Red turf … renamed playing field … Big Sky Conference opener … the hated Griz in the house.
Is there any element of intrigue missing from that list for the 18th-ranked Eastern Washington University Eagles (1-1) heading into Saturday’s 4:05 p.m. Roos Field showdown against sixth-ranked Montana (1-1)?
How about a bunch of coach Beau Baldwin’s fifth-year seniors trying to avoid a dreaded oh-fer against the Grizzlies, who have won four straight in the series?
“That’s a big deal, too,” Baldwin said earlier this week. “A lot of these guys have been part of a couple of close ones – in ’07 and then last year, so to get over the hump and do that (win) would be incredible for this group.
“But by no means is it going to be easy, and we know that.”
Montana, which is coming off a 35-33 upset loss at Cal Poly last weekend, edged Eastern 24-23 in Missoula in 2007 and handled the Eagles another gut-wrenching 41-34 road loss last fall, in a game that was decided by Chase Reynolds’ 1-yard touchdown run with just 78 seconds left.
“I’ve had a lot of bad (outcomes) against them, and a lot of built-up feelings about them,” said EWU senior defensive end Tyler Jolley, who batted down a Central Washington pass in the final minute to help preserve the Eagles’ 35-32 win over the Wildcats in Seattle’s Qwest Field last Saturday. “We haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here.
“We’ve had a lot of close games, but getting to play on the red field, it would be huge to start out with a win.”
Eastern expects to see some different looks from Montana – on both sides of the football – after Robin Pflugrad was hired last winter to replace Bobby Hauck as the head coach.
“They’re a little different, schematically,” Baldwin said of the Grizzlies, “but they’ve got a lot of the same personnel they had last year, and they’re still a very well-coached football team.”
Reynolds, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior and three-year letterwinner, is back, along with seniors Andrew Selle and Justin Roper, who are sharing the quarterbacking duties under Pflugrad, just like they did last fall.
Jolley said the Grizzlies seem to want to throw the ball a little more this year, but noted his assessment was based on only two games under Pflugard – one of which was a show-nothing 73-2 pasting of Western State. And he knows better than to read too much into Reynolds’ performance against Cal Poly, which resulted in just 32 rushing yards on 10 carries.
“He’s still a tough kid,” Jolley said, “and we’re going to have to play our best to stop him.”
Baldwin has done his best this week, to let his players take in as much of the excitement about the new red turf and everything else surrounding today’s game, without losing sight of what’s really important.
“Sure, it’s a big game for them, they’re a part of history,” he said. “But you want to keep your emotions in check and make sure you have a good, solid week (of practice) all the way through. Then, hopefully, you’re peaking at the right time.”
Jolley has done what he can to keep his focus on the game, but admits the idea of 0 for 5 against the Grizzlies in his five years at EWU has been a bit unsettling.
“The possibility of that has been in the back of my mind,” he said. “I don’t want to go oh-fer against anybody – especially Montana.”