Blue Hens Succumb to Late Eastern Washington Surge, Fall 20-19 in NCAA National Championship Game
January 7, 2011
Top Photo: QB Pat Devlin; Bottom Photo: Rob McDowell (50) blocks for Andrew Pierce (Photos Courtesy of Mark Campbell)
FRISCO, Tex. -- In the end, another national championship was just not in the cards for the University of Delaware football team.
The No. 5 ranked Blue Hens, who were looking to capture their seventh national championship in school history, held a 19-0 lead until late in the third quarter, but a torrid comeback by Eastern Washington that included three touchdowns passes by Bo Levi Mitchell over the final 17 minutes resulted in a 20-19 setback in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Friday night at Pizza Hut Park.
"We obviously lost to a pretty good football team tonight," said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who was looking to guide the Hens to their first NCAA championship since 2003. "I don't think I've ever been associated with a loss like this. We pretty much dominated the first half but our concern was not having enough points on the board. We knew Eastern Washington was a big play team and you just waited for them to make a couple of big plays. We had some opportunities to put the ballgame away and we didn't but the ballgame away."
The top-ranked Eagles (13-2), who captured their first-ever national championship in football with a school-record 11th straight victory, converted a disputed fourth down play deep inside Delaware territory and scored what proved to be the game-winner with 2:47 left when Mitchell hooked up with Brandon Kaufman for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game and Mike Jarrett's extra point put Eastern Washington ahead.
"To lose by one point in the national championship game is pretty tough," said Delaware sixth-year senior linebacker Matt Marcorelle.
The Blue Hens (12-3), who had a three-game win streak snapped, had jumped out to a 19-0 lead on a short touchdown run by freshman Andrew Pierce and two field goals by Mike Perry in the first half and on a one-yard dive by David Hayes with 7:12 left in the third stanza. But the Hens just couldn't put any more points on the board.
Eastern Washington, which averaged 32.3 points per game during the season, finally found its offense behind the play of Mitchell, who completed 29 of 43 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Kaufman on a 22-yard scoring pass with 1:48 left in the third quarter to get the Eagles on the board and added a nine-yard strike to Nicholas Edwards with 8:16 left in the game before firing the key touchdown toss to Kaufman less than six minutes later.
Kaufman's winning catch was set up after Eastern Washington converted a fourth down at the Delaware 22-yard line on a one-yard dive by Mario Brown. The Eagles were granted a first down by the official but Keeler challenged the spot and the decision moved up to the replay booth. The ball was re-spotted but was still enough to continue the drive. After an incomplete pass, Mitchell hit Edwards on an 11-yard pass to the 11-yard line and followed with the pivotal 11-yard touchdown toss to Kaufman.
"We stopped them," said Keeler of the fourth down play. "There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The way the ball was spotted originally was a first down, but the chain was not on the 22-yard line, it was past it. I usually don't complain about things like that but that one hurt. It really did."
Delaware had one last chance to pull out the victory but Pat Devlin's fourth down pass to Mark Schenauer came up short of a first down at the Eastern Washington 39-yard line with 47 seconds remaining. The Eagles then ran out the clock to set off a wild celebration in front of 13,027 fans.
"It's all somewhat overwhelming right now," said Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin. "When it comes down to it, beating an incredibly talented team like Delaware was about our guys on the field. Those guys just never quit fighting.”
Mitchell, a transfer from SMU and a native Texan, rescued an offense that managed just 62 first half yards by leading the three-pivotal second half drives. Kaufman caught nine passes for 120 yards for the game while Edwards hauled in six passes for 74 yards and a score. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt, the Buck Buchanan Award winner as the top player in the nation at the FCS level, posted a game-high 18 tackles and helped limit the Hens to just 147 second half yards.
The loss ended a great run by the Blue Hens, whose stellar senior leadership helped Delaware bounce back from a 6-5 record a year ago by sharing the Colonial Athletic Association title and advancing to the title game with decisive NCAA victories over Lehigh, New Hampshire, and Georgia Southern.
Devlin, the CAA Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American this season, ended a stellar two-year career for the Blue Hens after transferring from Penn State "to win championships". A surefire NFL draft prospect, Devlin came up just short despite completing 22 of 34 passes for 220 yards for his ninth 200-yard passing effort of the season. Pierce, the CAA Rookie of the Year and the nation's leading freshman rusher, finished his first collegiate season by running for 142 yards.
"We just didn't execute like we have all season," said Devlin, who had a streak of 175 straight passes without an interception snapped early in the third quarter. "I missed some reads and some throws. We had to be efficient and we weren't and it hurt us. They covered our receivers well and a couple of times I had to hold on to the ball just a hair longer and they got to me. I just didn't get enough steam on that last throw to Schenauer. He made a great catch but we just came up a little short. We weren't overconfident. We knew we needed to put more points up but we couldn’t get it done."
Delaware came out strong, scoring on each of its first three possession to take a 12-0 lead into halftime. After stopping Eastern Washington on its first drive the Hens got the ball at the 20-yard line. Backed by the running of Pierce and Devlin, the Hens then proceeded to drive 80 yards on 14 plays with Pierce capping the march with his 14th rushing touchdown of the season from one-yard out. Perry's extra point was wide, giving the Hens a 6-0 lead with 5:14 left in the opening stanza.
The Hens scored first for the 12th time this season but had a streak of 12 straight wins when scoring first snapped dating back to last season. Perry then capped the next two drives with field goals as his 21-yard kick finished off a 76-yard march with 12:29 left in the half and his 33-yard conversion capped a 10-play, 49-yard drive.
Eastern Washington managed just 62 yards on 25 plays and converted just four first downs, never getting closer than Delaware 46-yard line. It appeared the Eagles would get their first scoring opportunity early in the second half when Allen Brown intercepted a Devlin pass at the EWU 39-yard line that was bobbled by Schenauer.
But Delaware came right back three plays later when Blue Hen senior safety Daryl Jones picked off Mitchell at the 40-yard line. The Hens marched 60 yards on 10 plays with Hayes bursting into the end zone from one-yard out with 7:12 left in the third stanza to push the lead to 19-0. Pierce picked up 37 yards on the drive and caught two passes, including a four-yard toss from Devlin down to the four-yard line. Hayes scored on the next play.
Unfortunately for the Hens, that would end the offensive output for the reminder of the night. Delaware managed just four first downs and 86 total yards the rest of the game as Eastern Washington mounted the comeback.
Hen Scratchings: The game marked the first meeting between the two teams in football although Delaware had posted a win over the Eagles in men's basketball in 2002 in Green Bay, Wisc....Delaware's 12 wins was its highest since the 2003 national championship season when the Hens finished 15-1...CAA teams have advanced to the NCAA title games seven times in the last eight seasons with Delaware the only team to advance three times...Keeler is still 11-3 all-time in NCAA Division I tournament games...Delaware entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 11.5 points per game...Delaware fell to 3-7 all-time vs. No. 1 ranked teams...OL Kevin Uhll and TE Zack Reed each played in his 53rd career game, breaking the UD record of 52 set by TE Rick Lavelle in 2000-03...WR Nihja White caught five passes for 73 yards and continued his streak of catching at least one pass in 23 straight games...Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, attended the game as did Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and several members of the Hens' 2003 national title squad, including QB Andy Hall, DB Mike Adams (currently with the Cleveland Browns), LB Mondoe Davis, and LB Ryan McDermond...also attending the game were Delaware graduates Ben Patrick, currently a tight end with the NFL Arizona Cardinals, and Kevin Mench, who played in the Major Leagues last season with the Washington Nationals.