Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Eagles host Bison in battle of heavyweights at Roos Field

It's FCS No. 2 versus No. 7 in Saturday's rematch on 'The Red'

 

September 7, 2017

EWU

Eastern Washington's Kurt Calhoun was flying around in the Fargo Dome last year. He will likely do the same at Roos Field on Saturday against the Bison.

Call it the rubber-match on the red.

Saturday's nonconference football heavyweight battle between visiting No. 2-ranked Football Championship Subdivision North Dakota State University Bison and No. 7 Eastern Washington at 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field will be the third meeting between the teams.

It's the return engagement of a home-and-home series that began in 2016 when the Eagles went on the road and lost a heartbreaking 50-44 overtime contest in perfect 70-degree weather under the Fargo Dome roof.

The team's other meeting also went to overtime, that one played in the second-round of the 2010 FCS playoffs on Dec. 11 in a driving snowstorm. The Eagles' 38-31 victory over the Bison sent them to the playoff semifinals. There they defeated Villanova 41-31 on the way to the 20-19 national championship win over Delaware.

In what will be the 50th game played on the red turf, kickoff ought to happen in 80-something degree temps, hopefully free of choking and lingering wildfire smoke that has plagued the region for several days.

The Eagles look to rebound from the 56-10 pasting they took at the hands of Texas Tech in their nonconference season opener last Saturday in Lubbock.

While Eastern was outgained 626-301 by the speedy Red Raider offense which had a 449-220 edge through the air, this week's game is a 180-degree difference.

As the Eastern secondary was trying to track down Tech's version of the "Air Raid," offense, North Dakota State destroyed Mississippi Valley State 72-7 at home, showing off its love of the run by racking up 498 yards on the ground. Lance Dunn ran for 142 net yards, teammates Ty Brooks added 127 and Demaris Purifoy 85.

Dual-threat quarterback Easton Slick not only had 53 yards rushing and a touchdown, but was a perfect 5 for 5 for 100 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.

The Bison defense was as tough on the visitors as were their counterparts on the opposite side of the ball. NDSU limited the Delta Devils to just three first downs, a -31 yards rushing and just 70 yards of total offense. The effort was led by Patrick Harbin Jr. with nine total tackles.

"Their personnel groupings are a lot different than the ones we saw before (in 2016)," EWU head coach Aaron Best said on the EWU coaches show Sept. 4. Before it was defending five wide receivers, now it's trying to counter the run, Best noted.

Until James Madison won the 2016 FCS title, the trophy rested through the season either in Cheney in 2010 or Fargo for an amazing five consecutive years from 2011-15.

"At the end of the day when you are facing championship caliber teams like the Bison you have to have every buckle strapped, every shoelace tight, (and) double-knotted, socks pulled up, eye-black on," Best said.

But Eastern always relishes playing the toughest of the lot. It prepares them well for Big Sky Conference play and the gateway to postseason.

"The biggest part isn't necessarily the wins or losses, it's the situations you're in," Best said. "If you're never back against the wall, if you're never scratching from behind 14 points, if you've never been in true situational football it's hard to simulate that when you get into league play."

Eagles vs. Bison

No. 7/6 Eastern Washington versus No. 2 North Dakota State. Saturday, Sept. 9, 1:05 p.m. Roos Field (8,600) TV: SWX. Radio: 700-AM ESPN and 105.3-FM in the Spokane/Cheney area. Larry Weir returns for his 27th season calling the play-by-play, with analysis handled by Paul Sorensen. Broadcasts begin one hour prior to kickoff and include an expanded post-game show.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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