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Eastern Washington University Football
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Big Sky notebook: Northern Colorado looks to play spoiler against No. 4 Eastern Washington for its homecoming game

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 6, 2021

First-year Northern Colorado head coach Ed McCaffrey is charged with turning around a program that has struggled in the Big Sky.  (Associated Press)
First-year Northern Colorado head coach Ed McCaffrey is charged with turning around a program that has struggled in the Big Sky. (Associated Press)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

It is homecoming at Northern Colorado on Saturday, and Kyle Ergenbright is hoping that finally he and his teammates can mark the occasion with a victory in the weekend’s football game.

“I haven’t won any homecomings since being at UNC, and it would mean the world to me personally,” the Bears redshirt junior offensive lineman said. “First of all, this win would catapult our team in a different kind of direction.”

It’s a direction Northern Colorado has been trying to go since it jumped from Division II to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision in 2006. The Bears haven’t won a homecoming game since 2016 and haven’t had a winning record in Big Sky play during any of their seasons in the conference.

Overall, UNC is 34-91 as a member of the Big Sky. Its last victory over a ranked team came Nov. 12, 2016, when it beat No. 18 Montana 28-25.

Now on their third head coach since 2006, the Bears (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) are trying to improve on all of that under Ed McCaffrey, who is in his first year as a college coach.

After winning their first conference game of the season, the Bears lost 40-7 at Montana State last week in a game in which many Bears players “didn’t show up to play,” McCaffrey said.

“And I can only point the finger at myself,” the coach said Wednesday at his weekly news conference. “What didn’t I do to get our guys ready? Because we were not ready as a team for the intensity that Montana State brought to that football game.”

Now the Bears face the fourth-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday, looking for a signature win that has eluded them through so many seasons. They have lost 12 straight in the series against Eastern and 10 straight against Montana State.

“Guys understand last week was a bug and not a feature of what this team is,” Ergenbright said. “And with the talent that we have, we expect to win these games, which in the past hasn’t always been the case.

“I think we’re going to turn a lot of heads this weekend.”

McCaffrey apologizes for son’s ‘bad decision’

On Wednesday, McCaffrey addressed an incident from Saturday’s game against Montana State that involved Max McCaffrey, the Bears’ offensive coordinator and Ed McCaffrey’s son, slamming his clipboard across his leg and then tossing it into the stands.

“My son got upset at one of his play calls because it didn’t go our way,” Ed McCaffrey said. “He was only upset with himself.”

The coordinator then engaged verbally with a fan in the stands who was willing to take the clipboard from him. Then, Max “lightly underhand lobbed his clipboard” to the fan, “and for whatever reason he put his hands down and it sailed like a Frisbee over his head” and struck another fan, the head coach said.

“It was a complete accident, kind of like if you threw your keys to someone and they didn’t catch it and it hit the person behind them,” Ed McCaffrey said. “There was no ill will, no anger or frustration at anybody or the fans or anything. It was just a really bad decision for him to engage with fans. … It did strike someone, and for that he is sorry.”

Max McCaffrey was officially reprimanded, according to a report in the Greeley (Colorado) Tribune, but details of the reprimand were not given.

Ed McCaffrey praised the football environment in Bozeman.

“There’s nothing not to like about (the Bobcats). They play football the way it’s supposed to be played,” he said. “It was a great football environment, other than the scoreboard, for us.”

Bobcats continue defensive dominance

In that game, the Bobcats’ defense held an opposing offense to fewer than 20 points for the fifth time this season. That includes a 19-16 loss at Wyoming to open the season, the only defeat for the 4-1 Bobcats.

Montana State, No. 10 in this week’s FCS Stats poll, ranks 11th in the FCS in total defense at 271.6 yards per game and 19th in rushing defense (97.4)

“Defensively, we continue to make it hard for teams to run the football,” first-year MSU coach Brent Vigen said at a Monday news conference. “If we can continue to do that, we’ll be doing the things we want to do.”

Montana State also ranks 11th nationally in rushing offense, averaging a Big Sky-best 221 yards per game. The Bobcats are scheduled to play the Eagles at Roos Field on Nov. 6.

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