(Original Story by Eastern Washington Athletics)
If last week’s non-conference matchup wasn’t enough to whet the appetites of BR-8 Eastern Washington University football fans, this week’s game certainly will.
The Eagles, coming off a 61-42 loss at national FBS power Oregon, play one of the top programs in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision when they travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to play BR-10 Northern Iowa on Saturday (Sept. 12). The Eagles of the Big Sky Conference are ranked seventh in this week’s STATS Top 25 poll, while the Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference are 14th.
Kickoff in the UNI Dome is 11:05 a.m. Pacific time in a game televised live regionally via SWX and also via ESPN3. Fans may also listen to the game on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com, with pre-game coverage starting one hour prior to kickoff and the broadcasts featuring an expanded post-game show.
Northern Iowa is coming off a 31-7 loss at Iowa State last week, but both programs are no strangers to winning. Eastern has the second-most victories in FCS since 2010 with 52, and has appeared 11 times in the FCS Playoffs. UNI has won 38 times since 2010, but in the decade before that (2000-09) had the third-most FCS victories with 89 (EWU had 67). The Panthers have made 17 playoff appearances, and have won all five previous meetings versus the Eagles – all at the UNI-Dome.
Saturday’s game begins the 40th season of football at the UNI-Dome, where the Panthers are 196-50-1 all-time.
“We know that playing at their home stadium and their home environment will be difficult,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “You really have to pack your lunch pail and know that they truly take their game to another level when they are in that dome.”
Last season, UNI had the distinction of beating the two teams who played for the FCS title – winner North Dakota State and runner-up Illinois State – on its way to a record of 9-5 and final FCS ranking of 10th. Eastern was 11-3 and finished ranked fourth. Both EWU and UNI had their seasons ended by the Redbirds – the Eagles in the quarterfinals and the Panthers one round earlier.
“They are very stout in how they play defense,” Baldwin said of the Panthers. “Traditionally they are incredibly good and tough up front, and their corners and safeties are really good football players. Offensively, they can play a couple of different quarterbacks, and one has a lot of athletic ability running the ball well and one seems to throw the ball better. It will be interesting to see what they will do, but it will be a challenge defensively for us. They are going to play at a fast tempo and have the advantage of playing at home.”
The Eagles opened the 2015 season against arguably the toughest opponent in school history when the Eagles visited Autzen Stadium on Sept. 5 to face the Ducks. Continuing a recent trend against Pac-12 opponents, Eastern finished with 549 yards, giving EWU 1,747 yards and 143 points in its last three games against opponents from that league. Eastern had 625 yards and in a 49-46 win over Oregon State in 2013 and 573 yards in a 59-52 loss to Washington in 2014.
EWU had entered the Oregon game ranked No. 6 nationally in both the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll and the STATS FCS Poll. Oregon, the runner-up a year ago in the first-ever college playoff in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, was No. 7 in the preseason Associated Press poll for FBS schools. Eastern has actually played a higher-ranked FBS team before, but none coming off the storybook season the Ducks had a year ago when they lost 42-20 to Ohio State in the championship game of the inaugural College Football Playoff. In 2006, Eastern fell at No. 6 West Virginia 52-3.
After this week’s game, the Eagles play their home opener on Sept. 19 versus Montana State, which is ranked 11th in this week’s STATS Top 25 poll. The Eagle-Bobcat match-up is a non-conference game between the two teams picked to win the Big Sky title – Eastern by the media and MSU by the coaches. The fan “Red Out Day” game kicks off at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised by ROOT Sports.
* Eastern dropped a spot to seventh in both the STATS Top 25 poll and the coaches poll, after ranking sixth in both preseason polls. In all, six of EWU’s 10 FCS opponents are currently in that poll, including Montana (#8), Montana State (#11), Northern Iowa (#14), Cal Poly (#18), Idaho State (#23) and Portland State (#24), with Northern Arizona (#26) close behind. The Eagles have now been ranked in The Sports Network Poll 46-consecutive times, having entered 2015 with a streak of 44-straight. Eastern has now spent time at No. 1 in four of the last five seasons (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010), and was high as second in 2013.
* On his way to earning Big Sky Conference ROOT Sports co-Offensive Player of the Week accolades, two-time All-America wide receiver Cooper Kupp finished with career highs of 15 catches for 246 yards – both Autzen Stadium records – in a 61-42 loss to Oregon on Sept. 5. He now has 40 touchdown catches in his career, moving him from 19th to 12th in FCS history. His 40 touchdowns ranks second all-time in school and Big Sky Conference history behind the records of 46 held by Eric Kimble (2002-05). Kupp also went over the 200-catch mark in his career. He now has 212 career catches, and is one from moving into fifth (Tony Davis, 213, 2006-09). Kupp has 3,368 yards to already move into third in school history, 363 yards from second (Brandon Kaufman, 3,731, 2009-12). Kimble owns the Big Sky record for career TD catches and is sixth all-time in FCS history. Kimble also holds EWU career records for receptions (253, second all-time in Big Sky history and 17th in FCS history) and yards (4,140, Big Sky record and ninth in FCS history).
* All eyes were on EWU’s quarterback position against Oregon, and Jordan West was impressive in his fifth collegiate start. He passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-34 passing before leaving the game in the third quarter with a leg cramp. In the first half alone, the junior from Maple Valley, Wash., was 22-of-29 for 277 yards. In fact, now that he meets the minimums (two seasons and 150 attempts), he has moved into third in school history with a passing efficiency rating of 147.3. He ranks only behind Vernon Adams Jr (173.8) and Erik Meyer (166.5), who are ranked 1-2 in Big Sky history and 2-3 all-time in FCS. West, a former walk-on from Maple Valley, Wash. (Liberty High School ’12), was 3-1 as a starter as an injury replacement in 2014 for Adams. West directed EWU to a total of 1,444 yards of offense (361.0 per game) in those four games. For the season, (four games as a starter and three as a sub), he completed 61 percent of his passes (86-of-142) for 1,072 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. In his first collegiate start at Southern Utah in a 42-30 win on Oct. 11, 2014, West completed five of his first six passes, and finished 20-of-27 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He had a passing efficiency rating in the game of 192.9.
* In a productive relief appearance against Oregon on Sept. 5, redshirt freshman Reilly Hennessey completed 14-of-21 for 145 yards and a pair of scores in his Eagle debut, helping EWU finish with 438 yards of passing offense and 549 total.
* As a testament to the quarterback development skills of the Eagles – notably head coach Beau Baldwin and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Zak Hill – the three quarterbacks on the field when EWU played at Oregon on Sept. 7 combined for 684 yards and seven touchdowns. Eastern’s quarterbacks Jordan West and Reilly Hennessey, as well as former Eagle and current Duck Vernon Adams Jr., were a combined 56-of-80 (70 percent) with two interceptions, for an impressive passing efficiency rating of 165.7. By comparison, that rating would rank fifth on EWU’s single season lists (behind Adams and Erik Meyer, another Baldwin protégé), and third on the career list (again, behind Adams and Meyer).
* Eastern’s entire five-man starting offensive line is manned by seniors, with a pair of seniors as backups. In all, the starters average 299 pounds and have 86 starts between them, including a trio who have combined for 71 career starts. Preseason All-America tackleClay DeBord has a team-leading 42 starts, while All-America guard Aaron Neary has started 14. In addition, Thomas Gomez has 15, Cassidy Curtis has 11 and T.J. Boatright has four.
* Five players on defense but none on offense made their Eagle starting debuts against Oregon on Sept. 5. Redshirt freshman Jonah Jordan started at defensive end and sophomore defensive tackle Andre Lino started at defensive tackle. Also, sophomore linebacker Jake Gall and redshirt freshman cornerback Nzuzi Webster made their first career starts, as well as redshirt freshman free safety Mitch Fettig. In addition, Washington State University transfer Jordan Dascalo made his EWU debut as starting punter and handle kickoffs for the Eagles.
* Five true freshmen played against the Ducks, including linebacker Ketner Kupp, the younger brother of two-time Eagle wide receiver Cooper Kupp. The others are running backs Sam McPherson and Malcom Williams Jr., and defensive linemen Keenan Williams and Jim Townsend. A hometown product of Cheney, Wash., High School, Williams graduated early and was with the Eagles during spring practices – a first for the EWU program.
* The Eagles have accumulated 1,747 yards – 1,361 through the air — and 143 points in its last three games against Pac-12 opponents. Those are averages of 582 total yards, 453.7 passing and 47.7 points per game. Eastern had 625 yards (448 passing) in a 49-46 win over Oregon State in 2013 and 573 yards (475 passing) in a 59-52 loss to Washington in 2014, then had 549 (438 passing) in a 61-42 loss to Oregon in 2015. In those three games, Eastern has passed for 16 touchdowns – seven versus the Huskies, five against Oregon and four in the win over the Beavers.
* This will be EWU’s 54th all-time game in a dome, with a current record of 27-26. Until losing last in the final seconds at Northern Arizona in 2014, Eastern had won nine of its last 10 games in domes. Eastern is 13-4 all-time at Idaho State’s Holt Arena, 9-7 at Northern Arizona’s Walkup Skydome, 4-8 at Idaho’s Kibbie Dome, 0-5 at Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome, 1-0 at North Dakota’s Alerus Center and 0-1 at South Dakota’s DakotaDome. Eastern also lost to Houston in 1992 at the Houston Astrodome.
* A year after entering the 2014 season with lack of experience at cornerback, the Eagles have plenty of options in 2015. Because of injuries to key players in 2014, the Eagles are as deep as they’ve ever been in the secondary. Starters against Oregon were Rashad Wadood and Nzuzi Webster, but they rotated with Victor Gamboa and D’londo Tucker. Tucker, the only returning cornerback from EWU’s 2013 season, was projected as a 2014 starter but missed the season with a knee injury suffered in the spring. Now a backup, Frank Cange won a starting position in 2014, but ruptured his patellar tendon on Aug. 30 and was lost for the season and underwent surgery. After earning a place in the rotation at cornerback early in the 2014 season as a true freshman, Webster (knee) was injured against Washington on Sept. 6, 2014, and was a medical redshirt. Former cornerbacks Jake Hoffman and Moe Roberts, were moved to safety this year because of the abundance of cornerbacks. Hoffman started four games in 2014.
* Nearing the school record for career kickoff return yards, Eastern wide receiver/kickoff returner Shaq Hill has a 24.8 average in his career to rank eighth in school history and his 2,137 total return yards are second. He is just 39 yards from the school record of 2,176 held by Craig Richardson (1983-86). In addition, Hill has caught 101 passes in 41 career games (12 starts) for 1,661 yards, 15 touchdowns and average of 16.4 yards per reception. He has 16 plays of at least 40 yards in his young career, including kickoff returns of 99, 93, 90, 80, 53 and 41 yards. He has also been involved in long pass plays of 86, 76, 68, 58, 56, 55, 54, 47, 44 and 40 yards. Late in the 2014 season, Hill received Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors after having a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in EWU’s 56-34 title-clinching win at Portland State on Nov. 21. His return for a TD was the first for EWU since he had a 99-yard return as a freshman versus North Dakota on Oct. 5, 2012. He finished the season averaging 27.1 yards on 21 kickoff returns for the Eagles to rank 13th in FCS.
* Although two quality running backs return from EWU’s 2014 team, there will be plenty of carries available in the lineup after EWU lost seniors Quincy Forte and Mario Brown to graduation. That duo combined for 249 carries, 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014, and combined for 4,529 yards rushing, 43 total touchdowns and 116 receptions for another 1,074 yards. Eastern had four different running backs combine for eight 100-yard rushing performances in 2014. One of them came from Jabari Wilson, who had a career-high 132 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns in EWU’s 56-34 win over Portland State on Nov. 21. He was helping fill the void of Forte, who missed that game with a nagging ankle sprain and prior to that missed four games because of a shoulder injury. Wilson’s previous high was 83 yards on Nov. 2, 2013, versus Idaho State, but he had only 48 yards in the 17 Eagle games after that. Wilson, who actually started as a redshirt freshman in EWU’s 2013 opener at Oregon State, missed six full games and parts of several others in that span because of hamstring and ankle injuries. Sophomore Jalen Moore had 230 yards and three touchdowns in two of the games that Forte missed, including a career-high 133 yards and two scores at Southern Utah. Wilson finished the season with 237 yards and five touchdowns, and Moore had 378 with five scores of his own. In addition, Jordan Talley was going to play his senior season as a running back after spending the last two seasons as a linebacker, but a concussion in the spring prematurely ended his career. He had 631 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, and another 241 yards receiving, in two seasons as a running back in 2011 and 2012.
* The number 757 is significant in that it is the total number of career tackles linebackers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy took with them at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Plus, Albert Havili (26 tackles in ’14) will move to defensive line when he returns this fall from a knee injury, leaving 11-game starter Miquiyah Zamora (102 tackles in 2014) as the main returning linebacker. Defensive scout team player of the year Alex Kacmarcik should make a big impact at linebacker and special teams, in addition to 2014 letterwinner Jake Gall.
* Eastern now has a streak of scoring in 52-straight quarters dating back to August 30, 2014. Aside from a scoreless fourth quarter in a 41-9 blowout win against Montana Western on Aug. 30, 2014, Eastern has scored in every quarter of every game in the last two seasons (59 of 60 quarters total).
* Eastern has advanced to the FCS Playoffs four of the last five years under head coach Beau Baldwin, a two-time Big Sky Coach of the Year. He owns a 67-25 record in seven-plus seasons to currently rank seventh in the 52-year history of the Big Sky with a .720 winning percentage. His 80.4 percent winning percentage in league games (45-11) is fifth all-time in the league.
Cooper Kupp Notes
* Kupp now has 40 touchdown catches in his career, ranking 12th in FCS history and second all-time in school and Big Sky Conference history behind the records of 46 held by Eric Kimble (2002-05). He is just one touchdown catch from tying Northern Iowa’s Dedric Ward (1993-96) with 41, and three behind the 43 of Southern Utah’s Tysson Poots (2007-10). The FCS record is 58 set by New Hampshire’s David Ball (2003-06).
* Kupp now has 212 career catches, and is one from moving into fifth in school history (Tony Davis, 213, 2006-09). Kupp has 3,368 yards to already move into third in school history, 363 yards from second (Brandon Kaufman, 3,731, 2009-12). Kimble owns the Big Sky record for career TD catches and is sixth all-time in FCS history. Kimble also holds EWU career records for receptions (253, second all-time in Big Sky history and 17th in FCS history) and yards (4,140, Big Sky record and ninth in FCS history).
* Kupp now has 16 performances of at least 100 receiving yards in his career, and had career highs for catches (15) and yards (246) against Oregon on Sept. 5, 2015. Both of those marks against the Ducks were the second-best in school history, ranking behind the records of 17 receptions (Aaron Boyce versus Montana on 10/6/07) and 264 yards (Jason Anderson versus Montana on 9/17/94).
* Already with six FCS records, four school marks and a Big Sky record, Kupp has averaged a TD reception for every 5.3 catches so far in his career. He has scored at least once in 25 of 29 games he has played, with 16 performances of at least eight catches and 16 with at least 100 receiving yards. Kupp has started all 29 games he has played in his EWU career, giving him the second-most starts on the team.
* With a career average of 15.9 yards per catch (212-3,368), Kupp has had 19 receptions of 40 yards or more, including nine for scores. He also has two punt returns of at least 40 yards, one for a TD. He had the longest reception of his career versus Oregon on Sept. 5, 2015, a non-scoring 73-yarder.
* Kupp set EWU’s single season school record for receptions with 104 in 2014, breaking the record of 96 previously set by his wide receivers coach, Nicholas Edwards in 2011. As a result, Kupp became the 19th player in FCS history to hit the century mark in a single season. His mark ranked second in league history behind the 112 of Idaho State’s Rodrick Rumble, also in 2011, and is the 12th-best mark all-time in FCS. He finished the year with 1,431 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He closed the year with 10 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns versus Illinois State in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs on Dec. 13. One game earlier in the second round of the playoffs, he had a career-best 12 catches versus Montana on Dec. 6 to rank as the eighth-most in school history.
* As a freshman, Kupp set the school and Big Sky records with 21 touchdown receptions. All six of his FCS records came as a freshman when he finished with 93 catches for 1,691 yards. Kupp had at least one score in the first 14 games of his career to set a FCS record, but had the streak stopped in a 2013 loss in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
* Coach Beau Baldwin on Kupp: “I’d be shocked if you could show me a better receiver at any level in the country. Usually I don’t talk like that, but that’s how I feel right now and think that we have here at Eastern. We are very fortunate to have him as a leader and player on this football team. It’s just a will and an amazing mindset that he has. He is talented – he is talented in every aspect of what it is to be a wide receiver. People want to knock him for his speed, but he still runs behind people over and over again. He took a bubble screen 73 yards against Oregon and a Pac-12 team with a lot of speed. So Cooper is plenty fast. The thing that takes him over the top in comparing him to other receivers in the country is his will. You marvel when you see him out there doing what he is doing. Somebody asked him how he breaks so many tackles, and it’s very simple to him, ‘I don’t like to be tackled so I refuse to be tackled.’ That’s a mindset. It’s kind of like the mental toughness you need to be tired and still play through it. The guys who can do that have grit, and Cooper has another type of grit. When the ball is in the air, ‘it’s mine. Period.’ That’s the way he thinks. Eventually he gets tackled, but there are times three or four players hit him and he’s still standing when they knock him out of bounds. But he still hasn’t gone to the ground. We’re blessed to have him because not only is he an incredible football receiver, but he’s an incredible football player. He’s a punt returner, he’s blocking in the run game, he holds on kicks and he’s leading. He leads not only by his words, but by his actions and what he is doing on the field.”
* Eastern will look for its first victory in six games in the series, with all of the previous five matchups taking place at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The first meeting came in the 1985 FCS Playoffs when the Eagles lost 17-14, a score matched seven years later in the playoffs in 1992. The Panthers also triumphed 41-38 in the FCS Playoffs in 2005 – the last time the two schools lost. Eastern also fell in the UNI Dome in regular season games in 1989 (47-21) and 1994 (27-17). The two schools are scheduled to meet for the first time in Cheney at Roos Field on Sept. 17, 2015.
* The Eagles are 4-9 all-time versus current members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, including a 4-5 record in the FCS Playoffs and a 0-4 record in non-conference games. Besides five games against Northern Iowa, Eastern also has played three times against Illinois State (1-2) and once against North Dakota State (1-0), Southern Illinois (1-0), South Dakota State (1-0), Youngstown State (0-1), South Dakota (0-1).
* In an announcement made Aug. 8, 2014, Eastern Washington and North Dakota State – the only NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams to win a national title since 2009 – will play a home-and-home series with each other starting in 2016. The Bison and Eagles will play each other in Fargo on Sept. 10, 2016, then play at “The Inferno” in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 16, 2017. Eastern won the 2010 title, including an overtime victory over the Bison in the quarterfinals, but NDSU has won every playoff game since, en route to titles in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Although the Eagles have advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs twice and to the quarterfinals once in the last three seasons, they’ve fallen short of facing the Bison in the title tilt, let alone meeting again in the playoffs. The last team to win the FCS title besides EWU and NDSU? . . . Villanova in 2009 with a 23-21 victory over Montana.
Career Starts by Returning Players
Defense (106 starts by 16 players): Miquiyah Zamora 23, Todd Raynes 15, Samson Ebukam 14, Matthew Sommer 14, Victor Gamboa 12, Rashad Wadood 12, Zach Bruce 4, Jake Hoffman 4, Frank Cange 3, Miles Weatheroy 2, Albert Havili 2, Nzuzi Webster 1, Mitch Fettig 1, Jonah Jordan 1, Andre Lino 1, Jake Gall 1.
Offense (176 starts by 16 players): Clay DeBord 42, Cooper Kupp 29, Thomas Gomez 15, Aaron Neary 14, Jake Withnell 13,Shaq Hill 12, Zach Wimberly 11, Cassidy Curtis 11, Kendrick Bourne 10, Jordan West 5, Nic Sblendorio 3, T.J. Boatright 4,Jabari Wilson 3, Terry Jackson II 2, Jay Deines 1, Conner Baumann 1 (as fullback).