After moving up from NCAA Division II to Division I-AA, the Colonels appeared in four consecutive Division I-AA championship games from 1979-82, winning in 1979 and 1982.
“When we went to I-AA, we jumped from 38 or 40 scholarships to 70, so we were able to recruit more kids and more full scholarship kids,” legendary head coach Roy Kidd said in 2015, “and that’s when our program took off.”
Kidd played quarterback at EKU in the 1950s and returned to his alma mater as head coach in 1963.
They landed the first national championship in school history on Dec. 15, 1979 with a 30-7 victory against Lehigh, the sports moment judged the greatest in EKU history.
EKU tailback Alvin Miller was named the game’s MVP after piling up 144 total yards. The defense was led by linebacker Bob McIntyre, a first-team Associated Press All-American, and nose guard Joe Richard.
Along their way to an 11-2 record, the Colonels defeated Division I-A teams Kent State (17-14) and Cal-State Fullerton (33-17). They held seven opponents to 10 points or less, including shutouts of Troy State (15-0) and Tennessee Tech (35-0).
In the Division I-AA semifinals, the Colonels beat Nevada Reno 33-30 in double overtime, a game ABC broadcaster and former Arkansas head coach Frank Boyles said was “the most exciting I’ve ever seen.”
Richard made perhaps the play of the year by blocking an extra point that sent the game into double overtime, where EKU won on a field goal.
The Colonels dominated Lehigh in the championship game and Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., proclaimed Jan. 20-26, 1980, as “EKU National Football Champions Week.”
“It’s been an outstanding opportunity for us in particular,” EKU Athletic Director Donald Combs told Sports Illustrated before the 1980 season. “Our exposure has gone up dramatically.”
The Colonels lost the championship games in 1980-81, winning again in 1982. They have appeared in the Division I-AA/FCS playoffs 21 times.
Kidd coached EKU for 39 seasons, with his final season in 2002. Before he retired, he became one of 12 coaches in the history of college football to win 300 games — none bigger than the first championship.