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Delaware will make EWU see red

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - An Iowa field notwithstanding, if you want to find a field of dreams, the memorable trek to Eastern Washington's football stadium provides it.

The open grass fields that lead up to the university can be a bit mesmerizing to a first-time visitor in Cheney.

But then - bam! - before you know it, what you may have heard about is staring you smack in the face. It's not grass, either, but a sea of red SprinTurf laid across Roos Field for all of the EWU Eagles football program to frolic upon. The anticipation of seeing this field for the first time doesn't begin to match that initial moment of actually seeing it.

The installation of the first-ever red turf - patterned after Boise State's revolutionary blue turf - was, as some EWU officials freely admit, a way to garner publicity for the university and its athletic program. From the start, it was going to be one of the big stories of the 2010 FCS season.

When the field that was dubbed the "Inferno" before its September debut took shape - or is it glow? - not even the most optimistic EWU fan could have imagined the publicity of 2010 would extend into the new year, that the Eagles would win all eight home games on its new field and secure the program's first appearance in the FCS championship game.

The installation of the first-ever red turf, EWU officials freely admit, was a way to garner publicity for the university and its athletic program.
The problem with their incredible season is that the Eagles might not get a storybook ending on Friday night. Delaware, which the Eagles will face in the championship game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), is the more complete team.

And neutral Pizza Hut Park, the home of Major League Soccer's FC Dallas franchise in Frisco, Texas - as splendid as it looks - is a long way from the friendly confines of Roos Field.

The tempo of a game seems more reserved for discussion in basketball than football, but, make no mistake, this matchup of 12-2 teams is one in which how the game's tempo is established is important.

EWU has built its season off winning offensive-oriented games with just enough defense in the end to pull away or hold off opponents in the fourth quarter of games, like it did in a 41-31 win over defending FCS champion Villanova in a national semifinal.

Delaware, meanwhile, is adept at taking a lead and salting away a victory in the fourth quarter, squeezing life out of an opponent behind efficient quarterback Pat Devlin, its running game of Andrew Pierce and David Hayes, and arguably the top defense in the nation. The Blue Hens, who did that most recently in a 27-10 win over Georgia Southern in their national semifinal, have trailed in a game less than 11 percent of the season.

The key for Delaware is to make the game a close-to-the-vest slugfest and avoid giving EWU, and specifically quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, hope in the fourth quarter. The junior transfer from Katy, Texas, and SMU - back home in his native state - has a short memory when it comes to making mistakes and can quickly energize the Eagles with his down-the-field passing.

If Delaware's defense, anchored by a veteran secondary, disrupts EWU's offensive game plan, the Eagles will find it hard to make the necessary adjustments, especially with All-America tailback Taiwan Jones watching from the sideline with a broken left foot.

Delaware has been the most consistent team in the FCS all season. Ten active seniors were members of the 2007 squad which played in the national championship game, losing to Appalachian State.

And don't dismiss the coaching edge that Delaware's K.C. Keeler has over EWU's Beau Baldwin and his staff. Keeler will be coaching in his third FCS title game (winning in 2003) after appearing in five NCAA Division III championship games with Rowan.

A healthy Jones would have made this game a tossup. Without him, EWU is clearly hampered.

Delaware, a mere 6-5 just a season ago, will win the battle for tempo and get its own storybook ending.

Prediction: Delaware, 27-17

Year to Date: 590-185 (.761)

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


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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