Following Eastern Washington’s failed attempt to track down Sam Houston State in a 2012 Football Championship Subdivision semifinal playoff game, and the pending graduation of a talented receiving corps, there was a certain amount hand-wringing.
What would follow with the loss of so much of the offense provided by Brandon Kaufman, Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd?
How about these:
• Eastern’s watershed victory over nationally-ranked Pac-12 foe Oregon State, 49-46 in the season opening game.
• The school’s first-ever undefeated finish in Big Sky Conference play at 8-0.
• Eastern’s third trip to the FCS semifinal playoff round with another gut-wrenching loss in the final 17 seconds to Towson University, Dec. 21.
• The naming of receiver Cooper Kupp as the winner of the Jerry Rice Award as the FCS’s top freshman.
• Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams finishing second in voting for the Walter Payton award, the Heisman Trophy equivalent for FCS players.
• A team that set multiple records on the offensive side of the ball such as Kupp breaking records held by notables like NFL vet Randy Moss and Adams setting new Big Sky Conference marks.
Following a 2-2 start after nonconference loses to FBS Toldeo of the Mid-American Conference and FCS rival Sam Houston, the Eagles reeled off eight straight Big Sky victories and did so, for the most part in very convincing fashion
Eastern’s 12-3 record came on the shoulders of a high-octane offense that scored at the rate of nearly 40 points per game and an average of over 42 in conference play.
Eastern got milestone wins at Montana, 42-37 in which EWU head coach Beau Baldwin collected his 50th victory at the school in six years. The game was the Grizzlies 200th played at Washington-Grizzly Stadium where they owned a record of 175-25 with Eastern owning five of those W’s.
For the most part Eastern’s regular-season wins were pretty-worry free, except their finale versus Portland State, a 42-41 victory that came in the game’s final 31 seconds on an Adams to Kupp 15-yard touchdown pass. The score capped a 74-yard drive with no EWU timeouts that took just 29 seconds.
“We hold our heads up high knowing we are going to continue to come back fighting, and I am so proud of this 2013 team,” Baldwin said in remarks following the Towson loss. “ I know the end result is not what your ultimate goal is, but in terms of the way the players competed, stayed together, fought, scrapped and left it on the field, it was all out there.”
When all was said and done, the accolades began to roll in for the Eagles, the first beingKupp and cornerback T.J.Lee III being selected to the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America team. A national committee of FCS coaches selects the prestigious 25-member squad.
There’s likely more honors to follow.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.