The members of Eastern Washington University’s No. 1-ranked football team returned to Cheney earlier this week following an abbreviated holiday break and resumed preparations for their Jan. 7 date with Delaware in the NCAA Division I Championship game in Frisco, Texas.
Several players admitted it seemed a bit strange to still have some unfinished on-the-field football business to take care of at this point in the year. But each quickly added they had no problem with putting in a couple of more weeks of work, considering what is at stake.
“It definitely feels more exciting than weird,” said J.C. Sherritt, the Eagles’ senior All-America linebacker and leading Buck Buchanan Award candidate. “I’m just grateful that in my final year at Eastern, we’re still playing football.
“It’s awesome, and I’m not taking anything for granted. It’s great to still be here preparing for one more football game – even with 10 inches of snow on the ground.”
Junior safety Matt Johnson echoed Sherritt’s sentiments.
“It’s nice to come back refreshed,” he said. “But I know that when we were on break, all that any of us thought about was football. And now that we’re back, it’s all eyes on the prize, because we’ve got some unfinished business we need to tend to.”
The Eagles (12-2), who entered the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as the No. 5 seed, will take on the third-seeded Blue Hens (12-2) in the championship game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. PST at Pizza Hut Park. And after spending several days visiting family and friends back home – and healing up from a grueling season that is about to slip into its fifth month – they can’t wait to get on with deciding a national championship.
“All we want to do now is play,” Johnson said. “And we’ve still got a week and a half before that happens. It’s going to be a long 10 days, but we’ll be ready.”
Eastern’s All-America junior running back Taiwan Jones, who broke a bone in his foot during the Eagles’ 38-31 overtime win over North Dakota in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, is still wearing a protective plastic boot on his injured foot and listed by head athletic trainer Brian Norton as “highly, highly doubtful” for the title game.
According to Norton, Jones is using a bone stimulator to speed up the healing process.
“But he has to be in that boot for at least three weeks, which puts us into next week,” Norton said. “Maybe we can pick up the rehab a little bit then, it’s unlikely he will be ready.
The late December snow storm that blasted the region Wednesday morning forced the Eagles to hold their first full practice since returning from their holiday break indoors.
But head coach Beau Baldwin said he hopes to have the red playing surface in Roos Field cleared of snow and available for afternoon practices.
The NCAA Division I Championship will be televised live on ESPN2, with Dave Neal handling play-by-play duties and 1989 Heisman Trophy Award winner Andre Ware providing analysis. … All but lost among the excitement of Eastern Washington’s march to the title game was the record-tying performance of Bo Levi Mitchell, the Eagles’ first-year junior quarterback, who has thrown 34 touchdown passes this fall to equal the single-season school record set originally by Matt Nichols in 2007. … The Blue Hens have outscored their first three postseason opponents by a margin of 85-33.