POCATELLO – Could it actually happen?
Some of those close to Eastern Washington University’s football program were speculating after Saturday’s 45-14 rout of Big Sky Conference rival Idaho State that the defending NCAA Division I champion Eagles might still have a outside chance of earning an at-large berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The pairings for the 20-team FCS playoff field will be announced at 7 this morning on ESPNU, and the Eagles (6-5 overall, 5-3 Big Sky) can only wait and hope that winning six of their last seven games – all against FCS opponents – was enough to catch the attention of members of the selection committee.
But even if it wasn’t, coach Beau Baldwin’s resilient team can’t take pride in knowing it did everything it could against ISU (2-9, 1-7) in Holt Arena by scoring the last 38 points of the game while handing the Bengals their eighth straight loss.
Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns to set a single-season school record of 4,009 passing yards. Junior wide receiver Nicholas Edwards hauled in 12 passes for 106 yards and three TDs to break the single-season school records for receptions with 95 and touchdown catches with 19.
Senior place-kicker Mike Jarrett booted a 23-yard field goal and six extra points to become Eastern’s career leader in kick points with 236.
“I was proud of our kids and the way they came out after halftime,” Baldwin said after watching his Eagles spot ISU a 14-7 lead before scoring the game’s last five touchdowns and winning the time-of-possession battle by almost 12 minutes.
“For a while there (the Bengals) were really getting after us in the first half, but we were able to play some really good football in the second half, and I was proud of our guys for playing the full 60 minutes.”
Mitchell, who completed 37 of 51 passes and threw one interception, broke EWU’s single-season passing yardage record on the Eagles’ last scoring drive, which culminated in a 4-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Edwards with just less than 6 1/2 minutes left in the game.
Baldwin said he was a bit conflicted about throwing the football with the outcome already decided.
“That’s the only reason I threw a couple of more times was because of Bo Levi, and I had mixed feelings about that,” he said. “But at the same time, he’s a senior, he’s a guy who’s battled and competed for two years, and he led us to a national title.
“I thought he deserved a shot at that passing record, and he was able to get that.”
Eastern’s defense was also solid. Junior safety Jeff Minnerly had a team-high 13 tackles. Senior linebacker Bobby Gentry picked off a pass and returned it 15 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, while also recovering a fumble and breaking up two passes.
“Certain things we’ve done this year, after starting out 0-4, have been tougher than some of the things we did for 15 games last year,” Baldwin said. “It took a lot of grit, a lot of just-get-after-it and a lot of heart and courage to come back from being 0-4, with all those injuries.”