Some things never get old.
For Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin, it’s the postseason – familiar territory for his Eagles, who were rewarded on Sunday for another outstanding season with the No. 4 seed in the Football Championship Division playoffs.
“Playoffs are addictive,” said Baldwin, who will be making his 11th national playoff appearance as an assistant or head coach at three different classifications. “When you are lucky enough to win, you just want more.”
As coaches, players and fans gathered at Tawanka Hall on Sunday morning for the unveiling of the brackets, they knew one thing: the Big Sky champion Eagles (10-2 overall) would earn a first-round bye and a second-round home game on Dec. 6.
It’s familiar territory, all right – but now with the chance to play an all-too-familiar foe: Eastern will face the winner of Saturday’s game between Montana (8-4), which will host Pioneer League champion San Diego (9-2) on Saturday.
That drew a big reaction from the crowd at Tawanka Hall, but after the show, Baldwin was deferential.
“I don’t have a preference, but we know how good Montana is, their tradition and how well-coached they are,” said Baldwin, who’s riding a three-game winning streak against the Grizzlies.
“We were in a battle again against them earlier this year. We’re just excited for the fact we have a bye and a home game,” Baldwin said.
Said offensive lineman Aaron Neary: “No matter who we get, we’ll give it our best shot.”
If they win that one, the Eagles will host a quarterfinal on Dec. 12 or 13 against No. 5 Illinois State, Stephen F. Austin or Northern Iowa. Should the higher seeds continue to win, Eastern would travel for a semifinal at top-seeded New Hampshire.
However, should the Wildcats stumble, Eastern could host a semifinal game for the third year in a row. The Eagles, who won the FCS title in 2010, have been eliminated the last two years in the semifinals, including a 34-30 loss last year to Towson.
In the other half of the 24-team bracket, three-time defending champion North Dakota State (11-1) is the No. 2 seed and Ohio Valley Conference winner Jacksonville State (10-1) is No. 3. NDSU awaits the winner of a first-round game between South Dakota State (8-4) and host Montana State (8-4), the Big Sky’s third representative in the playoffs.
Idaho State, another 8-4 team from the Big Sky, was left out of the field.
In the meantime, the Eagles will get back to work today, with practices scheduled through Wednesday. Players will get the Thanksgiving holiday off.
“I know we just came off a bye, but it doesn’t hurt to have another one – especially around Thanksgiving,” said Baldwin, whose team ended the regular season with a 56-34 win Friday night at Portland State.
“After playing 12 games, it gives you another chance to let bodies heal up and prepare a bit,” Baldwin said.
Eastern has 13-9 record in the postseason. … The Eagles will be in the playoffs for the 11th time, including its eighth time in the last 11 seasons since 2004. Only New Hampshire and Montana – making its record 22nd appearance in the playoffs – have more appearances during that span. … Eastern also has five appearances in the last six years, a mark matched only by New Hampshire and North Dakota State.
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