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EWU’s emotions fixed on beating Idaho State

In this Oct. 4, 2014 file photo, Eastern Washington defensive linemen Dylan Zylstra, left, and Matthew Sommer crunch Idaho State’s Xavier Finney during an NCAA football game in Cheney. EWU was able to hang on and defeat Idaho State 56-53. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
In this Oct. 4, 2014 file photo, Eastern Washington defensive linemen Dylan Zylstra, left, and Matthew Sommer crunch Idaho State’s Xavier Finney during an NCAA football game in Cheney. EWU was able to hang on and defeat Idaho State 56-53. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The emotions of Senior Day at Roos Field may yet evoke a tear or two from Miquiyah Zamora.

However, the Eastern Washington senior linebacker was all business during practice earlier this week. Less than a minute into an interview, Zamora donned his helmet, said “Sorry, I gotta go,” and sprinted onto the field.

Zamora wasn’t the only one. There’s a sense of unfinished business at Eastern, where the 2015 season abruptly ended with the final home game of the regular season.

No chance of that this year. The Eagles are 8-1 overall, 6-0 in the Big Sky Conference and ranked third in the nation going into Saturday’s game against Idaho State. Another home game – in the FCS playoffs – is a certainty provided they take care of ISU and Portland State.

Hence Zamora’s rush to take care of business. “We’ve got a game to play,” he said.

Wide receiver Shaq Hill was more circumspect. “I’m going to control the emotions, like any other Saturday,” said Hill, whose family and friends will fly in from California.

Controlled confidence is probably the correct response to a game that heavily favors the Eagles. Idaho State is 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the Big Sky, with a defense that’s giving up almost 500 yards per game and a starting quarterback who began the season at wide receiver.

In fact, redshirt senior Trae Pilster was still catching passes three weeks ago, when ISU coach Mike Kramer made him the fourth-string quarterback. Pilster quickly moved to No. 2, then was pressed into action last week under the worst possible circumstances in Missoula.

The Bengals were hanging with Montana when starter Tanner Gueller took a hit to the head late in the first half. Pilster did well in relief, completing six of 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in a 62-44 defeat.

“We actually moved him to quarterback because I admire the kid so much,” Kramer said this week. “We played him out of position throughout his career, and that’s my responsibility. He deserved an opportunity to play quarterback, and now he’s the starter.”

Pilster will lead an offense that ranks last in the conference in total offense (365.8 yards a game) and next-to-last in scoring (24.7). He’ll face an Eastern defense that’s getting better every week, and has given up just seven touchdowns in its last three games (Montana State, Montana and Cal Poly).

“They’re doing a great job getting after the ball and playing with confidence,” said Kramer, who coached in Cheney from 1994-99.

The bigger mismatch will be Eastern’s high-flying offense (552.2 yards per game) against an ISU defense that’s giving up almost 500.

Throw out the numbers, said EWU coach Beau Baldwin, whose 2014 Big Sky champs barely beat ISU, 56-53 in Cheney.

“They are going to play lights-out and bring everything they have,” Baldwin said. “I know Coach Kramer will have them ready and we know we’re in for a battle.”

The Eagles also have a chance to make history, as Cooper Kupp needs seven catches to become the top pass catcher in FCS history.

Kupp already holds all-time records for receiving touchdowns (68) and yards receiving (5,924) and would pass Elon’s Terrell Hudgins with his 396th career reception.

Odds are he’ll do it: In three games against the Bengals, Kupp has 30 catches for 498 yards and seven touchdowns, plus a 24-yard passing score and a 76-yard punt return touchdown.

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