First-ever meeting between the schools, leagues is Saturday
It’s an impressive team on a darn good roll that makes a nearly 3,000 mile trek across the nation to face Eastern Washington in the second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at 3:05 p.m. at Roos Field.
Not only have the Wagner Seahawks (9-3) from Staten Island, New York won nine straight games after a 0-3 start, but they had to do it with an interruption from Hurricane Sandy.
Wagner registered its impressive 30-0 victory over Albany in the wake of the storm. Evacuated from campus for three days, the team missed a practice, prepared without the benefit of electricity, dressed in a dark locker room and had no hot water leading up to the game that earned the Seahawks a share of the Northeast Conference crown and the league’s automatic playoff berth.
Undeterred, Wagner, a private school with some 2,400 students, ventures west after last Saturday’s 31-20 first-round victory over Colgate for only their second-ever Division 1 playoff game to face 9-2 Eastern, the No. 2 seed in the 2012 FCS playoffs.
Eastern captured a share of the Big Sky Conference title and the league’s automatic playoff berth with a 7-1 league record. Of the Eagles’ seven Big Sky wins this season, six came by a combined margin of 28 points – one by seven points, two six-point wins and a trio by just three points. And Eastern is only seven points from an unbeaten season, having last-possession chances to pull out wins in both of their losses.
Those nail-biting finishes, former Eastern quarterback, and 2011 Walter Payton Award winner Bo Levi Mitchell said last week should play to EWU’s advantage.
“All the wins being so close, they don’t realize it now but that’s so big when it comes to playoffs,” Mitchell said from Toronto as he prepared to play in Canada’s Grey Cup championship.
Mitchell said he, along with fellow former Eagles, J.C. Sherritt, Matt Nichols and Greg Peach – all current CFL players – will be in Cheney Saturday to cheer on their team. “I already talked to J.C., Matt, Greg,” Mitchell said. “We’re all going to stand on the sidelines, hang out.”
“I think without question it will help us,” head coach Beau Baldwin said of EWU’s close games. “We are going to go through moments where things are not going great and we are facing adversity, and winning those tough ballgames helps.”
Besides being new to the playoffs, this is the first time that either Wagner, or any team from the NEC or Big Sky Conference have met in football.
The Seahawks are led by NEC Coach of the Year Walt Hameline, a veteran of 32 seasons as head coach at Wagner. He led them to the 1987 NCAA Division III Championship and has a career record of 213-126-2. The Seahawks have committed just one turnover during the current streak.
Hameline’s 2012 team had five first-team All-Northeast Conference selections, including quarterback Nick Doscher, running back Dominque Williams, offensive lineman Steve Ciocci, defensive back Jarrett Dieudonne and return specialist Otis Wright. Two other defensive backs and a linebacker were named to the second team.
The winner of Saturday’s game faces the Illinois State/Appalachian State winner Dec. 7 or 8 at the site of the highest remaining seed.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.