Eagles, Bearkats begin season in nationally televised FCS Kickoff game at Roos Field
Eastern Washington's Quincy Forte (22), seen here in the Eagles' 2012 45-42 semifinal playoff loss to Sam Houston State, will get another chance to meet SHSU Saturday, Aug. 23. The Eagles face the Bearkats in an ESPN nationally televised game at Roos Field called the "FCS Showdown." It's part of the recently announced 2014 EWU football schedule that includes six home games.
The red turf at Roos Field, nicknamed "The Inferno," might just really live up to its name.
The likely dry heat of August will replace the cold of December in the Northwest and the humidity of fall in the Southeast as Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State University renew their recent football rivalry in the inaugural ESPN FCS Kickoff, Saturday, Aug. 23 in Cheney.
News of the switch to an earlier season kickoff date for the game confirms an earlier story written by FCS Executive Director Craig Haley. "ESPN's desire to have a Saturday devoted to FCS coverage prior to the start of FBS action has zeroed in on this year's Sam Houston State-Eastern Washington matchup on the red turf in Cheney," he reported Jan. 31.
Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. in what should be the first college football game played this season. It's Eastern's first of a 12-game schedule that includes six contests at Roos Field and two to open the season at home with an Aug. 30 game against NAIA Montana Western from Dillon, Mont.
Over the last decade the Eagles and Bearkats have established their programs among some of the most elite in the nation, and specifically in the last four seasons where Eastern has 42 wins while SFU has 40. EWU has three Big Sky titles in that span while Sam Houston has a pair of Southland Conference championships.
"It's an amazing opportunity to play one of the top programs at our level to kick off the 2014 football season," Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said.
Eastern and Sam Houston met in a pair of most remarkable playoff games. The first was a quarterfinal matchup in Dec. 2004 where the Bearkats rallied from 21 points down to beat EWU 35-34 in the first-ever playoff game at what was then known as Woodward Field.
The second meeting came in the semifinals of the 2012 playoffs in which Eastern rallied from a 35-0 deficit at halftime and nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback in a 45-42 loss. A severe thunderstorm delayed SHU's eventual 49-34 win last September in Huntsville, Texas.
The 2014 meeting is a return game for the home-and-home series the two schools agreed upon in June 2012 and was originally scheduled for Sept. 13, which is now the first of a pair of byes for the Eagles.
"We truly believe it will be a great game for football fans not just at our level, but also for others who aren't as familiar with FCS football," Baldwin said.
This will be the earliest start ever for EWU football and is also unique in that the contest against Montana Western gives the Eagles two home games before the Sept. 6 game at Husky Stadium in Seattle versus the University of Washington, followed by that Sept. 13 bye.
As part of the league's expansion in 2012, only regional rivals Montana and Portland State are part of EWU's annual schedule. The other six league games are played on a rotating basis with the other 10 Big Sky teams. That makes Eastern's Sept. 20 game at Montana State a nonleague contest.
The Eagles launch the Big Sky schedule with a road game at UC Davis (Sept. 27) before the conference home opener versus Idaho State (Oct. 4). From there it's on the road for an Oct. 11 game at Southern Utah, an Oct. 18 Roos Field meeting with Northern Colorado - the Eagles first against the Bears since 2011 - before closing the month at Northern Arizona, Oct. 25.
Eastern begins November with back-to-back home games against North Dakota (Nov. 1) and Montana (Nov. 8), a bye Nov. 15 and a Nov. 22 road game at Portland State.
The Eagles finished third in the final Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll of the season after losing to Towson 35-31 in the semifinals of the playoffs. Eastern was 12-3 overall and 8-0 in league play. The Bearkats finished 13th with a record of 9-5 and are coached by K.C. Keeler, who was the head coach at Delaware when Eastern beat the Blue Hens 20-19 for the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.