It doesn't seem like a decade ago. The 1999 Division 2 Championship game between the Carson-Newman Eagles of Tennessee and my Northwest Missouri Bearcats may have gone down as one of the greatest championship games in college history. In a wild game, Northwest defeated the Eagles 58 to 52 in four overtimes. ESPN Analyst Bill Curry to this day calls it the best game he has ever seen. The game though, didn't start out that way for Northwest.
Carson-Newman came loaded for bear, moose, elk, elephants, rhinos, and any other big game you can think of. Behind a pounding running game that kept the ball out of the hands of the NW offense, the Eagles lead 24-7 at halftime, and revenge for a 24-6 loss to the Bearcats in the 1998 Championship, looked like a real possibility. Northwest turnovers plagued them into the 3rd qtr, and the fourth quarter saw them continue to trail by double digits, Finally the offense woke up for NW. The game became the quick strike passing attack of the Bearcats versus the pounding running game of the Eagles. Carson-Newman would pile up 400 + yards on the ground for the game. Entering the fourth quarter, NW semed hopelessly behind 30-14.
The teams traded scores early in the 4th like a couple of punch drunk middleweights hammering away carelessly at one another. 30-22, then 37-22, then 37-29. However Carson-Newman scored with 3:12 left in the game. 44-29 looked like a tough chore with not alot of time left. However, NW came through with a one minute drive to get the game to 8. A failed onsides kick gave the Eagles a chance to run out the clock. A crucial mistake by a C-N RB helped NW. On a sweep, a back ran out of bounds, saving the 'Cats precious time. The NW defense held firm on a 4th down play, and with 51 seconds left, they were a long 74 yards away from a potential tie. With 10 seconds left, Northwest's Travis Miles hit J.R. Hill down the sideline for a 34 yard TD. Then, a reserve tight end made a miracle catch in the back of the end zone, dragging one foot in bounds for the tying 2 point conversion. At a stunning 44-44, the game was headed to OT and the Eagles fans selling national championship T-Shirts outside the stadium had to stop and wait for the game to conclude.
The first two OT's saw each team miss a FG. Starting overtime #3, the Eagles scored on a one yard run and succeeded in their attempt for two. NW came right back with a TD run of 16 yards and their own 2 point conversion pass. Note that after the second OT, the 2 point conversions were mandatory.
Finally, in the fourth overtime, the Bearcats finally grabbed their first lead of the day. A 3 yard run gave them a 58-52 lead. The conversion failed though, leaving the door wide open for the Eagles. On first and 10 from the 12, an Eagles RB fumbled and when a Bearcat safety Ryan Miller jumped on the ball, the game was finally over. After 178 offensive plays and 1063 yards of total offense from both teams, one of the greatest football games in college history, especially one that determined an NCAA national champion, was finished on the field.
Okay, I am probably just a bit biased on this one, looking at the world through green and white Bearcat colored glasses. It was a remarkable game though. The worst part of the whole day, I wasn't able to see it, i was on a plane coming back from Florida when it was going on. Got home, couldn't find the score on the radio and couldn't catch anyone home who had seen the game. Finally saw the score on a TV in an Applebee's tuned to ESPN. Fortunately, a friend had recorded it, so later that week I was able to sit and watch it. Just this year, the NCAA has released the game on DVD. It is a must for the football fan in your life. Also of note, both teams are playing this weekend for the right to return to the D2 championship game in Florence, Alabama. That would be interesting to play each other once again exactly a decade later.
So, what are your nominees for the greatest game. Texas - USC? OSU and Miami? Another game? I know there were some great D2 Championship games before Northwest's thriller. There are no wrong answers here. It will be interesting to see what everyones favorites are. Thanks for reading my blog for this week.