Villanova will be seeing red in semifinals
All Villanova wanted was an opportunity. After a regular season marred by underachievements and injuries, the 10th-ranked Wildcats hoped to prove they still were capable of winning a second consecutive NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national title.
All Villanova wanted was an opportunity.
After a regular season marred by underachievements and injuries, the 10th-ranked Wildcats hoped to prove they still were capable of winning a second consecutive NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national title.
So far they have.
Since beating Delaware just to make the postseason, Villanova (9-4) has been the equivalent of an unstoppable tornado blowing through the NCAA Division I playoffs.
First, the Wildcats barbecued third-ranked Stephen F. Austin, 54-24, in Nacogdoches, Texas. Then they humbled No. 2 Appalachian State, 42-24, in Boone, N.C.
Now, Villanova will face top-ranked Eastern Washington (11-2) at 8 p.m. Friday at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
The winner will advance to the NCAA Division I championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
If you're counting, the Wildcats will have traveled 9,046 miles round-trip for the three playoff games. Villanova will travel 12,032 miles if it reaches the final.
But the focus of coach Andy Talley isn't on accumulating frequent-flier miles. He is trying to find ways to beat the Eagles on their red Sprinturf surface nicknamed the "Inferno."
"I think they are a lot like the teams we've seen - very balanced," Talley said of Eastern Washington, which is 7-0 at home this season. "Play good defense. And they have kids who can run."
The Eagles are led by an undersize yet dominant linebacker, J.C. Sherritt. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder is a candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award that goes annually to the FCS defensive player of the year.
The senior, last season's Buchanan Award runner-up, is the Eagles' career leader with 406 tackles. The all-American has 150 tackles this season and is averaging 11.5 per game.
On offense, Eastern Washington will be led by quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. The Southern Methodist transfer has completed 244 of 424 passes for 2,902 yards and 30 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
The junior's top target is wideout Brandon Kaufman. The 6-5, 205-pound sophomore has a team-leading 59 receptions for 959 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Eagles, however, must play without all-American running back Taiwan Jones. He broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in the Eagles' 38-31 quarterfinal victory over North Dakota State on Saturday.
The junior, who rushed for a career-high 230 yards against North Dakota State, ranks second nationally in the FCS in both rushing yards (145.2 yards) and all-purpose yards (201.8) per game. He recorded 1,742 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns (including three TD catches) this season.