Holding a No. 1 national ranking heading into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, Eastern Washington’s playoff seed wasn’t as lofty.
The Big Sky Conference co-champion Eagles were issued a curious No. 5 seed – high enough to get a first-round bye and host Southeast Missouri State in the second round, low enough for some head-scratching in Cheney.
Steven Forgette, a starting offensive lineman as a freshman in 2010 and eventual All-American, is now a police officer with the Camas (Washigton) Police Department.
The unexpected seeding was something Forgette didn’t forget.
“I remember watching the selection show and seeing that No. 5 seed. It was weird,” Forgette said.
“It was probably because we won a lot of close games and (the playoff selection) committee might have thought we got away with winning a couple.
“But being underestimated was the story of our season.”
EWU defeated the ninth-ranked Redhawks 37-17 in front of 3,665 fans at Roos Field, the first playoff game on red turf, setting up a quarterfinal in Cheney the following week against North Dakota State.
The Eagles (10-1) were again paced by sensational running back and future NFL veteran Taiwan Jones, who rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns
Bo Levi Mitchell, now a star Canadian Football League quarterback in Calgary, threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
EWU’s typically salty defense struggled early, though, giving up 242 first-half yards to the Redhawks (9-3), who were tied at 17 with the Eagles at halftime.
Mitchell threw an early interception that was returned for a touchdown, too, helping the visitors’ cause.
Then-EWU defensive coordinator John Graham – his son Ty Graham is currently a senior linebacker at EWU – didn’t need to make any substantial adjustments to right the ship, but a couple of reminders.
“We told our kids their (option offense) would be faster than what it looks like on film and that they’d just have to weather the storm,” Graham said after the game. “And I thought they did a pretty good job of doing just that.”
Southeast Missouri State, the Ohio Valley Conference co-champion, was held scoreless in the second half and totaled a meager 28 yards.
A big fourth-down stop propelled EWU.
With the Eagles leading 24-17 and the Redhawks trying to keep a second-half drive alive, All-American linebacker J.C. Sherritt dropped running back Henry Harris (108 rushing yards) for a 1-yard loss. The Redhawks didn’t get any closer.
Mitchell’s second-half touchdown passes to Nick Edwards and Greg Herd and a touchdown run by freshman Mario Brown put away the Redhawks.
“(The Redhawks) were solid, I remember,” Forgette said. “Our defense was just so good that year.”
Chilly temperatures may have helped the Eagles, too, as Southeast Missouri State, with a campus a quick drive to Kentucky and Tennessee, had to adjust to a different climate.
“We had a bit of an advantage there,” Forgette said.
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