EWU’s Mitchell completes comeback
Tale of two halves epitomizes quarterback’s game and career
Duane Cross, NCAA.com
FRISCO, Texas -- The tale of two halves in the FCS Championship Game mirrors Bo Levi Mitchell’s college career.
In two seasons at Southern Methodist University, Mitchell was 4-15 as the starting quarterback before injury ended his sophomore season. Ultimately, Kyle Padron took over under center and SMU rallied to win five of its last six games to finish 8-5 and defeat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. With Padron entrenched at QB, Mitchell decided to transfer to Eastern Washington for the 2010 season.
Friday night’s title game marked the first time this season that EWU had been held scoreless in the first half; the previous first-half low was seven points, against Montana State on Sept. 25. Factor in the Eagles were playing the FCS’ top-ranked defense -- Delaware entered the championship game allowing only 11.5 points per game -- and clearly Mitchell & Co. had an uphill climb, trailing 12-0 at halftime.
And that’s where the second half -- of the game and Mitchell’s career -- converged in front of 13,027 fans, including U.S. vice president Joe Biden, a Delaware alum and member of the Blue Hens freshman football team in 1961. Trailing 19-0 with 3:18 remaining in the third quarter, Eastern Washington began the first of three consecutive touchdown drives. The game-winning toss came with 2:47 to play in the fourth quarter to climax a 20-19 victory.
“We came out and the team did what we had to do,” Mitchell said. “The O-line gave me all the time I could ask for. The second half, receivers just turned it up, did everything they’ve been doing all year -- and that’s making plays. My balls weren’t perfect. They weren’t. [The receivers] made plays and did what they had to do -- and we won the game because of them.”
After going 6 of 11 for 36 yards in the first half, Mitchell finished 29 of 43 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also was chosen the game’s most outstanding player.
“I don’t think that I ever felt that Delaware was in trouble,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “I just felt like we could make a run. I really did. I felt like our defense was progressively getting better into the second quarter and then definitely into the second half. I felt like offensively, if we could get into a rhythm, we could make a run. ... I just felt like we can make this a tight game and have a chance to win in the end, even though we went down 19 0.”
Entering the locker room up 12-0, Delaware was in familiar territory. The Blue Hens were 6-0 in 2010 when they had held their opponent scoreless in the first half. Also, UD had allowed only 62 yards to Eastern Washington, the fewest it had yielded in a first half this season.
“We pretty much dominated the first half,” UD head coach K.C. Keeler said. “The concern was not having enough points on the board with how well we dominated the game. And you knew that Eastern Washington was a big-play team and you just wait for them to make a couple big plays. We had some opportunities to put the ballgame away and we didn't put the ballgame away. Shame on us for not putting the ballgame away. It’s a tough, tough, tough way to lose, especially in how you dominate the first half the way we did.”
Delaware DB Anthony Walters, a senior who also was part of UD’s 2007 team that lost in the FCS Championship Game, noted that the loss of DB Jake Giusti to a third-quarter injury was key. “[It] kind of put us in a bind on what personnel packages we could run,” Walters said. “We ended up running some packages that took me off of No. 1 [EWU WR Brandon Kaufman] and put us in a lot of zone. I don’t think the guys were tough to cover at all. I don’t think they were beating anybody one on one; most of their catches were hitches."
In the end, it was Kaufman who caught the game-winning touchdown, an 11-yard grab at the back of the end zone.
“Obviously that's a pretty good football team we lost to. We want to make sure everyone knows that. What Anthony was trying to explain was that when Jake Giusti got hurt, it sort of made us move people around and normally we wouldn’t have taken Anthony off of No. 1 very much, but we were forced to because of where Jake played in the nickel and dime packages.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell was filling the air with footballs, rallying the Eagles for their largest comeback of the season. It also was the seventh come-from-behind victory for EWU and fifth when it trailed in the fourth quarter. The victory also evened Mitchell's career record: He's now 17-17, including his stint at SMU.
From the point Eastern Washington trailed 19-0, Mitchell finished the game 22 of 30, including eight completions to Kaufman for 115 yards and two touchdowns. “After I scored my [first] touchdown, I looked back at Bo and he wasn’t sprinting over, he wasn’t going crazy,” Kaufman said. “He just looked me in the eye and shook his head, and I knew for a fact we were going to come back on them. Bo was going to lead us -- and that’s what we did.”
On the game-winning drive, Mitchell was 5 of 6 for 62 yards.
“It’s big. Texas football is big. Or, yeah … football is big in Texas. And from what happened at SMU and coming full circle like this and playing in a national championship and taking it in front of football fans, it’s huge to me,” Mitchell said, who also won the 2006 Class 5A state championship at Katy High School. “[The FCS win] makes a state championship, for me, look like nothing. The national championship, this is all I could ask for. I have looked forward to this my entire life, and I’m glad I'm here.
“Thank you to everyone who got me here taught me how to do what I do,” Mitchell added. “Coach [June] Jones, and all way back down to Coach [Gary] Joseph and especially to Coach Baldwin and Coach [Zak] Hill, they got me to where I am right now.”
The second half of Mitchell’s career is off to a roaring start -- a 180 from where it ended at SMU -- and when he looks back at this championship and its impact on his life, it will have began in the second half.
Need to Know
• The Eagles’ first seven possessions generated 98 yards on 35 plays. Their first scoring drive covered 80 yards in five plays in 1:30 during the third quarter. EWU’s next drive covered 89 yards in 14 plays (all passes), ending on a 9-yard TD pass. The drive after that covered 63 yards in eight plays. “I’m not afraid to look at the big prize in terms of at the start of the season,” EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. “Our biggest goal was to win a Big Sky championship, and we put that in our vision and our goals. … Each week along the way in the playoffs, yes -- our top goal is national title, but we really broke down each week. And our players, the other thing they did, they never exhaled or felt like, ‘Wow, we made it. Wow, we won a playoff game. … They always felt like, ‘Let’s find a way to win this game. We belong. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tougher along the way, but let’s go win another one.’ And that’s where we’re at.”
• Bo Levi Mitchell’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Kaufman in the third quarter was Mitchell’s 35th of the season, setting the Eastern Washington single-season record; he extended the record to 37. Mitchell’s 43 passing attempts gave him 505 for the season, also an EWU season record. “It’s all a credit to the coaches,” Mitchell said. “They never panic. They don’t come in there and start screaming and say: ‘We’ve got to do something or we’re going to lose this game.’ And as soon as we got that first touchdown, like Coach Baldwin said, it just kind of electrified us and we were ready to go.”
• Buck Buchanan Award winner J.C. Sherritt recorded double-digit tackles for the 12th time this season, finishing with a season-high 18 stops. He extended his Big Sky single-season record for tackles to 188. “This national championship has been a goal since I stepped foot on campus,” Sherritt said. “To finally get this with my team, it’s everything you dream of. The Buchanan was a great award, and it was an honor. But my eyes have been on the prize -- the national championship -- this whole year. So to finally get this, it’s unbelievable.”
Tyler Jolley blocked UD’s first PAT kick. … Zach Johnson finished with a game-high 10 solo tackles and two sacks. … Brandon Kaufman recorded his sixth 100-yard receiving game with nine receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns. … Eastern Washington’s victory in the FCS Championship Game set the school record at 13. The 1997 Eagles team had 12 wins. … EWU was the just the fourth team to score 20 or more points against Delaware this season Massachusetts, 27; Villanova, 28; Lehigh, 20). … The Eagles trailed 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, the sixth time this season that they have trailed after the opening period. The Eagles won four of those games. … Eastern Washington is the 20th different program to win the NCAA Division I national title since championship play began in 1978. … This is the sixth Division I National Championship by a member of the Big Sky Conference: Boise State (1980), Idaho State (1981), Montana State (1984) and Montana (1995 and 2001). … The FCS national championship is the first for EWU in any sport at the Division I level. The Eagles won the 1970 Class II national championship for women’s gymnastics; the 1977 NAIA wrestling title; the 1982 NCAA Division II men’s cross country championship.