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Eastern Washington University Football

Big Sky notebook: Eastern Washington set to host former coach Paul Wulff, Cal Poly

Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best looks on during the second half of the Eagles’ game against the Idaho Vandals on Sept. 30 at Roos Field in Cheney.  (James Snook/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

After four years playing offensive line at Eastern Washington, Aaron Best stuck around for the 2000 and 2001 seasons as a student assistant and a graduate assistant.

At that time, he figured he would end up coaching high school football. But Paul Wulff had other plans.

“Coach Wulff told me I was going to be his offensive line coach,” Best said during Tuesday media availability. “There were no talks previous to that. I was helping out, making cut-ups, making copies and coffee, and before you know it the offensive line coach left for a full-time position, and I was put in that slot.”

Wulff recruited Best to play for the Eagles in 1996 when Wulff was Eastern Washington’s offensive line coach. By 2001, Wulff had been promoted to head coach, a post he held until 2007.

On Saturday, for the first time since, Wulff will return to Roos Field in Cheney as the head coach of another team, the Cal Poly Mustangs. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

“I have much to be thankful to (Wulff) for individually,” Best said. “… They’re a good football team, and our duty is to keep them winless on the road this weekend. But I’ll hug him, always have, always will, no matter the outcomes. You honor the ones who got you to your spot.”

The Mustangs, 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big Sky, last played in Cheney during spring 2021, a game Eastern won 62-10. At the time, Wulff was Cal Poly’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator. He was promoted to head coach after the 2022 season, when Beau Baldwin – another former EWU head coach – left to be Arizona State’s offensive coordinator.

Best said the Mustangs are in a much better spot than they were during that 2021 game. He sees improvements at quarterback, at wide receiver and certainly along the offensive line.

The challenge for the Eagles (3-5, 2-3) will be to stop an offense that helped lead the Mustangs to a 24-17 win two weeks ago over Northern Colorado. Cal Poly had its bye last weekend.

The Mustangs rank 10th in the 12-team Big Sky in scoring offense at 20.3 yards per game, about 11 points fewer than the Eagles average (31.4). Their defense has allowed more points (37.1 per game) than every other Big Sky team except Idaho State (40) and about three points more than the Eagles’ (34.8).

Eastern has struggled to slow opposing run-first offenses like Portland State and Idaho, and it ranks last in the Big Sky in rushing yards allowed (233 per game). But the last time it faced a pass-happy offense – Idaho State three weeks ago – it allowed 523 passing yards.

“On defense, our mental state is to keep attacking it and win,” redshirt sophomore safety Kentrell Williams Jr. said during media availability Tuesday. “Win every play. We have to win every down. We have to win every assignment. Every one of (the) 11 (players) has to win.”

Amid the Eagles’ defensive struggles, Eastern’s offense has steadily climbed the conference’s rankings. Eastern’s offense ranks third in the Big Sky in yards per game (424.5) and fifth in points (31.4).

In conference games, EWU redshirt sophomore quarterback Kekoa Visperas has the second-best completion percentage (69.2) in the Big Sky, and among regular starters his two interceptions are tied for the second fewest in the conference.

Grizzlies, Hornets gear up for key matchup

Two of the Big Sky’s top four teams in the standings will meet Saturday in Missoula when the fourth-ranked Montana Grizzlies (7-1, 4-1) host the seventh-ranked Sacramento State Hornets (6-2, 3-2).

No. 6 Montana State (7-1, 4-1) and No. 3 Idaho (6-2, 4-1) round out the Big Sky’s top-heavy presence in the most recent FCS Stats Perform Top 25.

No other Big Sky teams are ranked; no other Big Sky teams have more than four wins.

“(Sacramento State) is a really good team,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said on Monday during his weekly media availability. “The quarterback is dynamic. The defensive line is a load and hard to handle.”

Montana’s 40-0 win over Northern Colorado last week gave Hauck his 123rd victory as Grizzlies coach, tying him with Northern Arizona’s Jerome Souers for most career wins by a head coach while at a Big Sky school. Souers was at NAU from 1998 to 2018.

The Grizzlies’ shutout was their first of the season and was the second this year in Big Sky play. Montana State blanked Weber State 40-0 on Sept. 23.

Vikings, Aggies seek crucial win in Davis

The Big Sky’s two best candidates to give the conference a fifth playoff team meet Saturday in California when UC Davis hosts Portland State. Both are 4-4 overall, although the Vikings (3-2) have a better Big Sky record than UC Davis (2-3).

Portland State running back Jobi Malary was named Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week after his six-touchdown performance in the Vikings’ 47-35 win over the Eagles last week.

UC Davis welcomed back running back Lan Larison, who ran 24 times for 101 yards last week in the Aggies’ 38-21 loss at Northern Arizona. It was Larison’s first game action since he was injured in Eastern Washington’s 27-24 win at UC Davis on Sept. 23, when Larison – then the Big Sky’s rushing leader – ran 22 times for 255 yards.