Even after winning their third straight Big Sky football title, the Eastern Washington players and coaches spent the week fine-tuning the little things.
For coach Beau Baldwin, that means tackling on defense, kickoff coverage and pad level on both sides of the ball as the Eagles enjoy a bye week while awaiting the winner of Saturday’s Montana-San Diego game to see whom they’ll host in a second-round FCS playoff game on Dec. 6.
“Enjoy” is a relative term. Tuesday’s practice at Roos Field was buffeted by wind, rain and snow. The fourth-ranked Eagles also were hampered in terms of game prep.
Regardless of the opponent, “We’re going to prepare to do what we do. No matter who we play, we try to focus on what we’re doing,” Baldwin said, adding that he’s bothered by the Eagles’ declining performance on third down.
For the season, Eastern has converted 84 of 173 chances, a 48.5 percent average. However, in the last four games, the Eagles are 24 for 61 (39.3 percent), and were just 4 for 12 last week at Portland State.
Meanwhile the kickoff coverage unit gave up its first monster return, a 91-yarder, last week. “That’s been a strength all year, and in this last game it was a little bit off,” said Baldwin, who saw PSU return nine kicks for 232 yards.
Baldwin said he was most pleased with Eastern’s ball-hawking defense, which took away the ball five times last week. Going into the postseason, the Eagles have a plus-9 turnover ratio, something that Baldwin wants to “continue to work on.”
Even All-America quarterback Vernon Adams was in a self-critiquing mood Tuesday, lamenting a tendency to sidearm a few throws. “I just have to stop doing that,” Adams said, blaming a first-half interception on a sidearm motion.
Kramer coach of year
Idaho State’s stunning turnaround wasn’t rewarded with a playoff berth, but coach Mike Kramer earned the next best thing Wednesday.
By a vote of his peers, Kramer was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year.
Kramer guided the Bengals to their best season in more than a decade, compiling an 8-4 campaign. The eight victories marked a five-win improvement from the 2013 season. The eight wins matched the combined win total of the program from the previous five seasons.
Kramer previously won the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year honors at Eastern Washington in 1997 and at Montana State in 2002 and 2005.
“I have the staff of the year, the President of the Year, the trainer of the Year, the equipment manager of the year and administration of the year,” Kramer said. “This is a full-team award. I am humbled by the honor and extremely grateful for the great support we have at Idaho State.” Idaho State finished with a winning season for the first time since 2003. The Bengals snapped a 48-game road losing streak on Oct. 25 with a 46-12 win at Northern Colorado. The Bengals won on the road the next week, beating Portland State 31-13. It marked the first time since 1983 the Bengals won road games on consecutive weekends. Idaho State enjoyed its first five-game winning streak since 1995.
Ticket deadline extended
The EWU Athletic Ticket Office has extended the deadline for current season ticket holders to claim their season seats for all potential home playoff games to Monday at noon.
In addition, season ticket holders will also have the opportunity to purchase additional available seats (at the general public price) either online or by calling the EWU Athletic Ticket Office at 1-866-4GO-EAGS.
Any unsold seats at Roos Field will then go on sale to the general public on Tuesday.
Cal Poly closed the regular season with 341 rushing yards in a 34-3 win over San Diego. The Mustangs finished the season with 4,221 rushing yards, a league single-season record. … Idaho State senior QB Justin Arias became the eighth player in league history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Arias threw for 322 in the win over Weber State to finish the regular season with 4,076 yards. His total ranks fifth in single-season history. Adams set the all-time record with 4,994 yards last season. … Sacramento State senior QB Garrett Safron closed out his career with 11,619 yards of total offense, which ranks seventh in Big Sky history.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.