The story of the 2006 Eastern Eagle football team is still in the early chapters, but the themes so far have been constant: inexperience and an offense that has failed to produce. Both were on display in the Sept. 16 21-14 loss to NCAA Division II foe Central Washington, a disappointing setback that drops the Eagles to a 0-3 record on the year.
“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively all night,” said Head Coach Paul Wulff after the loss. “Our defense created a lot of turnovers and gave our offense many opportunities, but we just couldn’t get anything going on offense. So far that has been the story of our offense all year long.”
Central scored the first points of the game, but Eastern rallied and took a 14-6 lead after senior running back Ryan Cole punched in a nine-yard run, and freshman quarterback Matt Nichols tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to receiver Aaron Boyce.
The second touchdown came with only six seconds left in the first half after red-shirt freshman Tony Davis caught a deflected pass for 70 yards to get the Eagles in position for the score.
A third-quarter Wildcat score knotted up the game at 14, but the Eastern offense could only muster 89 yards and two first downs in the second half.
Central’s Brandon Kennedy returned an Eagle punt 44 yards and quarterback Mike Reilly finished off the Eagles with a three-yard touchdown run.
Defensively, the Eagles were solid, as Brandon Keeler, Ira Jarmon and Anthony Dotson all intercepted passes, but the offense couldn’t take advantage, and the Eagles dropped to 0-3 in their first game this season at Woodward Field. The inexperience, Wulff said, was a main factor for the loss.
“There are a lot of freshmen out there for us and they aren’t executing,” he said. “We have a lot of growing up to do and we have one week to get ready.”
Nichols finished the game by completing 18 of 34 passes for 213 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Davis led all Eagle receivers with six catches for 112 yards, while Cole led the way on the ground, rushing for 68 yards on 20 carries, punching in one touchdown.
The loss is certainly disappointing for EWU, as it marked the first time the Wildcats had defeated the Eagles since 1977. Eastern is now 0-3 for the first time since 1983.
Of course, the first two losses came against Division 1-A competition. The Eagles kicked off the season Sept. 1 in Corvallis, Ore., home of the Oregon State Beavers.
It wasn’t the first time the two teams had met up; the Eagles provided a nice wake up call to the Beavers in 2000, as they nearly beat OSU, falling 21-19. The near-loss ignited the Beavers, who finished the year 11-1 and ranked fourth in the nation.
This season’s game, however, was much, much different.
In Eastern’s first seven possessions of the game, they fumbled three times and were intercepted once, as the Beavers opened up a 35-0 lead on the way to a 56-17 shellacking of the Eagles.
“I’m pretty disappointed because the avalanche started so soon,” Wulff said after the game. “We just got so far behind so quickly.”
Nichols and junior Chris Peerboom split time behind center for the Eagles, as Peerboom went 3 of 8 for 23 yards, and Nichols finished 9 of 19 for 117 yards and one interception. Cole, who played for the Beavers before transferring to EWU last season, rushed for 29 yards and one touchdown. The Eagles scores came from a Cole run, a Brett Bergstrom 39-yard field goal and a Davis 60-yard punt return.
It didn’t get any better Sept. 9, when the Eagles headed to Morganstown, W.Va., to take on the sixth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
The game marked only the fourth time Eastern had taken on an opponent east of the Mississippi River.
West Virginia’s highly touted offense was hot right off the bat, as the Mountaineers scored on their first three possessions.
The defense was equally as stout: they limited the Eagles to only a field goal in the 52-3 win.
“They are a very good football team,” Wulff said. “They will give everybody problems.”
They certainly gave the Eagles plenty of problems. All-American running back Steve Slaton of West Virginia rushed for 105 yards on only eight carries in the first half before taking a seat on the bench.
Nichols made his first career start for Eastern, as a concussion suffered in the OSU game caused Peerboom to miss the road trip. Nichols went 13-of-25 for 90 yards and an interception in the game, and Cole added 60 yards on the ground for Eastern. Senior tight end Tim Calhoun led all Eagle receivers with three catches for 27 yards.
The game was played in front of 59,504 fans, the biggest crowd the Eagles have ever played for.
To kick off Big Sky Conference play, the Eagles head to Bozeman, Mont., to take on the Montana State Bobcats, who stand at 1-2 after a 45-0 loss to UC Davis last week.
The Bobcats, who stunned the Colorado Buffaloes 19-10 in the first week of the season, finished second in the Big Sky Conference with a 5-2 mark in conference play last season.