Among other things, the Eastern Washington football players used the recent bye week to get healthy.
They also rediscovered a healthy respect for Portland State, their final regular-season opponent Friday night.
The Vikings are 3-8 and heading nowhere – the same scenario as last year, when Eastern needed a last-second touchdown to win 42-41; and the year before, when the Eagles twice came from behind to win 41-34 in Portland.
“They have a certain way of getting up for this game,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin explained as the Eagles warmed up Tuesday evening in the sub-freezing temperatures at Roos Field. “And they’re a lot more talented than their record shows.
“Our guys are pretty mature about it, but I still remind them here and there.”
The Eagles got another reminder last weekend, when Big Sky Conference co-leader Northern Arizona fell at lowly North Dakota, 30-28. The news was welcome – the Eagles (9-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Sky) control their own destiny as far as earning the league’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.
“The NAU game – yeah, that was interesting,” offensive tackle Clay DeBord said with a smile.
But the NAU upset also was a cautionary tale, another demonstration of what Baldwin calls “the razor-thin difference between three wins and seven wins in the Big Sky.”
For Portland State, four of those losses were by eight points or less, including back-to-back losses at Montana State (29-22 on Nov. 8) and Sacramento State (48-41 last week).
“You can’t predict any kind of score based on records – it just doesn’t work that way. And it definitely doesn’t work that way in this conference and against Portland State,” Baldwin said.
As they were the last two years, the stakes couldn’t be much higher Friday night at Providence Park in downtown Portland: A high playoff seed and Eastern’s first three-peat conference title will be on the line, as well as a second-straight outright title should the Eagles win and Montana knocks off Big Sky co-leader Montana State the next day in Missoula.
Playoff pairings will be announced Sunday morning; a win Friday night guarantees Eastern a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.
The Eagles are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Quarterback Vernon Adams said he felt “about 95 percent” seven weeks after he broke two bones in his right foot – missing four games but returning for the Montana game. … Also back were safety Jordan Tonani (concussion) and cornerback Rashad Wadood (foot), who both missed the North Dakota game, as well as running back Jabari Wilson (ankle, missed four games) and tight end Terry Jackson II (ankle, missed two games). Senior defensive end John Goldwire also played against Montana after after missing four games with a shoulder injury.
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