Eastern Wash. stuns N.D. State, 38-31
QB Mitchell rallies Eagles with touchdown pass in overtime
John Blanchette, NCAA.com
CHENEY, Wash. -- Bo Levi Mitchell has an interesting crisis philosophy.
“Sometimes,” said Eastern Washington’s junior quarterback, “you just have to think you’re the best.”
Even when you’re playing your worst.
Mitchell pulled himself and the Eagles off the red -- and white, thanks to a second-half snowstorm -- carpet of Roos Field with a 90-yard drive to tie the game, then hit Tyler Hart with a first-down scoring pass in overtime as Eastern stunned North Dakota State, 38-31, in Saturday's NCAA Division I football quarterfinals.
The win gives the fifth-seeded Eagles (11-2) another home game in next weekend’s semifinals against defending champion Villanova (9-4). The Wildcats defeated top-seeded Appalachian State, 42-24.
It’ll be EWU’s second trip to the semis, the last in 1997 when they lost to eventual champion Youngstown State.
It was a bitter defeat for the Bison (9-5), who could not get a controversial fumble call against quarterback Brock Jensen at the EWU 1-yard line in overtime overruled by replay.
“It’s a little shocking,” NDSU defensive end Coulter Boyer said. “We were up a touchdown with two minutes left and we ended up losing. You go from happy and ecstatic to being a little down.”
A wild second half that saw back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns and a flurry of turnovers and blocked field-goal attempts turned North Dakota State’s way midway through the fourth quarter, and the Bison broke a 24-24 tie on screen pass that halfback D.J. McNorton turned into a 21-yard touchdown.
To that point, Mitchell had been woeful -- and the Eastern offense moribund once remarkable running back Taiwan Jones left the game with an injury to his left foot after rushing for a career-high 230 yards.
That included runs of 63 and 69 yards in the first half, the latter a touchdown that had staked EWU to a 14-0 lead.
“He’s juking left, he’s juking right,” Mitchell said. “He’s like a video game -- you can do anything you want with him.”
Mitchell’s first attempt at a fourth-quarter comeback was derailed by a fumble -- his second of the game to go with a pair of devastating interceptions, one by Marcus Williams near the EWU goal line that he ran in for a game-tying touchdown. When Eastern got the ball back with 2:29 to play, the SMU transfer had completed just 8 of 20 passes for 38 yards.
But he came up with fourth-down conversion strikes to Tyler Hart and Greg Herd, and found Nicholas Edwards on a 40-yard strike to get inside the NDSU 20. A pass interference call against the Bison’s Freddie Banks got the Eagles close, and Mitchell hit Edwards on a short fade route with 23 seconds to play.
“I’ve kind of taught myself,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been on top with interceptions, I’ve been down low; I led the nation down at SMU one year. You brush it off. A lot of quarterbacks say it, but don’t mean it. But I do. I take it upon myself to say, ‘Hey, that’s on me,’ and move on.
“Looking in my receivers’ eyes that last drive, I could see how badly they wanted it -- and they won us the game.”
And the replay decision preserved it.
On second down from the EWU 4-yard line, Jensen took off on a bootleg left and was hauled down by linebacker J.C. Sherritt. The ball came loose as the two crashed to the turf, and the ruling on the field was a fumble, recovered by EWU’s Zach Johnson.
Replay official Bill Fette of the Pacific-10 Conference said after the game that there was no indisputable evidence on the video to overturn the call.
“I think for me to make any comment, obviously, is dangerous to do,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said. “That puts us on a slippery slope.”
Virtually forgotten in the late-game theatrics were Jones’ record-breaking day, the kickoff return touchdowns by the Bison’s Mike Sigers (94 yards) and EWU’s Jesse Hoffman (88) and blocked field goals by Sigers and Eastern’s David Gaylord.
“There were so many huge plays, and yet as it always seems to do with us, it came down to the end,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “For us to find a way to go 90 yards at the end in those conditions is incredible.”