Eastern Washington’s big challenge is stopping Towson’s West

Eagles face Towson in FCS semifinals on Saturday



CHENEY — Eastern Washington will make its third trip to the FCS semifinals in four seasons on Saturday, and if the Eagles want to advance to the title game they have to slow down Towson running back Terrance West.

West has rushed for 2,295 yards this season, including 354 yards as Towson (12-2) upset Eastern Illinois in the quarterfinals.

“After watching him, he’s as good as any running back I’ve ever seen in my career here at Eastern,” said coach Beau Baldwin of Eastern Washington (12-2), the champion of the Big Sky Conference.

But the Tigers, who have won 11 straight on the road, are more than just West, Baldwin said.

“They are a physical football team on both sides of the ball,” Baldwin said. “They are well-coached and know how to handle big games and win on the road. They are a tremendous challenge for us.”

It will be EWU’s first meeting with Towson, of the Colonial Athletic Association, and Towson’s first game against a team from the Big Sky.

This is EWU’s second straight year of advancing to the semifinals. They won the national title in 2010.

The semifinal winner advances to the national title game on Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.

Towson coach Rob Ambrose said his team will play on the red artificial turf of Roos Field with a stated purpose.

“These guys have a goal in mind, a national championship, and it’s not just words,” Ambrose said.

Eastern Washington is averaging 40 points and 530 yards of total offense per game behind quarterback Vernon Adams.

Ambrose noted his team has faced a top-flight quarterback for three consecutive games.

“From Fordham, to Eastern Illinois to Eastern Washington, we’ll have faced the top three quarterbacks in the country by every stat you can imagine,” Ambrose said. “The offense is great, the defense is good and each week the margin for error is smaller.”

Eastern Washington received national attention in its opening game this season when the Eagles upset then-No. 25 Oregon State 49-46 on Aug. 31. It was just the fourth time since the division was created in 1978 that an FCS team defeated a ranked FBS opponent.

Five things to watch in the Towson at Eastern Washington FCS semifinal game:

AIR VERNON: EWU QB Vernon Adams set Big Sky records with 5,140 yards of offense, 4,600 yards passing and 53 touchdown passes this season. Towson QB Peter Athens is no slouch, throwing for 3,050 yards and 17 touchdowns.

GO WEST: With 2,295 yards rushing, Towson’s West needs only 32 yards to break the FCS single-season record of 2,326 yards set by Jamal Branch of Colgate in 2003. West has already set the FCS record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 38, and his 39 touchdowns overall tied the FCS record.

KUPP RUNNETH OVER: EWU receiver Cooper Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award as the FCS freshman of the year, catching 85 passes for 1,567 yards and 21 touchdowns. The 21 touchdown passes broke the FCS freshman record of 19 set by Randy Moss of Marshall in 1996.

HIS FORTE: EWU RB Quincy Forte rushed for 1,131 yards this season.

SEEING RED: The Eagles are 24-3 on the red turf at Roos Field since it was installed in 2010.