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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Eags looking for road win, FCS playoff berth

Eastern Washington University's closes its 2009 regular-season football schedule against Northern Arizona in Flagstaff on Saturday.

I've have attached an unedited version of the game advance that will appear in Saturday morning's S-R below, and I've included this link to the game notes supplied by EWU's sports information department and this link to what NAU's sports info folks have posted about the game.

In addition, I've included this link to the Big Sky Conference's weekly release and this link to the BSC notebook that ran in the S-R earlier this week and deals primarily with how well Matt Nichols, the Eagles' record-setting senior quarterback, is coping with life on the field without his close friend and favorite target, Aaron Boyce.





There’s a feeling among those who follow Eastern Washington University’s football fortunes that the Eagles have been here before.



Probably, because they have – as recently as two years ago, in fact.



And now those same fans are hoping the Eags will respond like they did in 2007, when they closed the regular season with four straight wins to earn an at-large berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.



The main difference in EWU’s quest this year is they close their regular season on the road against perennial Big Sky Conference contender Northern Arizona.  Kickoff is set for 2:05 on Saturday afternoon in the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz., and a win for the Eagles (7-3 overall, 5-2 in the Big Sky) would most likely extend their season.



In 2007, Eastern beat Weber State at home to clinch a playoff berth and then went on the road to dispose of third-ranked McNeese State 44-15 before losing to fifth-ranked and eventual national champion Appalachian State 38-35, again on the road.



Whether that will play into the selection committee’s thinking when the 16-team FCS playoff field is announced at noon Sunday on ESPNews, remains to be seen. But the Eagles, provided they find a way past the Lumberjacks (5-5, 4-4), have plenty of other reasons to like their playoff chances.



For openers, they come into today’s game ranked No. 10 among FCS schools in the Sagarin Ratings, despite having played the ninth most difficult schedule, according to the Massey Ratings.  And, with a win today, they would have closed on a special kind of run, having beaten Montana State, Southern Utah and NAU, who are all ranked among the top 30 teams in this week’s Sagarin Ratings.



In addition, the Eagles have history on their side.



Since the NCAA starting awarding the Big Sky Conference champion with an automatic playoff berth in 1980, only two conference teams have failed to earn an at-large playoff berth with a record of 8-3 or better. During that same span of time, 26 at-large berths were given to BSC teams that finished 8-3 or better, as well as Eastern’s 1992 team that finished 7-3.



Still, Eagles coach Beau Baldwin is not affording himself the luxury of looking too far into the future – and with good reason.



NAU, despite its middling record, remains one of the Big Sky’s best teams and features as balanced an offensive attack as anyone in the league.



“Offensively, they’re a bear to stop, just because they’re so balanced and so talented,” Baldwin said of the hard-luck Lumberjacks, who have lost three straight, including last week’s showdown against Weber State, which was played in a snowstorm in Odgen, Utah.



Mike Herrick, NAU’s junior quarterback, completed only six of 25 passes for 66 yards in those brutal weather conditions, but remains one of the league’s most productive passers, having connected on 65.2 percent (223-342) of his passes for 2,782 yards and 18 touchdowns, while throwing just six interceptions.



In addition, the Lumberjacks boast the BSC’s second-leading rusher in senior Alex Henderson, a 5-foot-10, 205-pounder, who has carried 222 times for 983 yards and 11 touchdowns.



“They’re a complete team, and playing them is not a lot different than playing against a playoff-caliber team,” Baldwin added. “It reminds me of a basketball game when you’re going up against a good scorer, or a couple of good scorers. It’s not like you’re going to shut them out and not give them any points. They’re going to make plays.



“You just have to do everything you can to stop them in key situations and force them out of their rhythm.  But that’s not an easy task with that group.”





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