Cheney Free Press -

Eastern shoots for four straight


October 5, 2017

Paul Delaney

Eastern Washington's Brandon Montgomery battles Sacramento State's Andre Lindsey and ultimately knocked the ball away in last Saturday's 52-31 Eagle win.

The names of the top opposing players on the field may be somewhat unfamiliar this week to fans of the Eagles, but the offensive numbers and head coach will pop out to them.

The top two offenses in the Big Sky Conference will square off when the 10th-ranked Eastern Washington University football team plays at UC Davis and new Aggie head coach Dan Hawkins this Saturday, Oct. 7. Kickoff is 6 p.m. in Davis, Calif., where EWU plays its fourth road game in the first six outings of the season.

Both teams are 3-2 overall, and it is uncanny how their statistical numbers from last week and the season match-up. Led by the team's best back-to-back-to-back offensive stretch in school history, the Eagles are third in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing offense at 358.4 yards per game, and are seventh in total offense (484.6). The Aggies are right behind them at fifth (343.6) and 12th (469.4), respectively, to rank second in the league behind EWU in both categories.

"They will get after us and challenge our defense," Eastern head coach Aaron Best said. "They have multiple players who are very talented on offense. They are multi-faceted, they keep you guessing."

Eastern improved to 2-0 last week in the Big Sky with a 52-31 shootout home win over Sacramento State, piling up 490 passing yards and 651 total in the process. Meanwhile, UC Davis evened its conference mark at 1-1 by doubling-up preseason favorite North Dakota 48-24. The Aggies matched EWU's 651 yards of offense and had 415 passing.

The top receiver for UC Davis is Keelan Doss, a junior who earned second team All-Big Sky Conference honors a year ago. He ranks fourth in FCS in receptions per game (8.2) and is third in receiving yards (Big Sky-leading 132.4 per game). Eastern's Nic Sblendorio is also fourth in FCS and shares the league lead for receptions (8.2), and is 40th in yards (77.0). Nsimba Webster is 14th in receptions (6.8, total of 34) and 44th in yards (77.2).

This is the second-straight home game for UCD against one of the preseason favorites in the Big Sky. Previously, they fell to nationally-ranked Weber State 41-3 in the league opener for both teams, beat Portland State 37-14 in a non-conference game on Sept. 16, beat San Diego 35-7 and fell 38-17 to San Diego State.

Eastern is 5-0 all-time against UC Davis, but 0-1 against Hawkins. Although he coached at Willamette (1993-97) and Boise State (2001-05), Eastern didn't face him until they played Colorado in 2008 in Boulder. Eastern was ahead 24-17 with 3:52 to play, but Colorado scored on a five-play drive to knot the game with 2:05 left. The Buffaloes won 31-24 on a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:44 remaining.

Saturday will be the 250th game for Best being associated with the Eastern football program. Just five of those have been as head coach, however.

Hawkins, on the other hand, returned to his roots this season after a very notable career at Boise State and then Colorado, among others. Hawkins was a member of the 1982 UC Davis before embarking on his college coaching career.

He turned Boise State from a "school with the blue football turf" into a perennial national power as its head coach from 2001-05. During the Hawkins era, the Broncos posted a 56-11 overall record, which included a 37-3 record and 31-game win streak in the Western Athletic Conference.

Hawkins took over a rebuilding Colorado (2006-10) program and gained invaluable experience during his tenure with the Big 12 Conference.


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