Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of historical articles that look back at past FCS title games. This story was written on Jan. 7, 2011 as Eastern Washington beat Delaware for the national crown.
By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
FRISCO, TX. — When you look at the magical championship ride of Eastern Washington in the NCAA Division I football playoffs, you have to wonder at what point the Eagles began to believe they were a team of destiny?
Was it when quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell overcame a disastrous quarterfinal-round performance to lead EWU on a 90-yard drive in the last two minutes to tie North Dakota State?
It might have been when a video review upheld a ruling on the field that NDSU had fumbled at the goal line and the Eagles had recovered to end a 38-31 victory in overtime.
You could point to a fourth-quarter fumble recovery and a touchdown when Villanova’s Angelo Babbaro appeared to be down in the semifinals. But another video review stunningly failed to overturn the play and EWU went on to oust the defending national champions 41-31.
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin had told reporters at Wednesday’s practice that he was a big fan of replay.
“It’s been good to us in the playoffs,” Baldwin explained.
That was before another controversial review process went in EWU’s favor at a critical moment of the Eagles’ 20-19 victory over Delaware in the Football Championship Subdivision title game on Friday night before 13,027 fans at Pizza Hut Park.
It was fourth and one from the Delaware 23 when Blue Hen tacklers Bernard Makumbi and Siddiq Haynes appeared to stop true freshman running back Mario Brown a half-yard short of a first down.
“We stopped them,” said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler. “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It was not game over, but it was close to game over.”
But the Southern Conference officiating crew miss-spotted the ball and signaled that the Eagles had earned a first down.
That is when Lady Luck in the guise of a replay official smiled on Eastern Washington once again.
By the time the man in the booth declared that he needed to replay the spot of the play, the chain gang on the sideline had moved the sticks and reset the clip that marked the position of this football apparatus.
“The chains were not on the 22,” Keeler said. “When they said the ball was on the 22, we knew we had the stop.”
Eastern Washington needed to get past the 22, but the chain crew had stunningly lost the correct position of the sticks before the ball was re-spotted.
“The chain crew was confused,” said Keeler. “They had already moved the clip. The chains were not put back at the right spot in our opinion. There is no way they knew where the ball was.”
EWU’s Baldwin sympathized with Keeler and the Blue Hens’ plight.
“They were trying to get where the spot was,” Baldwin said. “It’s always going to be gut-wrenching for a coach in those situations.”
Three plays later, Bo Levi Mitchell fired an 11-yard pass to the back of the end zone and Brandon Kaufman grabbed it for a touchdown that tied the game with 2:47 remaining.
Down 19-0 late in the third period, the Eagles had rallied to tie the score and Mike Jarrett’s extra point provided Eastern Washington with a 20-19 lead.
“As soon as we scored that first touchdown, it electrified us and we were ready to go,” said Mitchell.
On fourth and 10, a pass from Pat Devlin to Mark Schenauer came up a yard short after Schenauer had made a shoestring catch at the EWU 30. With 47 seconds left, the Eagles only needed one safe play from victory formation to conclude their first national-championship win.
“To say this loss is devastating is an understatement,” said Keeler. ““This is the worst loss I’ve ever suffered.”
But one man’s devastation became another’s celebration.
“It sounds pretty good,” Baldwin said when he was asked how it felt to be a national champion. “It’s all so overwhelming right now.”
Baldwin was overwhelmed by his defense’s ability to make enough stops in the red zone to keep Delaware from turning the game into a blowout. And he was impressed again by his offense’s ability to pull another contest from the fire.
“I don’t think I ever felt Delaware was in trouble,” Baldwin. “I just felt like we could make a run, I felt our defense was getting progressively better.”
And the Eagles made enough plays yet again to come up with another improbable victory.
“Without (defense) we wouldn’t be here,” said EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. “We put our defense in a hole and they put their foot to the pedal and got us out of it.”
There is no doubt that Eastern Washington earned its FCS crown in every respect, but there is another side of the story. The one that tells you how Delaware threw away what could have been its second national championship in eight years.
“We had some opportunities to put the ball game away and, shame on us, we didn’t put the ball game away,” Keeler said. “We had a chance to lock it away and we didn’t.”
But don’t think for a minute that Keeler left the field with anything other than respect for Baldwin and his championship Eagles.
Obviously, that is a very good team we lost to,” said Keeler. “Let’s make that clear.”
And this was an Eagle squad that showed the heart of a champion throughout its four playoff wins.
“What it comes down to tonight, and going against an incredibly talented Delaware team, it comes down to those players on the field,” said Baldwin. “I just felt if we could make this a tight game, we could make some plays at the end.”
And once again, Eastern Washington not only succeeded in giving itself a chance, but coming away with a win.