Down by 19 points late in the third quarter, getting shut out by the toughest defense to score against among all FCS 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 touchdown 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 night 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 gave us a lot of confidence. That really electrified us."
Mitchell grew up outside Houston and began his college career at nearby SMU. Folks in Cheney, Wash., will always consider him one of their own after this performance.
Wearing flaming-red cleats to remind him of his new home, Mitchell went from generating only 92 yards midway through the third quarter to leading TD drives that covered 80, 89 and 69 yards.
"We started to go up-tempo," 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. 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 title-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.
He converted a fourth-and-8 on the second TD march and 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 remeasurement.
"We stopped them," Delaware 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."
Delaware (12-3) — with Vice President Joe Biden, an alum, watching five rows behind the team's bench — looked like it was going to run away with its second title in eight years.
Pat Devlin guided the Blue Hens to a touchdown on their first drive, then field goals on their next two series. Mixing runs and passes, they had 230 yards by halftime. When they stretched the lead to 19-0, they seemed ready to avenge their 2007 title-game loss with Ravens star Joe Flacco as their quarterback.
Instead, they turned into the team that couldn't hold such a big, late lead.
"To say the loss is devastating is an understatement," Keeler said. "Shame on us for not putting the ballgame away."
The final play summed up the meltdown. The Blue Hens gained 9 yards on a fourth-and-10, turning the ball over on downs with 47 seconds left.
"Whether it be me missing reads or missing throws, or just whatever, we really just didn't execute like we have been," said Devlin, who was 22 of 34 for 220 yards, with just his third interception of the season.
The Football Championship Subdivision is the highest level of college football with a playoff. Eastern Washington finished the regular season at No. 1 and Delaware was No. 5; however, the Blue Hens had been No. 1 before losing their final game of the regular season.
The game drew 13,027 fans to this suburb north of Dallas. This is the first of a three-year commitment to Frisco after 13 straight years in Chattanooga, Tenn.
NCAA President Mark Emmert attended the game. A former chancellor at LSU, he said before the game that he would resist any urge of heading to Cowboys Stadium to watch the Tigers play Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Eastern Washington had never won any sport at the Division I level.