SEATTLE – Beau Baldwin’s ties with Central Washington University are as abundant as they are strong.
Baldwin was a quarterback and two-time team captain for the Wildcats in the early 1990s, and later spent nine seasons coaching quarterbacks at his alma mater. In 2007, in his first year as a collegiate head coach, he returned to Ellensburg and led CWU to a 10-3 record and berth in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Still, Eastern Washington University’s third-year head coach insists his past connections with CWU will have no effect on tonight’s “Showdown on the Sound,” which pits his Eagles (0-1) against the Wildcats (1-1) in a nonconference matchup that kicks off at 6:05 in Qwest Field.
“Sure, there’s a history there, but I really haven’t thought much about it,” Baldwin said of facing his former school and some of the players he recruited to Ellensburg. “And once you’re out there on the field and start playing, there won’t be any time to think about it at all.”
This will actually be the fourth time Baldwin has coached against his alma mater, but his first as a head coach. He was Eastern’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2003 and 2004, when the Eagles put back-to-back 48-29 and 39-8 beatdowns on their in-state rivals.
Baldwin was in that same position in 2006, when the Wildcats stunned EWU 21-14 in Cheney – which is just one reason why he has not let himself, or his players, look at Central as anything other than a quality opponent, regardless of classification.
Others reasons include the fact the Wildcats had perennial Big Sky Conference and national power Montana on the ropes in Missoula two years ago, only to lose 38-35 on a last-second field goal, and that they went into Pocatello, Idaho, last fall and slapped down Idaho State 33-22.
“Central is a very good team,” Baldwin said, “and they’ve been a great team for the past few years. They’ve shown what they can do against Big Sky teams and nationally ranked Division-II teams. They seem to play their best against really good football teams.”
The Wildcats, who are ranked No. 12 among D-II schools, lost their season opener at home to fourth-ranked Duluth (Minn.) 35-10, but bounced back last week to post a 24-14 road win over Dixie State behind the effort of Bryson Kelly, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior running back, who ran for a career-high 110 yards on 30 carries.
“He’s a big, strong back that we’ve seen can really do some things,” said J.C. Sherritt, EWU’s senior strong-side linebacker, who had five tackles and broke up a pair of passes in a season-opening 49-24 road loss to Nevada nine days ago. “He seems to be their go-to guy right now.”
Eastern, ranked No. 17 among Football Championship Subdivision teams, will counter with junior Taiwan Jones, who amassed a career-high 322 all-purpose yards against Nevada – and got the attention of Blaine Bennett, who replaced Baldwin as CWU’s head coach in 2008.
“He’s a big-time playmaker,” Bennett said of Jones, who is also Eastern’s top kickoff and punt returner. “On special teams, kicking the ball away from a playmaker like him is always the first choice. And the second is to have three or four guys swarm to the ball whenever he has it.
“His speed is very good, and when he gets out in space with the football, he’s dangerous.”