One tradition continued, but the Eagles are hoping to begin a new tradition of winning it all.
Playing in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs for the first time since winning the NCAA Division I title in 2010, the Eastern Washington University football team will host a second-round game on Dec. 1 at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff has been set for 3:05 p.m. Pacific time, as the Eagles will play the winner of the first-round match-up between Wagner and Colgate.
The Eagles received the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, with North Dakota State getting the top seed, followed by EWU, Montana State, Old Dominion and Georgia Southern. The top five teams are seeded 1-5, and are guaranteed home games as long as they are the higher-seeded team in their match-up and have met NCAA guidelines to host.
“I’m extremely happy,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “The level of teams that the selection committee has to sort through is a tough job. It’s always a tough decision and it is every year. Once you are in the playoffs, we are all doing the same thing -- trying to take care of business one week at a time and see what happens. We are excited to be where we are.”
Eastern will be making its ninth appearance in the playoffs, ranking the Eagles among a select group of 20 schools with at least that many berths. The other appearances for the Eagles came in 1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010. With a 6-5 record during an injury-ravaged season in 2011, Eastern fell a victory shy making its first back-to-back-to-back appearances.
It is also the sixth berth in a nine-year span, ranking the Eagles as one of only five schools among 121 in FCS to accomplish that feat. The only other four teams to have qualified six of the last nine years are Appalachian State (2005-06-07-08-09-10-11-12), Montana (2004-05-06-07-08-09-11), New Hampshire (2004-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12) and Southern Illinois (2004-05-06-07-08-09).
The four first-round games are Nov. 24, with 12 teams receiving byes. Eight games in the round of 16 are played on Dec. 1. The quarterfinals are Dec. 7-8, the semifinals are Dec. 14-15 and the championship game is Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas. All games will be produced by ESPN, with the first two-rounds available via ESPN3.
The Eagles will enter the game 9-2 overall this season, and captured a share of the Big Sky Conference title and the league’s automatic playoff berth with a 7-1 league record. Colgate is 8-3 and won the Patriot League title with a perfect 5-0 record. Wagner is 8-3 and shared the Northeast Conference title with a 7-1 mark, but defeated Albany to earn the league’s automatic berth. Eastern has never played a team from either conference in football.
In 2010, Eastern was the No. 5 seed, and because of higher-seeded teams losing in the early rounds, hosted three games at Roos Field. Of Eastern’s seven Big Sky wins this season, six have come by a combined margin of 28 points – one by seven points, two six-point wins and a trio by just three points. On the other side of the coin, the Eagles are only seven points from an unbeaten season, having last-possession chances in both of its losses to pull out a miracle win.
“We were fortunate enough as the five seed to get the home playoff games (in 2010),” said Baldwin. “There is no question it’s an advantage -- you don’t have to look at too many years to see there is a common theme that the top teams played a lot of games at home.
“Ultimately, we have to find a way to win,” added Baldwin, who will be making his fifth playoff appearance as either an Eastern assistant coach (2004, 2005) or head coach (2009, 2010, 2012). “We have played a lot of close games this year which hopefully puts us in a good position in one of the toughest conferences in the country. We are just excited about the one we are going to play in two weeks.”
Eagles in the Playoffs
Eastern is now 9-7 all-time, with 2010 marking its fifth appearance in the quarterfinals. Eastern has reached the semifinals twice before (1997, 2010), but 2010 was EWU’s first appearance in the championship game.
Eastern has now advanced past the first round five times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007, 2010) and has a 9-7 record in eight playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010). Only 15 teams have made more playoff appearances than the Eagles.
Seeded fifth, Eastern won four-straight games to win the 2010 NCAA Division I National Championship. The top-ranked Eagles defeated #9 Southeast Missouri State (37-17), #25 North Dakota State (38-31 in overtime) and defending champion #10 Villanova (41-31) in three home playoff games, then defeated #5 Delaware (20-19) in the championship game on Jan. 7, 2011, in Frisco, Texas. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was selected as the game’s Most Outstanding Player after throwing three touchdowns passes in the final 16:48 as EWU rallied from a 19-0 deficit.
In 2009, the 13th-ranked Eagles lost at No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 44-33 in the first round. In 2007, the Eagles handed second-seeded and No. 3 ranked McNeese State its first loss of the year in a 44-15 first-round victory. Eastern then lost in the quarterfinals at two-time defending champion Appalachian State. In 2004, Eastern defeated No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Southern Illinois 35-31 in the first round and then lost 35-34 to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinal round in EWU’s first-ever playoff game at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) in Cheney, Wash. In both 2004 and 2007, Eastern entered the playoffs ranked 14th nationally.
Until 2004, Eastern hadn’t appeared in the FCS playoffs since 1997 when the Eagles advanced to the semifinals where it lost to Youngstown State 25-14 at Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Eastern played two early-round games at Albi, defeating Northwestern State 40-10 and Western Kentucky 38-21.
Eastern also participated in the playoffs in 1985 (won at Idaho 42-38 and lost at Northern Iowa 17-14) and 1992 (lost at Northern Iowa 17-14). The school’s only other postseason experience came in 1967 when Eastern advanced to the NAIA Championship game where it lost to Fairmont State 28-21. Eastern has won three previous national titles, but none in head-to-head competition or at the NCAA Division I level. Eastern won the 1977 NAIA wrestling title, the 1982 NCAA Division II men’s cross country championship and the 1970 Class II national championship for women’s collegiate gymnastics programs.
Here is a complete list of EWU’s FCS playoff games (EWU received a first-round bye in 2010, the first year the playoffs were expanded to 20 teams):
2010 - Delaware - W, 20-19 (Championship/Frisco, Texas)
2010 - Villanova - W, 41-31 (Semifinals/Cheney)
2010 - North Dakota State - W, 38-31 in OT (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2010 - Southeast Missouri State - W, 37-17 (Second Round/Cheney)
2009 - at Stephen F. Austin - L, 33-44 (First Round)
2007 - at Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
2007 - at McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 - at Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 - Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
2004 - at Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 - Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
1997 - Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
1997 - Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 - at Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
1985 - at Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)
Eastern is ranked fourth in the final regular season Sports Network NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 poll, with fellow Big Sky co-leaders MSU (2nd), Cal Poly (12th) and NAU (20th) also ranking in the top 25. After losing 30-27 to Southern Utah on Oct. 27, Eastern fell from first to seventh. Previously, a 27-24 victory over then second-ranked Montana State on Oct. 13 catapulted the Eagles from sixth to the top spot for two weeks. It’s the third-straight year Eastern has been ranked No. 1 at one point in the season. Eastern ended the 2010 regular season with its first No. 1 ranking in school history, and remained in that position after winning the NCAA Division I Championship. The Eagles were also ranked first in the 2011 preseason poll, as well as after the Eagles narrowly lost its opener last season at Washington, 30-27. The Eagles were also No. 1 for two weeks in the coaches poll and in rankings released by College Sports Journal and College Sports Madness.
Eastern, Montana State and Cal Poly all finished 7-1 in the Big Sky Conference to share the league title. The Eagles won the tiebreaker to determine the automatic berth in the NCAA Football Championship Playoffs. Montana State and EWU both defeated Sacramento State, and Cal Poly lost to Sac State, thus eliminating Cal Poly from the tie. EWU won the automatic berth because of its head-to-head win over MSU.
Eastern will be making its ninth berth in the FCS Playoffs, and first since winning the NCAA Division I title in 2010. The other appearances for the Eagles came in 1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010. With a 6-5 record in 2011, Eastern fell a victory shy of its sixth playoff berth since 2004.
In this week’s Jeff Sagarin ratings, Eastern is fifth overall in FCS (85th overall). North Dakota State is first among FCS schools, followed by Sam Houston State, Montana State (81st overall), South Dakota State and Eastern. Other highly-ranked Big Sky schools include Cal Poly (7/92), Northern Arizona (18/112), Southern Utah (28/137), North Dakota (32/144) Sacramento State (37/153), Montana (38/154), UC Davis (42/159) and Portland State (43/161). The Eagles were a season-high second nationally among FCS schools at one point this season.
In November and beyond, Eastern is 11-0 since 2010 and 20-3 since 2007. Since 2010, EWU is 23-2 after Oct. 1, including an 11-0 mark two years ago, 6-1 last year and 6-1 this season. The lone losses were a 43-26 home loss in 2011 versus Portland State and a 30-27 road setback at Southern Utah on Oct. 27, 2012.
Besides sending the seniors out with a victory on Senior Day on Nov. 10, Eastern finished the regular season 5-0 at home. Since the red Sprinturf surface was installed in 2010, Eastern is now 15-2 at “The Inferno,” with one of the losses a 43-26 setback to PSU on Senior Day last season. Eastern’s Nov. 3 game versus 16th-ranked Cal Poly was sold out, with an announced attendance of 8,644 – the seventh-largest non-Montana crowd in Roos Field history.