Following Eastern Washington’s 45-21 victory over Northern Colorado on Saturday in the teams’ season finale, EWU Athletic Director Lynn Hickey said that Eagles football coach Aaron Best will be back next season.
“It’s been a tough year, and everybody knows that, and we haven’t reached expectations,” Hickey said. “But we support coach Best with his effort, and we look forward to rebuilding next year.”
The Eagles finished 3-8 overall – their first losing record since a 3-8 season in 2006 – and went 2-6 in Big Sky games. That’s the fewest they have won in conference play since winning one in 1995.
But in six seasons with Best as head coach, Eastern Washington is 44-25 overall, and this will be the first time that the Eagles have finished worse than third in the Big Sky standings during his tenure. He has led them to the playoffs three times, including an appearance in the national title game at the end of the 2018 season.
Best has been with the program nearly all of his playing and coaching career.
He played offensive line for the Eagles from 1996 to 1999 and joined the staff as a student assistant coach the following season.
Aside from a one-year stint as the Toronto Argonauts’ offensive line coach in 2007, Best has been with the Eagles as a position coach, coordinator or head coach.
Seniors lauded before game
Before kickoff , the Eagles honored 13 of their seniors in their final game.
One of those was offensive lineman Wyatt Musser, who played in his 55th game despite a series of injuries this season. In the second quarter against the Bears, Musser remained on the turf after plowing the way for an 11-yard gain by Tuna Altahir.
Musser was helped up and to the sidelines by senior teammates Mitchell Johnson and Debo McClain, but on the next series he was back with the offense.
“That kid is playing, I don’t know how,” Johnson said of his roommate Musser. “He’s got everything aching on him. He’s just one tough guy. … No one really sees it. He’s in a boot all week and he shows up on game day and lets it loose. If there’s a guy that’s got heart, it’s (No.) 77.”
Musser and McClain – who also played in his 55th game – are tied with wide receiver Shaq Hill for third in games played at Eastern. Johnson is second with 58 behind offensive lineman Tristen Taylor, who played in his 60th game as a senior last season.
Burkett plays first, last snaps with Eagles
Among the senior-day honorees was redshirt junior Simon Burkett, who was among a handful of 2018 high school graduates who also suited up for their last game with the Eagles.
Burkett, the team’s third-string quarterback this season, hadn’t played in a game at Eastern, but starting quarterback Kekoa Visperas said he hoped to end that streak .
“I had two goals going into this game,” redshirt freshman Visperas said. “One, to get the win for the seniors; and two, to get Simon Burkett in in the fourth quarter.”
With the Eagles ahead by 24 points with 7:06 left in the fourth quarter, Burkett led the Eagles on a nine-play, 58-yard drive into the Northern Colorado red zone. The highlight for Burkett was a 22-yard pass to fellow senior Dylan Ingram on a third-and-1 play. The drive ended when Burkett threw an interception in the end zone, but he finished 2 of 4 for 20 yards.
“He’s going to be able to tell his kids and family for the rest of his life that the last game of his career, he factored in and didn’t just kneel three times just to get in the game,” Best said of Burkett’s play. “Snaps are meaningful. They don’t have to be when the game’s on the line.
“They (all) came here to play football, and that’s what Simon did today.”
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