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Oregon opener highlights Eagles’ challenging schedule

A football program that thrives on challenges, Eastern Washington is getting just what it wants this fall.

Road games at Oregon, Montana and Northern Iowa are just part of the story in this year’s schedule, which was released Wednesday.

The Eagles’ 11-game schedule also includes eight teams with winning records last year. Overall, Eastern’s opponents went 68-36 last year.

“We’re excited about the schedule,” said coach Beau Baldwin, who has a chance to lead EWU to a fourth straight Big Sky Conference title.

The season kicks off on Sept. 5 with a marquee game at national power Oregon, followed by a trip to Northern Iowa. Last year, the Panthers (9-5) knocked off North Dakota State and Illinois State, which ended up in the FCS title game.

Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon was 13-2 last year and finished second in the FBS playoffs.

Baldwin’s Eagles knocked off Oregon State in 2013 and have competed well recently against Washington and Washington State.

“Obviously, Oregon is a huge challenge and we’re excited about another game at an FCS team,” said Baldwin, who said he was impressed via game film how the Northern Iowa players “feed off the energy in that dome.”

The Eagles will host Northern Iowa in 2016.

The first home game, Sept. 19 against Big Sky rival Montana State, will be a nonconference contest.

Eastern (11-3 last year) begins conference play at Sacramento State (7-5 in 2014) on Sept. 26 and opens its home league schedule against Cal Poly (7-5) on Oct. 10 on Hall of Fame Day at EWU.

After road games at Idaho State (8-4) and Northern Colorado (3-8), the Eagles play back-to-back home games against Weber State (2-10) on Oct. 31 and Northern Arizona (7-5) on Nov. 7.

The Eagles play at rival Montana (9-5) on Nov. 14 and host Portland State (3-9) on Senior Day on Nov. 21.

The FCS playoffs begin on Nov. 28.

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