Championship push starts in Cheney

EWU hosts Nichols State in the second round of the FCS playoffs


Bailey Monteith

Senior defensive end Jim Townsend celebrates a sack against UC Davis on Nov. 10. Townsend has three sacks this year.

By Taylor Newquist, Sports Editor

Roos Field is no stranger to playoff football, with 11 postseason games being hosted by EWU since winning the National Championship in 2010.

The Eagles have ultimately been disappointed on their home turf since coming out on top eight years ago, losing semifinal games in 2012, 2013 and 2016 and losing in the quarterfinals in 2014.

This year EWU starts its playoff path against Nicholls State, the Southland Conference champions and a team the Eagles have only faced once before in 2004.

The No. 3 Eagles host the Colonels in the second round of the FCS playoffs. NSU comes into the game fresh off of a 49-30 first round win over San Diego, while EWU was on a bye week. It will be the first playoff game for Aaron Best as head coach of EWU.

Best said that having the team in this position, playing a playoff game after a bye week, almost leaves him speechless.

“You go back to 1996, and it means a ton selfishly to me,” Best said. “Having donned the pads, been a graduate assistant, been an assistant coach and having taken part in a lot of playoff games outside of being a head coach. It’s something that wasn’t envisioned.”

NSU is on a hot streak, having won nine of its last 10 games. The Colonels jumped out to a 42-10 lead over USD in their first playoff game, out-gaining the Toreros 606-358.

“They’ve played their best ball late,” Best said. “No one has really tested them in the last four games. They look dynamic on both sides of the ball and on special teams they have an all-American kicker from last year.”

NSU’s junior quarterback Chase Fourcade has been effective on the ground and through the air this season. He has totalled 741 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and thrown for 2784 yards with 21 touchdowns. He has contributed to 32 of the Colonels 50 touchdowns this year.

Both EWU and NSU share a number of similarities between their rushing attacks and defenses. EWU averages 274.1 rushing yards per game, while NSU averages 247.8. The Eagles allow 21.2 points per game to the Colonels’ 20.2.

Bailey Monteith
Junior runningback Antoine Custer Jr. carries the ball against UC Davis on Nov. 10. Senior Sam McPherson, junior Tamarick Pierce and Custer all scored two rushing touchdowns against the Aggies.

Senior running back Sam McPherson is second in the FCS in yards per carry with 7.75, while Colonel junior running back Dontrell Taylor is No. 4 with 7.5. The NSU defense will be a challenge for EWU ball carriers. The Colonels come into the game with the No. 6 rush defense, allowing just 94.4 yards per game on the ground.

McPherson said that the NSU defense will present a threat with its speedy linebackers and overall athleticism. He said that with the Eagles’ rushing attack, the team will have more potential in playoff games.

“That’s what has hindered us in the past,” McPherson said. “In ‘16 we didn’t have a run game really. Now that we actually do, we can lean on that if the pass game isn’t going as well as it should be.”

Weather will be a factor, with the National Weather Service forecasting a mix of rain and snow leading up to the 2 p.m. kickoff. NSU is located in Thibodaux, Louisiana, where temperatures this week range from mid 70s to low 60s. Saturday in Cheney has a forecasted high of 36 degrees.

Senior linebacker Ketner Kupp said that the weather isn’t something they are going to account for, but that it could have an impact.

“It definitely is different when the weather is cold like this,” Kupp said. “We’ll just have to see how everyone reacts.”

If the Eagles win, they will host the winner of No. 6 UC Davis versus Northern Iowa on Dec. 7 or 8. If they lose, it will be EWU’s earliest FCS playoff exit since a 2009 first round loss to Stephen F. Austin.