Defensive end Greg Peach will be among 18 seniors playing their final game for Eastern Washington University on Saturday, when the Eagles (5-5, 4-3 Big Sky Conference) take on first-place and eighth-ranked Weber State (9-2, 7-0) in Ogden, Utah.
There is a good chance Peach’s impact on Eastern’s football program will be felt long after the final horn sounds in WSU’s Stewart Stadium, regardless of the game’s outcome.
Peach, a 6-foot-3, 255-pounder who leads the nation with 18 sacks and 22 tackles for losses, has emerged as the odds-on favorite to capture this year’s Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision’s most outstanding defensive player.
It’s a topic, according to first-year Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, that hasn’t been discussed much around the locker room or on the practice field – but one that could translate into a big recruiting bonus for the Eagles.
“We really don’t talk about it, because he just cares about the team and what’s going on there,” Baldwin said of Peach, who needs one sack to equal the single-season Big Sky record of 19 set by Montana’s Andy Petek in 2000. “You can talk about the fact that he’s a candidate for the award now, but if he were to go on and win it, it could be huge – like when Erik Meyer won the Walter Payton Award (in 2005).
“That was a big deal that made national news, and it became huge for our program.
“It’s been fun to be a part of (his career), and, obviously, it’ll be sad to see him go. … But he just wants, hopefully, to play good in one more game.”
The 16-team field for the Division I Football Championship will be announced at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
Weber State has clinched the Big Sky’s automatic bid, and Montana (10-1, 6-1) is expected to get one of the eight at-large berths issued by the NCAA’s selection committee. If the Grizzlies get in, it will mark the 16th straight year – a Football Championship Subdivision record – they have made the playoffs.
The Big Sky has qualified two teams for the playoffs in 22 of the last 24 seasons, including the last nine, and had three teams – Montana State, Montana and Northern Arizona – rewarded with playoff berths in 2003.
First-round playoff games will be played on Nov. 29. The quarterfinals are set for Dec 6, with one semifinal scheduled for Dec. 12 and the other for Dec. 13.
The title game will be played on Dec. 19 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
MSU still hopes
Montana State probably doesn’t need any extra motivation heading into Saturday’s game against archrival Montana in Missoula. But Bobcats coach Rob Ash doesn’t mind if his players draw from any postseason playoff implications that might be attached to the outcome.
MSU (7-4, 5-2) has won its last four games and would tie the fifth-ranked Grizzlies (10-1, 6-1) for second place in the league standings with a victory.
Ash hopes that might be enough to earn an at-large playoff berth, which is why the Bobcats plan to keep the same “keep the dream alive” mindset they’ve used during their last four games.
“I think it’s been sort of in the back of everybody’s mind ever since we lost our second league game (to Eastern Washington on Sept. 18),” Ash said in reference to his team’s playoff possibilities. “You never know how things are going to play out, but you know if you lose three league games, you’ve got no shot. So when you’ve got two league losses, you say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to win the keep the dream alive.’
“That’s been the theme for four weeks, and it’s still the theme. We’ll see what the (NCAA Selection) Committee decides, depending on the outcome of the game. Yeah, it’s in the back of your mind, but it doesn’t change, really, anything else.
“I mean, we’re not spending a lot of time sending out fliers promoting our chances. We’re just trying to win a game.”
Numbers mean little
Northern Arizona, which closed its season with a 28-13 road loss to Eastern Washington last Saturday, ended up setting Big Sky defensive records for overall rushing yards allowed (658) and average rushing yards allowed per game (59.9).
But Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers said those defensive numbers, as impressive as they were, did little to take the sting out of a disappointing finish to a season that started out so promisingly.
“We had kind of two different seasons – one that started out well (6-1) and got momentum,” he said. “And then we started getting into our bigger games on the schedule and it really got away from us (0-4). The season, by and large, at 6-5, was somewhat of a disappointment with the expectations we had going in.”
If Idaho State (0-11, 0-7), with a 15-game skid that dates back to last fall, loses at home to Sacramento State (6-5, 3-4), it will mark the first time a Big Sky team has failed to win a game since 2000, when Montana State finished 0-8 in league play and 0-11 overall. … Saturday’s Montana State-Montana game will be the 108th meeting between the two in-state rivals. … Portland State continues to lead all FCS teams in passing offense, with an average of 375.1 yards per game. … The other Big Sky player, aside from EWU sack master Peach, leading an individual FCS statistical category is Northern Arizona senior Robbie Dehaze, who is averaging 45.2 yards per punt. … Sacramento State has won three consecutive in-season games for the first time since 1992.