Dec. 17, 2010
CHENEY, Wash. (AP) - Bo Levi Mitchell threw four touchdown passes as Eastern Washington beat Villanova 41-31 on Friday night in the semifinals of the FCS football playoffs.
The Eagles (12-2) advance to their first national championship game, where they will play the winner of Saturday's contest between Georgia Southern (10-4) and Delaware (11-2) on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Villanova (9-5), the defending national champions, lost four fumbles, each leading to EWU scores.
Eastern Washington improved to 8-0 on its unique red artificial turf, which was installed prior to the season.
Mitchell, who transferred to Eastern this season after losing the starting job at SMU, completed 27 of 38 passes for 292 yards and was not intercepted. Brandon Kaufman caught eight passes for 135 yards.
The Eagles were without leading rusher Taiwan Jones, who gained 1,742 yards before suffering a broken foot against North Dakota State last weekend. Freshman Mario Brown ran for 104 yards.
Villanova was held to 230 yards of offense and committed six turnovers. Quarterback Chris Whitney completed just 12 of 21 passes for 95 yards and was intercepted twice.
Villanova's Angelo Babbaro returned the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. But Mitchell hit Nicholas Edwards for a 31-yard touchdown pass on EWU's ensuing possession to tie the game.
Villanova then fumbled the ball away three times on its next four possessions, after losing only 11 fumbles all season, to enable Eastern to take a 20-7 lead.
Whitney fumbled on the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage, and Eastern's Paul Ena recovered. The Eagles drove to the 6 before Mike Jarrett kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Villanova fumbled on its next series, the second fumble in only five plays from scrimmage, and Ena recovered again. Jarrett's 31-yard field goal gave Eastern a 13-7 lead.
Matt Szczur fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and EWU's Matt Johnson recovered. Mitchell passed 6 yards to Edwards for a 20-7 lead with 11:14 left in the half.
Szczur powered over from the 1 to cut EWU's lead to 20-14, which was the halftime score.
Villanova recovered a fumble at the EWU 33, and Mark Hamilton's 35-yard field goal cut Eastern's lead to 20-17 with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
Mitchell fired a short pass to Kaufman, who outran defenders down the right sideline for a 76-yard touchdown pass and a 27-17 EWU lead.
Whitney scored from the 1 to bring the Wildcats within 27-24 at the end of the third quarter.
A fumble cost the Wildcats again when Babbaro was stripped of the ball deep in Villanova territory, and Tyler Washburn caught it and ran 15 yards into the end zone for a 34-24 Eastern lead with 13:56 left.
Eastern's Alante Wright fumbled a punt return, and Babbaro recovered at the Eagles' 14. Whitney ran it in from the 2 to bring Villanova within 34-31 with 7:08 left.
The Eagles burned up six minutes on their subsequent drive, which ended on fourth-and-4, when Mitchell threw a 23-yard pass to Greg Herd in the end zone.
Eastern Washington, of the Big Sky Conference, made it to the semifinals before losing to Youngstown State in 1997. They have won 10 straight games after early losses at Nevada and Montana State.
Villanova, of the Colonial Athletic Association, was unseeded heading into the playoffs and beat Stephen F. Austin and Appalachian State to advance to the semis.
VILLANOVA POST-GAME QUOTES
Head Coach Andy Talley...
On the turnovers: I think the turnovers in the game really were a major factor. When we were on our back and they pulled the fumble from our running back to run it in for a touchdown, that was really a back-breaker.
On Villanova's run through the playoffs: I'm really proud of our team. We made a phenomenal run after going through a rough season. I like Eastern Washington's team a lot. I think their coaches did a great job preparing for us so give them a lot of credit.
On note creating opportunities: We didn't make a lot of breaks for ourselves. When you don't make a lot of breaks, you can't count on officials or replays. You have to make some big plays and we didn't make a lot of them.
On Eastern Washington containing Matt Szczur: They filled really well. Once he got through the line of scrimmage the safeties came up and were very physical and the linebackers did a really good job. We didn't have the ball a lot in the first half. We only had it for about 10 minutes so we weren't really able to explode a lot in the first half with him. I would say they probably did as good a job as anyone has this year against him.
On Eastern Washington running back Mario Brown: A team that's number one in the country in both polls has to have a backup running back that's pretty good. I think that they proved that tonight.
Senior quarterback Chris Whitney...
On the game: We didn't play our `A' game. You can't come into a semifinal game, not play your `A' game and expect to win.