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Eagles uncertain if Jones will play

Baldwin says odds have improved

With the availability of Taiwan Jones expected again to be a game-time decision, 13th-ranked Eastern Washington University will square off against Northern Arizona today in another high-stakes Big Sky Conference football game that kicks off at 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field.

Jones, the Eagles’ junior running back and the nation’s leader in all-purpose yardage with an average of 238.8 per game, missed last weekend’s 35-24 road win over Weber State with an abdominal contusion suffered a week earlier in a 30-7 loss to Montana State in Bozeman.

He was strictly limited at practice again this week, and coach Beau Baldwin is still not sure whether the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder will play in a game Baldwin calls hugely important for both his Eagles (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) and the visiting Lumberjacks (3-1, 1-0).

“It’s similar to what it was last week,” Baldwin said, when asked to update Jones’ health status. “I think there’s a better chance (he will play) this week than last.

“I would guess he will, but we’re still preparing like we did last week – which is like he won’t.”

With or without Jones, the Eagles figure to be severely tested by an NAU team that features one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in Michael Herrick, along with a defense that ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky in scoring defense (17.8 ppg), run defense (84.0 ypg) and total defense (270.8 ypg).

Eastern, behind Matt Nichols’ five touchdown passes, beat the Lumberjacks 49-45 in a Flagstaff, Ariz., shootout last fall. But Herrick, a 6-foot 1, 205-pound senior, torched the Eagles’ defense for 574 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Herrick’s passing numbers this fall – 72 completions in 122 attempts for 762 yards and six touchdowns – have not been that impressive. Still, Baldwin remains a big fan of the trigger man in NAU’s offense.

“He’s a great quarterback,” Baldwin said of Herrick. “He’s played a lot of football, so he understands. It’s not like you can fool him with a lot of stuff, because he’s seen it all. And on top of that, he has a lot of talent.

“He’s going to throw for yards, and he’s going to make plays. It’s just a matter of trying to do enough stuff to make things tough for him.”

This will be the fourth straight road game for the Lumberjacks, who picked up a 26-23 nonconference win over Southern Utah last Saturday.

Even if Jones doesn’t play, the Lumberjacks will have to deal with Eastern junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who had a breakout game against Weber State, throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

EWU holds a 17-10 edge and has won the last three meetings with NAU. … As part of today’s annual Hall of Fame Day, Eastern will honor its latest inductees – the 1950 football team and its coach, the late Albert “Abe” Poffenroth; former track and field standouts Curt Hisaw and Seville Broussard-Hering; and former women’s basketball coach Bill Smithpeters. In addition, Ernie Afaganis, will be given the Hall of Fame Service and Contribution Award.