December 12, 2010 in Sports

Blanchette: Mitchell brushes off mistakes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

By the way, the red turf does turn pink. If you order up a blizzard.

And then if the skies really empty, the whole thing turns white and you forget there’s even a color underneath – sort of a memory cleansing that also extended to the many amazing turns in Saturday’s football game and the latest bit of lore etched by the Eastern Washington Eagles.

Taiwan Jones? He ran for how many yards? Two-thirty? Really?

And he got hurt? Didn’t play the fourth quarter? You sure?

There were back- to-back kickoff returns for touch- downs? Get serious.

And the game was decided on a ruling from the replay booth?

Oh, sure, you’ll remember that part. It came right after Bo Levi Mitchell went from class clown to valedictorian in 90 easy yards and an overtime touchdown pass that improbably put the Eagles into the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinals.

That game next week, as was Saturday’s 38-31 quarterfinal stunner over North Dakota State, will be played at Roos Field, on turf red or pink or white, against the defending national champions from Villanova, with or without the services of the incomparable Mr. Jones.

It may seem like a long shot, but don’t discount the Tao of Bo.

Here’s what it amounts to: No matter how badly things have gone, no matter how many gaffes you’ve made or how poorly you’ve played, it’s nothing that a good memory cleansing can’t cure.

Any second is a moment to be seized, any opening an opportunity. There is nothing else.

“The weather goes away, the snow goes away, the fans go away,” he said. “In the end, it’s just 22 guys on the field trying to play football.”

This was the notion the transfer quarterback from SMU took onto the field with 2:29 to play Saturday, the Eagles trailing 31-24 and pinned on their own 10-yard line. Jones and his game-breaking legs were on the sidelines, snuggled under a parka. The Eags had their rotation of nervy receivers, a hanging-tough-but- not-dominant line and the gloved right hand of Mitchell, which had not been a comfort to that point.

He had completed just 7 of 19 passes for all of 38 yards. In the third quarter, with Eastern backed up on its 2, he had thrown an out pattern into coverage that was picked for an easy tying touchdown.

“I look back on that thinking I might have called something different,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “It doesn’t mean throw into coverage, but I maybe could have put him in a better situation.”

Three plays after that, Mitchell had fumbled at midfield. In the fourth quarter, he had been chased into one of history’s ugliest interceptions and later fumbled again. Amazingly, thanks to the conditions and Eastern’s resolute defense, the Eagles dodged disaster.

And then Mitchell turned it into magic.

It wasn’t exactly textbook. He needed two fourth-down catches by Tyler Hart and Greg Herd, and a pass interference call in the red zone. But there was also a dazzling 40-yard connection with Nicholas Edwards, and then the 4-yard fade to Edwards for the tie. And Mitchell suddenly had time to throw he hadn’t been afforded all game.

“When you’re converting fourth downs and big plays are happening,” he said, “the defensive linemen are the first people to slow down.”

Then came overtime. The Bison won the toss and elected to shovel. Er, dig in.

And that’s when Mitchell found a wide-open Hart on the first play for what proved to be the winner.

Suddenly, Bo Levi Mitchell had gone from Lord Sackville to General Patton. From Sad Sack to Sgt. Rock.

“I led the nation (in interceptions) one year at SMU,” he said. “You brush it off. A lot of quarterbacks say it, but don’t mean it. I obviously do. When I try to make a play and fumble, that’s on me. Not anybody else. So you have to step up and make up for it, make the drive.”

The Eagles still had to survive the Bison’s best shot and the replay ordeal (“It’s like he said it in slow motion – ‘the ruling on the field … stands,’ ” center Chris Powers said). But even if the fumble had been reversed, the Eagles likely find a way. They pretty much always do.

“Sometimes knowing exactly what you have to do allows you to home in a little bit more,” Baldwin said. “There was no question we were going to throw it, no question (what they’d do) if it gets to fourth down. Sometimes that locks guys in a little bit.”

And so here are the Eagles, locked into the semis for a second time in their history.

In the pink, if you will.

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