December 4, 2013 in Sports

Jackrabbits, Eagles accustomed to cold

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

QB Vernon Adams and Eagles must avoid turnovers Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

Always his own worst critic, Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams regrets every turnover.

Even on a day when he was named one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, Adams shivered Tuesday afternoon at the thought of his 12 interceptions and a handful of fumbles this season.

And he just plain shivered in the-25 degree temperature at Roos Field, which will dip even further for Saturday’s second-round FCS playoff game against a ball-hawking South Dakota State defense.

“They’re going to strip out the ball, and I have to take care of the ball,” said Adams, his hands tucked inside his pockets before a two-hour practice.

Ball security will be crucial Saturday: the temperature at kickoff could be in single digits and the visiting Jackrabbits have leaped into the playoffs thanks partly to 32 takeaways.

And this is the playoffs, after all, no matter the weather. Every turnover will be magnified by the stakes of the game.

“If you are impacted by that, then you’re not ready for playoff football,” coach Beau Baldwin said.

But whether it’s August heat or December chill, the elements are the same, especially on the line. Fifteen hundred miles away, the South Dakota State players were laboring in temperatures even lower.

“They’re used to playing in this weather as much as we are,” Zylstra said. “We like the storm cloud above us.

“The darker it is, the better we like it,” Zylstra added.

Once on the field, the third-ranked Eagles (10-2) will contend with a physical SDSU offensive line, which opens holes for running back Zach Zenner, the leading rusher in the nation. Zenner must be contained if the Eagles are to advance to a quarterfinal game on Dec. 14.

“He’s a good running back. He’ll get one yard, two yards, then he’ll break one out, so he’s a big-play guy, and we have to learn to contain that,” Eagles linebacker J.C. Agen said.

On the other side of the of the ball, Adams and the offense will have to contend not only with the danger of turnovers, but a swarming Jackrabbit defense that Baldwin says plays with “ridiculous motors.”

“They’re great at ripping at the ball, they play great zone coverage and they know how to pattern-read,” Baldwin said, adding that he thinks South Dakota State is the best team he’s faced this early in the playoffs.

The Eagles have one advantage: thanks to earning a first-round bye, the Eagles are well-rested, but not complacent.

“It couldn’t (the bye week) have come at a better time,” defensive tackle Dylan Zylstra said, five days after Thanksgiving. “I gained some weight, and we got our bodies right.”

And while the 9-4 Jackrabbits – winners of five straight – are coming off a first-round 26-7 win at Northern Arizona, Zylstra said he’d rather be in the Eagles’ cleats, “learning from their film and having another week to get better.”

That’s just another kind of momentum, Zylstra said, heading into Saturday.

“One of our mottos is ‘Meet us at the ball,’ ” Zylstra said. “We can’t wait to meet each other at the ball.”

Notes

After missing all of November with a hamstring injury, senior safety Allen Brown is listed as probable. Fellow safety Isaiah Jenkins (shoulder) is likewise probable. Running back Jabari Wilson (hamstring) is questionable; so is offensive tackle T.J. Boatright (knee). … Because of the weather, Reese Court will be open to the public during halftime, athletic director Bill Chaves said. Chaves added that the school is working out the details of showing the game on the Reese Court video board. … Information on tickets for the game at is available at: goeags.com/ticket/13playoffs.


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