Even though the transfer portal has changed roster construction in college football, the final home game of the season – when teams say goodbye to their seniors – is still special to Aaron Best.
“It’s a small-in-number class,” EWU’s head coach said Tuesday during media availability. “It’s always special. It’s always tearful. And it’s tearful because those guys mean a lot whether they’re here for six months or six years.”
The Eagles (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky) will send out its relatively young team for one last time on Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, where they will host – and play – the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (4-6, 4-3) for the first time since the spring of 2021.
The team expects this will be the last game for about a dozen players who will be announced in a pregame ceremony.
Other seniors will choose to stay for another year and use the extra season granted to those who were eligible during the pandemic – a group that dwindles in number each season.
Here are three parts of the game to keep an eye on as the Eagles wrap up their season.
Can the Eagles get off
to another fast start?
Eastern is 0-4 when trailing at the end of the first quarter, so a fast start would seem crucial for a team that struggles to stop the run. Eastern’s struggles were on full display last week in Bozeman when Montana State ran for 268 yards in a 57-14 win. But if the Eagles storm out to a lead, it opens up their offensive playbook and limits that of the Lumberjacks, who are 0-6 this year when trailing at halftime.
Who makes their kicks?
The Eagles have attempted more field goals (20) than any other Big Sky team, and they’ve made a conference-high 14 (as has Idaho, on 16 attempts). That’s a higher number than the Eagles probably would like, given their 58.1% touchdown rate on red-zone visits, the second worst in the league. Still, they’ve had just five empty red-zone trips – two because of downs, and three due to missed field goals – contributing to their 88.4% scoring rate that is fourth best in the conference. So long as the Eagles aren’t behind by multiple scores early, look for them to be content to at least get points on possessions. The Lumberjacks may not be so content: They are a Big Sky-worst 3 for 9 kicking field goals, and they have also missed a couple of extra points.
Can the Eagles control Flores?
Three players have taken a significant number of snaps for the Lumberjacks this season, but the latest – and most effective – has been redshirt freshman Angel Flores. Flores took over 2½ games ago and has completed 38 of 51 attempts for 372 yards and two touchdowns. But his skills are as much with his feet, too, with 60 carries for 223 yards and five touchdowns. Eagles fans may also recognize NAU’s leading running back, Devon Starling, who has 601 rushing yards this season. Last year, while playing for Tennessee State, Starling ran 25 times for 207 yards and a touchdown in Eastern’s 36-29 victory in the season opener for both teams.