Snowflakes fell on Nicholls State coach Tim Rebowe’s silver hair Friday as he stepped off his team’s flight at Spokane International Airport.
When he and the Colonels set foot on the tarmac, it was 40 degrees chillier than the weather back home in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
Rebowe told Louisiana media earlier this week he had no interest in discussing the cold weather his team would experience in Cheney – snow and a high of 37 degrees is forecast – when the 13th-ranked Colonels (9-3) face fourth-ranked Eastern Washington (9-2) Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Roos Field.
Nicholls State’s collective sentiment: EWU has to play in the frosty conditions, too.
But freezing football fields are the Eagles’ milieu. The Colonels know wet and humid.
EWU experienced the latter when it traveled to Nicholls State in its 2004 season opener, the only previous meeting between the programs.
Former EWU and West Valley High receiver Craig McIntyre has a vivid recollection of the Eagles’ 37-14 loss.
“When we were getting ready in the locker room, you could just hear the rain coming down hard, monsoon-style,” said McIntytre, a teacher and coach in Spokane Valley. “And it was so muggy and humid down there.
“So we go out to warm up, the rain has died down a little, and Nicholls State wasn’t even out there. We made the mistake of using our game balls in warmups, and they got waterlogged and heavy.
“When we went back into the locker room, we were all about 10 pounds heavier from the rain.”
A dry Nicholls State came onto the field moments before kickoff, McIntyre said, and ran the ball 56 times while forcing ninth-ranked EWU into six turnovers.
“None of us could handle the ball that day,” he said. “Eric Kimble ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, it was called back on a penalty, and things went south from there.”
Three weeks before the rain-soaked contest, Nicholls State’s head coach and offensive coordinator were fired amid the fallout of a case involving academic fraud, according to reports.
The Eagles went on to win their first Big Sky Conference title of the 2000s that season, helping lay a foundation of success the program enjoys today.
Because the Eagles recently earned a share of the Big Sky Conference title, a No. 3 playoff seed and a first-round bye, it’s Nicholls State that gets to experience the Eagles’ home elements.
EWU, which has the country’s second-rated offense (553 yards per game), takes on a co-Southland Conference championship squad that’s also exhibited offensive balance and a salty defense.
Behind the four-pronged ground attack of running backs Sam McPherson (1,032 yards), Antoine Custer (589 yards), Tamarick Pierce (504 yards) and shifty quarterback Eric Barriere (542 yards), EWU is 116 yards away from breaking the program’s single-season rushing record (3,130 yards).
“They’ve been in the playoffs before, but they missed it last year, so they’ll be a little bit hungry,” Rebowe said. “(Roos Field) it’s a tough place for us to play, and they love to run the football.
“And they can put up a lot of points. Our defense is going to be challenged again.”
Barriere, who spearheads an offense that also averages 279 yards through the air, won’t be the only dual-threat quarterback on the red turf.
Nicholls State quarterback Chase Fourcade, the Southland Conference Player of the Year, has passed for 2,784 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 570 yards and 11 scores.
Running backs Dontrelle Taylor (878 yards), Texas A&M transfer Kendall Bussey (544 yards) and Julien Gums (544 yards) have helped the Colonels total 2,973 yards on the ground.
“They’re a very good bunch, so hopefully we can take advantage of the little things, like being more disciplined,” McPherson said of Nicholls State. “Discipline takes over athleticism sometimes.”
EWU’s defense allowed a Big Sky-low 16.8 points per game in conference play. Nicholls State allowed an average of 16.3 ppg against Southland foes. Both teams are undefeated at home.
Nicholls State started its season with a 26-23 upset of Kansas. Last week, it handled San Diego 49-30 in Thibodaux in the first round of the playoffs, the Colonels’ first postseason win since 1986.
In the three games the Colonels were held to 178 yards or fewer rushing, they suffered losses to Tulane, McNeese State and Abilene Christian.
The Spokesman-Review incorrectly reported that Nicholls State had 89 carries in its 2004 game against Eastern Washington. The Colonels ran the ball 56 times.
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