CAA earns a split in the NCAA Division I Football Championship semifinals to set up a Delaware-Eastern Washington matchup in the FCS title game
By Terence Thomas
CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
The playoffs in any sport have a life unto themselves. But there is something a little more special about semifinal games.
Whether it’s the ALCS/NLCS, the AFC/NFC championship games, the eastern/western conference NBA semi-finals, the NCAA final four semi’s, or the semi-finals in the FCS playoffs, these elimination games often generate more excitement than the actual championship games.
After the initial round of the playoffs, the CAA rode the shoulder of William & Mary, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Villanova into the playoffs.
The CAA went 3-1 in that week as the Tribe lost to Georgia Southern in round one of the CAA vs. SoCon challenge. In the quarterfinals, the CAA went 2-1 as it took Delaware to defeat fellow CAA member, New Hampshire, and Villanova took round two of the CAA vs. SoCon matchup from Appalachian State University.
In the semifinals, the CAA went 1-1 as Delaware took round three of the CAA vs. SoCon matchup against Georgia Southern 27-10, and last year’s defending champions fell on the red turf in Cheney, Washington against Eastern Washington University 41-31.
Last Friday, in Cheney, 6,600 fans braved the 31 degree temperature that was present at the beginning of the game featuring the visiting Villanova Wildcats and the host, Eastern Washington Eagles on their red turf field known as the “Inferno”.
Wildcat running back Angelo Babbaro (Canfield, OH) warmed things up right away with an 86 yard opening kickoff return for a touchdown to give the Cats their only lead of the day at 7-0. In less than 13 seconds, yours truly thought the rout was on, and I was ready to pencil in Nova in the Championship game in Frisco.
Prior to the playoffs, the Eagles had not given up a return for a touchdown since 1991. Since 1991, the Eagles have had 599 returns without a touchdown.
In the quarterfinals, the Eagles suffered a kickoff return for a touchdown against North Dakota State to open the second half, and now in the semi’s, the Eagles suffered their second kickoff return for a touchdown in as many games.
Stunned, but unshaken, the Eagles did not bow to the will of the Wildcats. On their opening drive, led by SMU transfer quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (Katy,Tx), the Eagles scored in five plays, covering 63 yards.
On the drive, Mitchell completed two passes to WR, Nicholas Edwards (Tacoma, Wa.), the first for seven yards, and the latter for a 31 yard touchdown pass. The drive took all of 2:15 and like that the game was tied 7-7.
The next four Villanova drives would end in back to back fumbles, a punt, and yet a third fumble. After each Wildcat turnover, the Eagles cashed in with two field goals (24 and 31 yards respectively) by PK Mike Jarrett (Puyallup, Wa.), and a six yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Edwards to give the Eagles a 20-7 lead.
The Wildcats had fallen behind in their two previous playoff games in the first half, and had the experience and maturity to collect themselves and come from behind to win.
After the Miller to Edwards second touchdown, the Cats finally put together a turnover free drive. Villanova seniors Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.) and Matt Szczur (Erma, NJ) contributed on an 11-play 70-yard drive, that culminated in a Szczur one-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat to bring the score to 20-14 just before the half.
The Eagles had one last scoring attempt before halftime, but Jarrett’s 39-yard field goal try was wide left and the score remained 20-14 Eagles, but the Wildcats had hope only being down six in spite of the three turnovers.
In the third quarter, after an EWU fumble, the Wildcats scored on a 35 yard field goal by PK Mark Hamilton (Gaithersburg, MD), which narrowed the score to 20-17 Eagles.
After an exchange of punts on both sides, Mitchell found WR Brandon Kaufman (Denver, Co) down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown pass.
EWU had found the Nova DB’s were vulnerable to double moves and took advantage of this all night. Kaufman had gotten behind the CB, reeled in the pass, and raced 40 yards to the end zone. The Eagles led 27-17.
The Cats were undeterred.
Whitney led the Cats on the ensuing drive in six plays, covering 60 yards in 2:04, and scored from one yard out on an option play to his left, to narrow the score again to 27-24 Eagles.
Early in the fourth quarter, Babbaro attempted to run around left end and was tackled, and while laying on his back, the ball was stripped by Eagle DLE, David Gaylord (Lynden, Wa.) and recovered by LB, Tyler Washburn (Sammamish, Wa.) who ran the ball in for a touchdown.
The referees reviewed the film but upheld the call of fumble and touchdown, Eagles. Admittedly, my view was from my living room couch, but in this writer’s opinion, Babbaro was down. Nontheless, the score was upheld, and the Eagles led 34-24.
On the next drive, Whitney had the Cats in scoring position again, but on first and ten from the Eagles 24, Whitney was intercepted as he tried to hit WR, Norman White (Hammonton, NJ) on a post route in the end zone.
That was Villanova’s fifth turnover.
While fielding a punt, the Eagles fumbled the ball, and Babbaro recovered the fumble for the Cats at the Eagles 14 yard line. Nova WR, Mikey Reynolds (Moorestown, NJ) took a pitch and ran 11 yards to the Eagle three.
Whitney finished off the drive with a touchdown run of two yards to bring the score to 34-31 with 7:08 remaining in the game.
The Eagles went to their ground game on their next drive in an attempt to drain the clock.
Facing a fourth and four at the Nova 33, with 3:25 remaining the Eagles went for it, and converted five yard pass play from Mitchell to WR, Tyler Hart (Friday Harbor, Wa.) giving the Eagles a new set of downs.
The Eagles faced another fourth down with five to go at the Nova 23 with 1:11 remaining. This time Mitchell hit WR, Greg Herd (Tacoma, Wa.) for a touchdown pass over the middle to give the Eagles their final margin of victory 41-31.
The Eagles were 2-of-13 in third down conversions, but were 3-of-3 in fourth down conversions when it counted.
Nova was 6-of-12 on third downs, but could not overcome six turnovers. The Eagles had 405 yards of total offense with 292 coming through the air.
For the Eagles, backup freshman Mario Brown (Berkeley,Ca.) rushed 26 times for 104 yards, and Mitchell completed 27 passes out of 38 attempts for 292 yards and four touchdown passes. Edwards caught nine passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and Kaufman caught eight passes for 135 yards and one touchdown.
Szczur was knocked from the game with a blow to the head and did not return.
Whitney was laboring from injuries to his back, and he was slowed in his attempts to extend plays or run for positive yardage.
Nova only had 135 yards rushing with Babbaro leading all rushers with 42 yards. Whitney was 12-of-21 for 95 yards and two interceptions. Szczur led all Nova receivers with four receptions for 25 yards.
Defensively, EWU was led by safety Matt Johnson (Tumwater, Wa.) and defensive tackle Tyler Jolley (Nine Miles Fall, Wa.) with nine tackles each. Nova was led by SLB, Terence Thomas with 10 tackles.
“Where Eagles Dare” is the title of a book and movie that takes place during World War II. British and US agents invade the German Alps (The Castle of the Eagles) to recue POW’s and learn German secrets.
On Friday, Jan. 7, the Eastern Washington Eagles will look to invade Frisco, Tx., and secure the 2010 National Championship trophy.
This will be the Eagles first appearance in a National Championship game.
This is the third consecutive season the Big Sky has sent a representative to the National Championship game. The previous two teams (Montana) lost both matches to CAA teams, Richmond (2008) and Villanova (2009).
On a 35 degree, sunny afternoon, in Newark, 10,317 came out to watch the Delaware Blue Hens host the Georgia Southern Eagles in round three of the CAA vs. SoCon challenge.
Hens and roosters are not known for flying, but the Fighting Blue Hens are indeed another breed all to themselves as they soared to a 27-10 victory over the Eagles, shutting down the Eagle offense.
All year long, people, including yours truly, have stated that Delaware has not been challenged. Well, here they sit at 12-2 with only one team left to challenge them for a National Championship trophy. If the Blue Hens have not made a believer out of you, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Delaware finished the regular season as CAA co-champion tied with William & Mary at 6-2 in conference play, but given their post season victory over New Hampshire, the Blue Hens and Wildcats are the only teams in conference to play every member.
Thus, the Hens have an overall 7-2 conference record in 2010 and are truly CAA Champions.
The title of CAA Champion is certainly well deserved as the Blue Hens finished either first or second in a number of CAA statistical categories as have been outlined in prior weeks.
With their number three seed in the playoffs, the Blue Hens have had the luxury of playing all of their playoff games at home dispatching Patriot League champion, Lehigh (42-20), defeated top ten conference member, UNH (16-3), and dismissed top 10 SoCon opponent GSU (27-10).
Delaware’s defense was first in the CAA and in all of FCS in Scoring Defense, allowing only 11.5 points per game. GSU was 40th in the country in Scoring Offense (27.53), UNH was 56th (24.77), and Lehigh was 65th (23.31). All three teams were held below their scoring averages by that might Delaware defense.
As for the game against GSU, the Eagles were shut out in the first half. Having only five offensive drives, the Eagles fumbled the ball on their first possession, punted three times, then fumbled on their last possession of the half.
Of note, the first fumble came after a nine-play, 71-yard drive that had the Eagles facing a third and goal from the Blue Hen one-yard line.
Inexplicably as GSU QB (Georgia Tech transfer) Jaybo Shaw (Flowery Branch, Ga.) attempted to run left, he fumbled the ball right into the hands of DE Chris Morales (Lawrence, Ma.).
The Blue Hens led 10-0 at halftime on a drive that took 16 plays and covered 85 yards, culminating in a six-yard touchdown pass from QB Pat Devlin (Downingtown, Pa) to WR, Mark Schenauer (Galloway, NJ), and a 21 yard field goal by PK Mike Perry (Thorofare, NJ).
At halftime the Blue Hens had 171 yards of total offense, where the Eagles had 123 yards total yards.
In the third quarter, GSU received the ball first, and on second and seven from their 20 yard line, backup QB, Jerick McKinnon (Marietta, Ga.) broke open a 53 yard run, putting GSU at the UD 27.
GSU gained only four more yards and settled for a 40 yard field goal by PK, Adrian Mora (Dalton, Ga.).
After a Blue Hen punt, the Eagles ventured onto the Blue Hen side of the field again, but facing a third and nine at the UD 30, Shaw was sacked by LB Paul Worrilow (Wilmington, De.) who forced another GSU fumble that was recovered by DL, Siddiq Haynes (Durham, NC).
On the ensuing drive, the Hens marched 63 yards in seven plays, and finished with a 24 yard touchdown pass from Devlin to WR, Philip Thaxton (Yorktown, Va.) for a 17-3 lead.
As the game moved into the fourth quarter, the Eagles responded with a 64 yard, 14 play drive that saw FB, Robert Brown (Macon, Ga.) rush for a six yard touchdown to narrow the score to 17-10.
In three rushing plays, the Hens covered 60 yards as RB Andrew Pierce (Bridgeton, NJ) had two runs of 18 and 35 yards respectively. David Hayes (Howell, NJ) took it in for the final seven yards to give the Hens a 24-10 lead.
Shaw suffered another fumble deep into Eagle territory giving the ball back to the Blue Hens. Perry hit a 20-yard field goal to put the game away and give Delaware their final score of 27-10.
GSU had 310 yards of total offense and UD had 316. GSU had five turnovers (four fumbles and one interception). McKinnon led the Eagles in rushing, as he ran the ball 12 times and had 101 yards rushing. Shaw was 4 for 12 passing with 1 interception for 53 yards.
For Delaware, Pierce led all rushers as he ran the ball 26 times for 186 yards. Devlin was 14 out of 20 for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. Devlin hit nine different receivers. Pierce had the highest number of receptions with three.
Defensively, LB Josh Rowe (Opelika, AL.) led the Eagles with 12 tackles, and SS, Anthony Bratton (Manassas, Va.) led the Hens with 14 tackles.
With the Blue Hens soaring into Frisco, this will mark the fifth straight season a CAA team has made it to the Championship game, and the seventh time in the last eight years, a CAA team has made it to the Championship game.
UD won the Championship game in 2003 when it defeated Colgate 40 – 0, and lost to Appalachian State in 2007, 49-21. This will be Delaware’s third National Championship game in seven years under head coach, K.C. Keeler.
Thanks to Appalachian State University fan, Jim Stegall for his email and kind words. Jim was questioning my previous column where I stated if Villanova and Delaware met in the National Championship game it would be the first time to conference members met in that game.
Jim pointed out that Georgia Southern had played Furman twice for National Championship games in the 80’s. I pointed out to Jim that GSU did not join the SoCon until 1993. I’m sure there were many other like Jim who had the same thoughts, so I thought this email and question was worth sharing.
During the week of the championship game, I’ll write a Game preview.
As always you can email your thoughts and comments to CAATODAY@YAHOO.COM
This is the CAA TODAY signing off.