EWU will win because ...
Eagles’ team play difference-maker in championship game
Duane Cross, NCAA.com
The numbers do not favor Eastern Washington. Stacked up against Delaware, there’s little reason to believe the Eagles can give the Blue Hens a competitive run in the FCS Championship Game in Frisco, Texas. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Well, as the adage goes: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Sport isn’t determined by statistics. Competitors decide the outcome -- and Eastern Washington has competed throughout its 14-game season. On Friday night, EWU again will lay it on the line and will win, if for no other reasons than:
• The Eagles’ offense is soaring. Through three playoff games, Eastern Washington is averaging 38.7 points per game. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has completed 61 of 104 pass attempts for 611 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Eastern Washington has the 12th-best scoring offense (32.29 points per game) and the 19th-ranked offense (402.1 yards) among FCS teams. EWU also has converted seven of eight fourth-down tries during the postseason.
Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler noted that Mitchell is “a talented young man. A lot of poise in the pocket. Very quick release. It really makes them go. You want to put pressure on him, but he knows exactly where to go with the ball,” Keeler said.
“He reminds me a lot of Pat [Devlin, the Delaware QB] in those kind of qualities. [Mitchell] is obviously a very bright kid, has very good mechanics. I think they have a group of pretty good receivers. I think there’s some similarities between the young man we have and who they have.”
And don’t think Mitchell will blink in the face of Delaware’s vaunted defense. In the past two games, the EWU offense has generated eight touchdown drives of at least 63 yards.
• The Eagles’ defense is suffocating opponents inside the red zone. EWU has allowed only five touchdowns and two field goals in 13 red-zone situations, and overall has yielded only 814 yards (522 rushing and 292 passing), an average of 271.3 per game. Eastern Washington ranks 41st in rushing defense (135.5 yards) and 86th in total defense (376.1).
That said, Delaware’s offense is clicking -- averaging 383.0 yards and 28.3 points through three playoff games, led by QB Pat Devlin. He has completed 60 of 84 passes for 654 yards and eight touchdowns in the postseason.
“I think he’s a great player,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “He’s one of those guys, he’s extremely accurate, but I don’t even need to see the stats to see how accurate he is. I’ve watched film of him. He’s extremely accurate. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at this level of football of getting through his reading and getting through them quickly.
“You always say that. But he finds way to get to that third, that fourth, that fifth read extremely well. When he does, like I said, his decision-making is off the charts for a college quarterback.”
On Friday night, the game will rest on the shoulders of EWU’s Mitchell and linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who is averaging 11 tackles per game in the playoffs. And once the celebration begins, those broad shoulders will help hoist the FCS championship trophy.
Sherritt, a senior All-American who has 12 games with 15 or more tackles, has a school-record 414 tackles. He has 158 stops this year, 12 behind his single-season mark of 170 set last year.
Who to Watch
Freshman running back Mario Brown was pressed into duty after Big Sky Conference co-offensive player of the year Taiwan Jones suffered a broken foot against North Dakota State on Dec. 11. Brown rushed for 104 yards on 12 carries in the semifinal victory against defending champion Villanova.
Did You Know?
After receiving its eighth berth in the playoffs, Eastern Washington is 8-7 in FCS playoffs; this is EWU's first appearance in the championship game. The Eagles defeated Villanova 41-31 in the semifinals.