Saturday, September 12, 2009

AP: Daunting challenge: Eagles prepare to take on goliath in No. 10 California

Nicholas Geranios


Eastern Washington is used to playing money games, even if No. 10 California is a bit more of a challenge than usual. Eastern, a cash-strapped program in the Big Sky Conference, lost to Colorado just 31-24 last year. The Eagles are 7-17 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Cal is one of the nation's best teams, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best. The game is Saturday in Berkeley.

"It's going to be a huge challenge," Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. "I'm confident that our veterans aren't necessarily going to be in awe by the situation, which is sometimes what you worry about."  Eastern is ranked 18th in the Football Championship Subdivision, after beating Division II Western Oregon 35-14 on Saturday. Cal opened the season with a 52-13 thrashing of Maryland.

"We've played in a lot of big stadiums against nationally ranked FBS teams, so I don't think nerves will be an issue," Baldwin said. "But the bottom line is that Cal is a tremendous football team." Last season, the Eagles lost 49-24 at 12th-ranked Texas Tech. Two years ago, Eastern lost to Brigham Young (42-7), and in 2006, they lost to Oregon State (56-17) and West Virginia (52-3). Eastern features its usual potent offense. Running back Taiwan Jones had an 87-yard touchdown run on his first college carry and the team's first offensive play of the season. Senior quarterback Matt Nichols completed 20-of-32 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns.

The Eagles returned 15 starters from a 6-5 team that ended with a three-game winning streak. Eastern's last win over an FBS team was in 2003, when they beat Idaho 8-5. They beat Connecticut 35-17 in 2001. They've been thumped in their past seven outings, except for the Colorado game. They led Colorado 24-17 with three minutes left in the game, only to watch them score two late touchdowns to rally for the win.  "The Colorado game ended with heartbreak last year, but I wouldn't change anything in the world for what we were able to do," Baldwin said. "That was as fun an experience as I've been in as a coach."

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