An exclusive, national television audience on ESPN will be seeing lots of the red turf at Roos Field on Aug. 23.
One of the top non-conference rivalries in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision will usher in the 2014 college football season in the inaugural ESPN FCS Kickoff when Eastern Washington University hosts Sam Houston State on Saturday, Aug. 23 at “The Inferno” in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. Pacific time in what is expected to be the first college football game played this season.
The Big Sky Conference and EWU reached an agreement with ESPN after the NCAA granted Eastern a waiver of the permitted Aug. 28 start date for games. Although Eastern is winless in three games all-time versus Sam Houston State, the game matches two of the top teams in FCS. The Eagles won the 2010 NCAA Division I title and advanced to the semifinals in 2012 and 2013. The Bearkats, a member of the Southland Conference, were FCS runners-up in 2011 and 2012.
In the last four seasons alone, the two programs have combined for 84 victories overall (42 by EWU, 40 by SHSU), five league titles (3 by EWU, 2 by SHSU) and 48 league wins (27 by EWU, 21 by SHSU). Those have yielded three berths in the FCS Playoffs for both teams, with a total of 15 postseason victories (8 by EWU, 7 by SHSU).
“It’s an amazing opportunity to play one of the top programs at our level to kick off the 2014 football season,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We’re very appreciative of ESPN and the commitment they have made to FCS Football, both in the past and in the future. 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.”
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 on the season and 8-0 in the league.
The Bearkats finished 13th with a final record of 9-5, having defeated Southern Utah from the Big Sky 51-20 in the first round of the playoffs, then falling 30-29 to Southeastern Louisiana. Sam Houston State’s new head coach is 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.
Two of the three all-time meetings against Sam Houston State have come in the FCS Playoffs, starting in 2004 when the Bearkats rallied to beat EWU 35-34 in the first-ever playoff game at Roos Field (then known as Woodward Field). Interestingly, that was the final game in an Eastern uniform for current Tennessee Titan Michael Roos, who donated $500,000 toward the red turf project in 2010 and, subsequently, the stadium was re-named in his honor.
The second match-up came in the semifinals of the 2012 playoffs in which EWU rallied from a 35-0 deficit at halftime to nearly pull-off a miraculous comeback in the 45-42 loss. Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams had a school-record six touchdown passes in the second half alone in that game, and the Walter Payton Award runner-up will return for his junior season in 2014.
The third meeting came during the 2013 regular season, and EWU was defeated 49-34 in Huntsville, Texas, in a game delayed 1 1/2 hours because of a severe thunderstorm that rolled through the area. The game was a match-up of the second-ranked Eagles and the fourth-ranked Bearkats. Adams had 390 yards of total offense for the Eagles, but that was offset by the 450 rushing yards by SHSU.
The 2014 meeting is a return game for the home-and-home series the two schools agreed upon in June 2012.
Eastern, with 11 starters and 46 total letterwinners expected back for the 2014 season, have advanced to the semifinals three of the last four years under head coach Beau Baldwin. He enters the 2014 season with a 56-22 record in six seasons to currently rank eighth in the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference. He helped lead EWU to its third Big Sky title in four seasons with the school’s first-ever unbeaten conference mark.