No one involved with Eastern Washington University’s football team has forgotten about Aaron Boyce.
But the thick cloud of despair that blew in shortly after the Eagles’ senior wide receiver went down with a career-ending rupture of his Achilles tendon about a month ago has all but dissipated.
Since Boyce was injured in the latter stages of a 35-24 road loss to Big Sky Conference rival Montana on Oct. 17, Eastern (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) has reeled off three consecutive wins to keep its once-flagging hopes of making the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs alive.
Not surprisingly, Matt Nichols has been the catalyst of the Eagles’ late-season surge. But the passing numbers the record-setting quarterback has put up have been remarkable.
In his last three games, Nichols has completed 75 of 109 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns in leading EWU to lopsided wins over Montana State, Portland State and Southern Utah and becoming the Big Sky’s career leader in total offense with 12,440 yards.
In addition, he has moved to within 460 yards of becoming the league’s all-time passing leader, with one regular-season game remaining, Saturday’s 2:05 p.m. matchup against Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz.
He’s done it all with his with his close friend and favorite target, Boyce, watching from the sidelines.
“It’s been amazing,” Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said of the way his offense has operated without one of the best wide receivers in the country. “And it’s been a combination of things that has allowed it to happen.
“The biggest thing is that Matt has done a great job of involving everyone else, because not one person was going to be able to take over for Aaron. But it has also come down to a lot of people picking up the pieces and different people stepping up and making plays.”
Among those who have been asked to do more, and who have responded so admirably, are senior slotback Tony Davis, senior tight end Nathan Overbay and sophomore running back Taiwan Jones.
“(Jones) has been catching more balls out of the backfield than any running back we’ve ever had here,” Baldwin said.
But the big surprise has been the play of newcomers Nicolas Edwards, a redshirt freshman, and rookie Brandon Kaufman, who have combined to haul in 17 of Nichols’ passes for 259 yards since Boyce’s departure.
“It’s not like we’re doing a ton different with our offense,” Baldwin said. “What’s happening is that in a lot of situations where Matt might have gone to Aaron, he’s maybe checking it down to a back instead. And when it was Aaron and another of the freshmen receivers on the field before, in all honesty, that other freshman receiver was probably going to catch a lot less balls than Edwards and Kaufman have been able to catch in the last few weeks.
“Obviously, it was a terrible thing that happened to Aaron, and it was hard to see. But we’ve managed to have a lot of different guys step up their contributions to offset his loss, which is what I said was going to have to happen from the get-go – a community effort to replace that one person – in order for us to be successful.”
NAU loses Estrada
The Big Sky Conference has suspended Northern Arizona’s Matt Estrada for one game because of the illegal helmet-to-helmet hit the junior safety put on a Weber State receiver in last Saturday’s 27-9 loss to the Wildcats.
That means Estrada, who leads the Lumberjacks with 78 total tackles, will not be available for Saturday’s regular-season and home finale against Eastern Washington.
Glanville stays away
Former Portland State coach Jerry Glanville, who announced his resignation shortly after the Vikings’ season-ending loss to previously winless Idaho State last Saturday, did not attend a Tuesday press conference at which the school’s athletic director Torre Chisholm discussed Glanville’s sudden departure after three lackluster seasons. Chisholm said he hopes to name a successor by the first week of December.
Chisholm, according to the Oregonian, would not say whether Glanville’s resignation was forced, but he admitted to being disappointed with the Vikings’ 9-24 record under the former NFL head coach.
“I’m certainly surprised that we’re here,” Chisholm said, adding the school was still working out details on a settlement regarding the one year and $180,000 left on Glanville’s contract. “When I took this position, this is about the last thing I expected where we would go.
“I think it’s been an exciting three years, regardless of what the outcomes of the games were. I think you can’t deny that this year’s record (2-9, 1-7 Big Sky), combined with the previous two, is disappointing.”
The Big Sky moved ahead of the Great West and into second place, behind the Colonial, in this week’s Sagarin Ratings of FCS conferences. … The Sagarin Ratings have five Big Sky teams – No. 5 Montana, No. 10 Eastern Washington, No. 13 Weber State, No. 18 Montana State and No. 19 Northern Arizona – ranked in its top 20. … Unbeaten Montana, which has clinched the regular-season Big Sky title and the league’s automatic FCS playoff berth, dropped from second to third in this week’s Sports Network Poll but remained No. 1 in the Coaches’ Poll. … The pairings for this year’s 16-team FCS playoffs will be announced live at noon Sunday on ESPNews.