The plate is full this week for the Eastern Washington football players.
Saturday’s home game against Portland State will have a little bit of everything: Senior Day, a chance for an outright Big Sky Conference title – and some time off next week, provided the Eagles beat the Vikings.
“Thanksgiving dinner back home, I’m counting on that,” said defensive lineman Andru Pulu, a senior from Federal Way, Wash.
Thanksgiving at home may not happen unless the Eagles stay hungry for Portland State in the regular-season finale. Currently ranked third in the FCS polls, Eastern (9-2 overall, 7-0 in the Big Sky) needs to be among the eight seeded teams when the national selection committee draws up its playoff bracket this weekend.
A win over the Vikings would guarantee a first-round bye and at least two home games in the 24-team playoff. The Eagles might still get a week off with a loss to PSU, but that’s not an option, according to the players.
Neither is sharing the conference title with Northern Arizona, which sits one game back in the Big Sky standings. Eastern shared titles in 2010 and last year, but hasn’t won an outright championship since 1997.
“Tying is not an option, tying means you didn’t win,” senior offensive lineman Brandon Murphy said before practice Tuesday. “We have the potential to win this thing outright.”
“We’re not satisifed yet,” said Murphy, one of 21 seniors who will be honored in ceremonies before kickoff at nearly sold-out Roos Field.
As always, coach Beau Baldwin is aiming for an evel-keel approach that has seen this team through a season of highs and lows. “You appreciate (Senior Day) for what it is before the game, but flush it until the team banquet,” Baldwin said.
“They’ve earned the right to play more games past Senior Day, so the emotions perhaps aren’t as much,” Baldwin said.
In the way stands an inconsistent but dangerous Portland State team, which fields one of the most prolific offenses in the Big Sky. The Vikings (6-5 overall, 3-4 Big Sky), average a conference-leading 534.8 yards per game in total offense, and running back D.J. Adams is the top rusher in the conference with a 132 yards a game. Adams averages 6.4 yards a carry.
“PSU is a tremendously good offensive team,” and in the last few years they’ve been incredibly tough to stop,” Baldwin said.
So has Baldwin’s own offense, which averages 531 yards a game and is more balanced than the Vikings’ ground-oriented option attack. Quarterback Vernon Adams is the top-rated passer in FCS, though he was limited Tuesday by a shoulder strain suffered in last week’s 35-22 win at Cal Poly.
Baldwin said Adams’ shoulder is “coming along,” and that he would get progressively more snaps as the week goes on.
“He’s working at it hard in the training room,” Baldwin said. “It’s day to day, so to speak, but I feel very confident about it.”