The downside to winning a Big Sky Conference football championship in Cheney in late November?
That celebratory Gatorade “shower” can leave the winning coach tad bit uncomfortable – which is exactly what Eastern Washington University’s Beau Baldwin was on Saturday after being drenched by his players as the final seconds ticked off the clock in a 34-7 win over Idaho State.
Still, EWU’s shivering third-year head coach failed to let a soaked shirt and the near-freezing temperatures at Roos Field water down the magnitude of the moment.
“I’m feeling really good, and I’m happy for the players; they earned this,” Baldwin said, after watching his No. 3-ranked Eagles dispose of ISU and claim a share of the Big Sky Conference title in front of a hearty crowd of 5,781. “To finish like this for the seniors and our other players – as Big Sky champions – is huge.
“It isn’t easy, and the players earned it. My hat is off to them.”
The best of those players on this day was Bo Levi Mitchell, a first-year junior transfer who completed 26 of 38 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns before taking a seat on Eastern’s bench near the end of the third quarter.
Junior running back Taiwan Jones gathered in one of Mitchell’s scoring tosses – all of which came in the first half as the Eagles (9-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big Sky) rolled up a 28-7 halftime lead that destroyed any upset hopes the lowly Bengals (1-10, 0-8) might have had coming in – and also rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries.
The win gave EWU a share of the Big Sky title, along with No.8-ranked Montana State, which turned back Montana 21-16 in Missoula on Saturday. The Bobcats, who beat Eastern 30-7 in Bozeman in late September, earned the league’s automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that start next Saturday.
But the Eagles, who could end up ranked No. 1 in The Sports Network and FCS coaches poll after top-ranked Delaware and No. 2 Appalachian State both lost on Saturday, all but assured themselves of a first-round playoff bye and second-round home game with their win over ISU.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Baldwin said. “The years Montana made those deep runs in the playoffs, a lot of times they had three-straight (games) at home before they played in the championship.
“It isn’t going to be easy – we’re going to play an incredibly tough opponent every week. But the fact that we have a chance to be a high seed and (play) at home is a big deal.”
Eagles linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who was one of 14 players honored during pregame Senior Day ceremonies, said the best part of Saturday’s win was “the fact that we’ve put ourselves in a really good position heading into the playoffs.
“A big goal was winning the Big Sky championship,” added the Buchanan Award finalist from Pullman, who had a team-high eight tackles, while forcing one fumble and recovering another against ISU, “and now we get to go for the main one.”
The seedings and pairings for the 2010 FCS playoffs will be announced at 7 this morning on ESPU, and if the Eagles end up with a high seed and first-round bye they can give a lot of credit to Mitchell, who threw two touchdown passes to sophomore wideout Brandon Kaufman and another to sophomore Greg Herd.
“He played really well,” Baldwin said of Mitchell. “I worry less about the numbers he puts up and more about what he was doing with the football on each snap. And today, snap after snap, he was taking what the defense was giving him.
“He played his best football game, to date, in terms of operating within the offense. He’s 7-1 as a starter in the Big Sky, and he’s an incredibly good quarterback who is going to keep better with every game he plays in an Eagles uniform.”
Mitchell gave the credit for his career performance to Baldwin and his assistance.
“The coaches did a great job of preparing me this week,” he said. “I watched a lot of film, and every single down and every single play I just kind of felt I knew what (the Bengals) were going to do – who was going to be open, and what it was going to take to execute the play.”
When asked about the possibility of waking up on Sunday morning as the quarterback of the No. 1-ranked FCS team in the country, Mitchell added:
“I hope that’s what the voters decide. But if not, it’s not going to change how we go about preparing for every game. “