Missoula a tough, but welcome place for EWU
Despite being a house of horrors with painful losses in his last two visits to Washington Grizzly Stadium, Eastern Washington University head football coach Beau Baldwin is looking forward to returning there this Saturday when his third-ranked Eagles clash with the No. 10 Grizzlies.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge, but that’s what we love,” Baldwin said this past Monday during the EWU Coaches Show. “We love those challenges, we love going on the road; what better place than Missoula?”
And challenging it always seems to be.
In their last visit in 2011 the Eagles fell 17-14 with Montana’s John Kanagata’a interception with 25 seconds to play preserving the Griz victory in front of a record crowd of 26,066.
In 2009, after falling behind by 14 points in the third quarter, Eastern rallied to knot the score at 34-34 with a Taiwan Jones touchdown with just 4 minutes, 58 seconds left. But the Grizzlies went on an 11-play, 55-yard drive scoring the winning points with 1:18 remaining.
Dan Carpenter’s 34-yard field goal with 26 seconds to play lifted the Griz to a 24-23 win in Paul Wulff’s final trip to Missoula in 2007. The last EWU win there came in 2005, 34-20.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere,” Baldwin said of the close-quarters in Missoula where the rabid Griz fans are within arms-reach of the players.
“To their credit, I don’t know what it will be, 26,000 fans give or take, but it’ll feel louder than some of the places we’ve been to with 60,000 fans, whatever it might be,” Baldwin said.
But Baldwin says the atmosphere also plays into his team’s approach and preparation. “Everything from pre-game to walking into the stadium you feel that energy,” he said. “You work all year and you only get so many guaranteed Saturdays, and only twice in four years you get to play in Missoula,” Baldwin said. “You put a lot of time into those three hours, and it means something to our players.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montana comes off a scary 21-14 overtime victory over Cal Poly last Saturday in Missoula.
After Montana tied the game with a Jordan Johnson to Clay Pierson pass with 12 seconds to play, Johnson hit Ellis Henderson for the eventual winning points and got an interception on Cal Poly’s possession to seal the outcome.
“He’s the complete package at quarterback and is playing at an extremely high level,” Baldwin said of Johnson, who missed the 2012 season as he prevailed in a nasty legal battle where he was exonerated of rape charges.
Besides remaining undefeated in Big Sky play, a win would also elevate Baldwin into a special club among conference coaches with his 50th victory. Baldwin is now 49-21 in five-plus seasons as a head coach.