CARBONDALE, Ill. - Joe Flacco grins about having just one final examination left this semester. But the Delaware quarterback could not be happier about the big test he passed yesterday.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound senior threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns, helping the No. 13 Blue Hens edge fourth-ranked Southern Illinois, 20-17, to advance to the Football Championship Subdivision title game in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"All of us are going to enjoy it," Flacco said after Delaware (11-3) advanced to a title meeting on Friday with Appalachian State (12-2), which posted a stunning 34-32 upset at superpower Michigan early in the season.
The Mountaineers advanced Friday night by ousting Richmond, 55-35, and will be seeking their third-straight national championship in what used to be Division I-AA.
"Now it's us versus them," Flacco said. "I think we're a pretty good team, too."
Omar Cuff did his part, running for 102 yards on 21 carries in helping Delaware snap the Salukis' six-game winning streak.
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler called it a sweet capper to what was a "brutal" week, starting with the bad weather that delayed the Blue Hens' return home after their second-round victory a week ago at top-ranked Northern Iowa.
Delaware's short practice week was followed by a long flight back to the Midwest for the matchup against the Salukis in what looked like a potential high-scoring affair - the Salukis came in averaging 39.5 points, the Blue Hens 38.6.
"All I know is we just beat the No. 1 team and the No. 4 team on the road. I should feel pretty good about my team," Keeler said. "You could look at the stats and say this is going to be a shoot-out. It never works out that way."
Jon Striefsky kicked two fourth-quarter field goals for Delaware, the first a 47-yarder that extended the Blue Hens' lead to 17-10 with 10 minutes, 9 seconds left.
Southern Illinois' Alan Turner returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, tying the score at 17. But Flacco picked away at the Salukis (12-2) on the next possession, completing five passes for 67 yards in setting up Striefsky's 24-yard field goal with 6:58 to play.
Southern Illinois' ensuing drive stalled when Nick Hill was sacked on fourth and 4 at the Delaware 36 with 3:56 left. Anthony Walters sealed Delaware's victory by intercepting Hill at the Southern Illinois 45 with 1:42 left.
"We just made some mistakes at crucial times, and we didn't make some plays we needed to make - that we've made all year," Salukis coach Jerry Kill said.
John Randle rushed for 129 yards for the Salukis. Hill finished with 106 yards on 12-of-25 passing but was intercepted twice. He also ran for 41 yards.
"This one hurts. It really does," Hill said.
Delaware, which trailed by 10-7 at the half in a game thick with razzle-dazzle, took its first lead on a 9-yard pass from Flacco to Kervin Michaud midway through the third quarter.
Valdosta State 28, California (Pa.) 24 -
Maurice Leggett's end-zone interception with less than a minute left preserved the victory for the Blazers (12-1) over the previously unbeaten Vulcans (13-1) in an NCAA Division II semifinal in California, Pa.
Valdosta State will face Northwest Missouri State, a 34-16 winner last night over Grand Valley State, for the national title Dec. 15 at Florence, Ala.