SPOKANE — Eastern Washington’s improbable run to the FCS playoffs was sparked by record-setting quarterback Matt Nichols.
The senior from Cottonwood, Calif., has had some of the best games of his career during the Eagles’ late surge. In the past five games, Nichols has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,840 yards with 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Nichols is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award given to the best player in the FCS after throwing for 3,369 yards and 30 touchdowns with just five interceptions this season.
“He’s having a great year,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin. “He’s doing a great job taking care of the football with his touchdown-to-interception ratio.”
Eastern won its last four games to finish 8-3 and earn an at-large bid in the playoffs. They travel to Nacogdoches, Texas, to play Stephen F. Austin (9-2) on Saturday.
Of course, EWU administrators also had a big hand in the postseason bid. Earlier this year, the NCAA banned Eastern from the playoffs for one year for a series of minor violations that occurred under former coach Paul Wulff. Administrators appealed, and late last month the NCAA lifted the ban.
A four-year starter, Nichols holds EWU’s career passing record with 12,155 yards. The record was held by Nichols’ predecessor, Payton Award winner Erik Meyer, who had 10,261 passing yards from 2002-05.
Nichols is just 53 yards from breaking the Big Sky Conference record of 12,207 yards held by Weber State’s Jamie Martin (1989-92).
“It just shows his toughness and longevity,” Baldwin said. “A lot of players have talent but get hurt along the way, or this or that, but Matt has just been constant.”
He’s gotten plenty of help this season.
Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones has rushed for 1,095 yards and an average of 7.4 yards per carry. Tight end Nathan Overbay has caught 43 passes for 12 touchdowns, both EWU records for a tight end.
On defense, linebacker J.C. Sherritt leads the FCS with an average of 14 tackles per game. He’s a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defender in the division. Last year the award was won by EWU defensive end Greg Peach.