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Championship matchup is well-deserved

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All it takes is a mere drop for the competitive juices to get flowing.

It might revolve around something so seemingly unimportant, like Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin and tight end Colin Naugle taking on all comers in pickup basketball games. Or the way 15 or so Eastern Washington football players go at it in a ping pong league in their spare time.

Once the competition begins, the desire to reach No. 1 takes over. All-America linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who briefly held the distinction among his teammates, remembers it fondly.

At EWU, J.C. Sherritt's intensity has lit a fire under his squad, which has made winning tight games a science.
"It was the greatest three days of ping pong of my life," he says, as if nothing was more important.

Few of us envisioned an FCS championship game matchup of EWU and Delaware at the start of the playoffs, let alone at the beginning of the season, but few people can claim to be a member of either team -- and they weren't listening to the doubters. They just want to be the best.

There's a good reason the games are played on the field and not on paper, or in a fan or sportswriter's mind. The desire to reach the top is intoxicating -- as these two 12-2 teams have demonstrated all season -- and we should value how it fuels athletes.

I'm a staunch believer that sports should not shock us. Surprise, sure, but not stun. It's not etched in stone -- or even in the red turf at EWU -- that this team or that team has to be the winner, that the Eagles or Blue Hens weren't supposed to reach this weekend's semifinals or advance to the final.

The first championship game of the new 20-team FCS playoffs is well deserved for both teams. Upsets along the playoff trail kept both at home for all three of their playoffs games. Now they will square off for the first time on Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

At EWU, Sherritt's intensity has lit a fire under his squad, which has made winning tight games a science.

Meanwhile, Delaware's senior-led team also has been driven, turning a 6-5 record in 2009, and four mediocre seasons in five, into a glorious campaign. No FCS team has been as balanced -- with excellence from its offense, defense and special teams -- as the Blue Hens from Day 1 this season.

Come the championship game, Delaware's offense versus Eastern Washington's defense could be the matchup within the matchup. The Eagles surely can't count on the Blue Hens coughing up the ball six times, as Villanova did in the 41-31 decision. The Blue Hens' offensive line is the most improved part of their team, and Devlin and running back Andrew Pierce have benefited greatly.

The EWU offense likely will be without All-America running back Taiwan Jones (broken left foot) again in the final, although freshman Mario Brown's big game in his absence Friday night eased some of the Eagles' fears. The Blue Hens have allowed a FCS-low 12.4 points per game and their secondary figures to be a tougher matchup for EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell than 'Nova was for him.

"We'll let them enjoy the moment for a while and then you have to get them focused back into playing that game," said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler, who will coach in his third FCS championship game in nine seasons with the Blue Hens.

"It feels good," EWU third-year head coach Beau Baldwin said after the win. "I'm happy for all of the people that are a part of this."

Seeded fifth for the playoffs, it was easy to forget EWU ended the regular season with the No. 1 national ranking. Keeler probably has his players latching onto that fact already.

All these two teams wanted all season was a chance to compete for No. 1. Let the competitive juices flow.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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