At the start of a 2008 season so packed with promise and high expectations, it’s unlikely anyone involved with Eastern Washington University’s football program envisioned the Eagles being cast in the role of spoilers at year’s end.
Yet courtesy of unseemly regular-season losses to Portland State and Sacramento State, that’s right where they find themselves heading into today’s Big Sky Conference game against league-leading and eighth-ranked Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Even the bit part Eastern (5-5, 4-3 Big Sky) will play has been further diminished by the fact that the surprising Wildcats (9-2, 7-0) have already clinched at least a share of the Big Sky title and the league’s automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, leaving the Eagles with little to actually spoil.
Still, first-year coach Beau Baldwin does not expect his team to simply mail in its effort in a game that will cap the collegiate careers of 18 seniors on Eastern’s roster.
“We’re excited to go down there and play the best team in the conference,” Baldwin said. “That’s going to be a tremendous challenge, because there is nothing lucky – at all – about what Weber State has done. They’ve been dominant in every Big Sky football game, they have great players, they have great coaching and they deserve (to be) exactly where they’re at.”
Baldwin hopes his team will approach today’s game like it would a playoff matchup against a highly ranked opponent.
“In my opinion, we’re playing a top-five team in the country,” he added of the Wildcats, whose two losses have come on the road to Hawaii and Utah, a pair of Football Bowl Subdivision schools. “All the parts are there. In my opinion, it’s one of the better offenses I’ve seen over the year, as far as my time in the Big Sky.”
The Wildcats are paced by junior running back Trevyn Smith, who is averaging a league-best 106.6 rushing yards per game, and sophomore quarterback Cameron Higgins, who leads the Big Sky in passing efficiency (178.6) and total offense (309.7 yards per game).
A win over Eastern would give Weber the outright conference title. A loss, coupled with a Montana win over Montana State, would result in the Wildcats and Grizzlies being named co-champions. That possibility is something WSU coach Ron McBride is using as motivation.
“We’re very focused right now, because we want to win this thing outright,” McBride said. “We don’t want to tie with anybody.”