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Eagles on high after playoff announcement

As promised, we’re back with some additional comments from EWU head coach Beau Baldwin and a couple of his players on the Eagles earning an at-large berth in the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.

I had hoped to post earlier, but Baldwin was understandably a bit late returning phone calls while scrambling to secure video of Saturday’s first-round opponent Stephen F. Austin, and said he planned to get back to watching video of the Lumberjacks as soon as our conversation was over.

I’ve attached an unedited version of the post-playoff announcement story that will appear in Monday morning’s S-R, and I’ve included this link to notes supplied by EWU’s sports information office.

Read on, and be sure to check back on Monday for additional thoughts and comments on the Eagles’ upcoming playoff adventure.


EAGS REAP JUST PLAYOFF REWARD

In a season defined by dramatic highs and lows, Eastern Washington University’s resilient football team experienced an unprecedented level of elation on Sunday.

 

“Words can’t really describe how we’re all feeling right now,” senior linebacker Makai Borden said shortly after he and his Eagles teammates learned they were one of eight schools to receive at-large berths in the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that start next weekend.

 

“It’s just amazing, especially when you consider how we went from such a low to such a high.”

 

The low Borden mentioned was spawned last winter when the NCAA slapped EWU with a with a one-year postseason ban after uncovering a series of minor infractions that had occurred under the watch of former head coach Paul Wulff.

 

That ban, as a result of an appeal filed by the university, was lifted late last month, giving deeper root to the Eagles’ dream of playing on into late November and beyond. And they capitalized on the emotional lift provided by the NCAA’s decision, closing the regular season with four straight wins and finishing in a second-place tie with Weber State in the Big Sky Conference standings.

 

That impressive stretch run apparently helped convince the NCAA’s selection committee that Eastern (8-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big Sky) was worthy of a berth in the 16-team FCS playoff field. So the Eagles will travel to Nagodoches, Texas, later this week to take on Southland Conference co-champion Stephen F. Austin (9-2, 6-1) in Saturday’s opening round.

 

Kickoff has tentatively been set for noon, and Eastern coach Beau Baldwin is excited about seeing his team get a chance to play in the postseason after surviving all of the early season uncertainties and some late-season adversity brought on by season-ending injuries to two key players, senior wide receiver Aaron Boyce and senior linebacker Kyle Wilkins.

 

“It’s definitely a fitting reward for this group,” Baldwin said, “especially for our seniors, because this is their last chance, and they fought and scrapped for a long time without knowing if they’d even get one last opportunity to go to the playoffs.

 

“But it’s fitting for the team, in general, too because of all the hard work they’ve put in and the ups and downs they’ve had to deal with along the way.”

 

Eastern wll be one of three Big Sky teams competing in the postseason. Unbeaten conference champion Montana (11-0) was awarded the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s playoffs and will host South Dakota State (8-3) in a first-round game in Missoula on Saturday.

 

Weber State (7-4), the only four-loss team in the field, will travel to Williamsburg, Va., for a first-round matchup against William & Mary (9-2) on Saturday.

 

“I think that shows that we play in one of the toughest conferences in the country,” Baldwin added, “and the committee sees that.  Plus, we’ve proven as a conference, that when we do get at-large berths, we’ve traditionally been able to have some success.”

 

Eastern last made the playoffs in 2007, when it went on the road and blasted third-ranked McNeese State 44-15 in the opening round before losing to eventual national champions Appalachian State, 38-35, in Boone, N.C.

 

Senior free safety Kevin Hatch was one of several sophomore starters on that Eagles team and feels like he and several of veteran teammates can draw off their previous playoff experiences.

 

“It feels good to have been there before,” Hatch said. “But we’ve pretty much been in the playoffs the last three or four weeks, as well, knowing if we had any more losses it wasn’t even going to be a possibility.

 

“So we’ve already taken a playoff approach to our last few games, and I think that has helped our young guys get a taste of that win-or-go-home mentality.  It should help their mindsets heading into this week.”

 

Stephen F. Austin, which closed its regular season with a 19-10 home win over winless league rival Northwestern State (0-11) last Saturday, finished 6-1 in league play and tied with McNeese State (9-2) for first place in the Southland standings. The Lumberjacks earned the conference’s automatic playoff bid, however, by virtue of their 16-13 home win over McNeese back on Oct. 10.

 

The ’Jacks last appeared in the FCS playoffs in 1995, when they advanced to the semifinals before losing on the road to eventual national champion Montana 70-14.

 

Both of SFA’s two losses this fall came on the road. The Lumberjacks fell to Southern Methodist, a Football Bowl Subdivision school, 31-23 in their season opener and then lost at Texas State 28-7 in late October.

 

In the final regular-season Sports Network FCS poll released Sunday morning, the Eagles landed at No. 13, up five spots from last week following Saturday’s thrilling – road win over Northern Arizona. Stephen F. Austin is ranked 12th.

 

Eastern made previous FCS playoff appearances in 1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2007, advancing to the semifinals in 1997 before losing to Youngstown State 25-14 at Joe Albi Stadium.

 

 


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