Editor’s Note: This is another article in a continuing series of articles from past FCS championship games. This is the Jan. 7, 2011 game story as Eastern Washington rallied from a 19-0 deficit to beat Delaware 20-19.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
FRISCO, TX. — Eastern Washington didn’t have its Tabasco Turf to rely on Friday night in the NCAA Division I Football Championship game at Pizza Hut Park and for almost three complete quarters, the Eagles had misplaced their offense as well.
But as Delaware was seemingly marching towards its second D-I title in eight years, with a presumably safe 19-0 lead, EWU stormed back for a 20-19 victory.
Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (nine catches for 120 yards) hauled in two touchdown passes in the final 17 minutes of play, including an 11-yard reception from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell with 2:47 left on the fourth-quarter clock to lift the Eagles to their first national championship.
“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “We wanted to stay with it. We made some adjustments. We felt we wanted to play as fast as we could in the second half.”
It worked as the Eagles rallied for 20 straight points, but the EWU defense had to stop Pat Devlin (22-of-34, 220 yards, one interception passing), Andrew Pierce (28 carries, 142 yards and one TD) and the potent Blue Hen offense one more time to clinch the win.
Delaware moved from its own 26 to the EWU 39 in its final possession, but a nine-yard loss on a sack by a blitzing Zach Johnson (15 tackles, two sacks) pushed the Blue Hens completely out of field goal range and Devlin’s fourth-down pass to Mark Schenauer came up a yard short of a first down on fourth and 10 at the Eagle 30.
“They covered well and, a couple of times, I had to hold on to the ball a hair longer and they got to me,” Devlin said. “We thought we had everybody covered (in pass protection on fourth down). I just didn’t get enough steam on it and it came up a little short.”
It was only the second one-point victory in the 33-year history of the D-I title game and was the first since Jim Tressel and Youngstown State beat McNeese State 10-9 in Chattanooga, Tn. in 1997.
Ironically, that was the first year of the championship contest’s 13-year run in Chattanooga, just like Friday night’s game was the first in Frisco.
It also marked the first D-I crown for the Big Sky Conference since Montana beat Furman 13-6 in 2001 in the initial Friday night game and stopped a streak of three consecutive losses by Big Sky teams in championship encounters.
“To say this loss is devastating is an understatement,” said Delaware’s K.C. Keeler, who is now 1-2 as a head coach in D-I title games. “This is the worst loss I’ve ever suffered.”
Held to 98 yards of total offense through the first 2 1/2 quarters, Eastern Washington’s offense finally came alive against Delaware and scored three times in the final 16:48 to cap off a remarkable victory.
The win extended EWU’s winning streak to 11 games as the Eagles finished with a school-record 13 victories and just two losses.
Eastern Washington was making its first NCAA championship game appearance. The Blue Hens, the 2003 national champions and runners-up in 1982 and 2007, finished their season at 12-3.
Mitchell, who is from Katy, Texas, and transferred from Southern Methodist University, completed 29-of-43 passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on the way to earning most outstanding player honors in a vote of the media.
But that honor probably should have gone to Kaufman, who sparked the Eagles with a bunch of clutch catches down the stretch.
Mitchell had a game-winning 11-yard TD pass to Kaufman with 2:47 to play. That followed touchdown strikes to Nicholas Edwards of nine yards with 8:16 to play and 22 yards to Kaufman late in the third quarter.
“As soon as we scored that first touchdown, it electrified us and we were ready to go,” Mitchell said.
Eastern Washington, playing without injured All-American running back Taiwan Jones for the second-straight game, had just 25 rushing yards.
Delaware jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first half and out-gained the Eagles in total offense 230-62.
The Blue Hens finished the game with a 417-327 advantage and entered the game leading the nation in fewest points allowed with an average of 11.5 per game.
Eastern Washington had arrived at the game owning the 12th-best scoring offense (32.29 points per game) in FCS and featuring the 19th best offense (402.1 yards per game).
But it was the Eagles’ defense that kept the team in this contest until the offense awoke from its slumber.
The Blue Hens scored in the first half on drives of 80, 76 and 49 yards, but was only able to turn the last two drives into field goals.
“That’s kind of been a staple of our defense this year,” said EWU senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who finished with a game-high 18 tackles a night after winning the Buck Buchanan Award. “We just look around and know we are successful in the red zone.”
It was the first time this season that Eastern Washington has failed to score in the first half, and the first time the Eagles had trailed after 30 minutes in its last 11 games.
EWU was behind at halftime in only three games this season, with a 1-2 record in those games. The Eagles trailed Nevada 28-10, Montana 21-14, Montana State 20-7 and only came back to beat Montana.
Delaware took a 19-0 lead with 7:12 left in the third quarter with a 60-yard touchdown drive. At that point, the Blue Hens had a 337-98 advantage in offense.
EWU finally scored with 1:48 left in the third quarter when Mitchell found Kaufman for a 22-yard touchdown pass. That capped a five-play, 80-yard drive that took just 1:30 off the clock.
The game was an epic battle featuring the final two teams to be ranked No. 1 in 2010.
Third-seeded Delaware was ranked first nationally on Nov. 15, but slipped to fifth with a 28-21 overtime loss to defending national champion Villanova to end the regular season.
As a result, following a 9-2 finish in the regular season and co-championship in the Big Sky Conference with a 7-1 mark, the Eagles were rewarded with that No. 1 ranking.
An hour after the poll was released, the FCS selection committee gave Eastern Washington a No. 5 seed and a first-round bye.
Since then, each team reeled off three-straight playoff victories to advance to the title game.
The only losses for Eastern Washington came on Sept. 2 versus nationally-ranked NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision member Nevada by a 49-24 score, and 30-7 three weeks later at 17th-ranked Montana State.
Delaware won its first seven games, including a trio of victories over teams ranked in the top 10 in FCS. The first loss for the Blue Hens was a 17-16 loss to No. 4 William & Mary on Oct. 23.