POSTED: 11:40 a.m. HST, Sep 05, 2013
SPOKANE, Wash. » Eastern Washington's football program has perhaps been better known for winning the 2010 FCS national title and for a home field that features red artificial turf.
But Saturday's 49-46 victory over then-ranked Oregon State may be the biggest moment in team history.
"In fact, some might argue that a win like this can draw more attention to your program than a national title," coach Beau Baldwin said.
"I'm not going to undersell it," Baldwin said. "It's huge for the program and what it does in recruiting and the image of who we are."
Could the win also raise hopes of a second national title for the Eagles, who play in the tough Big Sky Conference? The Eagles rose to No. 2 in the latest FCS poll, trailing only North Dakota State, which upset Kansas State last week.
"We want to get to the national championship this year," said quarterback Vernon Adams, who proved too much for Oregon State's defense to contain.
The upset was one of the more stunning of the opening weekend. North Dakota State shocked Kansas State 24-21 on Friday night, Towson defeated Connecticut 33-18 on Thursday, and McNeese State beat South Florida 53-21 on Saturday
Those who profess to be shocked by Eastern Washington's win haven't paid much attention to the program, which has had only two losing seasons in the past 19. In the past two seasons, the Eagles took the Pac-12's Washington and Washington State down to the last play of the game before losing.
They are also perennial contenders for the FCS playoffs.
One reason for their success is location. Washington has nearly 7 million people but only two major college football programs in Washington and Washington State. The result is a large pool of talented players available for the Eagles to recruit.
Eastern's roster traditionally draws the vast majority of its players from in-state.
The commuter school has about 11,000 students, many of whom live about 15 miles away in Spokane.
The Eagles averaged about 8,000 fans per game last season at tiny Roos Field, which has the distinctive red artificial turf and is sometimes called The Inferno.
Adams was clearly the star of Saturday's game. The native of Pasadena, Calif., passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 107 and two touchdowns.
"He was making all of these plays, but he was also taking care of the football and being smart when he needed to," Baldwin said.
Eastern's win was just the fourth time since 1978 that an FCS team defeated a ranked FBS opponent. The others were Cincinnati's win over No. 20 Penn State in 1983; Appalachian State's win over No. 5 Michigan in 2007; and James Madison beating No. 13 Virginia Tech in 2010.
Eastern steps down a class this Saturday to play Division II Western Oregon. Baldwin knows his team needs to be ready for a huge effort by the Wolves so they don't suffer the same fate as Oregon State.
"Western Oregon is going to come in here guns a-blazing, and they are a quality football team. We better be ready," Baldwin said.
Eastern Washington gets another shot at a FBS team on Sept. 14, when the Eagles play at Toledo.