Eagles top Villanova, advance to FCS title game
Cheney, WA (Sports Network) - Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns, leading top-ranked Eastern Washington to its first FCS title game after a 41-31 victory over 10th-ranked Villanova on the red surface at Roos Field.
Mitchell completed 27-of-38 passes and was not intercepted for the Eagles (12-2), who will play either Delaware or Georgia Southern in the title game on January 7, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. Mario Brown added 104 yards rushing on 26 carries, and Nicholas Edwards caught two touchdown passes among nine receptions for 82 yards.
Brandon Kaufman had eight catches for 135 yards and a score in the monumental victory.
Playing without the injured Taiwan Jones, who broke his foot in the win over North Dakota State, EWU still recorded 405 yards on offense, and the defense was able to hold Villanova to just 230 yards while forcing six turnovers.
"It feels good. I'm happy for all of the people that are a part of this," said EWU head coach Beau Baldwin. "There are so many people who were involved in this, including the people in the stands. It's not just about what is happening with this football team right now, but all of the growth we have made as a university and a program."
Chris Whitney threw for 95 yards and ran for two touchdowns for the Wildcats (9-5), who were trying to defend their title from last year after sneaking into the FCS playoffs with a win over Delaware in the final week. Whitney, though, was intercepted twice, and Villanova lost each of its four fumbles in defeat.
The Wildcats trailed by 10 when they took over with eight minutes to play on the EWU 14 following a fumble recovery. Three plays later, Whitney was in the end zone from two yards away after keeping the ball on an option run to cut the deficit to three with 7:01 remaining.
Looking to take off as much time from the clock as possible, the Eagles drove down the field methodically. Brown began the drive with a 10-yard run, and Mitchell later converted a 3rd-and-6 from near midfield with a 10-yard catch- and-run over the middle by Kaufman.
Eastern Washington elected to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the Villanova 33, and Mitchell hit Tyler Hart for a five-yard gain. The spot appeared to be controversial, much to the dismay of the Villanova players and coaching staff, but the spot of the ball was upheld after a review.
Villanova took its final timeout with 1:11 left when the Eagles had a 4th- and-5 from the 23. Instead of trying a field goal and keeping it a one- possession game, EWU went for the win, needing just a first down to end the contest.
Mitchell dropped back and struggled to find an open receiver before Greg Herd got just behind the defense in the end zone and grabbed a 23-yard pass for a touchdown and a 41-31 score.
Whitney was intercepted on a deep pass shortly thereafter to end the game.
The Wildcats appeared off to a good start when Angelo Babbaro returned the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, but the Eagles responded with 20 points to set the tone.
EWU's ensuing drive ended when Mitchell hit Edwards on a 31-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, and Mike Jarrett added a pair of field goals before the first quarter ended for a 13-7 game.
Edwards recorded his second TD catch of the game nearly four minutes into the second to extend the Eagles' lead to 13, but Matt Szczur's one-yard touchdown run for Villanova with 5:12 left accounted for the 20-14 halftime score.
The Wildcats looked to continue their magic, drawing within three on Mark Hamilton's 35-yard field goal midway through the third, but Kaufman's 76-yard touchdown reception five minutes later put the Eagles back up by two scores, 27-17.
Whitney kept Villanova close with a one-yard option run into the end zone with 11 seconds left in the third, but EWU again got in the end zone on Tyler Washburn's 15-yard fumble recovery to restore the 10-point margin early in the fourth.
12/18 01:25:49 ET