FRISCO, TEXAS - Down by 19 points late in the third quarter, getting shut out by the toughest defense to score against among all Football Championship Subdivision teams, Eastern Washington finally had something to cheer about. A touchdown pass meant the Eagles wouldn't get shut out.
Then Bo Levi Mitchell threw another TD pass.
And, with 2:47 left, he did it again. When the Eastern Washington defense followed with one last stand, the guys best known for playing their home games on a flaming-red turf had a new claim to fame – national champions, having pulled off a stunning 20-19 victory over Delaware on Friday in their first trip to the finals.
“It’s been like this all year,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had a bunch of up-and-down games. It’s all a credit to the coaches because they never panic. Once we got that first touchdown, that really electrified us.”
Mitchell grew up outside Houston and began his college career at nearby SMU, but the folks in Cheney will always consider him one of their own after this performance.
Wearing flaming-red cleats, Mitchell led an offense that had generated only 92 yards midway through the third quarter to TD drives that covered 80, 89 and 69 yards.
“We started to go up-tempo,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “We wanted to play as fast as we could on offense. We felt like that was going to give us the best chance. We took it to a speed where that would give us a little bit of an edge. It allowed Bo and the receivers to get into a rhythm.”
Brandon Kaufman capped the first scoring drive with a 22-yard catch. Foss High graduate Nicholas Edwards had the next TD, a 9-yarder. Then it was back to Kaufman for an 11-yarder in the back of the end zone for the winner.
“I didn’t make that great of a play,” Kaufman said. Then he pointed to Mitchell and added, “It was all this guy.”
Mitchell was 29 of 43 for 302 yards, and truly led the way as Eastern Washington (13-2) ran only seven times in the second half. He was selected the game’s most outstanding player.
One of those rare runs came on a fourth-and-1 a few plays before the winning touchdown. It was so pivotal officials reviewed it twice, once to adjust the spot, then again to make sure they’d properly reset the chains before that re-measurement.
“We stopped them,” Delaware (12-3) coach K.C. Keeler said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. We stopped them. ... We’re in a championship ballgame and we have a spot with 3 minutes left to go in the game that dictates who wins and loses.”
Tumwater graduate Zach Johnson had two sacks among his team-leading 15 tackles for Eastern Washington, which had never won a national championship in any sport at the Division I level. His twin, Matt, had nine tackles and a pass breakup.