Few teams head into the postseason lugging a two-game losing streak. And few make it to the finals by winning back-to-back on the road, against the top-ranked and No. 4 teams. After trailing, 10-0, both times.
Welcome to Delaware football.
So maybe it's only right that the last thing standing between the Blue Hens and a second ring in five seasons is the two-time defending Division I-AA national champions.
"Our kids keep doing enough to get it done," said UD coach K.C. Keeler, whose 11-3 club plays Appalachian State (12-2) in tonight's renamed Football Championship Subdivision final in Chattanooga, Tenn. "They have that 'Whatever it takes' kind of attitude. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Our kids understand what they're dealing with. We have a bunch of kids who don't panic under adversity."
In 2003, Keeler's second season in Newark, the Hens capped a 15-1 year by pounding Colgate, 40-zip, to claim their sixth national championship.
This season's team won at Navy in late October, 59-52. Then it won at playoff-bound James Madison, your 2004 champ, on a late field goal. But it lost at home to Richmond in five overtimes. And closed with a 16-10 loss at Villanova.
"That's a game we were very disappointed about," Keeler said. "We had to find a way to get the kids back."
The NCAA did its part, by giving the Hens a first-round home game against Delaware State, a team they'd never met before. The Hens rolled, 44-7. Then they won at Northern Iowa, 39-27. And Saturday, they advanced with a 20-17 victory at Southern Illinois.
Now, they get the team that won at Michigan way back in September. The Mountaineers, who have played at home throughout the playoffs, beat Richmond in the semifinals, 55-35. Sophomore Armanti Edwards threw for four touchdowns and ran for three more.
"There's a reason they've won it the last 2 years," said Keeler, who went 0-5 in Division III title games at Rowan University from 1993 to '99, losing three times to Mount Union. "It's not just the quarterback. But he makes the whole thing go. If you make a gap mistake, he can absolutely destroy you.
"We've done a great job of managing the moment. When things don't go well for us, we'll get through it and come out the other side. That's what we've been doing the last few weeks."
Appalachian State defeated another Colonial Athletic Association member, Massachusetts, in last year's final (28-17).
Delaware has some big-time weapons of its own. Pro scouts consider South Jersey's Joe Flacco to be among the country's top quarterback prospects. Tailback Omar Cuff has scored 34 rushing touchdowns and another four receiving. And Jon Striefsky (North Penn High) has converted 21 of 23 field goals, including two in the fourth quarter at SIU.
Yet the best thing the Hens might have going for them is the fact that they played in the CAA.
"The whole thing with our conference is just getting through it," Keeler said. "You name it, you're going to see it. And the talent level's very high. So if you can survive that, you feel pretty confident that you can play with anybody.
"In Week 9, we had seven teams ranked in the Top 25. From top to bottom, you can't beat that. Richmond lost once in the conference, and that was to Towson, which didn't beat anybody else. In 2003, in our last seven games, five went down to the last play or the very last series. We won them all. But we could have lost all five. It's that brutal. You just try to get through it and have something left. We had five teams in the playoffs, and came very close to having all five win a game [they went 3-2]."
They're one of two left standing. Not too shabby, for a team that went 6-5 and 5-6 the last two seasons.
"We let our kids know that the goal of the program is to make the playoffs," Keeler said. "But once you're in, they also understand that they can do a lot more good things . . .
"One of my greatest thrills ever was beating Wofford at home for the right to play for the championship [in 2003]. They tore down the goal posts, did the whole thing. You miss that, being [on the road]. But at the same time, one of the most rewarding things for a team is having a great road win. We've just had two of the greatest ever for this program. You kind of bond together, sharing that experience."
One more, and it's forever. *