Cheney Free Press -

Eagles take season's first winning streak to Cal Poly

Eastern sets its sights on a third-straight victory — and second consecutive on the road — when they play the triple-option attack of the Mustangs

 

Last updated 11/14/2019 at 10:20am

CHENEY — Be wary of teams holding a grudge and hungry for a victory.

The Eastern Washington University football team goes on the road for a second-straight week when it plays at Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 16, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in a rematch of EWU’s 53-point blowout victory in Cheney a year ago.

In 2018, on its way to an appearance in the NCAA Division I Championship Game, Eastern won handily 70-17. The margin was the largest ever in a Big Sky Conference game for EWU, and the third-largest overall. Eastern is 8-2 all-time versus Cal Poly — 5-0 at home and 3-2 on the road — with a six-game winning streak in the series.

However, the Mustangs have an option attack not seen by the Eagle defense on a regular basis, and that has given EWU fits in the past. In fact, in the last three meetings alone, Cal Poly has averaged 417.7 yards on the ground per game. Thus, the key is getting out front early and making the Mustangs play catch-up through the air.

Last week, Eastern took its No. 1 offense in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision to Idaho State, and came out with a 48-5 victory after leading 20-2 at halftime. The Eagles had 689 yards to maintain the FCS lead heading into the Cal Poly game, but it was EWU’s defense that snagged the major headlines as EWU has recorded its first back-to-back victories of the season.

It was the first time in 37 games that EWU hasn’t allowed a touchdown since beating Richmond 38-0 in the FCS Playoffs in 2016. It had been 40 Big Sky Conference games since the Eagles held a league opponent out of the end zone, dating back to a 54-3 win over North Dakota in 2014. Eastern had a 3-0 advantage in turnovers forced, and held ISU to 4-of-17 on third down and 0-of-4 on fourth.

Also notable was that EWU snapped a five-game losing streak on the road, as the Eagles extended a current streak of seasons with at least one road win. This week, Eastern seeks to extend a streak of 25-straight seasons with at least two wins away from Roos Field, where EWU has a current school-record 13-game winning streak.

“You would have dropped me right then and there if you would have told me before the season that it would be our 10th game before we would get our first win on the road,” Eastern head coach Aaron Best said. “It’s been really hard for us this year, and until Idaho State we hadn’t done it. We’ll take that win home and prepare for Cal Poly’s triple-option attack. Hopefully Coach (Tim) Walsh can cook us a little sun next week in California.”

In EWU’s 70-17 rout in Cheney a year ago, the Eagles actually outgained the Mustangs on the ground 441-378, and set a school and Big Sky Conference record with an average of 14.7 yards per rush.

But the last time the two teams met in Cheney in 2015, the Eagles needed overtime and a failed 2-point conversion by Cal Poly to prevail 42-41 in a game that Eastern trailed by 15 in the fourth quarter. Cal Poly had 503 rushing yards in that game. A year later in San Luis Obispo in a 42-21 Eastern victory, Cal Poly had 372 yards rushing as a team.

Eastern is 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the Big Sky, and has its first two-game winning streak of the season. Eastern beat Northern Arizona 66-38 on Nov. 2 in Cheney, and that came after a 34-17 loss Sat rival Montana after owning a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.

The Eagles are a perfect 4-0 at home and 1-5 on the road this season.

Cal Poly had a bye on Nov. 9, and enters the Eastern game 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The Mustangs won their league opener 24-21 at Southern Utah on Sept. 28, but haven’t won since and enter Saturday’s action with a five-game losing streak.

In that streak, the Mustangs have played three nationally-ranked teams — Montana State (34-28 in overtime), UC Davis (48-24) and Sacramento State (38-14). During the losing skid Cal Poly has also fallen to North Dakota at home (30-26) and Idaho on the road (21-9) in its most recent game on Nov. 2.

The Mustangs are averaging 225.7 yards on the ground to rank 11th in FCS, with three players with at least 232 yards on the season. Duy Tran Sampson has 813 yards and four touchdowns, and Jalen Hamler has 424 and eight scores.

Hamler has also passed for 1,052 yards and nine touchdowns, and J.J. Koski has caught 36 passes for 781 yards and five scores. The Mustangs are surrendering 460.6 yards per game — 211.8 rushing and 248.8 passing — while also getting outscored 312-208 (average score of 34-23).

After starting the 2019 season 2-4, Eastern dropped out of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings on Oct. 7 for only the second time since 2011. When Eastern beat Northern Colorado 54-21 on Oct. 12, it was the first time since 2011 EWU had been unranked entering a game.

The Eagles had been ranked 46-straight times in the STATS poll, and 103 of the last 104 (EWU had a 57-week streak ended with the final poll of the 2015 season). In preseason rankings in 2019, EWU was ranked fourth by STATS and third by the American Football Coaches Association — both the highest of the season — before falling to Washington.

Now, Eastern’s main hope is to extend its school-record streak of consecutive winning seasons to 13, having not had a losing season since 2006 when the Eagles were 3-8. The Eagles close the regular season at home on Nov. 23 versus Portland State on Senior Day at Roos Field.

Eastern enters the Cal Poly game as the FCS leader in total offense (524.3), with 1,395 yards in the last two games. Eastern had 706 versus Northern Arizona on Nov. 2 to rank fifth in school history, and 689 at Idaho State on Nov. 9 to rank seventh all-time. Eastern has also had a school-record 769 this season versus Lindenwood, and 637 against Northern Colorado on Oct. 12 to rank as the 19th most in EWU history.

The Eagles are second in FCS in passing (336.9), 34th in rushing (187.4) and fifth in scoring (39.2). Defensively, Eastern is 58th in rushing defense (154.1), 114th in passing defense (276.7), 98th in total defense (430.8) and 91st in scoring defense (32.8) among 116 FCS schools. Eastern also has the fifth-most first downs in FCS with 247 and is 32nd in third down conversions (42.1 percent).

Eastern is eighth in turnover margin (plus 1.00 per game), with 20 takeaways (18th) and just 10 giveaways (ninth).

 

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