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Strong finish for Eagles should enhance playoff bid

The sense of urgency might not measure up to what Eastern Washington University was feeling last fall when it needed to put together a dramatic late-season run – much like it did in 2007 – just to squeeze into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with an at-large berth.

This time around, the Eagles (7-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Sky Conference) would seem to have at least a slight margin for error as far as their at-large playoff chances are concerned.

But Eastern’s third-year head coach, Beau Baldwin, insists there is just as much at stake for his team this year as it prepares for Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. nonconference matchup against Southern Utah at Roos Field.

“Hopefully, we’re not looking at our (results and record) as much as a cushion as we are an opportunity,” Baldwin said Monday. “Instead of having to win our last two games just to have a shot to get into the playoffs like last year, we’ve put ourselves in position to win this game and our last one (at home against Idaho State on Nov. 20) and have a chance to be seeded pretty high.”

A win over the Great West Conference champion Thunderbirds (6-4, 4-0) on Saturday, coupled with a victory over lowly Idaho State in their season finale, would greatly enhance the seeding prospects for EWU – even if it ends up tying Montana State (8-2, 6-1) for the regular-season BSC title but loses the league’s automatic playoff berth due to the 30-7 setback suffered against the Bobcats in Bozeman, Mont., on Sept. 25.

“There’s still a lot riding on how we finish the year,” Baldwin added. “So we’re looking at this as an opportunity to, perhaps, not only be seeded high, but potentially get a home playoff game – or even home playoff games – depending on how we finish.”

Bye-week progress

Eastern practiced only twice during last week’s bye week, but according to Baldwin, got plenty accomplished in the film and weight rooms.

“Overall, it was a good week for us,” Baldwin said. “We were still able to practice twice, which helped us keep our wind and our timing. But we also watched a lot of film and got in three lifts to help keep our strength up.

“We did something every day, Monday through Friday, and got a lot done.”

In addition, the week off allowed senior defensive tackle Tyler Jolley to recover completely from the concussion that kept him out of the Eagles’ 50-17 rout of Portland State on Oct. 30. However, sophomore cornerback Artise Gauldin, who missed the PSU game because of suspension handed down by the Big Sky for an illegal hit in the Eagles’ win over Sacramento State the previous Saturday, remains questionable because of illness.

Eagles climb again

Eastern, despite coming off a bye week, moved up one spot – from 6th to 5th – in both The Sports Network/ Top 25 and FCS Coaches’ Poll.

The rankings are the highest attained by the Eagles during the regular season, although the 1997 team that finished 12-2 and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs before losing to eventual national champion Youngstown State, was ranked No. 4 in the season-ending poll that came out after the playoffs.

Montana State, by virtue of Saturday’s 24-10 win over Weber State, climbed from 11th to 10th in the coaches’ poll and from 12th to the 11th in the TSN/ rankings. Montana, which was idle last weekend, remained at No. 13 in the TSN poll, but dropped from 16th to 17th in the coaches’ poll.

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