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Big Sky notebook: Jody Sears relishes opportunity at Sacramento State

Jody Sears has spent more than his share of time on the coaching carrousel. This time he hopes to stick the landing.

In the last seven years, the Sacramento State coach has lived through outrageous fortune and misfortune, sometimes in the same year.

In the spring of 2008, the former Eastern Washington defensive coordinator left to join Paul Wulff at WSU.

It was a dream come true for the Pullman native and former Cougars wide receiver – until the staff was fired after the 2011 season.

Fired at Weber State in November 2013 after going 4-19, Sears landed in Sacramento as defensive coordinator. Weeks later, after the surprise resignation of Marshall Sperbeck, Sears was leading the Hornets.

“I always count my blessings and I’m very thankful for my opportunities,” Sears said Wednesday.

By most accounts, the 47-year-old Sears helped unify a team that finished 7-5 in 2014, matching the highest win total in the school’s Division I era.

The seven victories were the most by a first-year coach in Sacramento State history.

“We’re trying to create the things we did at Eastern,” said Sears, who said he has fond memories of his five years in Cheney. “We’re trying to create a player-led culture of accomplishment … and mentor men to have character.”

Different task for Eastern Washington’s defense

Through three games, Eastern’s defense is giving up 49.7 points and 636.3 yards a game, easily the worst in the Big Sky Conference. Of course, those numbers were inflicted by Oregon, Northern Iowa and Montana State – the toughest trio of nonconference opponents faced by any Big Sky team this year.

Next up: Sacramento State, which is 1-2 and has managed to score just eight touchdowns, six of them in a 45-14 win over NAIA school Eastern Oregon.

The Hornets have lost 49-0 at Washington and 32-14 at Weber State and were shut out for six straight quarters. In three games, quarterback Daniel Kniffin is just 54 for 101 for three touchdowns and four interceptions. Better still for Eastern’s beleaguered defenders, he’s not a threat to run.

That brings up the obvious question: Who will rise to the occasion on Saturday, Eastern’s defense or Sacramento State’s offense?

EWU coach Beau Baldwin isn’t sure. He’s just looking for some consistency.

“I believe we’re going to see progress with these young guys playing,” said Baldwin, who started seven underclassmen against Montana State. “We’re going through stints where we’re playing well, but we have to avoid some of those lapses where we get gassed and aren’t playing with the right technique or with our eyes right.

“It takes 60 minutes, because those offenses will keep coming.”

The Hornets are led by a receiver, Shane Harrison, whom Baldwin calls “electric” and has 14 catches for 206 yards – or roughly what Cooper Kupp did Saturday against MSU (12 catches for 201 yards).

Jordan Robinson has most of the Hornets’ rushing yards – 197.

Dam Cup competition will be football-only

The Dam Cup is becoming a winner-take-all trophy.

The winner of the annual Eastern Washington versus Portland State football game will now be the only deciding factor in awarding The Dam Cup, which enters its sixth year of existence this fall.

Previously, the trophy was presented to the school which accumulated the most points among competitions that included football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer. Portland State has won three of the five titles, but EWU is the defending champion.

Eastern athletic director Bill Chaves said the growth of the Big Sky has resulted in EWU not playing PSU consistently in all sports, and not always with equitable home games.

This year’s game is Nov. 21 in Cheney.

A change of scenery for Eagles players

For a variety of reasons, Eastern’s players are ready for fall term to begin – which it did Wednesday.

“It’s my last quarter and I’m ready to get things going (after college),” senior safety Miles Weatheroy said Tuesday.

There’s another reason: Student-athletes from all sports have been alone on campus since early summer. For the football players, it’s been nothing but practices, lifting and games since the beginning of August.

“They got to the point where they see us over and over,” Baldwin said.

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