Coach Beau Baldwin continues to be impressed by the resiliency of his Eastern Washington University football team.
“The guys have done a great job of just attacking each week as its own, regardless of what happened the week before, and just finding a way,” he said earlier this week about the way his defending national champion Eagles (4-4 overall, 4-2 in the Big Sky Conference) have managed to put themselves back in the postseason playoff picture, despite opening the 2011 season with four consecutive losses and battling through a mind-numbing rash of serious injuries.
“I’m just proud of them for stepping up in situations where it would have been easy to just fold it and call it quits.”
But in order to make sure all of the hard work that went into evening its record isn’t wasted, Eastern must find its way Big Sky rival Portland State (4-3, 2-2) in Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day showdown that kicks off at 1 at sold-out Roos Field.
The Vikings (4-3, 2-2) are coming off a 36-10 non-conference home win over NCAA Division III Willamette and still nursing some long-shot postseason hopes of their own, despite having dropped their last two conference games to league-leading Montana State (38-36) and second-place Montana (30-24).
“Our goals and expectations are to continue to play, get better and have a chance to win and go into the postseason,” said Nigel Burton, PSU’s second-year head coach, who – like Baldwin – knows his team can’t afford another loss. “That’s what we want to be able to do, that’s what our kids bought into, and we think we have a legitimate chance to do that.”
The Vikings will have to do it, however, without senior running back and top scorer Cory McCaffrey, who had rushed for 731 yards and 13 touchdowns prior to suffering what could be a career-ending ankle injury in the loss to Montana.
Freshman Shaquille Richard got the start in place of McCaffery against Willamette and shared the running back duties with senior Willie Griffin. The two combined for 146 rushing yards and one touchdown,
“They did a nice job,” Burton said of his latest ball-carrying tandem. “But if we have any chance of winning in Cheney, they’re going to have to play better than they did on Saturday.”
Burton knows EWU is on a nice mid-season roll, having dug out a 42-35 road win over Sacramento State last Saturday.
“They’re extremely athletic, and they’re playing with that confidence and swagger again,” he said of the Eagles. “I think, in particular, their wide receivers corps is just making a ton of plays, and, defensively, they’ve done a solid job, as well.
“Just in terms of play making (during) game-on-the-line crunch times, they’ve been doing an outstanding job, and they’re going to present some serious challenges for us.”
As many as 16 Eastern Washington seniors could be honored during pre-game Senior Day ceremonies commemorating their final regular-season home game at Roos Field, but two of those who suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the year – linebacker Zach Johnson and wide receiver Tyler Hart – have the option of petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and returning next fall. … PSU leads the Big Sky in rushing with an average of 270.6 yards per game, while Eastern leads the league in passing with an average of 344.2 yards per game. … Eagles quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is averaging 336 yards of total offense and ranks third, nationally, in that category.