The look on Delaware head coach KC Keeler’s face said it all. As he was waiting in the small terminal at the Marion County Regional Airport in Carbondale, Illinois late on Saturday night watching his team make their way through the makeshift security line, he looked completely spent. And understandably so. For the second week in a row, his team had just pulled off an improbable win in hostile territory; this time it was a 20-17 squeaker over the fourth seeded Southern Illinois Salukis to advance to the National Championship Game Friday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
He may have been exhausted from all of the hours that he and his staff had already logged to get the team to this point or just knowing the prospect of all of the hours that were still ahead of them.
Regardless of how this season ends, however, the 2007 University of Delaware Football team is already officially a huge success, as it is now on the precipice of winning a second National Championship in just five years with only two-time defending National Champion Appalachian State in their way. For those of you scoring at home (or even if you are alone), we are talking about the same App State that started their season with that incredible win over Michigan in the Big House and the same App State that went through Richmond last week like a Ginsu through a tomato.
To make matters worse for Delaware, they will be playing on the road for a third straight week; and even though the Championship in supposed to be at a neutral site, App State’s close proximity to Chattanooga combined with Delaware’s horrible handling of the ticket allotment means that Hen fans might be outnumbered four or five to one.
Sounds like the Hens have them right where they want them.
Back in 2003 Delaware steamed rolled through the playoffs making short work of each opponent including a 40-0 drubbing of Colgate in a final game that was over at halftime. That year Delaware players were able to sleep in their own beds and play on their own field for the first three weeks of playoffs before heading down to Chattanooga where they played in front of a huge contingent of their own fans who showed up in droves like it was Mug Night at the old Stone Balloon.
This year has been a bit different. For the past two weeks, Delaware has had to fight, scratch, kick, and crawl for every yard, for every first down, and for every point along the way battling everything from Mother Nature, to the T.S.A., to two very talented football teams in Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois en route to two of the most satisfying wins in the program’s storied history.
One thing that this year’s team does have in common with its 2003 brethren, however, is that it seems to be peaking just at the right time.
Keeler is quick to deflect credit for the success to his team and to his staff, but this is Keeler’s team. They are a group of players that take everything thrown at them in stride and are as cool as their Oakley sunglasses wearing coach.
Nothing seems to faze them.
After the Southern Illinois win on Saturday, Keeler said something to the effect that his team may not be the best team in the country, but that they were one of only two teams still alive due to their incredible perseverance.
That may be true, but if they are able to muster the strength to overcome all of the obstacles that still lay ahead of them, thanks to the beauty that is the I-AA playoff system, the best team in the country is exactly what they will be.
Besides, what’s a little sleep and comfort when you have a memory like that for the rest of your life?
(Reporting this week from the beach in beautiful Bucerias, Mexico!)