|« Semi-Finals||EFL 2006 Championship Game|
Regular Season: October 21 (Week 11) @Washington, 23-3 Box Drive Chart
Point Spread: Washington –1½, Over/Under 40
Touchdowns of 35, 81, and 58 yards provided all the points Syracuse (12‑4) needed to repel Washington (9‑7) and earn the 2006 EFL title. Although the Crush never trailed, the outcome was in doubt until the last half-minute. Syracuse rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman sacked Brad Johnson on the Crush 27 with 0:30 left to end the final Capitols possession.
Earlier Merriman made the biggest play of the game — an 81‑yard interception return for a touchdown with 7:00 left in the second quarter which would prove to be the difference. Syracuse was up 10‑3 at the time, but Washington was driving. Having started on their 37 after a Sean Landeta punt, the Capitols had moved to the Crush 23 with Johnson twice converting third downs with passes to Chris Cooley.
On 2nd and 9, Johnson failed to recognize Syracuse was double-teaming Ward before he launched a sideline pass in Ward’s direction. Merriman stepped in between, picked off the pass and had clear sailing to the end zone, extending the Crush’s lead to 17‑3. The Capitols would twice more mount rallies, but the closest they would get was 17‑13 with 4:05 remaining in the third quarter.
Syracuse scored on both of their first quarter possessions to take a 10‑0 lead. After Jay Feely hit a 42‑yard field goal, Washington went three-and-out. The Crush then mounted a 78‑yard touchdown drive also known as “The Clinton Portis Show.” On 2nd and 10 at the Crush 42, Mark Brunell found Portis down the middle for a 23‑yard gain. Portis then blasted up the middle and after getting by the first wave of Capitols defenders he found no resistance and ran 35 yards to paydirt.
Portis starred on offense for Syracuse with 105 yards on 18 carries and four catches for 47 yards. He would almost, however, change from hero to goat late in the game.
Washington trailed 17‑10 at halftime. In the third quarter they moved 73 yards in 16 plays on their second possession but only got a 35‑yard David Akers field goal for their trouble. The Crush responded with a 48‑yard Feely field goal to restore their lead to seven before the quarter ended.
Near the midway point of the fourth quarter, a lapse by the Capitols secondary allowed Koren Robinson to turn a short pass across the middle from Brunell into a 58‑yard touchdown. Down by 14 points for the first time since Merriman’s second quarter pick-six, Washington then got an enormous lift when Darren Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the Syracuse 34. Four plays later Johnson connected with Ward on 2nd and goal from the 1 to make it 27‑20.
Terrence McGee returned a short kickoff by Akers 33 yards to the 48, but three Portis runs cumulatively gained nothing, and the Crush had to call upon Landeta. Immediately Johnson found Ward for 31 yards, and the Capitols sustained a nice drive into the red zone. Then on 2nd and 6 from the 19, Curtis Martin was forced wide for an eight yard loss. Johnson then missed Ward and Troy Brown, on third and fourth down, respectively, causing the start of a mass exodus of Washington fans from their seats with 1:15 to go.
Seconds later those fans who hadn’t yet left the stadium made quick U-turns. On second down, Syracuse tried a dangerous pitch to Portis. Brunell’s toss was a little low, and although it appeared Portis eventually got full control of the ball, he fumbled as he turned the corner. Antonio Brown recovered for the Capitols on the Crush 29 with the clock reading 1:00.
On 3rd and 5, Merriman made nice hit on Martin as he tried to catch a screen pass, and the ball fell incomplete. That left one last opportunity for Washington. Johnson took a deep drop, but before he could launch a pass, Merriman roared past the right side of the Capitols offensive line and dragged Johnson down eight yards shy of the first down marker.
There was another fan exodus, and this time there would not be an occasion for U-turns: Brunell knelt twice and Syracuse toasted the Crush’s first title since 1986.
Brunell was steady in the face of a Capitols pass rush that sacked him five times. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 215 yards and, unlike Johnson, he avoided throwing any interceptions. His favorite target, as usual, was Laveranues Coles who was on the receiving end of seven Brunell aerials for 69 yards.
Along with Merriman, Sam Cowart excelled on defense for Syracuse. Cowart reached double digits in tackles before halftime and wound up with 15.
At the post-game press conference, Crush coach John Heim said, “I’m proud of the guys — they deserve a lot of credit for going on the road and winning two [playoff] games. And I’m happy for the city of Syracuse.”. He praised his team’s penchant for avoiding mistakes:
“We played almost a mistake-free game. When you do that you usually come out on top and that was the case this morning — even though Washington outgained us [365‑294] and had the edge in time of possession [33:30‑26:30]. The one mistake we made was Clinton [Portis]’s turnover near the end. That almost cost us big-time, but the defense bailed us out. Shawne [Merriman] is a beast, isn’t he?”