Eagles look for breakthrough 'W' versus Pac-12
A mere nine points separate Eastern Washington from pondering “what if” to shouting loud and proud at being the kings of Division 1 college football in the state.
An interception inside the final 30 seconds preserved the University of Washington’s 30-27 victory in 2011 as the Huskies escaped the Eagles in the team’s season opening contest in Seattle.
Then, a batted down long pass into the end zone on the game’s final play allowed Washington State to escape with a 24-20 win over EWU at Martin Stadium.
The Wazzu win allowed Cougar coach Mike Leach to escape having to scrape a lot of egg off his face in the teams’ first meeting in over a century.
So when the Eagles travel to another hostile Pac-12 stadium in Corvallis Saturday to face the Oregon State Beavers they will certainly not be in awe of the surroundings – and maybe not even the team with a preseason No. 25 ranking. Kickoff is at 3:07 p.m. and the game is televised on the Pac-12 Network.
“I love being in those environments competing, fighting and putting it all out there,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said following the conclusion of last Saturday’s final preseason scrimmage.
Baldwin enters his sixth season with the Football Championship Subdivision’s No. 4-ranked team. “Our players love it. Our guys grew up hoping to get recruited by a Pac-12 school, so when they get a chance at Eastern Washington to play a team from that conference, they want to show that they are right there with them.”
Eastern finished 11-3 overall and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. OSU was 9-4 under Mike Riley, who owns a 2-0 series record against the Eagles. OSU escaped with a 21-19 win in 2000 and rolled 56-17 in 2006.
The Beavers finished the year ranked No. 19 nationally after losing 31-27 to Texas in the Alamo Bowl and return 15 starters.
“Luckily, we have a lot of veterans who have been a part of our games at the University of Washington and WSU, and playoff games last year and in 2010,” Baldwin said. “Younger players who have not been a part of that can lean on the older guys to see how they are reacting to every situation.”
The crowd will attempt to rattle sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams, a nine-game starter at quarterback who was the FCS Freshman of the Year on the College Sporting News “Fabulous 50” All-America team.
But Baldwin and his coaches have done their best to create chaos during camp.
“We try to create enough situations at practice that are loud, more up-tempo and almost stressful,” he said. “We try to put our players in situations at camp where they are stressed and they are a little on edge, so by the time they reach Corvallis they don’t feel (the pressure) as much. “
There is nothing that can replace being in a hostile crowd in a Pac-12 stadium, but you do everything you can during the week to try to create those high-stress situations, Baldwin explained.
Eastern, which prides itself in recruiting largely within the state of Washington, will offer a group of players a homecoming of sorts Saturday in Reser Stadium.
The Eagles feature nine players from the state of Oregon on their roster, and six more from just across the border in Vancouver, Wash.
Among the players from Oregon are six returning letterwinners including senior kicker Kevin Miller from Portland, senior offensive guard Brandon Murphy (Albany), senior tight end Cody Humphrey (Hermiston), sophomore linebacker Jordan Talley(Portland), sophomore cornerback Miles Weatheroy (Portland) and sophomore tight end Jake Withnell (Salem).
Newcomers from Oregon in the Eastern program are defensive lineman Samson Ebukam and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, both from Portland as well as defensive lineman Matthew Sommer out of Salem.
Eastern is at home at Roos Field Saturday, Sept. 7 versus Division II Western Oregon at 4:05 p.m.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.