By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Perhaps you were at the Football Championship Subdivision's biggest game of the week, a high-profile showdown with first place on the line.
Or maybe it was two cellar-dwellers from a small conference who just happen to be rivals and played a thrilling game decided in the final seconds.
A lasting image that stands out in my mind might not stick out to you. That's the beauty of sports and the memories we make for a lifetime. The images are countless.
The 2010 FCS season was an incredible ride, with six different teams holding down the No. 1 ranking in the regular season until, perhaps even more surprising, Eastern Washington held onto it through this year's expanded, 20- team playoffs.
The Eagles soared to heights they had never been before, rallying from 19 points down in the final 17 minutes for a 20-19 victory over Delaware in the FCS championship game on Jan. 7.
I've always been someone who cherishes lasting images from a game or a season. There were images from 776 FCS games this season. Here are the ones that stood out to me from each week of the season:
Week 2 - Head coach Mickey Matthews led James Madison to the FCS (then Division I-AA) title in 2004, but even he called the Dukes' 21-16 upset at then-No. 13 Virginia Tech the biggest win in program history. The victory, paved by quarterback Drew Dudzik's two touchdown runs in the second half, was just the second for a FCS team over a ranked FBS team, the first being Appalachian State's win at No. 5 Michigan in 2007. I can see the jubilation on the Dukes' faces as they celebrated on the field afterward.
Week 3 - Eastern Washington literally rolled out the red carpet versus Big Sky rival Montana. The new red artificial turf at Roos Field made its debut with the Eagles' 36-27 win as Taiwan Jones totaled 305 all-purpose yards, Mike Jarrett kicked a game-winning 31-yard field goal with four seconds left and Renard Williams then scored on an untimed fumble return to make it a deceiving score. The post-game celebration of team members and fans was a preview of what was to come on the field in Frisco, Texas, after the national championship game.
Week 4 - Villanova escaped Penn by rallying to a 22-10 win in the fourth quarter. The left ankle sprain that standout Matt Szczur suffered the first time he touched the ball changed the course of the FCS season. The 2009 FCS champion Wildcats didn't get Szczur back until the final game of the regular season and they had to slip into the playoffs that weekend. Had the Wildcats not been faced with only road games during the playoffs, they would have had a much better chance to repeat as national champions. They may have done it, too.
Week 5 - Let's put it this way: Montana State's 61-59 men's basketball win over Sacramento State earlier this month fell short of the total points in the Bobcats' 64-61 overtime victory at Sacramento State in Big Sky football action. Sac State trailed 37-10 at halftime, but erased the deficit by scoring 35 points in the third quarter. The difference was Jason Cunningham's 25-yard field goal for Montana State in overtime, with Chris Diniz missing from 43 yards out for Sac State. Both teams combined for 1,270 total yards.
Week 6 - OK, we can't decide again. Was the lasting image of the weekend Wofford slipping past Georgia Southern, 33-31, before 21,000 strong in Statesboro, Ga., in a preview of their national quarterfinal-round matchup? Or was it Murray State quarterback Casey Brockman throwing for 570 yards and seven touchdowns, and Mike Harris still finding time to rush for 212 yards, in the Racers' 72-59 win over Missouri State (take that, Montana State-Sac State)? Maybe it was resurgent Indiana State rolling past Illinois State in Missouri Valley Football Conference action to reach 3-2 and surpass the win total it had in losing 60 of 62 games heading into the season?
Week 7 - In a boost for the importance of the backup quarterback - make that the fourth-string signal-caller - Richmond picked up an improbable 11-10 win at previously surging Massachusetts in CAA Football. The Spiders didn't have any of their top three quarterbacks at their disposal because of injuries and ran the ball almost exclusively behind true freshman quarterback Montel White. He didn't complete a pass until he had four on the Spiders' final possession, and the final one was a 15-yarder to Tre Gray with nine seconds left to win the game.
Week 9 - There were plenty of important conference wins on Halloween Weekend, like Southern Utah wrapping up the five-team Great West title against defending champion UC Davis, and the biggest crowd of the FCS season - 61,879 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. - taking in Alabama State's 31-10 SWAC win over Alabama A&M. But in keeping with the inspiring season at Indiana State, let's go with Brett Sheldon getting into a Sycamores game for the first time. He was born with short arms and three fingers on each hand, but that didn't prevent him from kicking an extra point in a 41-30 win over visiting South Dakota State.
Week 10 - With apology to Robert Morris left tackle Carlos Andrade, who proposed to girlfriend Kirsten Sims just minutes after the win, the unabashed joy of the Colonials beating Central Connecticut State, 42-24, to clinch the Northeast Conference's first automatic bid to the FCS playoffs is the scene that will play out in many people's memories in Moon Township, Pa. (including mine) Of course, Andrade had one of the season's best quotes after he got a positive response: "It doesn't get better. We've got two rings right now. I'm getting the ring for the (NEC) title and she gets the ring to marry me."
Week 11 - We already knew about Jacksonville State heroics back at Ole Miss, but the Gamecocks enjoyed another one with Marques Ivory's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alan Bonner with 11 seconds left in a 29-27 thriller against Southeast Missouri State. But let's remember the two celebrations in the Pioneer Football League, which doesn't have an automatic playoff bid. Jacksonville and Dayton matched each other week after week with wins and ended their 10-1 seasons as co-champions following JU's 31-24 triumph over Campbell and Dayton's 41-34 double-overtime escape against Marist.
Week 12 - All hail Szczur. The return of Matt Szczur helped bring Villanova its thrilling, 28-21 overtime win at then-No. 1 Delaware. But the party was at the Florida Citrus Bowl, where 61,712 watched Florida A&M hand Bethune-Cookman its first loss (38-27) after a perfect 10-0 start. Phillip Sylvester rushed for all but two of his 146 yards and two of his three touchdowns in the second half. The Rattlers, though, had to settle for a third of the MEAC title while the other two champs, Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State, went on to the playoffs.
Week 13 - On the first weekend of the expanded playoffs, the defensive excellence of the four first-round winners combined to form the lasting image. Two teams won tight games on the road - Lehigh beat Northern Iowa, 14-7, and Western Illinois stopped Coastal Carolina, 17-10 - and two home teams mauled the opposition - Georgia Southern routing South Carolina State, 41-16, and North Dakota State pulling away from Robert Morris, 43-17. The signature play, though, was Kieron James' interception of Coastal Carolina quarterback Zach MacDowall at the Western Illinois goal line in the closing seconds of the Leathernecks' win. Survive and advance.
Week 14 - Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley was a one-man wrecking crew in the Mountaineers' 42-14 second-round romp in the snow over Western Illinois, rushing for a career-high 264 yards on 16 carries, including 89- and 1-yard touchdowns, and throwing for a touchdown. That kind of domination could have been foreseen. What wasn't expected was the way Georgia Southern rushed for an incredible 423 yards in a 31-15 win at No. 2 playoff seed William & Mary. A lot of Tribe fans have those numbing images in their heads.
Week 15 - OK, Matt Szczur's five touchdowns for Villanova (three on rushes, one on a reception and one on a pass) are still bouncing through the heads of Appalachian State players. But Eastern Washington had one of its many signature moments of the season in a 38-31 overtime win over North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. The Eagles forced overtime with a late 90-yard touchdown drive. In the OT, eventual Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) winner J.C. Sherritt stripped Bison quarterback Brock Jensen of the football at the 1-yard line and fellow linebacker Zach Johnson recovered it in the end zone, preserving the victory.
Week 16 - One of the great moments of the season didn't occur during a game. It occurred after Delaware's 27-10 win over Georgia Southern in the semifinals. Thrilled to be heading to the national championship game, Blue Hens Anthony Walters, Nihja White and Phillip Thaxton made a beeline for the Delaware student section and jumped into the stands to celebrate like the college kids that they are. It was a spontaneous and magical moment.
Week 17 (or was it Week 20, three weeks after the semifinals?) - The FCS title game between Eastern Washington and Delaware had as exciting a fourth quarter as one could hope for. The EWU storyline also was as good as can be, with Texas native and SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell returning to his home state to throw three touchdowns in the game's final 17 minutes. Brandon Kaufman's 11- yard touchdown in the back of the Delaware end zone with 2:47 left erased EWU's 19-13 deficit and is my lasting image (but don't forget Mike Jarrett's ensuing extra point was the game-winner). The way the Eagles celebrated on the field afterward resembled their home-opening win over Montana on the red turf and made the season come full-circle.
It was wacky, wild and exhilarating. What a ride.