Eastern Washington’s football season ended the way it always does, with tearful embraces in the locker room.
But this was different. There were no last-minute heroics from the other team, only talking heads delivering the news on the FCS Selection Show.
It came at 8:09 Sunday morning: The Eagles’ season is over.
When the last names appeared on the bracket, the players fell silent. A minute or so later, they stood and hugged, seemingly not comprehending the finality of it all.
“It was something I wasn’t expecting, and it hurts,” said senior defensive end Marcus Saugen of Spokane.
“I thought I was going to have one more week to play with my brothers,” Saugen said.
Confident they had done enough to earn a postseason bid – perhaps even a home game next week – the players and coaches were upbeat when the show opened.
And why not? They had just throttled Portland State, 59-33, on Senior Day at Roos Field. They were 7-4 against a difficult schedule and finished third in the Big Sky at 6-2.
The Eagles also got help on Saturday as several other bubble teams lost, most of them in embarrassing fashion.
Before the show began, the players smiled and jokes. Head coach Aaron Best brought his family and settled in for the show.
Worry crept in slowly as the screen filled with the names of other 7-4 teams – New Hampshire, Nicholls State, Furman and Northern Arizona – that had supposedly played themselves out of contention.
The last at-large team to clash on the screen was none other than Big Sky rival Northern Arizona , which lost two of its last three games, yet will host San Diego next week.
More minutes passed. Players filed out and Best and Saugen were left to talk share their disappointment.
“Shocking and alarming,” Best said. “I felt like our resume was bold and strong. “It wasn’t good enough … let this be a moment to look back and motivate us as we go forward.”
In the short term, that meant a meeting with the players later on Sunday. Soon the players will begin winter conditioning and the coaches will get a head start on recruiting.
“We will collect ourselves,” Best said.