offense. Meyer is the player Nichols replaced in 2006 as Eastern’s starting quarterback.
Nichols now owns the school record with 1,150 career pass attempts, and also ranks fifth in efficiency rating (136.0), second in touchdown passes (63, ranking only behind the 84 of Meyer), second in completions (698) and third in interceptions (40).
Below is a complete list of his 300-yard outings:
300-Yard Passing Games for Nichols (total of 12)
451 - 37x59, 2td - Montana - 10/6/07 (#3 in school history)
434 - 34x44, 2td - McNeese State - 11/24/07 (#6 in school history)
418 - 34x55, 2td - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#10 in school history)
382 - 26x40, 5td - Idaho State - 9/27/08 (#18 in school history)
363 - 29x43, 1td - Sacramento State - 11/1/08 (#27 in school history)
363 - 19x30, 2td - Portland State - 9/29/07 (#27 in school history)
346 - 25x42, 2td - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08 (#37 in school history)
335 - 36x61, 1td - Texas Tech - 8/30/08 (#42 in school history)
329 - 21x42, 1td - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
328 - 20x29, 3td - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
316 - 17x22, 5td - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
303 - 32x51, 1td - Colorado - 9/6/08
300-Yard Total Offense Games for Nichols (total of 14)
478 - 451 passing, 27 rushing - Montana - 10/6/07
459 - 434 passing. 25 rushing - McNeese State - 11/24/07
435 - 418 passing, 17 rushing - Portland State - 10/4/08
376 - 382 passing, -6 rushing - Idaho State - 9/27/08
375 - 426 passing, 29 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/15/08
370 - 363 passing, 7 rushing - Portland State - 9/29/07
359 - 256 passing, 103 rushing - Weber State - 11/17/07
359 - 329 passing, 30 rushing - Sacramento State - 9/30/06
364 - 316 passing, 48 rushing - Northern Arizona - 11/10/07
355 - 328 passing, 27 rushing - Sacramento State - 10/27/07
322 - 335 passing, -13 rushing - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
320 - 363 passing, -43 rushing - Sacramento State - 11/1/08
314 - 303 passing, 11 rushing - Colorado - 9/6/08
313 - 242 passing, 71 rushing - Weber State - 11/22/08
-- Wide Receiver Trio Ahead of Previous Quartet -- Eastern’s receiving corp in 2008 includes three juniors – Tony Davis, Brynsen Brown and Aaron Boyce – who have started since they were freshmen in 2006. In their careers, that trio has already combined for 456 catches for 6,329 yards and 43 touchdowns in 98 games worth of experience (80 starts). In 2008, they combined for 166 passes for 2,229 yards and 17 touchdowns. They combined for 118 catches for 1,539 yards and eight touchdowns as redshirt freshmen in 2006, then combined for 172 catches for 2,561 yards and 18 scores in 13 games in 2007.
In 2008, Boyce equaled his 2007 performance with 10 touchdown catches to rank eighth in school history, and his 63 catches also rank eighth. He has already moved onto EWU’s career lists, ranking second in catches (183), fourth in touchdown catches (23) and third in receiving yards (2,696). Brown is 12th in receptions (137) and Davis is 14th (136).
The only player ahead of Boyce on the career catches list is Eric Kimble (253 from 2002-05). Interestingly, all of Boyce’s touchdown catches have come from Matt Nichols. Of the 43 touchdowns total Boyce, Brown and Davis have caught, all but two of them have come from Nichols (Brown and Davis each caught a TD pass from Chris Peerboom in 2006).
That trio is a reminder of a recent quartet of players that began playing with quarterback Erik Meyer in 2002. Eric Kimble, Raul Vijil, Richmond Sanders and Craig McIntyre had career totals of 503 catches for 7,858 yards and 74 touchdowns in 156 games worth of experience (74 starts). But after their first two seasons as Eagles, that quartet had just 121 catches, for 1,774 yards and 17 touchdowns -- less than half of the production that Davis, Brown and Boyce had in their first two years.
In 2005, Meyer and his teammates won their second-straight Big Sky Conference title and appeared in the playoffs for the second-straight season. Meyer would go on to win the Walter Payton Award in 2005 as the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Aaron Boyce
232 (*17 catches, 1 TD) - Montana - 10/6/07 (#2 in school history)
186 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Sacramento State - 10/27/07 (#10 in school history)
181 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 10/4/08 (#14 in school history)
157 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/15/08
135 (9 catches, 3 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
135 (9 catches, 1 TD) - Brigham Young - 10/20/07
126 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Montana State - 10/13/07
119 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
108 (6 catches, 2 TD) - Weber State - 11/22/08
107 (9 catches, 0 TD) - UC Davis - 9/15/07
*School record. #Second in school history.
100-Yard Receiving Games for Tony Davis
150 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Idaho State - 9/22/07
131 (8 catches, 1 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
126 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Western Washington - 9/20/08
114 (#13 catches, 1 TD) - Texas Tech - 8/30/08
112 (6 catches, 0 TD) - Central Washington - 9/16/06
#Second in school history behind Aaron Boyce.
100-Yard Receiving Games Brynsen Brown
147 (%11 catches, 1 TD) - Sacramento State - 11/1/08
139 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Portland State - 9/29/07
138 (9 catches, 2 TD) - Northern Arizona - 10/28/06
104 (4 catches, 1 TD) - Idaho State - 9/27/08
104 (7 catches, 0 TD) - McNeese State - 11/24/07
104 (5 catches, 0 TD) - Sacramento State - 9/3/06
99 (6 catches, 1 TD) - Weber State - 11/17/07
%Ninth in school history.
-- Boyce and Davis Have Second-Best Receiving Performances in School History -- Junior Tony Davis, who missed four games in 2007 with a shoulder injury, led the Eagles with 13 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in Eastern’s 49-24 loss to Texas Tech on Aug. 30. His catch total equaled the second most in school history, ranking only behind the 17 teammate Aaron Boyce had in 2007 against Montana. Davis, a 2005 graduate of Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., had 126 yards and a touchdown on six catches versus Western Washington on Sept. 20. Davis now has five 100-yard receiving performances in his Eastern career.
Junior Aaron Boyce, meanwhile, duplicated the 13-catch feat against Portland State on Oct. 13. He finished with 181 receiving yards to rank as the 14th-most in school history. The 2007 All-American caught just 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in his first three games of the 2008 season, but in his next two he caught 22 for 316 yards and four scores.
Not to be outdone, Brynsen Brown had his own double-digit receiving performance on Nov. 1 against Sacramento State. He had 11 catches to rank ninth in school history and his 147 yards receiving were a career high.
-- Rushing Woes -- A minus 31 yards of rushing offense against Sacramento State on Nov. 1 contributed to the lack of rushing the Eagles had in the 2008 season. Eastern averaged just 98.6 yards per game on the ground to rank 98th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and seventh in the Big Sky.
The performance against the Hornets included a season-high five sacks allowed -- in EWU’s first seven games of the season the Eagles had surrendered just nine (EWU allowed a total of 18 in 11 games). At the time, the rushing total was Eastern’s lowest in at least the last 245 games and fewest in 164 Big Sky Conference games since EWU joined the league in 1987. The fewest previously in a Big Sky game were 14 in 1994 versus Portland State. Twice in that span EWU has been held to negative rushing yards, but both times it occurred against a Pacific 10 Conference foe (minus 14 versus Oregon State in 2006 and minus 13 versus Arizona State in 2002).
In addition, the 2008 season was the first time since at least 1978 (records are incomplete prior to that time) that Eastern has failed to have a 100-yard individual rushing performance. Dale Morris was the closest in 2008 with 94 yards versus Idaho State on Sept. 27.
It was also the fourth-straight season that Eastern has failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher. Prior to that, Eastern had a 1,000-yard rusher in nine of 10 seasons, including a string of eight-straight seasons from 1995-2002.
-- Five Players Make Starting Debuts -- Five players, including three on defense and two on offense, made their starting debuts at Texas Tech on Aug. 30.
The defensive debuts were made by weak-side outside linebacker J.C. Sherritt, strong-side inside linebacker Zach Johnson and strong safety Matt Johnson. Sherritt is a sophomore from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’06) and the Johnson twins are redshirt freshmen from Tumwater, Wash. (Tumwater HS ’07). The Johnson twins were playing in their first collegiate football game.
On offense, both new starters were offensive guards. Ryan Forney, a junior from Silverdale, Wash. (Central Kitsap ’05) started at left guard and Bryan Smith, a senior from Enumclaw, Wash. (Enumclaw HS ’04) started on the right.
After that, 10 new starting debuts were made in 2008 for a total of 15. Sean Rock started at center versus Idaho State and defensive nose tackle Renard Williams and linebacker Kyle Wilkins both made their starting debuts against Western Washington. Against Portland State on Oct. 4, Will Edge started as a nickel back as the Eagles faced the No. 1 passing offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Freshman redshirt Taiwan Jones made the first start of his career against Montana on Oct. 11 after missing EWU’s first four games of the season with a broken fibula suffered in preseason practices. Against Montana State on Oct. 18, Ashton Gant made his starting debut when EWU started the game with four wide receivers. Gabriel Jackson started as an injury replacement at offensive tackle against Sacramento State on Nov. 1. On Nov. 15, on Senior Day at Woodward Field, quarterback Alex Smart and wide receiver Shane Hoffman made the first starts of their careers. In Eastern’s season-ending game at Weber State, wide receiver Nicholas Ramos made his first career start.
-- Starting Experience Leads to Wins -- Returning starts -- and the experience that goes along with them -- can sometimes be a good gauge of how many wins can be expected on the field. In the last seven years, EWU’s top three win-loss records and one 6-5 season (collective 31-18) were recorded by teams that returned at least 245 starts. The worst three records (collective 15-18) were by teams with 225 returning starts or fewer.
The Eagles entered the 2008 season with 26 players returning with starting experience totaling 272 starts. Broken down, Eastern returned 136 starts on both defense and offense (13 players each) for a total of 272 starts returning.
By contrast, Eastern entered the 2007 season with 31 players returning with starting experience and a total of 245 starts. Of the total, just 80 were on the defensive side and 165 were by offensive players. The Eagles opened the 2006 season with 25 players with starting experience, amounting to 225 starts between them.
The Eagles entered the 2005 season with 23 players with starting experience (280 total starts). Just five players made their starting debuts for the Eagles in the season opener, but 13 made starting debuts after that because of a large amount of injuries the Eagles suffered.
The Eagles opened the 2004 season with 29 players with starting experience (271 starts), and in 2003 they had 28 players with starting experience (168 starts). However, Eastern had just 17 players with a combined 108 starts between them entering the 2002 season.
In both the 2003 and 2004 season openers, the Eagles had six new starters in the lineup. In 2002, 13 players made starting debuts in Eastern’s 38-2 loss at Arizona State.
Below is a breakdown by year of the returning starters Eastern has had and the record the Eagles ended up with.
Year - Players With Starting Experience - Total Starts - New Starters in Opener - Record
2008 - 26 - 272 - 5 - 6-5 (total of 15 new starters used during the year)
2007 - 31 - 245 - 6 - 9-4 (total of 11 new starters used during the year)
2006 - 25 - 225 - 5 - 3-8 (total of 21 new starters used during the year)
2005 - 23 - 280 - 5 - 7-5 (total of 18 new starters used during the year)
2004 - 29 - 271 - 6 - 9-4
2003 - 28 - 168 - 6 - 6-5
2002 - 17 - 108 - 13 - 6-5
Here are the current number of career starts by Eastern players on the 2008 roster -- Defense (257 starts by 20 players) -- Greg Peach 40, Jason Belford 36, Lance Witherspoon 29, Kevin Hatch 24, Makai Borden 20, Ryan Kelley 16, Lonnie Hosley 13, Shawn Powell 12, Matt Johnson 11, Zach Johnson 11, Marcus Walker 9, J.C. Sherritt 8, Renard Williams 7, Tyler Jolley 5, Josh Jacobson 5, Taiwan Jones 4, Adam Macomber 3, Kyle Wilkins 2, Jacob Kragt 1, Will Edge 1.
Offense (257 starts by 21 players) -- Matt Nichols 33, Aaron Boyce 32, Charlie Wulff 30, Brynsen Brown 29, Dale Morris 22, Tony Davis 19, Chris Thomas 18, Alexis Alexander 11, Nathan Overbay 11, Brice Leahy 11, Bryan Smith 11, Ryan Forney 11, Toke Kefu 6, A.J. Jimerson 4, Matt Martin 2, Shane Hoffman 2, Nicholas Ramos 1, Ashton Gant 1, Sean Rock 1, Gabriel Jackson 1, Alex Smart 1.
-- Injury Woes at Middle Linebacker -- At middle linebacker, Makai Borden returned to the starting lineup against Sacramento State on Nov. 1 after missing his previous three starts with an ankle injury. That came a year after fighting toe and foot injuries. In his last two seasons at EWU, the Eagles are 13-4 when he is in the starting lineup and 2-5 when he is not. A 34-17 win over Montana State on Oct. 18 is the first time the Eagles have won when he hasn’t started, and a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State on Nov. 1 is the first time EWU has lost when he’s been in the starting lineup. Eastern also won on Nov. 8 at Northern Colorado when senior Marcus Walker started.
"That’s a compliment to what Makai brings to our team," said Baldwin. "He’s a great player, but he also brings a lot of emotion to the defense."
Making the injury to Borden that much more difficult was a shoulder injury to Walker that limited him to one series in those same three weeks that Borden was out. As a result, Eastern moved linebackers from other positions -- namely freshman Zach Johnson and junior Kyle Wilkins -- to fill that role in the middle. Wilkins, at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, held his own with seven tackles versus Montana on Oct. 11 and four at Montana State a week later.
"Kyle Wilkins did a great job against Montana despite playing very little middle linebacker," praised Baldwin. "Without Makai and Marcus in there, I was proud of the way Kyle came in and battled at a position where he has had very few reps."
-- Injury Report -- Four players missed the Northern Arizona and Weber State games with late-season injuries -- linebacker J.C. Sherritt (knee), wide receiver Brynsen Brown (shoulder), nose guard Tyler Jolley (shoulder) and defensive end Jacob Kragt (concussion).
An open date on the schedule on Oct. 25 helped return the Eagles to nearly full strength for the stretch run. Only starters Lonnie Hosley (foot) and Bryce Leahy (ankle) missed the Sacramento State game on Nov. 1 because of injuries suffered previously. Leahy returned to action against Northern Colorado, but Hosley remains out after originally suffering a foot injury against Portland State.
The bye week, in particular, helped linebackers Marcus Walker and Makai Borden. Walker suffered a shoulder injury against Idaho State on Sept. 27 and did not play against Portland State and Montana State, and played just one series versus Montana on Oct. 11. Borden suffered an ankle injury before the PSU game and missed three games.
Besides Walker and Borden, running back Dale Morris (knee) didn’t play versus Montana State but returned against Sac State.
Two others were also injured in practice the week of the PSU game and didn’t play against the Vikings, including starting wide receiver Tony Davis (ankle) and backup receiver Ashton Gant (hamstring). Davis returned to play versus Montana, but Gant also missed the Montana game.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Taiwan Jones, who broke his fibula the first week of pre-season practices, made his Eagle debut against Portland State and his starting debut versus Montana. He had even more playing time versus PSU than what was expected when cornerback Hosley left the game with a foot injury. Hosley missed the Montana, Montana State and Sacramento State games.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Hart is out for the season with a broken scapula suffered against Idaho State on Sept. 27. Hart has played as a backup running back as well as returning punts and kickoffs.
Eastern came out of its first three games fairly healthy. The only player to leave the Texas Tech game with an injury was Alexis Alexander, who sat out the Colorado game and returned to play against Western. Linebacker J.C. Sherrit left the Colorado game with a sprained ankle suffered on his 48-yard interception return for a touchdown. He missed the Western game but returned to play against Idaho State.
Senior starting nose tackle Shawn Powell suffered a knee injury before practices even began and was also lost for the season.
Interestingly, injuries to Alexander and Sherritt both occurred on touchdowns. In 2008, Tony Davis injured his shoulder on a touchdown reception versus Portland State and missed four games.
Beau Baldwin QUOTES
-- On Helping Montana Earn a Piece of its 11th-Straight Big Sky Title -- "I know this is the first time Missoula and the State of Montana were Eagle fans. But I didn’t care about that as much as it was huge for us to get another winning season and to go out right."
-- On Matt Nichols-to-Aaron Boyce Touchdown Passes Against Northern Colorado -- "Matt and Aaron did a great job to make some big plays. We were able to establish a running game to help open some of that up. Matt and Aaron made plays when we needed to. When the shots were there for touchdowns they took advantage of them."
-- On Montana State Win -- "I knew that going into it that it might be a little bit of a slugfest so to speak. A couple of people asked me what were going to be important aspects of winning that ballgame, and I thought turnover margin and special teams. Both of those things really proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of that game. Obviously, we would have liked to perform a little better offensively in that first half. We were just not efficient on third down -- we were just short by a yard on a few of them. The good thing is that our defense was able to play great on the road and our special teams were solid all day. Once we got rolling on offense, it wasn’t a game that was already out of hand or you are having to come from behind. Our whole team was staying with it, staying with it."
-- On Losing Turnover Battle 5-1 Versus PSU -- "The turnovers were huge and that’s a big part of any game. In my opinion, there is no excuse on either side of the ball. Four of our turnovers were at very critical times offensively. On defense we have to create more turnovers, especially against a team that throws it 70-plus times. Whatever we have to do to change it we will, and that has to be our mindset. There is no question turnovers can be the difference in a season, and that’s the statistic that means the most when you look at a win-loss record. Most of the time the winner of the turnover battle is the winner of the game."
-- On Narrow Loss to Colorado -- "It’s a sting, especially when you have to come back and watch the video. When you watch it you realize the things that might have been a little different could have helped us come out on top. But that’s part of it. We need to learn from it and move forward."
-- On Battling Back Versus Texas Tech -- "You go down 21-0 to any team -- let alone Texas Tech -- and it’s going to be hard to try to fight back from that. But our guys did. They fought back and made a few plays. We kept believing and that was the key thing. I’m not into moral victories, but I was very proud of the way our guys left it on the field."
-- On Second Half Versus TTU -- "We had basically won the second quarter 17-7, and there was no reason why we couldn’t win the third quarter 17-7 or something along those lines. We wanted to keep building momentum -- we had it in the second quarter and I told our team to do everything they could to keep that momentum. We knew Texas Tech was too well-coached and had too many good football players not to come out angry after halftime. It was going to be a tough fight, no question. But we kept fighting in that third quarter, and because of a few plays here and there it just slipped away from us in the end."
-- Baldwin on Nichols and Boyce -- "You not only are talking about talented players, but you’re talking about two mature student-athletes. They are great people and that is part of the reason for their success. They have great character off the field as well, and that will help keep those two grounded and keep them progressing."
MORE 2008 NOTES
-- Marcus Walker Wins Big Sky Player of the Week -- The hard-luck 2008 football season at Eastern Washington University for Marcus Walker had a happy ending for the senior from Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’04).
Walker was selected as the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Nov. 24 for his performance in EWU's 33-26 season-ending victory over eighth-ranked and regular season league champion Weber State. One of 18 seniors on this year’s Eagle team, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound linebacker had two interceptions, eight total tackles and a half-sack. He was starting his fourth game of the season, but would have started more if not for a shoulder injury that kept him out of one game and parts of two others.
The Eagles intercepted Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins four times after he had entered the game with just eight for the season. Walker helped EWU jump out to a 33-7 lead as the Wildcats had two first-half drives stopped by interceptions when WSU had the ball inside the EWU 20-yard line both possessions. The first ended on an interception by Walker on a tipped pass by freshman Zach Johnson.
In the third quarter, after Walker’s second interception of the game at the Eastern 4-yard line, the Eagles marched 96 yards on nine plays to give the Eagles a 33-7 lead with 6:54 left in the quarter.
A backup at middle linebacker when the 2008 season started, Walker suffered a shoulder injury against Idaho State on Sept. 27 and did not play against Portland State and Montana State, and played just one series versus Montana on Oct. 11. As luck would have it, starter Makai Borden suffered an ankle injury before the PSU game and missed three games -- games Walker would have started and played had he been healthy himself.
Walker finished the season with 34 tackles and a fumble recovery in nine games. In his 44-game career (nine as a starter), he had 115 tackles with three interceptions, one pass broken up, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Until the Weber State game, his lone career interception came during his freshman season in 2005 when he returned a pick 72 yards for a touchdown versus Idaho State.
His father is former Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. The elder Walker, whose children Marcus, Taylor (daughter) and Payton (daughter) were named after NFL standouts Marcus Allen, Lawrence Taylor and Walter Payton, respectively, spent the 2008 season on the coaching staff for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
-- Kragt and Thomas Selected Academic All-District VIII -- A pair of Eastern Washington University biology majors have been selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII football team released Nov. 6 as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
Junior defensive lineman Jacob Kragt is a repeat selection on the squad, and is joined by offensive lineman Chris Thomas. Kragt, a biology major with a 3.85 grade point average, is from Ritzville, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Lind-Ritzville High School. Thomas is a 2005 graduate of Sumner, Wash., High School and has a 3.77 GPA as a biology/pre-med student.
The qualifying standards include a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and be a significant contributor to the team. Kragt and Thomas now advance to the national ballot, with the Academic All-America teams announced on Nov. 25.
The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Eastern football players have now been honored 48 times since 1989 on the All-District VIII squad, and six players have gone on to win eight Academic All-America honors.
Kragt is expected to be named to the Big Sky All-Academic squad for the third-straight season. He plans to become the ninth family member, spanning three generations, to become a chiropractor. Thomas is also expected to be named to the Big Sky All-Academic squad for the third-straight season.
Besides Kragt and Thomas, three other Eastern players were nominated for Academic All-America honors Only one Eastern player per position was nominated among those who met the criteria. Below is the list:
Linebacker - Marcus Walker - Sr. Pullman, Wash. (Pullman HS ’04) - Interdisciplinary Studies
Wide Receiver - Tony Davis - Jr. - Olympia, Wash. (Capital HS ’05) - Interdisciplinary Studies
Tight End - Matt Martin - So. - La Crosse, Wash. (La Crosse-Washtucna HS ’06) - Communications Studies
Offensive Line - Chris Thomas - Jr. Sumner, Wash. (Sumner HS ’05) - Biology/Pre-Medicine
Defensive Line - Jacob Kragt - Jr. - 2L* - Ritzville, Wash. (Lind-Ritzville HS ’05) - Biology
-- Witherspoon Honored By Big Sky -- Senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon was selected as the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Nov. 15 in a 28-13 victory over Northern Arizona.
The 2004 graduate of Decatur High School in Federal Way, Wash., had a pair of sacks on the same NAU possession in the fourth quarter, as well as forcing and recovering the key fumble that helped give Eastern the lead for good in the third stanza.
Northern Arizona finished with a negative two yards rushing in the game. It was the fifth-straight game Eastern has held an opponent to less than 20 points -- something that EWU has not done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984.
Eastern took the lead for good at 14-13 in the third quarter after Witherspoon got into the backfield on an NAU rushing attempt and forced and recovered a fumble at the NAU 5-yard line. In the fourth quarter, with EWU clinging to a 21-13 lead, Witherspoon had sacks on back-to-back plays to force a third-and-long situation and a subsequent Lumberjack punt that EWU turned into its final points of the day.
He finished with six total tackles, including three for losses totaling 18 yards. Witherspoon, an honorable mention All-America selection in 2007, finished 2008 with 34 tackles in 2008 with 3 1/2 sacks, 10 total tackles for loss, three passes broken up, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. In his 42-game career (29 as a starter), he had 121 total tackles with seven sacks, 29 1/2 total tackles for loss, seven passes broken up, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
-- Kelley Earns Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Honor -- Senior cornerback Ryan Kelley was selected Big Sky Conference co-Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting two passes against his former school Oct. 18 in a 34-17 victory at Montana State University.
Kelley, who was at MSU in 2004 and 2005, had a pair of interceptions, including one he returned 37 yards for a first-half score. That interception, with 5:03 left in the second quarter, helped Eastern to a 14-all tie at halftime despite just 93 yards from EWU's offense. His other interception came earlier in the quarter when he returned it nine yards to the MSU 21-yard line, but the Eagles were unable to score. Kelley also had five tackles in the game. Kelley had just two interceptions in the first 18 games of his EWU career, but duplicated that in the first 25 minutes of his return trip to Bozeman.
He is a 2004 graduate of Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., but was born in Los Angeles and considers that as his hometown. After redshirting in 2004 and playing sparingly in 2005 at MSU, he played at San Mateo Junior College in California in 2006. He attended EWU and played for the Eagles for the first time in fall 2007.
Just prior to spring practice in 2008, Kelley spent a week in the hospital battling for his life with a bout of bacterial meningitis. He lost 12 pounds after overcoming the sometimes-deadly disease that put him in critical condition in an intensive care unit, as well as an induced coma, in late March. Kelley returned to practice during EWU’s final week of spring drills, but only because weather delays and postponements forced the Eagles to practice the week after the Red-White Spring Game. He still has some lingering hearing loss in his left ear, and likened it to a constant bell ringing
"That was exciting to see and I know that it was special for him," said Baldwin. "At one time he was with Montana State, so to go back there and have a game like that and score a touchdown was a highlight for him. He’s getting better and better. Our secondary, as a whole from these last two games, continues to get better and better about making opponents earn things and not giving up big plays."
-- A Taste of the Eagle-Grizzly Rivalry -- Montana has dominated the series with EWU 24-10-1, including victories the last three times Eastern hosted the Grizzlies at Woodward Field (31-28 in 2004, 33-17 in 2006 and 19-3 in 2008). Since winning three-straight over Montana from 1990-92, Eastern has won just three times since -- 40-35 in 1997, 30-21 in 2002 and 34-20 in 2005. Eastern is 4-12-1 in Missoula, 5-11 in home games and 1-1 in games played at neutral sites.
The Eagles shared the 2004 and 2005 Big Sky titles with Montana, but the Grizzlies have won or shared every league title since 1998. Eastern is the last Big Sky school other than Montana to win the outright title, with that coming in 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
Eastern has not defeated the Grizzlies at Woodward Field since 1991. The 2008 setback was EWU’s sixth-straight loss to Montana in Cheney, however, the Eagles did defeat Montana at Albi Stadium in Spokane in 2002. The 2008 meeting was the seventh time in the last 13 meetings that 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 24 times in 35 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 23 meetings the winning team has averaged 33.3 points. In six of those 23 games the two teams have combined for at least 70 points, including a 41-31 Grizzly win at Spokane’s Albi Stadium in 2000.
As for suspense, that one’s covered too. In 2007, Eastern kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:20 to play before top-ranked Montana kicked the game-winner with 26 seconds to play after converting a fourth-and-10 play. Eastern wide receiver Aaron Boyce had the fourth-best receiving effort in Big Sky Conference history with a school-record 17 catches to earn NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week honors from The Sports Network. His 232 receiving yards was the second-most in school history, and Eagle quarterback Matt Nichols passed for a career-high 451 yards to rank third all-time at EWU.
In 2004, Montana blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt by the Eagles with 18 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Eagles fell to the fifth-ranked Grizzlies 31-28 in a showdown for first place in front of a Woodward Field record crowd of 10,754. In 2002, Eastern beat the No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Grizzlies 30-21, ending Montana’s record-tying winning streak in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision at 24 games. It was the first Big Sky Conference loss for UM head coach Joe Glenn, and snapped Montana’s record winning streaks of 25 Big Sky games in a row and 13 league road games in a row. And in the process, the Eagle victory opened the door for Montana State and Idaho State to share the conference title with the Grizzlies.
Here are the seven matchups in the last 13 seasons when both squads have entered the game nationally ranked (including 2008):
2008 - #12 Montana 19, #23 Eastern Washington 3 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2005 - #12 Eastern Washington 34 at #2 Montana 20 (in Missoula, Mont.)
2004 - #5 Montana 31, #23 Eastern Washington 28 (in Cheney, Wash.)
2001 - #3 Montana 29, #15 Eastern Washington 26 (overtime in Missoula, Mont.)
2000 - #9 Montana 41, #18 Eastern Washington 31 (in Spokane, Wash.)
1997 - #17 Eastern Washington 36, #2 Montana 35 (in Missoula, Mont.)
1996 - #1 Montana 34, #20 Eastern Washington 30 (in Cheney, Wash.)
-- Nichols, Boyce and Peach Perform Well in Front of Fellow "100 for 100" Players -- With 55 of their fellow "100 for 100" team members looking on, quarterback Matt Nichols, wide receiver Aaron Boyce and defensive end Greg Peach proved their worthiness in that select group in Eastern’s 45-31 victory over Idaho State on Hall of Fame/"100 for 100" Weekend at EWU.
Nichols passed for 382 yards and five touchdowns, and Boyce caught nine passes for 135 yards and three scores. Peach had three sacks for the second-straight week and finished with nine total tackles.
"They did come up big and we were very proud of them," said Baldwin. "Greg has had two big games in a row -- he’s starting to really let it go and is playing well.
"Matt has been consistent all year. We turned it over a few too many times our first two games, but in the last two he’s been very clean. The one interception he had was a little out of his control (dropped pass).
"Aaron has made huge plays the past two weeks. Not just the touchdown catches, but he made some huge third down catches too. At the receiver position, you may have games where you only catch two or three balls, and with our depth it’s going to be like that. We’ll have different players step-up in different games, and that makes us that much harder to defend."
In summer 2008, the athletic department named 100 of the top players in school history to the "100 for 100" All-Time Football Team to commemorate the 100th year of football at Eastern. Players on the squad were honored during pre-game ceremonies, which included current Eastern players paying tribute with a line of handshakes and high fives as they left the field for the lockerroom 20 minutes prior to kickoff.
Fan voting took place through Sept. 21 for the top player by position, and 12 players were honored. Nearly 700 votes were cast with a total of more than 5,000 votes received, and, interestingly, all 100 of the 100 players received votes.
In addition, former NFL offensive tackle Kevin Sargent was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame. Sargent played seven seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, starting 63 of the 73 games he played in his injury-shortened career.
Established in 1996, this year’s inductees will bring the total number of individuals in the Hall of Fame to 45. Five teams have also been inducted. More information on the Hall of Fame and the "100 for 100" team may be found at: http://goeags.cstv.com/hallfame.
-- Nichols Big Sky Player of the Week as He and Peach Provide Fourth Quarter Fireworks -- Junior Matt Nichols and senior Greg Peach -- a pair of candidates for national player of the year awards -- sparked Eastern in the fourth quarter of both wins over Western Washington and Idaho State.
Nichols, who won his fourth Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor for his effort against ISU, passed for 382 yards (17th-best in school history) and five touchdowns against the Bengals. A week earlier he had 281 yards and three touchdowns against WWU. But the Walter Payton Award candidate was at his best in the fourth quarter of both games, going a collective 13-of-15 for 259 yards and three TD passes. Nichols now has three 300-yard performances in four games in 2008 and nine in his 28-game career.
Peach had three sacks for the second-straight game against the Bengals, including one in the fourth quarter as ISU completed just 2-of-8 passes for 12 yards, and had minus 28 rushing yards, in the final stanza. A week earlier, he had a hand in all four Eastern sacks in the game. He now has 23 1/2 in his career, and in a matter of two weeks has moved from ninth to fifth on Eastern’s career leaders list.
-- Eastern Has 45-35 Advantage in Five Quarters versus Texas Tech and Colorado -- The Eagles opened the season with a 49-24 loss at 12th-ranked Texas Tech when EWU battled back from a 21-0 deficit. Eastern then took a 21-7 lead into the second half against Colorado, meaning the Eagles had a 45-35 advantage against the upper division foes in a five-quarter span. In those two games, Eastern’s starters were on the field for all but the final possession against TTU.
"Our team believed they could win and we obviously proved we could have won that game," said Baldwin of the 31-24 Colorado loss, in which Eastern took a 24-17 lead with 3:52 to play. "We feel like we let one slip away. We have to come back and learn from it because the reality is that we’re 0-2. We don’t like that taste and we don’t like that feel, so we have to change that fast."
"We have a good team and we were executing," added Baldwin, whose team had only a field goal in the second half against the Buffaloes and gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:05. "I don’t think Colorado wasn’t ready or not taking us serious -- we were just making plays in the first half.
"No matter who we are playing, we have to find a way to make plays in the fourth quarter. There are no excuses to it -- we just have to find a way to make a few more plays in the fourth quarter and finish the ballgame."
After falling behind 21-0 to TTU, the Eagles won the second quarter 17-7 and stayed within striking distance of the Red Raiders for most of the second half. Eastern finished with 364 yards of total offense against the Red Raiders, including 341 through the air as Eastern tied a school record with 38 pass completions. Eastern out-gained Texas Tech in the second quarter 134-107. After falling behind by three touchdowns, Eastern was only outscored 28-24 the rest of the game.
However, Eastern had three turnovers, including an interception on the first offensive play of the game after the ball went through an Eastern receiver’s hands. That helped the Red Raiders open their early 21-0 lead. Defensively, Eastern surrendered 639 yards to TTU, including 536 through the air against a program that led FBS in passing offense and ranked second in total offense in 2007.
"We left it out of the field for the last two weeks against some big-time opponents," added Baldwin. "It’s tough and it’s hard on their bodies and hard mentally. They are worn out a little bit. The bye came at a good time for us. We just need to re-charge ourselves for Western Washington and then get ready for the league after that."
Eastern is now 7-17 all-time versus FBS opponents, but hasn’t won its last seven meetings since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003. Eastern also lost in 2007 to Brigham Young 42-7, and the year before that in losses to Oregon State (56-17) and sixth-ranked West Virginia (52-3). Several current Eagles played in those FBS games in 2006 and 2007, including Matt Nichols, who made his starting debut against West Virginia.
-- Macias Follows 55-Yarder With 52-Yarder -- Senior kicker Felipe Macias booted a 55-yard field goal against Texas Tech on Aug. 30 to pull Eastern to within 28-17 at halftime. He then had a 52-yarder against Colorado, giving him the only 50-yard field goals in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision after the first two weeks of the season.
His kick versus TTU was the third-longest in school history behind boots of 57 and 56 yards. Brett Bergstrom kicked a 56-yarder in 2006 while the school record is a 57-yarder that Eric Stein had in 1987. However, both of those kicks came at much higher altitudes and thinner air. Bergstrom’s was in Greeley, Colo. (elevation 4,711), and Stein’s was in Bozeman, Mont. (4,872). Macias kicked his in high humidity in Lubbock, Texas (elevation 3,222), but did have the wind at his back.
His kick at Colorado, at an elevation of 5,387 feet, was the ninth-longest in school history. It gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead with 3:57 to play.
-- Eagles Versus Football Bowl Subdivision Members -- Since 1982 when it became a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern is now 7-17 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
2008 - at #12 Texas Tech - L, 24-49
2008 - at Colorado - L, 24-31
-- EWU Plays in Front of Largest Crowds in School History in 2006-2008 -- Four of the six largest crowds Eastern has ever played in front of have come in the last three seasons. The 49,887 on hand in Lubbock, Texas, for EWU’s 2008 game versus Texas Tech was third in history and the 46,417 one week later in Boulder, Colo., for the EWU-Colorado game ranks fourth.
Eastern’s 2007 game at BYU in sold-out LaVell Edwards Stadium broke the year-old record for the 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 sixth-largest at 38,071. Below is a list of the 16 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
49,887 - at Texas Tech - Aug. 30, 2008 - L, 24-49
46,417 - at Colorado - Sept. 6, 2008 - L, 24-31
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
-- Eagles Picked to Finish as Big Sky Runner-up -- Preseason predictions aside, there is no doubt the Eastern Washington University football team believes it can win the Big Sky Conference title in the 2008 season.
The Eagles have been picked to finish second behind 10-time defending champion Montana by both the media and the league’s head coaches in polls released July 22 at the Big Sky’s Summer Kickoff in Park City, Utah.
"Our expectations are extremely high," said Eastern fullback/running back Alexis Alexander, who was Eastern’s player representative in Park City. "We discovered how good of a team we were (in 2007) and our confidence levels are up there. We plan on winning the Big Sky Conference -- we talk about that every day.
"When we’re in the weight room and running, we talk about what we are putting in all the hard work for," said the 2001 graduate of Medical Lake, Wash., High School. "We know we have the personnel to win the conference if we can stay healthy and go out and execute."
Montana earned 23 first-place votes and 361 total points by the media, with Eastern close behind with 19 first-place votes and 350 points overall. In the coaches’ poll, Montana received seven of the nine first-place votes and had 63 points. Eastern had one first-place vote and 52 points overall.
"It’s flattering and humbling in a lot of ways," said first-year head coach Beau Baldwin. "And it’s a compliment to our players for what they accomplished (in 2007) and what they are capable of this season. But the goal is to be up there at the end of the year in the middle of November. That’s obviously what really matters."
With a large group of players returning, Eastern is hoping to continue the momentum from the 2007 season when the Eagles returned to the top of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision scene with a 9-4 finish after a dismal 3-8 record the year before. Eastern advanced to the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and closed the year ranked eighth in the final Sports Network poll of the year. The Eagles won their last five conference games of the year to finish the league season 6-2.
"Honestly, a let down is not an option," said the confident Alexander, who played three years of minor league baseball before returning to football. "This is my senior year and we have a number of other seniors on this team, and we sit down and talk all the time. We know we can do it, and it’s all about staying healthy and executing our assignments. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do, I don’t think anybody can beat us."
In 2007, Montana finished the regular season 11-0 and 8-0 in the Big Sky before losing in the first round of the NCAA Football Championships Subdivision Playoffs. The Grizzlies entered the 2008 season with a 16-game league winning streak, including a 24-23 victory over EWU in Missoula in 2007 in which the Eagles out-gained the Grizzlies 565-289. 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.
While Eastern has 15 starters returning to its team this year, Montana has just 10.
"They’ve earned that right," added Baldwin of Montana’s No. 1 ranking. "I don’t care if they lose every player at every position, they’ve proven they are the team to beat year after year."
In 2008, the Grizzlies and Eagles meet at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., on Oct. 11 in an early showdown between Big Sky rivals. Eastern was the last team besides Montana to win the outright Big Sky title, with that coming in 1997. Since then, the Grizzlies have won or shared the league title the past 10 seasons, including 2004 and 2005 when Eastern also won a piece of the title. The Grizzlies have advanced to the FCS Playoffs 15-straight seasons.
In 2007, Eastern was picked to finish fifth in the league. In 2005, Eastern was picked to win the title in both polls, but had only one-point advantage in the media poll and received five more votes from the coaches. Both teams finished as league co-champions.
-- Nichols and Peach on Watch Lists -- The Sports Network has released its Payton Award and Buchanan Award "Watch Lists" for the 2008 season, and Eagles have been selected to each list of the top 16 defensive players and top 16 offensive players in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Junior quarterback Matt Nichols has been named to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, an honor given to the top player in FCS. That award was won in 2005 by the EWU quarterback Nichols replaced, Erik Meyer. Senior defensive end Greg Peach was picked for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the top defensive player in FCS.
Nichols finished the 2007 season ranked in the top eight in three statistical categories in FCS. He was eighth in FCS in passing efficiency rating (156.5), fifth in passing offense (288.0) and fifth in total offense (318.2) to lead the Big Sky in all three categories.
Nichols completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,744 yards, a school-record 34 touchdowns and had just nine interceptions in 2007. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Nichols also broke the school’s single season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished with 392 yards.
Peach helped the Eagles rank 38th in 2007 in FCS in rushing defense (144.1) en route to earning first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Peach finished with 63 tackles, including 11 sacks to rank as the fifth-best performance in school history and 11th in FCS (0.85 per game). He entered his senior season with 17 1/2 sacks that rank ninth in school history.
The Payton and Buchanan awards will undergo two revisions, one in October and one in November, before ballots are sent out to a panel of sports information directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries on Nov. 24. The Sports Network awards banquet will be held Dec. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn., on the eve of the FCS national championship game.
The Eddie Robinson Award, which goes to the FCS national coach of the year will also be awarded that night. The Robinson Award ballot will be announced in November.
The Sports Network established the Payton and Robinson awards in 1987, and began sponsoring the Buchanan Award in 1995. Georgia Southern quarterback Jayson Foster was the 2007 Payton Award winner, while Montana defensive end Kroy Biermann took home the Buchanan Award.
Walter Payton Award Watch List
Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly, 6-5, 230, Senior
Nathan Brown, QB, Central Arkansas, 6-2, 209, Senior
Liam Coen, QB, Massachusetts, 6-2, 220, Senior
Herb Donaldson, RB, Western Illinois, 5-11, 225, Senior
Armanti Edwards, QB, Appalachian State, 6-0, 185, Junior
Terrell Hudgins, WR, Elon, 6-3, 235, Junior
Rashad Jennings, RB, Liberty, 6-1, 230, Senior
Rodney Landers, QB, James Madison, 6-1, 220, Senior
Corey Lewis, RB, Northern Iowa, 6-0, 197, Senior
Mike McLeod, RB, Yale, 5-11, 200, Senior
Matt Nichols, QB, Eastern Washington, 6-2, 220, Junior
Dominic Randolph, QB, Holy Cross, 6-3, 223, Senior
Andre Roberts, WR, The Citadel, 5-11, 175
Tyler Roehl, RB, North Dakota State, 5-10, 232, Senior
Jordan Scott, RB, Colgate, 5-11, 205, Senior
Javarris Williams, RB, Tennessee State, 5-11, 215, Senior
Buck Buchanan Award Watch List
Bobby Abare, LB, Yale, 6-2, 210, Senior
Colt Anderson, SS, Montana, 5-11, 185, Senior
Pierre Banks, LB, Appalachian State, 6-0, 210, Senior
Jovan Belcher, DE, Maine, 6-2, 228, Senior
Mario Brown, LB, Gardner-Webb, 6-2, 230, Senior
Bobby Daly, LB, Montana State, 6-1, 226, Senior
Zach East, LB, Prairie View, 6-2, 230, Senior
John Faltoese, DT, UC Davis, 6-3, 290, Senior
Cyrus Mulitalo, LB, Sacramento State, 6-1, 245, Senior
Greg Peach, DE, Eastern Washington, 6-3, 255, Senior
Andy Romans, LB, Lafayette, 5-11, 215, Senior
Andy Schantz, LB, Portland State, 6-1, 235, Senior
Pierre Walters, DE, Eastern Illinois, 6-5, 261, Senior
Lardarius Webb, FS, Nicholls State, 5-11, 180, Senior
Jason Williams, LB, Western Illinois, 6-3, 235, Junior
Terrell Whitehead, Norfolk State, 6-2, 200, Junior
-- Four Eagles on Preseason All-America Team -- Like all preseason predictions, it’s how you’re regarded at the end of the season that counts most.
However, a quartet of Eastern Washington University football players -- equaling the most from any one school among the 125 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams -- have been selected to The Sports Network’s preseason All-America team released Aug. 22.
Senior defensive end Greg Peach was honored on the second team while junior wide receiver Aaron Boyce, senior defensive tackle Lance Witherspoon and senior fullback Alexis Alexander were on the third team. All four played high school football in the State of Washington.
Peach and Boyce were also second team selections on the College Sporting News Preseason All-America team. In addition, Eastern Witherspoon was on the third team.
In addition, quarterback Matt Nichols was selected as the FCS Offensive Player of the Year by Lindy’s Football Preview and was ranked as the fourth-best FCS quarterback by The Sports Network. Boyce received second-team preseason All-America honors from Phil Steele’s College Football and Peach earned the same honor from Lindy’s.
Also, Nichols, Boyce, Peach and Witherspoon were selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference squad.
Boyce (Kent, Wash. - Kentwood HS ’05), Peach (Vancouver, Wash. - Evergreen HS ‘05) and Witherspoon (Federal Way, Wash. - Decatur HS ‘04) earned season-ending All-America honors in 2007. Alexander (Medical Lake, Wash. - Medical Lake HS ’01) was a second-team All-Big Sky fullback in 2006 before being slowed by a sports hernia in 2007.
Peach and Witherspoon helped the Eagles rank 38th in FCS in rushing defense in 2007 (144.1) en route to earning first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. Peach finished with 63 tackles, including 11 sacks to rank as the fifth-best performance in school history and 11th in FCS (0.85 per game). He will enter his senior season with 17 1/2 sacks that rank ninth in school history. Witherspoon, a former walk-on, ended the 2007 season with 44 tackles, a sack and 12 total tackles for loss to earn second team All-BSC accolades.
Boyce had 85 catches for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdown receptions to rank 14th in FCS in receptions (6.5 per game) and sixth in receiving yards (100.6). His catch total ranked second all-time at EWU and his yardage total was fourth.
Boyce had a record-breaking performance at Montana on Oct. 6 and was selected by The Sports Network as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Offensive Player of the Week. A first team All-Big Sky selection in 2007, Boyce had the fourth-most catches in Big Sky history with a school-record 17 against the Grizzlies.
Alexander saw action at tailback in 2007 after starting as EWU’s fullback. He had 267 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and also caught five passes for 61 more yards and a score. He has started a total of nine games in his career.
Alexander, a transfer in 2006 from Washington State University, played three years of minor league baseball before returning to football. Alexander, who will turn 26 in November, nearly signed a letter of intent out of high school to play football for Big Sky rival Montana.
The Big Sky Conference dominated the All-America Team with 18 picks, including four each by Eastern and fellow league member Northern Arizona.
-- Eagles Seventh in The Sports Network Preseason Poll -- The Eagles were ranked seventh in The Sports Network preseason NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) poll announced on Aug. 19. The Eagles were one notch ahead of Big Sky Conference rival Montana, which was ranked eighth.
Eastern opens the season on Aug. 30 against a Texas Tech team that was ranked 12th in last week’s Associated Press preseason poll for the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
"There is some merit to be near the top because that can help you when it comes to the playoffs," said first-year EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. "That can sometimes make it a little easier to stay in the top 16 rather than to have to climb all the way into it."
Eastern Washington was picked to finish second behind Montana by the coaches and the media in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls, but those positions were reversed nationally. The Eagles received 1,951 total points from The Sports Network in the poll of media and sports information directors, while Montana received 1,848 points.
Eastern finished the 2007 season 9-4 and ranked eighth in the final poll of the year. The Eagles lost in the FCS Playoff quarterfinals by three points to eventual national champion Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are the three-time defending national champion and began the 2008 season ranked No. 1. The Mountaineers earned 97 of the 101 first-place votes, and 2,546 total points. North Dakota State was ranked second, followed by Northern Iowa, Richmond and Massachusetts.
James Madison was sixth, followed by EWU and Montana. Rounding out the top 10 were Delaware and McNeese State, which was unbeaten in 2007 until EWU beat them 44-15 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
Montana is gunning for its 11th straight Big Sky Conference title. Montana went 11-1 in 2007, losing in the first round of the FCS playoffs to Wofford. The Grizzlies, who play at EWU on Oct. 11, ended 2007 ranked 10th in the nation.
Three other Big Sky teams also received votes in the poll as Northern Arizona just missed out on cracking the top 25. The Lumberjacks earned 249 total points, most among teams not in the top 25. Montana State received 146 points (32nd), while Weber State received 17 (47th).
In addition, Eastern was ranked eighth in the FCS Coaches Poll. Earlier in the summer, EWU was listed at No. 6 in the consolidation of rankings distributed by College Sporting News. Eastern’s highest preseason ranking came from The Sporting News, which has Eastern fifth. Three organizations -- Lindy’s Preview, Phil Steele’s College Football and Sports Media Entertainment Network -- all rank the Eagles sixth. Anygivensunday.com rated Eastern as the ninth-best team in FCS and the SME Network (http://www.smebroadcasting.com) picked Eastern as the favorite to unseat Montana as Big Sky champions.
-- Coaching Staff Mostly New -- There are lots of familiar faces in the Eagle program, but the coaching staff is a different matter. Five new coaches will don the red and white of Eastern after coming from nearby Central Washington where they wore red and black. Included is new Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who directed the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and its own quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
Baldwin is no stranger to EWU’s program, and particularly the offense, which welcomes back six starters from one of the top-producing offensive units in the country. Baldwin spent four years as Eastern offensive coordinator before departing for CWU, and his past tutelage of quarterback Matt Nichols -- the 2007 Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP -- is a major reason why he returned. Baldwin takes the reins from former Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who left to become head coach at Washington State University.
Baldwin, who was named as EWU’s head coach on Jan. 4, has four coaching carryovers from EWU’s staff from 2007 -- Joe Wade, Chris Hansen, Jeff Schmedding and Chris Peterson -- while Aaron Best returns after one year away. The new additions from CWU include John Graham, Ryan Sawyer, Torey Hunter and Nat Conley.
Wade will take over as offensive coordinator and will also coach quarterbacks. Hansen, a cornerbacks coach in 2007, will coach tight ends and handle administrative duties such as recruiting and helping with coordination of summer camps. Schmedding will move from safeties to linebackers and Peterson will move from running backs to wide receivers. Schmedding and Peterson will co-coordinate special teams.
Best, a former EWU All-America center who spent the 2007 season as an assistant coach with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, will return for his eighth season as an EWU offensive line coach.
Graham will be the team’s defensive coordinator after spending the last 13 seasons at Central. Sawyer will coach the defensive line, Hunter will direct EWU defensive backs and Conley will coach running backs.
Besides Hansen taking over coordination of recruiting, other administrative duties will be handled by Best (academics), Peterson (camps), Hunter (travel), Schmedding (video) and Wade (pro football liaison).
-- Morris Puts Injury Woes Behind Him -- The injury woes of running back Dale Morris went in a different direction in 2007. The brother of Seattle Seahawks running back Maurice Morris, he missed 12 of a possible 23 games in his first two seasons as an Eagle with a knee injury as well as a painful Lisfranc foot sprain. However, he was at full strength again in 2007 after bio-mechanics rehabilitation to help the foot become flexible again and distribute weight evenly to the metatarsals. He finished the season with 930 yards rushing, including 512 yards and eight touchdowns in Eastern’s last six games. He also had 11 catches for 77 yards and a score.
-- Kefu Takes Advantage of New Rule -- Thanks to a revised NCAA rule, running back Toke Kefu is able to return for the 2008 season. Kefu was injured in Eastern’s fourth game of the 2007 season versus Portland State, and in any other year previous to that he would have played one too many games to be eligible for an automatic injury hardship. However, NCAA rules were revised in 2007 and enabled football players to play in as many as four games and be able to get the year back.
-- A Former Minor League Baseball Player, Alexander Sees Action at Running Back -- A 2001 graduate of Medical Lake, Wash., High School who will turn 26 during the season, Alexis Alexander nearly signed a letter of intent out of high school to play football for Big Sky rival Montana. Now, seven years later, the 25-year-old Alexander found himself the butt of good-natured ribbing from other Big Sky players during the Big Sky Conference Summer Kickoff he attended as EWU’s player representative.
"All the other players were making fun of me, saying, "Oh my god, are you really that old?" laughed Alexander, whose nicknames at EWU are grandpa and pops. "They saw me eating fruit and told me I needed to eat that way to stay healthy and asked if I wanted some calcium to keep my bones healthy. They were all over me but I told them that I’m used to it by now.
"Go ahead and give it to me -- I’m old, I’m old," he continued. "I’ll be 26 in November playing against 18-year-olds. They call me old until I hit them."
As a fullback new to the EWU program in 2006, Alexander earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors and was honored as the team’s Offensive Player of the Year. He also saw action at running back in the 2007 season, and had 122 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis on Sept. 15, 2007. However, he missed EWU’s last five games after suffering an abdominal injury that was later diagnosed as a hernia.
He started six games in 2006 at fullback, including the last five games of the season. He made his Eagle debut against Oregon State (8/31/06) when he played in his first football game in six years dating back to his senior season in high school in 2000.
He originally came to Eastern as a linebacker after transferring from Washington State University. He was a defensive scout team player in 2004 for the Cougars after going from receiver to defensive back to linebacker. He was an 18th-round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft. He hit .225 in 355 career at bats, with five home runs and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Spokane Indians of the Class A Northwest League.
-- Noteworthy Relatives -- A quartet of Eagles have some noteworthy coaching relatives. Center Charlie Wulff is the nephew of former Eagle head coach Paul Wulff, who is now at Washington State. The father of linebacker Marcus Walker is former Washington State University assistant coach Mike Walker. The elder Walker, whose children Marcus, Taylor (daughter), Payton (daughter) and were named after NFL standouts Marcus Allen, Lawrence Taylor and Walter Payton, respectively, is now on the coaching staff for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
Also, tight end Nathan Overbay is the nephew of Major League Baseball player Lyle Overbay of the Toronto Blue Jays. And punter Fritz Brayton, a transfer from WSU, has three notable relatives. His father, Fritz Sr., was a wide receiver at WSU 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 Carolina Panthers after previously playing for the Oakland Raiders and in college at Colorado.
-- Eagles Looking for 1,000 -- Always proud of its running game with outstanding running backs and offensive linemen, Eastern has had a 1,000-yard rusher for nine of the last 14 seasons from 1995-2008, including six different players. Eastern had eight-straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher from 1995-2002.
The last time it happened came in 2004 when Darius Washington finished with 1,127 yards in 12 games. Because of a shoulder injury, he had just 16 yards in his last two regular season games, but had 257 yards in a pair of playoff games. The Eagles came up short in 2003 as Reggie Witherspoon finished with 766 after Washington’s season came to a premature end with a knee injury in Eastern’s second game of the season.
Joe Sewell started the string of 1,000-yard rushers with 1,025 in 1995, then had 1,094 in 1996. In 1997, Rex Prescott rushed for what was then a school-record 1,793 and Mike MacKenzie accumulated 1,058 in 1997 and 1,396 in 1998. Jovan Griffith finished with 1,275 in 1999, and Jesse Chatman had 1,188 in 2000 and a remarkable 2,096 in the 2001 season that surpassed Prescott’s single season school record. The eighth-straight performance was by Griffith with 1,130 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark with a 199-yard performance in Eastern’s season-ending 30-21 victory over No. 1 ranked Montana on Nov. 16, 2002. In Eastern’s first 86 years of football, only three 1,000-yard performances have been recorded – 1,238 by Mel Stanton in 1965, 1,049 by Meriel Michelson in 1950 and 1,114 by Jamie Townsend in 1985.
-- Eagles 6-4 in Overtime Games -- After defeating Montana State 51-44 in overtime on Nov. 13, 2004, Eastern Washington is now 6-4 in overtime games. The Eagles are 4-1 in single overtime games, 1-3 in double overtime, and 1-0 in triple overtime contests. Here is the complete list of EWU overtime games:
2004 - at Montana State - W, 51-44 (one overtime)
2003 - at Idaho State - L, 52-55 (two overtimes)
2001 - at Sacramento State - W, 42-35 (one overtime)
2001 - at Montana - L, 26-29 (two overtimes)
2000 - at Weber State - W, 27-24 (one overtime)
1998 - Portland State - L, 27-30 (one overtime)
1994 - Montana State - W, 34-31 (three overtimes)
1991 - at Idaho - W, 34-31 (two overtimes)
1990 - Montana State - L, 25-28 (two overtimes)
1990 - at Idaho State - W, 33-26 (one overtime)
-- Watch Out for Eagles in 2017 -- Eastern has had three of its best seasons in school history in years that end in "7," so the Eagles can expect big things from their football program 10 years from now in 2017.
Eastern’s 9-4 record in 2007 included a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Ten years ago in 1997, Eastern was 12-2 and advanced to the semifinals. Thirty years prior to that, Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game and finished 11-1.
The 1987 (4-7) and 1977 (5-4) teams didn’t fare as well. But Eastern also had some pretty good teams in 1957 (5-2-1), 1947 (6-1-1) and 1937 (6-1).
-- Eagles in the Playoffs -- Eastern’s 2007 appearance in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs was the school’s sixth berth in school history. It was also the third in the last four years as EWU’s appearances in 2004 and 2005 were the first time the Eagles had ever made back-to-back appearances.
Eastern has now advanced past the first round four times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007) and has a 5-6 record in six playoff appearances.
In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU’s first-ever playoff game at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.
Until 2004, Eastern hadn’t appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school’s only other post-season experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21.
Here is a complete list of EWU’s playoff games:
2007 - at Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
-- EWU Playoff Tidbits -- The 2007 playoff appearance was EWU’s sixth playoff appearance and third in the last four seasons under former EWU head coach Paul Wulff. Only 10 teams out of the 116 schools in FCS in 2007 played in three of the last four tournaments.
The 2007 season was Eastern’s fourth time advancing to the second round, but only once has Eastern won a quarterfinal game. In 1997, Eastern beat Western Kentucky 38-21 before bowing out of the playoffs with a loss to eventual champion Youngstown State in the semifinals.
Eastern earned one of eight at-large playoff berths in 2007 after winning its last four games overall and last five league games. The only loss for the Eagles in their last six outings of the regular season was a 42-7 setback on Oct. 20 at Brigham Young, which ranked 14th in the final Associated Press NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision poll of the season. The Cougars finished the regular season 10-2 and advanced to the Las Vegas Bowl.
A regular season-ending 38-16 win over Weber State was EWU’s fifth-straight Big Sky victory in 2007, matching Eastern’s winning streak in 1997 when the Eagles 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.
-- Eastern Repeats History -- In the process of beating McNeese State 44-15 in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2007, Eastern repeated a bit of history.
In 2004, in the first of what is now three playoff berths in the last four seasons for the Eagles, Eastern drew No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois. The Eagles went on to defeat the Salukis 35-31 before falling at home in the quarterfinals to Sam Houston State.
In both upset victories, Eastern entered the game ranked just 14th nationally.
Eastern also avoided a bit of history in the win over the Cowboys. Eastern held a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but based on the last two EWU playoff games, that wasn’t necessarily a good omen.
In the loss to Sam Houston State, Eastern led 34-14 with 14:54 left before falling 35-34. The next year, in a first round game at Northern Iowa, the Eagles led 38-24 with 11:03 remaining but lost 41-38.
This time, Eastern held McNeese State scoreless the final 24:12 of the game and the Eagles scored their final touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. That clinching score followed an interception by senior Bryan Jarrett, who redshirted at EWU in 2004 and played in the disappointing loss the following season at Northern Iowa.
Eastern’s 626 yards of total offense against McNeese State was the most for the Eagles in 10 years against a FCS opponent, and the most in five years overall. At one point, Eastern scored on five-straight offensive possessions behind an offensive line that featured four senior starters. The defense, with four senior starters, forced three turnovers as EWU won the turnover battle 3-2 against a team that ranked fourth nationally with a plus 1.64 margin per game (plus 18 overall). Eastern’s defense was right behind at 10th nationally entering the game (1.27 per game, plus 14 overall). Eastern held McNeese State to just 312 yards of offense.
-- EWU East of the Mississippi -- Eastern had never played a team from the Southern Conference until its quarterfinal round game of the playoffs against Appalachian State on Dec. 1, 2007. In fact, it was just the fifth time Eastern has played a game East of the Mississippi.
The most recent came on Sept. 9, 2006, when Eastern lost 52-3 at West Virginia, which was ranked sixth at the time in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. That game marked the starting debut for current Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols.
The others were at Eastern Illinois in 1991 (a 30-12 loss) and at Connecticut to open the 2001 season (a 35-17 victory). The game against UConn came during the second year the Huskies were members of FBS, and the meeting came four seasons before they joined the Big East Conference in 2005.
Eastern also played in Morgantown, W.Va., at Mountaineer Stadium in the NAIA Championship Game in 1967, where it lost 28-21 to Fairmont State. Eastern was actually known as the Eastern Washington State College Savages at the time.