Mixed in with the euphoria surrounding Eastern Washington’s 37-17 second-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff win over visiting Southeast Missouri State on Saturday was a faint air of disappointment.
No. 1-ranked and fifth-seeded Eastern had been pointing toward a potential quarterfinals rematch against Big Sky Conference rival Montana State, the team that saddled it with its only FCS loss back in late September.
The Eagles were beaten soundly in Bozeman, Mont., that day, and would have liked a chance to atone for the defeat that ultimately cost them an outright BSC championship – even if it meant going on the road again to face the fourth-seeded Bobcats.
But MSU failed to take care of its business on Saturday, losing at home to North Dakota State 42-17, which means Eastern (10-2) will stay at home and entertain the Bison (9-4) at Roos Field in a quarterfinal matchup that kicks off at 12:35 p.m. on Saturday.
“Yeah, I am a little disappointed,” Eagles quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said of not getting another shot at the Bobcats. “We wanted to come back and take it to them, but at the same time, we do get to play another game.”
And they get to play it on the red turf at Roos, where they are a perfect 6-0.
“That’s a huge advantage, especially with us being undefeated here,” added Mitchell, who threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s win over SEMO. “A lot of guys say the red turf doesn’t affect them during the game, but it speaks for itself.
“Look at (Boise State’s) record (on its blue turf). It’s one of those things where you have to take it with a grain of salt when they say that, because it obviously does (affect) them a little bit.”
Still, the Eagles expect to have their hands full against an unseeded and run-happy North Dakota State team that rushed for 376 yards in its impressive road win over the Bobcats.
EWU coach Beau Baldwin said he had his staff start breaking down video of both the Bison and MSU late last week “to get a leg up” on any third-round matchup that might materialize. And what he saw of NDSU – which opened the season with a 6-3 road win over Kansas, a Football Bowl Subdivision team – was a bit perplexing.
“They’re a run-first team,” Baldwin said of the Bison, who received an at-large playoff invitation despite tying for third – along with five teams – behind Northern Iowa and Western Illinois in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. “They’re built for the playoffs, so we know were in for another slugfest. It’s going to be a challenge, and we know that. You get (down) to eight teams left, and every team is going to be tough.”