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Eastern Washington University Football

Eastern Washington football tries to focus on Portland State, seventh win

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 14, 2017, 6:36 p.m.

Eastern Washington wide receiver and captain Nic Sblendorio said he will keep his teammates focused on beating Portland State. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington wide receiver and captain Nic Sblendorio said he will keep his teammates focused on beating Portland State. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Come Saturday, will the Eastern Washington football players be guilty of playing while distracted?

You couldn’t blame them.

It will be Senior Day at for the Eagles, who need some help to make the FCS playoffs.

But as coach Aaron Best points out, they need to help themselves first.

“I don’t know that any other teams affect us – we affect us,” Best said before Tuesday’s practice at chilly Roos Field.

“We’re playing against ourselves,”Best said.

That’s not entirely true. The 20th-ranked Eagles (6-4 overall, 5-2 Big Sky) need to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee while hoping their season-long resume is better than a few other teams’. Most of those teams will be done by the time Eastern kicks off a little after 3 p.m.

Almost lost in the conversation was Portland State, which is 0-10 but happens to be the only opponent with more than one win since the red turf was laid in 2010.

Two years ago, the Vikings ruined Senior Day with a 34-31 win that also cost the Eagles a playoff berth.

Even as he looked ahead to Saturday, senior wide receiver Nic Sblendorio tried to refocus on the Vikings.

“They’re a talented team and well-coached, and their record might not show how good they are,” Sblendorio said. “We all know that they’re going to bring it, so we’re not in a position to take any time off.”

At least the distractions are of a positive nature. Last week, the Eagles were reeling from a costly loss to Weber State and the one-game suspensions of quarterback Gage Gubrud and linebacker Kurt Calhoun.

This time, they’re coming off a 21-14 win at North Dakota that clinched the program’s 11th consecutive winning season. This week is all about opportunity and the chance to send off the seniors with a seventh win.

Back atop the depth chart, Gubrud and Calhoun will do their utmost to make that happen. Best quickly dismissed the notion of benching Gubrud for redshirt freshman Eric Barriere:

“I would be hard-pressed to take a guy out of a lineup if he hasn’t lost his spot due to performance. … He will be our starting quarterback and we will roll from there,” Best said.

That isn’t necessarily the case at middle linebacker, where redshirt sophomore Jack Sendelbach turned in an award-winning performance last week in place of Calhoun.

After an 11-tackle performance that included a key fumble recovery, Sendelbach was named the Big sky Defensive Player of the Week.

Sendelbach and Calhoun share the top of the depth chart this week, meaning either could start.

Besides his abilities on the field, Sendelbach might be the Eagles’ top role model for avoiding the temptation of playing while distracted.

“(Sendelbach) doesn’t worry what’s in front of him,” Best said. “He just chases it down.”