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Eastern Washington University Football
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10 years after the title: Eastern Washington takes down defending champion Villanova, advances to FCS title game

Eastern Washington’s offensive line prepares for a late-game, fourth-down play that resulted in a touchdown pass to seal a victory over Villanova in the 2010 FCS semifinal at Roos Field in Cheney.  (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Eastern Washington’s offensive line prepares for a late-game, fourth-down play that resulted in a touchdown pass to seal a victory over Villanova in the 2010 FCS semifinal at Roos Field in Cheney. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

Bo Levi Mitchell vividly remembers the thrill of running onto Roos Field to face defending national champion Villanova.

Between the sizable sea-of-red crowd, ESPN broadcast and opportunity to earn a spot in the Cheney’s school’s first national title game, Mitchell and his Eastern Washington cohorts’ emotions were amplified.

Moments later, Villanova returned the game’s opening kick for a touchdown.

“It was nuts,” said Mitchell, who is now the Canadian Football League’s top quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders. “We were all excited, then (Villanova) returns that kick for a score, and I remember thinking ‘Well, damn.’ ”

But overcoming deficits was one of the hallmarks of EWU’s historic 2010 season.

The Eagles didn’t trail again.

Mitchell completed 27 of 38 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns, EWU’s defense forced six turnovers and the fifth-seeded Eagles dispatched unseeded Villanova 41-31 in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals earn to a trip to Frisco, Texas, to face Delaware.

Brandon Kaufman hauled in eight passes for 135 yards and a touchdown and freshman running back Mario Brown – filling in for injured star Taiwan Jones – rushed for 104 yards for EWU, which totaled 405 yards of offense.

Mitchell’s 23-yard late touchdown pass to Greg Herd capped a 6-minute drive that put the Wildcats away.

“I remember the play-calling being on point that night,” said Mitchell, who also threw two touchdown passes to Nick Edwards. “The pass to Herd. Our defense did what it did all season, forced turnovers.”

EWU (12-2) turned four Villanova fumbles into touchdowns, none bigger than Tyler Washburn’s recovery and 15-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 34-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats (9-5) fumbled only 11 times in their previous 13 games.

“Our defense that year reminds me a lot of the defense we have up here in Calgary,” Mitchell said. “It would bend, give up some yards, but it doesn’t break.”

EWU’s defense surrendered 230 total yards to Villanova’s vaunted option attack. It also limited do-everything receiver and future MLB outfielder Matt Szczur to 67 all-purpose yards before he left the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion.

Eagles defensive back Matt Johnson, who was drafted in 2012 by the Dallas Cowboys, was assigned to key on Szczur. One of EWU’s six forced turnovers was a Johnson interception.

“After the game, all the emotions kind of hit me,” said Mitchell, who transferred to EWU after losing his starting job as a sophomore at Southern Methodist. “From coming in at semester earlier that year, to getting adjusted at spring ball, to being named captain, to getting to the national title game, all those little things you fluff off in the course of a season hit me at once.”

Mitchell, who was recently named to the CFL’s All-Decade Team, was quick to credit his receivers who often “made catches they shouldn’t have because I threw a bad pass,” namely Kaufman.

“Kaufman had hands like (NFL receiver) Larry Fitzgerald,” Mitchell said. “He was a tall, athletic, basketball player of a receiver, so whenever I saw him matched up with someone smaller, I thought, ‘Hey, good luck.’ ”

Note: The Spokesman-Review will cap its “10 years after the title” series in January with an extensive oral history of the Eagles’ thrilling 20-19 win over Delaware in the FCS national title game.

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