Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler told me earlier in the week that both teams were fighting for immortality, because you can’t lose a championship after you win it. He said the winning team would be remembered for eternity. Instead of the Blue Hens leaving their mark on history, the Eastern Washington football team will always be remembered as the 2011 FCS national champions. What an amazing title, and what an amazing way to win.
I don’t know if anyone will remember the first half of the title tilt against Delaware, but I think it’s better that way. The Fightin’ Blue Hens came right after the Eagles, and Eastern Washington didn’t have an answer. Delaware jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead (thanks to a blocked extra point by EWU) and added two more field goals in the second quarter for a 12-0 lead at the half. It looked like the Blue Hens were in complete control.
During postgame interviews, I asked several Eastern players what was said at halftime to fire them up and they all referred to a speech by All-American running back Taiwan Jones. Jones, who couldn’t play in the championship because of a broken foot, got emotional after a Delaware player cracked a joke about EWU being shutout as they were heading to the locker room. It hurt Jones’ feelings so bad; he decided to tell the team about it. He said he would do something about it himself, but he obviously couldn’t (he was still limping around in his walking boot). Linebacker Tyler Washburn seemed like he was near tears when he was telling me about the speech after the game. It shows how much Jones means to this team (or how much they all love each other, period), because the Eagles took that to heart in the second half.
The third quarter didn’t start so hot, with Delaware scoring another touchdown to make it 19-0. That’s when something clicked for the Eagles. Bo Levi Mitchell guided EWU on a five-play scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Brandon Kaufman to make it 19-6 (they failed on a two-point conversion) by the end of the third quarter. The momentum carried into the final stanza. Mitchell found Nicholas Edwards for another touchdown with a little more than eight minutes to go (it was a 14-play (including one fourth down conversion), 89-yard drive). The EWU defense didn’t let the Blue Hens get away with anything after that. J.C. Sherritt led the team with 18 tackles (it seemed like he was in on every play), while Zack Johnson registered 15 tackles of his own.
Eastern’s final drive was a nail-biter. They got into Delaware territory, but they needed a touchdown to tie the game (and an extra point to win it). A field goal just wouldn’t be enough with the amount of time that was left on the clock (about three minutes). The Eagles failed on a third down conversion, so they went for it on fourth down. The Eags turned to freshman running back Mario Brown. He was met near the line of scrimmage, but he lunged forward toward the first down marker. The officials decided to bring out the chains for a measurement. My heart felt like it was going to thump out of my chest (if they didn’t convert then the game would be over). The measurement showed a first down and the Eastern fans went wild. The drama didn’t end there though. The officials decided to use replay to check the spot of the ball. They decided the spot was wrong, so they actually moved the ball backwards (it didn’t look good for Eastern). Bo Levi Mitchell threw his hands in the air as to say “What is going on?” The officials came out to measure again (my heart still pounding) and it was the same result…first down. I actually heard people from the NCAA having a meeting about the whole situation after the game. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out about that.
The dramatic first down allowed the Eagles to score the go-ahead touchdown a few plays later. Mitchell connected with Kaufman for a great touchdown with 2:47 remaining. I’ll forever remember seeing Kaufman make the catch and somehow get his feet inbounds. I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Vice President Joe Biden (a proud Delaware alum) was among many of the Blue Hens faithful who were in a state of shock at that point.
The game wasn’t over yet. Delaware started to march into Eagles territory as the clock was winding down. All they needed was a field goal to win it, but they’d never have a chance to get one off. Eastern’s defense was rock solid. They came up with a monster sack to put the Blue Hens near midfield, and then denied Delaware a first down on fourth a ten (they completed a pass, but came up short).
The scene after the game was unbelievable. Eastern fans swarmed the field to celebrate with the players. It was an incredible scene to see the guys celebrating with family and friends. I saw hugs, tears, and kisses all over the place. It was really cool to watch these people make memories right in front of my eyes. I’m sure it’s a moment they’ll (and I’ll) never forget.
If you think you’re superstitious, the Eagles probably have you beat. Eastern Washington was undefeated on the red turf at Roos Field this season. They believed there was so much luck behind that, that they brought a strip of the red field with them to Texas. As the team was on stage for the trophy presentation, defensive lineman Tyler Jolley held the turf over his head with two hands (much like a boxer who just won a belt). The crowd exploded in cheers. They got even louder when the FCS national championship trophy was handed over to head coach Beau Baldwin. Bo Levi Mitchell also got a huge ovation after he was named the game’s MVP (the guy handing him the award is former NFL player Everson Walls).
I was never really sold on the city of Frisco (there’s nothing to do there), but it sounds like that’s where they’ll host the FCS national championship game again next season. I would gladly go back again if Eastern Washington can repeat the feat next season (it’s a very real possibility with all of the star players coming back).
Before the game, we (my photographer Brett Allbery and I) finally had some free time to adventure around Dallas. After our morning live shots at our Belo sister station WFAA, we took a walk around town. We checked out the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and cruised around an area known as the West End (there are a lot of bars and restaurants there). We then drove to Arlington to check out new Cowboys Stadium (the site of last night’s Cotton Bowl between LSU and Texas A&M) and the Ballpark in Arlington (home of the Texas Rangers…I forgot to post a picture). Cowboys Stadium is HUGE (you can see it from miles away on the freeway). It’s also a really weird looking building (it reminds me of a UFO), but it’s pretty spectacular.
I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the food of Texas. I did devour great barbecue a couple of times, and finally had some Tex-Mex before we left today. The most unique thing I ate was fried pickles. I had only heard rumors of them before, but I’d never seen them (they are as elusive as Sasquatch). That all changed yesterday when they came as a side with my burger. They were incredible!
That’s it for me. I can’t thank you enough for following me (on television, Twitter, or right here on KREM.com) on this adventure. These trips are a lot of work, but it’s worth every second when you think about the fans you’re serving. I made it my goal to bring Texas to those of you who couldn’t be here…I really hope I succeeded.
For the final time on the trip…GO EAGLES!