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EWU-Weber State game matches old friends

EWU defensive back Jeff Minnerly, left, and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin are focusing on a Weber State team that nearly defeated the Eagles last year. (Jesse Tinsley)
EWU defensive back Jeff Minnerly, left, and linebacker Ronnie Hamlin are focusing on a Weber State team that nearly defeated the Eagles last year. (Jesse Tinsley)

Beau Baldwin’s old friend is 0-3.

But this is business, and if Eastern Washington’s head football coach has his way, Jody Sears and Weber State will be 0-4 after the teams open the Big Sky Conference season tonight in Ogden, Utah.

No hard feelings – they both know the drill. Heck, they’ve done the drill as coordinators at Eastern, matching wits in 2-minute practice drills on the old green turf in Cheney.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Sears, the defensive coordinator at Eastern from 2003-07 and at Washington State the past four years.

“It’ll be nice to see Beau and the boys. We used to lock horns every day in practice, so now we can get back to the old days a little bit.”

It’s the new days that are a little unsettled for Sears, who was named interim coach in April when John L. Smith left for Arkansas without coaching a down. The Wildcats are coming off perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule of any Big Sky team, falling at Fresno State (37-10), BYU (45-13) and at home to McNeese State (35-21), so the record is a bit misleading.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Baldwin, who can relate to Sears’ situation: The Eagles were 0-4 last year when Weber came to Cheney. Eastern nearly blew a 17-point lead, recovering a late fumble to hold on 27-21.

“We’re very focused on Weber State,” EWU linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said. “They gave us a good run last year.”

This year, the Eagles are 1-1 and coming off a 24-20 loss at Washington State. It’s been 23 days since their only victory, 20-3 at Idaho on Aug. 30. “So we’re hungry for a win,” Baldwin said.

Pass protection was a problem at Washington State, with quarterback Kyle Padron under pressure most of the game. He was sacked four times and seldom had a chance to get comfortable in the pocket.

But the Eagles achieved some offensive balance in the second half and hope to carry that forward against a Weber defense that’s giving up 247 yards a game on the ground and 287 through the air.

The most troubling stat for Weber is that opponents are converting almost half their third downs, 18 out of 38, which presents an opportunity for the Eagles.

“We’re focusing on execution, and long, sustained drives,” said EWU running back Jordan Talley, who has 134 yards in two games.

That will be aided by the return from injury of running back Demitrius Bronson.

Baldwin sees a Weber defense “with guys who can cover, and a stout D-line. They have a good pass rush and they’re physical.”

On the other side of the ball, Sears said he’s “surprised” that the offense (261 yards per game) hasn’t clicked.

“Surprised because I watch them in practice and I see them click all the time.”

“We just need to take that next step and play at a consistent level.”

Weber State will be hampered by the loss of junior wide receiver Shaydon Kehano, who had 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown before breaking a leg against McNeese State. Kehano represents almost 20 percent of the Wildcats’ total offensive yards.