The Eastern Washington University football team has faced a lot of adverse situations on the field in the 2012 season, however, those were not even close to the degree of adversity Wagner College had to overcome a month ago.
But the end of the season for one of those schools will occur this Saturday (Dec. 1) as the Eagles and Seahawks battle in a second-round game in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. Kickoff has been set for 3:05 p.m. Pacific time in a game broadcast live on ESPN3.
The radio broadcast of this week’s game, featuring Larry Weir, Paul Sorensen and Keith Osso, starts 1 1/2 hours prior to kickoff with the Eagle Tailgate Show. It may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for “700 ESPN” and download the free app). The broadcast is also available via www.tunein.com and tunein’s mobile phone app.
Wagner, coming off a 31-20 win over Colgate in the first round of the playoffs, is now 9-3 and shared the Northeast Conference title with a 7-1 mark. The Seahawks have won nine-straight games after a 0-3 start, including a 30-0 win over Albany to earn the league’s automatic berth.
Located in Staten Island, N.Y., Wagner registered its impressive victory over Albany in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Evacuated from campus for three days, the team missed a practice, prepared without the benefit of electricity, dressed in a dark locker room and had no hot water leading up to the Albany game. But they were the fortunate ones on hard-hit Staten Island, and the team spent time to help in the recovery efforts.
With a penchant for pulling out victories, the Eagles will enter the game 9-2 overall this season, and captured a share of the Big Sky Conference title and the league’s automatic playoff berth with a 7-1 league record. Of Eastern’s seven Big Sky wins this season, six came by a combined margin of 28 points – one by seven points, two six-point wins and a trio by just three points. On the other side of the coin, the Eagles are only seven points from an unbeaten season, having last-possession chances to pull out wins in both of their losses.
“I think without question it will help us,” head coach Beau Baldwin said of EWU’s close games. “We are going to go through moments where things are not going great and we are facing adversity, and winning those tough ballgames helps. It does during the week of practice and it does during game days -- we find ways to come out on top.”
Eastern has never played Wagner – a member of FCS since 1992 -- or a team from the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks are led by NEC Coach of the Year Walt Hameline, a veteran of 32 seasons as head coach at Wagner. He led Wagner to the 1987 NCAA Division III Championship and has won a total 213 games in his career (213-126-2).
His 2012 team had five first-team All-Northeast Conference selections, including quarterback Nick Doscher, running back Dominque Williams, offensive lineman Steve Ciocci, defensive back Jarrett Dieudonne and return specialist Otis Wright. Two other defensive backs and a linebacker were named to the second team.
The Seahawks rank sixth in FCS in scoring defense (16.6 points per game) and 11th in passing defense (164.9 per game). That will provide a challenge for an Eastern offense currently ranked 26th in scoring offense (31.8) and 10th in passing offense (298.8 yards per game).
In Wagner’s win over Colgate, the Seahawks held the second-best offense in FCS to 296 yards after entering the game averaging 503.7. Colgate’s Walter Payton Award candidate, Gavin McCarney, had 216 yards of the team’s offense (97 rushing, 119 passing). But that was well below his average of 323.8 per game, which ranked seventh in FCS.
“Ultimately, we have to find a way to win,” said Baldwin, who will be making his fifth playoff appearance as either an Eastern assistant coach (2004, 2005) or head coach (2009, 2010, 2012). “We have played a lot of close games this year in one of the toughest conferences in the country, which hopefully puts us in a good position. We are just excited about the one we are going to play this week.”
Tickets continue to be sold for the game, and cost $20 for premium seating in sections C&D, $15 for sections A/B/E&F, $15 for end zone and $10 for east side seating (behind visitor bench). Tickets may be purchased via ww.ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-Seat. Season ticket holders and fans who purchase first-round tickets get preference for purchasing tickets in subsequent rounds, but a commitment to purchase must be made.