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Sports >  EWU football

Big Sky notebook: Eastern Washington receives bye week before stretch of difficult games

Sept. 14, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 14, 2022 at 7:13 p.m.

Eastern Washington Robern Mason III (9), left, and Nolan Ulm (17) leap in celebration after Ulm's badk-of-the-end-zone catch for a touchdown in the non-conference game against Tennessee State Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at Roos Field at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington Robern Mason III (9), left, and Nolan Ulm (17) leap in celebration after Ulm's badk-of-the-end-zone catch for a touchdown in the non-conference game against Tennessee State Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 at Roos Field at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The Eastern Washington football team is resting up this weekend before a stretch of nine consecutive games, starting at home against Montana State on Sept. 24.

It is the first in a daunting gantlet over the next month or so in particular, with games at No. 18 Florida (on Oct. 1) and at Weber State a week later.

That matchup with the Wildcats looks all the more formidable in light of action last weekend, when the Wildcats thumped regional rival Utah State 35-7.

The victory bumped Weber State (2-0) up four spots to 12th in the FCS Stats Perform Top 25, two ahead of the 14th-ranked Eagles (1-1). Unbeaten Montana (third), Montana State (fourth) and Sacramento State (eighth) remained in the poll, giving the Big Sky five teams in the top 14.

Utah State – which last year beat Washington State in its season opener and finished 11-3, winning the Mountain West’s Mountain Division – was soundly outplayed by Weber State on Saturday.

The Wildcats outgained the Aggies 401-283, intercepted four passes (including one that was returned for a touchdown) and converted 10 of 19 third downs. They also scored on all five red-zone visits while holding the Aggies scoreless in three such trips.

Utah State had won the last eight matchups in the series, dating back to a Weber State victory in 1978 – the Wildcats’ only other victory in their 16-game all-time series.

Through two games, the Wildcats have yet to allow a defensive touchdown (Utah State’s came on a kickoff return) after beating Division II Western Oregon 41-5 the week before.

Weber State missed the playoffs last season after beginning the year 1-3, a stretch that included losses to Utah, James Madison and UC Davis. But a 2-0 start this year has them better positioned to compete for a playoff spot and a Big Sky title, something they claimed at least a share of four of the past five seasons.

Northern Arizona notches big win

If Weber State’s win was the Big Sky’s most impressive in Week 2, then Northern Arizona’s 10-3 victory over Sam Houston in Texas isn’t far behind in significance.

Sam Houston – a program Eastern Washington played in consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2014 – is transitioning to the FBS, which it will join in 2023 as a member of Conference USA. The Bearkats won the FCS title at the end of the 2020 season and reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs last season.

Northern Arizona (1-1 this season) finished 4-4 in the Big Sky last season and hasn’t had a winning record in conference play (aside from the COVID-shortened 2021 spring season) since 2017.

Sophomore quarterback RJ Martinez, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season, completed 27 of 41 attempts for 214 yards against the Bearkats. The Lumberjacks’ defense forced two turnovers and recorded four sacks.

Northern Arizona and Idaho State are the two Big Sky teams Eastern Washington will not play this regular season.

Vikings give Huskies little trouble

As one-sided as Eastern Washington’s loss to Oregon was on Saturday, Portland State was equally dominated by Washington (52-6) on Saturday in Seattle.

Portland State sophomore Dante Chachere completed just 6 of 17 passes for 50 yards and was sacked three times. The Vikings netted just 81 rushing yards. The Huskies racked up 617 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on their first four drives.

Like Eastern, PSU (0-2) has a bye this weekend before opening conference play. The Vikings visit Montana on Sept. 24.

The Eagles will host the Vikings on Oct. 29 in Cheney.

Montana State gets its shot at a Pac-12 team

One week before playing the Eagles in Cheney, the Montana State Bobcats will try to knock off an FBS team Saturday when they play Oregon State in Corvallis.

Big Sky teams are 0-5 against Pac-12 teams this season. This is the conference’s final chance this season to earn such a victory.

Aside from the 2020-21 season, Oregon State has played a team from the Big Sky each of the past eight seasons, and it has won the past seven since a 2013 loss to Eastern Washington. But the Bobcats, who lost in the championship game last season, come in as a top-five team in the FCS, more similar to that EWU team than to the other Big Sky teams Oregon State has played over the years.

“We’re going to have our hands full. They’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of experienced players on both sides of the football,” Montana State coach Brent Vigen said at his news conference Monday.

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