Head coach Beau Baldwin has been through it plenty of times before, so he's most excited for his players to taste what the postseason is all about.
The 10-1 Eastern Washington University football team will host a second-round game on Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. Pacific time at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., after receiving a No. 2 seed when the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff pairings were announced Sunday (Nov. 26) morning. The No. 2 seed guarantees the Eagles will host games up to the National Championship game on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas (9 a.m. Pacific time on ESPN2).
The Big Sky Conference co-champions will play the winner of the Illinois State (6-5) at Central Arkansas (9-2) game on Dec. 3. Fans have until this Monday (Nov. 21) at 5 p.m. to renew and receive the same seats and tailgate areas as the regular season, and tickets for the general public go on sale Tuesday (Nov. 22) at 1 p.m.
Four Big Sky Conference teams advanced to the playoffs, and EWU could potentially play fellow unbeaten league champion North Dakota (9-2) in the quarterfinals. Jacksonville State (10-1), the runner-up last year, received the No. 3 seed and could be a potential semifinal opponent. Five-time defending champion North Dakota State (10-1) received the overall No. 1 seed and is the upper half of the bracket along with Big Sky foes Cal Poly (7-4) and Weber State (7-4).
"We've gotten to experience lots of things as coaches, but these student-athletes have only a small window of time to experience this," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "If you're a younger player, it doesn't automatically mean you are going to get another shot. To see Eastern Washington on the screen and hear our name called is cool. Just to be in this great tournament is a blast, and we're excited to have home games throughout."
The Eagles will be making their 12th tournament appearance, and have a 14-10 record all-time. This is the sixth time Baldwin has taken the Eagles to the playoffs as head coach (2009-10-12-13-14-16), plus two more as an assistant (2004-05). He has coached in a total of 26 postseason playoff games with a record of 16-9-1, including seven appearances in the FCS Playoffs and two at the NCAA Division II level when he was at Central Washington.
The Eagles have never played Central Arkansas, but are 1-2 all-time versus Illinois State. The first meeting was a 31-14 loss at Spokane's Albi Stadium on Oct. 17, 1987, followed by a 51-35 victory in the quarterfinals of the playoffs in 2012 in Cheney. Eastern was seeded second that season and ranked fourth nationally, while ISU was unseeded and ranked 16th. In the 2014 postseason, the fourth-seeded and fourth-ranked Eagles fell at home to the fifth-seeded and No. 7 Redbirds 59-46, also in the quarterfinals.
Third-ranked Eastern wrapped up its ninth Big Sky Conference title and extended its winning streak to nine games with a 35-28 victory over nemesis Portland State Friday night (Nov. 18) at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. In the process, the Eagles equaled their best regular season finish in 108 years of football and finished with its second unbeaten Big Sky season in 30 years in the conference.
Baldwin said the team will practice Monday and Tuesday this week, then will take the Thanksgiving holiday off. Eight first-round games take place Nov. 26, while the top eight seeds receive byes and will play the winners the following week on Dec. 3.
The Eagles were the 2010 NCAA Division I Champions after winning three home games in the playoffs and then defeating Delaware 20-19 for the title in Frisco, Texas. Eastern also hosted three games in 2012 and 2013, but lost in the semifinals both seasons. Eastern hosted two more playoff games in 2014, falling in the quarterfinal round.
Since 2010, Eastern has hosted 11 playoff games at Roos Field, winning eight of them.
Link to 2016 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs Bracket
Beau Baldwin Comments . . .
On Eastern's Ninth League Title and 12th Playoff Berth: "It's exciting, and there are a lot of people before us that helped get that going. I just thank all former Eastern Eagles and everybody that has been involved with building this program. There is a tradition and foundation here, and we were fortunate to come into a very strong foundation when we got here. We just try to continue and keep taking it to another level, and that's hard to do. But our players keep working towards it, and it's exciting to add the 2016 team to that list."
On Needed Bye Week: "It's going to be really big. We'll see where we are, but it's one of those things where you feel bad for the guys who are injured, but the next guys have to be ready to go. They were in that second half against Portland State. A lot of guys were stepping in and stepping up with a couple of our leaders and captains out. Whether they come back or they don't doesn't matter – we have to move forward and have a great bye week. We'll see what's up after that."
On Finishing League Season Unbeaten With Win over PSU: "Our players worked so hard to overcome certain things in terms of youth, finding ways to be ready and our challenging schedule. We could have been a really good team, and results may still not have gone our way in the first three or four games. We found a way to get off to a great start and finish the year undefeated in the conference. That's hard to do. It was great for the defense to finish the comeback off, and great for the offense to get one more needed first down to clinch it. At times, things weren't perfect – that's part of what I love about football and part of what I love about sports . . . the imperfections. I love the grind and going through moments that aren't perfect and seeing how our players and coaches respond. That was what the Portland State game was about. Our guys were able to respond in all three facets and help us win that game."
On Comebacks Versus PSU: "Our guys play with so much resiliency and so much fight. They've done it for a long time and have done it all year. But we haven't had too many like that. I think it's the first Big Sky game that came down to the wire, and before that we had close games against Northern Iowa and North Dakota State. We fight for 60 minutes -- that's what we do. It doesn't matter what the scoreboard says, we're going to keep fighting and grinding."
On Beating Nemesis: "We've played plenty of tough games in this conference over the years, definitely against Portland State. They are a good program – you can say what you want about their record, but they have a lot of talent on the field. They had some things go wrong early in the year that resulted in losses that could have been wins. They are a good football team and it was a hard-fought win."
EWU Playoff Ticket Information . . .
The deadline for current season ticket holders to claim their season seats and tailgate parking positions for all potential home playoff games is Monday, Nov. 21, at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Tickets for the general public will go on sale Tuesday, Nov. 22 starting at 1 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at www.goeags.com/tickets. Beginning Monday, Nov. 28, EWU students may pick up one ticket per student ID (one student ID per person), at the EWU Bookstore while supplies last.
EWU Playoff History & Notes . . .
* Eastern will make its 12th appearance in the playoffs in 2016, becoming, just the 15th team in FCS to have 12 or more appearances. The other appearances for the Eagles came in 1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. With a 6-5 record during an injury-ravaged season in 2011, Eastern fell a victory shy of making its first back-to-back-to-back appearances, but accomplished that feat in 2012-13-14. The Eagles were also 6-5 in 2015 and missed the postseason.
* Eastern has nine playoff berths in an 12-year span (2004-16), ranking the Eagles as one of only three schools among 122 in FCS to accomplish that feat. New Hampshire (2004-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12-13-14-15-16) has made the playoffs for the 13th-straight time in 2016. The third team was Montana (2004-05-06-07-08-09-11-13-14-15) with 10 appearances in that stretch.
* The Eagles have four appearances in the last five years (2012-16), with only six other teams on that list (Illinois State, Jacksonville State, New Hampshire, North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, South Dakota State).
* The Eagles have a 14-10 record in their previous 11 playoff appearances (1985, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014). Eastern has advanced to the semifinals in the FCS Playoffs four times (1997, 2010, 2012, 2013), and has won its opener eight times (1985, 1997, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014). The Eagles won the title in 2010 in its first and only appearance in the championship game. The Eagles have received first-round byes in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 (the playoffs were expanded to 20 teams in 2010 and to 24 teams in 2013).
* The Eagles enjoyed an incredible five-year string of success from 2010-14. In that span, the Eagles won the 2010 NCAA Division title, won four Big Sky Conference titles (including the school's first-ever three-peat in 2012-13-14) and hosted 11 playoff games on the red turf at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles were victorious in eight of those playoff games, and won 53 games overall while going 34-6 in league games.
2014 – (No. 4 seed, ranked #4)
#7/No. 5 seed Illinois State – L, 46-59 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
#12 Montana - W, 37-20 (Second Round/Cheney)
2013 – (No. 3 seed, ranked #3)
#5 Towson – L, 31-35 (Semifinals/Cheney)
#20 Jacksonville State – W, 35-24 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
#13 South Dakota State – W, 41-17 (Second Round/Cheney)
2012 – (No. 2 seed, ranked #4)
#5 Sam Houston State – L, 42-45 (Semifinals/Cheney)
#16 Illinois State – W, 51-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
Wagner – W, 29-19 (Second Round/Cheney)
2010 – (No. 5 seed, ranked #1)
#5 Delaware - W, 20-19 (Championship/Frisco, Texas)
#10 Villanova - W, 41-31 (Semifinals/Cheney)
#25 North Dakota State - W, 38-31 in OT (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
#9 Southeast Missouri State - W, 37-17 (Second Round/Cheney)
2009 – (ranked #13)
at #12 Stephen F. Austin - L, 33-44 (First Round)
2007 – (ranked #14)
at #15 Appalachian State - L, 35-38 (Quarterfinals)
at #3/No. 2 seed McNeese State - W, 44-15 (First Round)
2005 – (ranked #15) -
at #7 Northern Iowa - L, 38-41 (First Round)
2004 – (ranked #14)
#9 Sam Houston State - L, 34-35 (Quarterfinals/Cheney)
at #1/No. 1 seed Southern Illinois - W, 35-31 (First Round)
1997 – (No. 3 seed, ranked #4)
#9/No. 8 seed Youngstown State - L, 14-25 (Semifinals/Spokane)
#5/No. 5 seed Western Kentucky - W, 38-21 (Quarterfinals/Spokane)
#17/No. 14 seed Northwestern State - W, 40-10 (First Round/Spokane)
1992 – (ranked/seeded #14)
at #3 Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (First Round)
1985 – (ranked/seeded #11)
at #4 Northern Iowa - L, 14-17 (Quarterfinals)
at #5 Idaho - W, 42-38 (First Round)