For the second time in three weeks, Eastern Washington University takes to the road to engage a refreshed Big Sky Conference football rival coming off a bye week.
Two weekends ago, the Eagles (3-4 overall, 3-2 Big Sky) managed to dig out a 36-28 win over Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and tonight they must deal with Sacramento State (2-2, 3-3) in a BSC game that kicks off at 6 p.m. in Hornet Stadium.
Both teams have endured grueling early-season schedules that have their postseason playoff hopes on life support, although Eastern coach Beau Baldwin feels the Hornets, who opened the season with a 29-28 overtime road win over Oregon State, might be able to survive another loss.
“It’s definitely a game, for us, that it we don’t win then it’s impossible (to make the FCS playoffs),” said Baldwin, whose defending national champions have cobbled together a three-game winning streak since opening the year with four straight losses. “Sac, maybe, has a little more wriggle room than we do in that regard, depending on how it goes.
“But we haven’t been talking a whole bunch about the playoffs. We’re trying to put all our energy into getting our guys ready for this game. Sac State is an incredible football team. Their schedule has been really tough at the front end, in terms of being on the road a lot.”
The Hornets, who were ranked 12th in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 poll following their upset of OSU, haven’t played since Oct. 8, when they beat Northern Colorado 14-0 in rain, high winds and cold temperatures in Greeley, Colo.
They have the luxury of playing four of their last five games at home.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get started on the right note here in the second half (of the season),” Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “Having a bye week off, you try to get rested up and healed up to start your second half, and you want to do that on a positive note.”
“But were catching an Eastern Washington team that’s hot right now, and they’ve done a nice job the last few weeks of building momentum as a team. So, we know we have our work cut out for us.”
Sacramento State, which beat then 10th-ranked Montana 42-28 in its only home game thus far, is paced offensively by senior running back Bryan Hilliard, who has rushed for 465 yards and four touchdowns. And Hilliard feels he and his teammates made the most of their week off.
“The bye week was really helpful,” the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder told The State Hornet. “Everyone was able to rest, do a bunch of homework and get ready for the second half of the season.”
Eastern leads the overall series 15-4 and has never lost in its 10 previous trips into Hornet Stadium. Sacramento State threw a 28-24 scare into the Eagles at Roos Field last fall. … Jeff Fleming, the Hornets senior quarterback has thrown for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns, but did not attempt a single pass in Sac’s 14-0 win over UNC because of the horrible weather conditions. … There is a chance Eastern’s senior center Chris Powers could return for tonight game after missing the last three with a knee injury. … EWU’s junior defensive end Paul Ena has recovered a fumble in each of the Eagles’ last two games, increasing his career total to seven, which is just one short of the school record.