Postseason absences are about as rare for Eastern Washington as its red field is for opponents.
Since 2004, the Eagles (3-5, 2-2 Big Sky) have missed the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs five times and were widely expected to return this year after a run to last season’s national title game.
They’ll be watching the playoffs on television at the end of the month, likely seeing Big Sky Conference foes – third-ranked Weber State, sixth-ranked Sacramento State, eighth-ranked Montana and 14th-ranked Montana State – try and mimic EWU’s past playoff runs.
Even rarer for the Eagles would be a losing season. EWU has experienced one losing campaign in the 2000s, a 3-8 mark in 2006.
Finishing .500 would be even stranger for EWU, which was ranked as high as No. 4 this season in the FCS media poll. The last time the Eagles had the same number of victories and losses was 1983 (5-5).
With four games left on its schedule, EWU – which faces Northern Arizona (4-4, 2-2) on Saturday at Roos Field – is playing for pride.
One more loss for the Eagles, who are 0-5 on the road, would shatter their hopes of a 13th consecutive winning season.
That’s not an option for senior receiver Jayson Williams.
“Finish strong, that’s all we can really do right now,” Williams said. “It’s really annoying being in this situation and how we got there. You’ve seen spurts of the great offense that we have, spurts of the great defense that we have, but we haven’t put a complete game together.
“We only have four games left. This is my senior season, so I’m trying to make the best of it. I’ve never had a losing season here, and I don’t plan on having one.”
The Eagles are in a position to extend their record home winning streak to 13 games on Saturday when they host the Lumberjacks, who lead the nation in passing (373 yards per game) behind former All-American quarterback Case Cookus.
EWU is coming off a frustrating 34-17 loss at rival Montana, a game in which the Eagles led 14-10 at halftime before their offense was shut down in the second half.
When asked Tuesday if there’s been frustration in the locker room amid the Eagles’ unexpectedly poor season, EWU safety Calin Criner declined comment.
“We’re going to keep that in house,” Criner said. “These last four games are gonna check a lot of guys’ manhood and define us as a team.”.
Before the season third-year head coach Aaron Best chose “Advance the Standard” as the team’s 2019 motto, referencing the program’s consistent success and working to improve it.
But this has been a substandard season for EWU, and Best said he hasn’t thought about the playoffs all season.
“I haven’t mentioned (playoffs) at all this year or last year. I think that’s for the (media) to tweet about it and talk about it and it gets to the players,” Best said after Saturday’s loss to Montana. “It’s great to have that pressure, but we don’t play the game to go to the playoffs.”
Best said on Tuesday that this season feels especially discouraging to those outside the program because of the past success but added that his team hasn’t changed.
The remainder of EWU’s schedule includes Northern Arizona, road dates at Idaho State (4-5, 2-3) and Cal Poly (2-6, 1-4) and a home finale against Portland State (5-4, 3-2).
Williams said he’s ready for his offense to play a complete game and end the year on a high note.
“We haven’t changed. We’re us,” Williams said. “But this year we got away from our base offense and what we do, and it’s been kind of annoying – but at the same time, it’s a learning experience.”
Fellow receiver Andrew Boston said he’s ready to go full-steam ahead.
“Let that pain change you,” Boston said after the Montana loss. “At the end of the day, it sucks to lose, but what are you going to do next time?”
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