Illinois State is led by the Missouri Valley Conference's Most Outstanding Offensive Player in quarterback Matt Brown.
Another playoff game, another savvy senior quarterback coming to Roos Field.
“Yeah, we just keep getting lucky that way,” said Eastern Washington defensive tackle Evan Cook, who must find a way to take Illinois State star Matt Brown out of his comfort zone in Saturday’s 3 p.m. FCS quarterfinal playoff game.
“He’s their key guy and makes them roll,” Cook said of Brown. At stake is a spot in the FCS semifinals; if the Eagles win, they will host Montana State or Sam Houston State next weekend for a chance to play for the national title.
Last week, the Eagles needed three quarters to figure out how to corral Wagner’s Nick Doscher. Brown is less mobile, but he’s only been sacked 11 times while throwing for 2,998 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good enough to earn Offensive Most Valuable Player honors in the rugged Missouri Valley Conference.
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“He’s a tough kid,” Illinois State offensive coordinator and former Puyallup star Luke Huard said of Brown.
On defense, the Redbirds “remind us a lot of ourselves,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin. “They don’t necessarily pressure a lot, but they do it pretty well without being too exotic.”
The Redbirds are 23rd in the FCS in total defense, and do two things especially well: sacking the quarterback and picking him off.
“Watching film, they’re a very disciplined group and fly around the ball,” said Eastern quarterback Kyle Padron.
Baldwin and Illinois State coach Brock Spack are prepared for another close call, and both have been there before. The Redbirds have played in two overtime games — winning both.
The Eagles are 6-2 in games decided by six points or fewer, and have won three games after trailing in the fourth quarter.
“I like the fact that our guys are able to respond,” Baldwin said. “And I love the fact that we’ve found a way to win in different ways.”