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Portland State looks to spoil Senior Day, playoff hopes for Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 23, 2019

Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best motions to the field against Washington in the first half Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best motions to the field against Washington in the first half Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Portland State’s hopes of a winning season are shot.

Eastern Washington’s playoff hopes are a long shot.

When EWU (6-5, 5-2 Big Sky) plays host to the Vikings (5-6, 3-4) on Saturday in a regular-season finale at Roos Field, the Eagles have a lot more to lose.

Having won three straight and four of its last five games, EWU is hoping a convincing home win on Senior Day will catch the attention of the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee, which will announce its 24-team bracket at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

Few pundits expect the Eagles to earn an at-large berth, which likely escaped EWU when it fell 34-17 at rival Montana on Oct. 26 to drop to 3-5 and 0-5 on the road.

But the Eagles aren’t solely playing for playoff bid that’s out of their control – they’re also playing for the program’s 13th consecutive winning season.

If EWU, which was won a program-record 13 straight home games, falls to upset-minded Portland State on Saturday, it will finish with a .500 record for the first time since 1983.

The Eagles expect Portland State, which has lost three straight, to pull out all the stops on Saturday, an annual contest the Big Sky Conference dubs The Dam Cup rivalry game.

“We’ve seen double passes, triple passes, reverses, double reverses, Hail Marys before halftime,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said. “We’ve seen it all against Portland State.”

EWU has won six of its last seven against Portland State, including a 74-23 blowout in Hillboro, Oregon, last season that helped the Eagles earn a share of the Big Sky crown.

“A lot of times we’re playing them to get into the playoffs or be Big Sky Conference champions,” Best said.

That’s still the case, but the latter appears more unlikely.

For the Eagles to enjoy a five-way share of the Big Sky title, they will have to beat Portland State and hope for three upsets around the conference.

Idaho State (3-8, 3-5), which has lost four straight, would need to upset No. 6 Weber State (8-3, 6-1) in Ogden, Utah; No. 8 Montana State (8-4, 6-1) would have to upset rival No. 3 Montana (9-2, 6-1) in Bozeman; and UC Davis (5-6, 3-4) needs to upset rival and fourth-ranked Sacramento State (8-3, 6-1) in Sacramento, California.

Behind junior quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Eric Barriere (356 total yards per game), EWU pits its FCS-leading offense (521 yards per game) against the Big Sky’s fourth-ranked defense (394 yards allowed per game).

The Vikings feature one of the nation’s top tight ends in Charlie Taumoepeau (33 catches for 456 yards in eight games) and dual-threat quarterback Davis Alexander (2,609 passing yards, 464 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns).

“They always play us hard, we can guarantee that,” EWU running back Antoine Custer said of Portland State, which beat EWU in Cheney in 2015, 2011, 2007 and 2001.

Portland State started out the season 5-3, but two of those wins were lopsided decisions against NAIA Eastern Oregon and NCAA Division II doormat Simon Fraser.

The Vikings shut out Idaho 24-0 in Portland in October, two weeks after Idaho upset EWU 35-27 in Moscow.

Portland State coach Bruce Barnum – a former EWU football player – hasn’t forgotten about last year’s blowout loss.

“It does a lot to fuel (the rivalry),” Barnum said of EWU. “Our team remembers (EWU’s) fake punts when they were up by 30 points and 2-point conversion tries when it was 77-0.”

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