CHENEY — Sunday morning’s gathering lacked the drama of the night before, and that was just fine with the Eastern Washington football players, coaches and fans.
About 100 of them gathered at Tawanka Commons on the Eastern campus for the televised unveiling of the Football Championship Subdivision bracket, which included the Eagles as the third seed in the upcoming 24-team playoffs.
Thanks to an exhilarating 42-41 win over Portland State the night before, the Big Sky Conference champion Eagles earned a first-round bye and will host either Northern Arizona or South Dakota State in a second-round game at 1 p.m. on Dec. 7.
“It’s really nice that we put ourselves in a position where we can just sit down and watch the selection show,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, adding that the bye will help players heal “mentally as much as physically.”
If the Eagles (10-2 overall, 8-0 in the Big Sky) win on Dec. 7, they also will host a quarterfinal game on the weekend of Dec. 13-14.
“We had a good idea – a No. 3 seed is what everybody was saying and it’s what we kind of expected,” Baldwin said. “It’s perfect. We know we are going to get that first one at home, and we’ll have to go out and earn a victory.”
Two-time defending national champion North Dakota State is the top overall seed, followed by Eastern Illinois, EWU and Southeast Louisiana. Should form hold in its half of the bracket, the Eagles would visit Eastern Illinois for a semifinal game on Dec. 20 or Dec. 21.
The Eagles were one of four Big Sky Conference teams to earn bids. Montana is the No. 8 overall seed, while Southern Utah earned an at-large bid and will play this weekend at Sam Houston State.
“It’s a credit to all the Big Sky schools who were included – NAU, Montana and Southern Utah – for representing the league really well. It’s fun having four teams in this bracket,” said Baldwin, whose team earned the school’s first outright Big Sky title since 1997.
Normally, the NCAA avoids pairing teams from the same conference in the first or second rounds, but that restriction is waived if the teams didn’t meet in the regular season.
If NAU (10-2 overall, 7-1 Big Sky) gets past South Dakota State, it would face the Eagles for the first time in three years.
“We thought that was a possibility,” Baldwin said of a potential matchup with the Lumberjacks.
Eastern has never played South Dakota State, but is 19-10 overall against NAU. Because of the expansion of the league in 2012, the Eagles haven’t played NAU since 2011, when EWU won in Flagstaff, Ariz., 38-26.
Next up for the Eagles? Practice today and Tuesday, “and then we get to enjoy Thanksgiving,” said senior safety Bo Schuetzle of Spokane, one of about 20 players gathered at Tawanka.
Said Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams: “We’ve earned it and now it’s our time to just go out and take it, come back and don’t get too big from Thanksgiving,” Adams said, patting his stomach.