Weather has and will play a factor in FCS playoffs

Weather has and will play a factor in FCS playoffs
Jimmy Garoppolo and the Eastern Illinois Panthers battled Towson in the snow during a 2013 FCS playoff game. (photo courtesy of Sandy King, EIU Athletics)

With the the FCS playoffs entering the quarterfinal round weather can certainly be a factor in the outcome of games.

With that in mind, here's some famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) games that involved Illinois teams in the I-AA/FCS playoffs.

Dec. 10, 1983

Southern Illinois 23, Nevada-Reno 7

On the road to their national championship head coach Rey Dempsey's SIU Salukis battled rain and sleet as well as Nevada in the semifinals.

The game time temperature was listed at 34 degrees with an east wind at 10 miles per hour.

"Sideways rain and sleet," recalled Mike Reis of SIU radio in an e-mail. "Nevada's passing game was strong. SIU was a run-first team, but efficient in passing. The 1983 defense is SIU's best ever. Nevada had a quarterback named (Eric) Beavers, who'd a had a great season passing."

The Saluki defense held Nevada in check all day. The Wolfpack managed just 128 total yards (just a 2.2 per play average). SIU intercepted four passes and forced three fumbles (recovering two). Future NFL first round draft pick Terry Taylor ran one of the interceptions back for a touchdown.

Beavers was a miserable 6-for-19 passing for a paltry 39 yards. His longest completion was just 16 yards.

"Southern's stifling defense was made even stronger by the conditions at McAndrew Stadium and the Salukis won a, 23-7, game much more handily than expected," Reis said. "The thing I remember most,  though, was the crowd. There weren't the 12,000 there the box score lists, but there were 6,000 and they cheered on every play the entire game despite the weather. A great atmosphere. "

The Salukis possessed the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than Nevada. SIU quaterback Rick Johnson managed to complete 13-of-25 throws for 189 yards, including a long of 62 yards.

SIU kicker Ron Miller nailed all three of his field goal attempts (35, 42 & 19 yards), while Nevada-Reno's Tony Zendejas missed his only try.

Dec. 11, 1999

Georgia Southern 28, Illinois State 17

Head coach Todd Berry's ISU Redbirds faced I-AA powerhouse Georgia Southern on the road in the national semifinals. The Eagles were coached by Paul Johnson, who later landed jobs at Navy and Georgia Tech.

“Whereas we were faster than (quarterfinal opponent) Hofstra, Georgia Southern was the same speed as us,” Berry said. “It was a hot day. The heat hurt us. We cramped up a lot. Our late-season injuries really hurt us because it cost us depth.”

Todd Berry

Todd Berry

An early season loss at South Florida came back to haunt ISU, according to Berry.

“Had we won that game, maybe we get to play Georgia Southern on our field,” Berry said. “The roles would have been reversed with the warm-weather team from the South coming north to play in the cold.”

Though ISU scored on its opening possession, the No. 1-ranked Eagles scored the 28-17 win. Future Chicago Bear Adrian Peterson led Georgia Southern to victory with 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Thus, ISU ended its remarkable season with an 11-3 record, the best in school history at the time. The Redbirds were ranked third in the season’s final I-AA poll.

Meanwhile, Georgia Southern beat Youngstown State, a team ISU had defeated during the regular season, in the I-AA title game.

“We won three out of four games against Youngstown State in our time at ISU,” Berry said. “Our kids would have been confident facing them in the championship game.”

Nov. 30, 2002

Western Illinois 48, Eastern Illinois 9

Though the official boxscore says the temperature was 27 degrees, a 24 mile-per-hour wind out of the northwest made the conditions downright frigid.

Playing the first quarter with the wind, WIU essentially put the game away by building a 21-0 lead.

 “We were a superior team to them,” quarterback Russ Michna said years later.

Michna calls the 2002 Leathernecks “the best team I played on.” WIU posted a 10-1 regular season with its lone loss being a 54-52 shootout at Southern Illinois. Still, the Leathernecks tied for a share of the Gateway Conference crown.

Western's ground game outrushed Eastern 193-39 and the Leatherneck defense forced three EIU turnovers.

In the game, Michna dueled future Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo, who a short time later would win the Walter Payton Award as the top player at the I-AA level.

Michna went 11-of-17 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown. The Conant High School graduate also rushed for one score.

Romo was 21-of-44 for 215 yards and a  touchdown.

Each quarterback threw an interception.

The game also featured WIU punter Mike Scifres, who averaged 43.7 yards per punt that afternoon. Scifres, a Louisiana native, was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the fifth round of the NFL Draft the following spring.

Dec. 6, 2003

Colgate 28, Western Illinois 27

WIU was coming off a resounding 43-40 overtime win at perennial I-AA power Montana in the opening round.

“We were pretty beat up by that point of the season,” Michna said. “Montana was a great atmosphere to play. The stadium is built into the side of a mountain.  The stands were vibrating from the fans’ cheers bouncing back off the mountainside.”

WIU battled a blizzard as well as Colgate in 2003.

WIU battled a blizzard as well as Colgate in 2003.

Western’s landmark victory was just the third loss by Montana in 20 postseason games. In addition, the Grizzlies had lost only 15 home games in the 17-year history of their stadium.

 

That victory sent the Leathernecks into the quarterfinals in Hamilton, New York on the campus of Colgate University.

Ten inches of additional snow fell on the already packed turf, and the game was played in blizzard conditions.

“It was a crazy experience,” said Michna, who later quarterbacked the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League. “My parents have a photo on their mantle of them sitting in the stands at that game. You can hardly even see them because the snowstorm was so strong.”

Colgate outlasted the weather and the Leathernecks 28-27.

“That game probably is the one that stays with me the most (from my collegiate career),” said Michna.

Though the loss finished off Michna’s career, he left WIU with a career 20-6 record as a starter. He was second only to Paul Singer in career passing yards at the time.

Dec. 13, 2013

Towson 49, Eastern Illinois 39

Pregame rain and sleet quickly turned into a full-fledged snowstorm as EIU hosted the Towson Tigers of the Colonial Athletic Association.

Second-ranked EIU took an early 14-0 lead, and with the home crowd on its collective feet, the Panthers could see the semifinals in sight.

However, No. 7 Towson scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead into the half.

A gusting wind out of the south hampered Eastern's deep passing attack, led by eventual Walter Payton Award winner and New England Patriots draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo.

EIU also couldn't stop the powerful running of Terrance West, a Payton Award finalist who would also play in the NFL. West was just about unstoppable for Towson, carrying the football 39 times for a playoff-record 354 yards and five touchdowns. 

An SB Nation report stated, "The Panthers evened things up on their first drive of the third quarter, but Towson answered with a TD of its own to retake the lead, and after another score from both sides, the Tigers carried a 35-24 lead into the final quarter. A 39-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Jeff LePak cut the deficit to 35-32 for Eastern Illinois, but rushing touchdowns from Darius Victor and Terrance West essentially put the game on ice."

 

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