Eastern Washington won the battle in convincing fashion.
Was it enough to win the campaign? The Eagles will know soon enough: the NCAA will reveal the 24-team Football Championship Subdivision field on Sunday at 8 a.m.
The selection show will be televised on ESPNU.
“I think we deserve to be there,” senior safety Jake Hoffman said Saturday night, after the Eagles beat Portland State 59-33.
“You always want to keep playing – you always want those prayers to be answered,” Hoffman said.
Apparently they were. The day began with the Eagles on the outside looking in, but several contenders – notably Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Northern Arizona – stumbled in their final games.
The Eagles noticed.
“Guys were watching,” senior defensive lineman Albert Havili said.
So were the coaches.
“That’s because it’s interesting, and a little more so because there were a few teams that were supposed to win but didn’t – we’ll run with that.”
As the dust settled Saturday night and the selection committee huddled in their office in Indianapolis, the outlook for Eastern appeared bright.
The Eagles are 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky Conference. Their losses came against FBS team Texas Tech and against three FCS teams (North Dakota State, Southern Utah and Weber State) who are league champions and have a combined record of 28-5.
According to experts around the country, Eastern is among a handful of teams contending for roughly half a dozen at-large berths.
The others include McNeese State (9-2), Austin Peay (7-4), Northern Arizona (7-4), Delaware (7-4), South Dakota (7-4), Furman (7-4) and Monmouth (9-2).
Asked what he would say to the committee if given the chance, Best pointed out that the Eagles have won tough Big Sky games against Sacramento State and Montana (both 7-4), played a difficult schedule and finished with seven wins in their last nine games.
“Give us a chance and we’ll make things happen,” Best said.
Apparently Eastern will get that chance. Late Saturday night, FCS expert Craig Haley of STATs released a bracket projection that not only had Eastern making the field, but hosting South Dakota in the first round.
Other possibilities include a game at South Dakota, a home game against San Diego and a home or away date against Northern Arizona. NAU also is in the Big Sky, but didn’t play the Eagles in the regular season.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.