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Eagles learning to rely less heavily on star running back

Eastern Washington football coach Beau Baldwin hinted prior to last Saturday’s Big Sky Conference matchup against Northern Colorado that it might have been a good thing – for some of his players, at least – to have Taiwan Jones unavailable for a few quarters of play.

“As a team, you sometimes get used to, not necessarily standing around, but just kind of expecting at some point that he’s going to break one 70 (yards), or at some point, break one 80,” Baldwin said of Jones, the Eagles’ outstanding junior running back, who suffered an abdominal contusion shortly after intermission in a 30-7 road loss to Montana State on Sept. 25 and then watched from the sidelines the following weekend when EWU knocked off Weber State 35-24 in Ogden, Utah.

“That can sometimes stunt, a little bit, the growth of other players at other positions, because they almost wait for that to happen instead of going out, forcing the issue and being the guy that makes that (big) play.”

Baldwin added that he felt Jones’ injury gave a few of his other less-heralded offensive players a chance to emerge and show off their talents.

The numbers seem to support such sentiment.

In the Eagles’ win over Weber, junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell helped cover for Jones’ absence by gashing the Wildcats’ secondary for 337 yards and four touchdowns through the air. And Jones’ backup, junior Darriell Beaumonte, also put together a breakout game that included 78 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, and a pair of pass receptions for 21 yards and another TD.

Against NAU the following week, with Jones in the lineup, but obviously not capable of going full speed, Mitchell again came through with a solid performance, throwing for 288 yards and three TDs.

With Jones close to 100 percent for last Saturday’s road game against Northern Colorado, Baldwin was hoping Mitchell, Beaumonte and a couple of his young receivers would continue making big plays as a complement to their star running back.

“Hopefully, if Taiwan gets healthy and comes back it will just add another dimension,” Baldwin said. “And other players will step up in crucial situations and want to make plays when the game is on the line, instead of just looking to see if Taiwan will do it.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case against the Bears, who came within a lost fumble late in the game of upsetting the Eagles before falling 35-28.

Jones rushed for 168 yards – an average of eight per carry – and three touchdowns. But the rest of the team combined for just 31 rushing yards on 10 attempts. And while Mitchell’s passing numbers (16-of-25 for 172 yards and one TD) were decent, he wasn’t able to get much going until the fourth quarter when he completed 9 of 11 for 76 and that one TD.

Sherritt honored

EWU All-American strong-side linebacker J.C. Sherritt was selected Monday as the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the week for the second-straight week.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound senior from Pullman earned the award with a game-saving sack and interception in the final five plays of the Eagles’ win at Northern Colorado.

He also had a hand in 14 tackles to move past Joey Cwik into fourth place on EWU’s career tackles list with 336. Third on the list is Derek Strey with 346.

Quick kicks

Eastern Washington will celebrate homecoming on Saturday with a 1:05 p.m. BSC matchup against Sacramento State at Roos Field. Eastern leads the series 14-4, but the Hornets have won the last two games in Cheney, 15-13 in 2008 and 21-20 in 2006. … EWU, at 5-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Sky, is off to its best start since 1997, when the Eagles won 10 of their 11 regular-season games and advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs before losing to Youngstown State. … After registering just four sacks in its first five games, Weber State had six in last weekend’s 16-13 win at Idaho State. … In the second half of that game, ISU held Weber quarterback Cameron Higgins to four yards passing and intercepted him twice.

Montana7(11)    7(11) 
EWU8(12)    8(12) 
MSU15(9)    16 (10) 
NAU22(NR)   22(NR) 

Note: Both polls on Scoreboard/B5

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