With resiliency, EWU shines the brightest
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Frisco, TX (Sports Network) -
It was almost as if nobody noticed Eastern Washington was the No. 1-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision for a month and a half.
The Eagles climbed to the top spot for the first time a day after the regular season ended, in the early morning hours of Sunday, Nov. 22, when not even head coach Beau Baldwin was stirring in the Land of the Rising Red Turf.
About four hours later, the FCS playoff field was announced, Eastern Washington was given the fifth seed and the focus never quite fell on the Eagles' first-ever top ranking.
During the playoffs, some coaches across the FCS even incorrectly referred to Appalachian State -- the No. 1 playoff seed -- as the "No. 1 team in the country".
Apparently, the Eagles didn't care one bit. They continued to go about their work, racked up victories and actually shined brightest during the playoffs. And, oh, yes, they stayed No. 1.
All-America tailback Taiwan Jones was lost to a broken left foot in the quarterfinals, but the Eagles then pulled together to beat the two best teams they faced all season, CAA Football powers Villanova and Delaware, which had both been No. 1 themselves.
J.C. Sherritt received the Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS' outstanding defensive player.
If a scintillating 41-31 win over Villanova's defending FCS championship squad wasn't enough, the Eagles' 20-19 rally past the Blue Hens in Friday night's FCS title game was particularly stirring. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell's three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes helped lead the Eagles out of a 19-0 hole before the defense stopped Delaware in EWU territory on its final drive.
Having watched his team fight through adversity all season to win tight games, Baldwin summed up afterward how the glorious triumph "came down to those guys on the field. Those guys just never quit fighting."
That ability has ultimately become the legacy of the 2010 Eastern Washington Eagles, even more so than that glowing red field in Cheney.
The determination has allowed the Eagles, who finished 13-2, to soar where they wanted to go all along - No. 1 at the end of the postseason.
Nobody can overlook that.
The sun was out early in Frisco Saturday morning, a fact perhaps lost on the Delaware Blue Hens. They remained stunned by their loss and to a man believed the better team did not win Friday night's championship game.
The offseason will be cruel to them as well. Delaware will lose more key seniors this season and perhaps nine-year head coach K.C. Keeler, a candidate for the same position at the University of Connecticut. Quarterback Pat Devlin will be the biggest loss and the defense will lose seven senior starters.
Senior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, the 2010 winner of the Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) as the FCS' outstanding defensive player, will be Eastern Washington's key loss. The Eagles started only five other seniors and could be the preseason No. 1 team in 2011.
Yeah, they like this No. 1 thing.