As if they needed any more motivation for this week’s game at Sam Houston State, the Eastern Washington football players are getting a little more from the scoreboard at Roos Field.
Throughout practice Monday afternoon, the numbers flashed again: 45-42, the final score of last year’s FCS semifinal playoff game against Sam Houston State on the same field. For some players, they’ve been flashing since Dec. 15.
Quarterback Vernon Adams keeps the sports page from the next day. It shows him kneeling on the red turf, looking at those same numbers: 45-42.
“I still have that in my locker,” said Adams, who threw for six touchdowns that day in a second-half rally that fell just short.
“I really want this game, and we want it as a team,” Adams said.
So do the fans in Huntsville, Texas, who on Saturday will be treated to a meeting of No. 2-ranked Eastern (2-1) and No. 4 Sam Houston State (3-1), which has reached the FCS title game two years in a row. Whether conference, non-conference or playoffs, no game in Eastern history has matched two higher-ranked FCS teams.
The programs will meet again next year in Cheney, but that doesn’t matter at the moment.
“There is a pride factor – no question,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. “There is a different feel to this game for us because of the tough loss we had to them in the semifinals.
“We love getting another shot at them – it’s not a revenge factor but it is human nature for players to want to keep fighting back. And our players are no different.”
For linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, the memory is of a nightmarish first half that ended with Eastern trailing 35-0. “We couldn’t get anything going, or stop anything,” said Hamlin, who added that the game is “always in my conscience.”
The Eagles figure to have several more advantages heading into Saturday’s game, both stemming from last week’s bye. The week off followed a tough 33-21 loss at Toledo, giving bodies a chance to heal and more time to focus on Sam Houston State.
“It keeps you salty for that much longer,” Baldwin said of the bye following the Toledo game. “To go through it, that hopefully adds to that taste in our mouth that we want to get out.”
Of course, he could be saying the same thing about the Sam Houston State game played nine months ago.
Despite the loss to Toledo and a bye last weekend, the Eagles remained second in The Sports Network Poll behind North Dakota State. Eastern is ranked ahead of No. 3 Towson, with Montana moving up to seventh and Montana State falling to 11th. … Baldwin didn’t comment on injuries, saying only that the Eagles are “hit or miss on a couple of guys” for this week or next. … Sam Houston State is riding a 17-game home winning streak at 12,976-seat Bowers Stadium. The Bearkats’ last home loss was to McNeese State in 2010.