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Ralph Walter: With Frisco at stake, there’s no better time to catch Eastern Washington football at the Inferno

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 13, 2018

Eastern Washington  defensive back Ira Branch (30) celebrates with quarterback Eric Barriere  after defeating  Nicholls State  on  Dec. 1 at Roos Field in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington defensive back Ira Branch (30) celebrates with quarterback Eric Barriere after defeating Nicholls State on Dec. 1 at Roos Field in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

“Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday. We’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that.” – Frank the Tank, from “Old School.”

This Saturday, how about less doing, more football.

Because for the fourth time since the national championship run of 2010, Eastern Washington University is just a win away from a return trip to the FCS title game in Frisco, Texas. And with a second national crown on the line, it’s your last chance this year to experience the most dominant football team in the Northwest over the last decade.

With the usual December scattering of students for the holiday break, plenty of seats remain for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against the Maine Black Bears at Roos Field in Cheney. (In fact, you can find them right here.)

Whether you’re a Seahawks fan or a Cougars fan, and you’ve never been to the Inferno for a game, you’re missing out. Or even if you’re a Gonzaga basketball fan, and you’re worried about missing Saturday’s game at North Carolina, no problem. They don’t tip off until 4.

EWU coach Aaron Best’s run-happy crew will have that clock ticking so fast you’ll be home in front of the tube by 3:30 at the latest. (I once went to a game at EWU at 2 on a Saturday and was home by 2:30. Actually, it was 2:30 the following Tuesday, but still.)

The point is, you’re just a 20-minute drive from one of America’s great college football experiences. If you haven’t been, here’s what to look for:

THE INFERNO: Don’t let the TV appearance of the red field fool you. This thing is cool in person. And it has created a distinct home-field edge. Since the turf was installed in 2010, EWU has gone 51-10, including winning 12 of 16 in the playoffs. (Note: For fans who storm fields, avoid blue coats – they tend to clash with the red carpet.)

THE LEGEND: Every game there’s a chance you’ll get to shake hands and discuss strategy with Dick Zornes, the coaching legend who started this EWU dynasty. Try doing that in Tuscaloosa! (Although, to be fair, that might NOT be the only reason you wouldn’t run into “Bear” Bryant.)

Former Eastern Washington University football coach Dick Zornes. (Keith Currie / Courtesy)
Former Eastern Washington University football coach Dick Zornes. (Keith Currie / Courtesy)

THE TAILGATE: Tailgating has never been better at EWU. During the regular season, there are RVs as far as the eye can see. Although it’s dwindled to mostly diehards this time of year, that’s OK, too. The diehards are among the most welcoming – and fun.

And there are at least three you should visit. (Tell them Colin Cowherd sent you.)

First stop: The upper lot near the ticket entrance.

It’s pretty easy to spot the red “GameDay” bus in EWU’s upper lot. (Randy Casto / Courtesy)
It’s pretty easy to spot the red “GameDay” bus in EWU’s upper lot. (Randy Casto / Courtesy)

There, you’ll find the red “GameDay” bus, where Craig “Colonel” Sanders and Randy Casto will point you toward a beverage and give you a quick tour. Take a moment to sign your name inside the bus and visit with resident EWU superfan Tim O’Doherty, who passes out hot dogs like he’s dealing cards in Reno.

It’s hard to imagine fitting much more on Todd Claypool’s grill, but he probably can. (Todd Claypool / Courtesy)
It’s hard to imagine fitting much more on Todd Claypool’s grill, but he probably can. (Todd Claypool / Courtesy)

Close to the red bus, in the corner of the upper lot, you’ll find another devoted Eag, Todd Claypool, grilling up ribs, brats, chili and everything else he can fit on his oversized grill. That thing is so big it looks like he’s cooking on a driveway.

And if you get a chance to wander down to the lower lot, look for a black tent with racing stripes. There, you’ll meet two former Spokesman-Review sports editors, Steve Bergum and Jeff Jordan. The food is about what you’d expect from two old newspaper guys – mostly cheese puffs and Michelob Ultras – but the stories and laughs are legendary. (And tell them Ralph Walter sent you.)

THE GAME: Oh yeah, that. My prediction: Another white-knuckle finish, with EWU coming out on top 28-24, on a last-minute touchdown scramble by quarterback Eric Barriere. And then, perhaps, another storming of the Inferno.

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