Heart and the relentless pursuit of triumph
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For all the talk across Division III
about playing "for the love of the game," it's not often on display
to the degree it was here Saturday, while it rained sideways
because of the remnants of Hurricane Hanna and each airborne pass
threatened to send a team back to the emotional abyss of losing
that its players have tried so hard not to grow accustomed
Without a doubt it takes heart to win a spot on Mount Union's roster, to tussle in the trenches for UW-Whitewater, to make a fourth-down stop at St. John's. On the other end of the spectrum are the teams that before dreaming about winning a Stagg Bowl, they dream of winning a game.
Hiram had lost its past 26 going back to a 7-2 win against Earlham on Oct. 1, 2005, and was 2-58 from 2002-07. Trevor Henderson's overtime scramble for a touchdown helped the Terriers defeat Gallaudet 20-14.
"I forgot what this felt like," junior linebacker Alex Ream said while basking in the glow of victory afterward. "It's been way too long."
Lewis and Clark cancelled its conference games in 2005, but resisted the institutional urge to cancel the program. Their 0-4 season that year was part of a 27-game skid broken with a 43-7 win at Principia on Saturday.
LaGrange earned the program's first win in 21 tries, when Drew Carter, quarterback of the third-year Panthers, connected with Devin Billings with 23.2 seconds left in a 34-31 win over second-year Birmingham-Southern.
When it would've been easier to quit, to pack it in and accept another loss, these are the teams who rose above on Saturday, who triumphed by bypassing the agony of defeat. These are your poster children for the love of the game.
Gallaudet photo by Matthew Kohashi
When Gallaudet, whose players are no strangers to
overcoming obstacles, began its final rally on Saturday, it didn't
faze the Terriers all that much.
"We're used to adversity," Henderson, a senior quarterback, said. "We're from Hiram."
Beginning with the weather, adversity came in bunches for the Terriers and Bison, and to be clear, there are reasons why these teams haven't won much. But none of them have to do with lack of heart.
Hiram got on the board with a safety before a bungled hold on a field goal attempt led to a 76-yard Gallaudet touchdown return. Down 7-2 in the third quarter, the Terriers twice fumbled inside the Bison 5-yard line before capitalizing on a Gallaudet fumble to go up 8-7 (Henderson's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete).
In the fourth quarter, the Bison pinned Hiram on the 1-yard line with a punt and Ryan Mahoney swallowed up Eddie Cloud in the end zone on the next play for a safety and 9-8 lead. Determined not to let the game end with a baseball score, Henderson passed 11 times and converted three third-and-longs on a masterful 13-play, 89-yard drive. But with 3:47 left, an errant pitch on the two-point conversion kept Hiram's lead at 14-9.
Gallaudet went three-and-out, but so did Hiram and Adam Tygart came free up the middle and snuffed Theodore Sloban's punt. The freshman had the presence of mind to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone rather than let the Bison recover for an agonizing game-winning touchdown. However, the game's third safety left Hiram's lead at 14-11 with them kicking off from their own 20 and 1:24 for Gallaudet to work with.
It figures the football gods would tease Hiram, a team that had waited so long to taste victory.
Gallaudet photo by Matthew Kohashi
Every time a Bison pass was in the air on the final drive,
"your stomach just drops," Ream said.
Gallaudet earned itself a fourth-and-2 from Hiram's 12, and picked up a first down at the 6 on a pass interference penalty over the middle.
"Those were the longest 24 seconds of my life," Henderson said. "I didn't think it was ever going to end."
Despite all the hand-holding, kneeling and praying Hiram's sideline could muster, it didn't end. Hiram withstood three more passes into the end zone before J. Wilson's 29-yard field goal as time expired. Yep, 14-14. Overtime.
The Terriers pushed the Bison out of field goal range on their possession, then Henderson scrambled from 7 yards out, got past a would-be tackler and ran out of the back of the end zone onto Gallaudet's rubber track. Hiram's sideline emptied, mobbing Henderson in a celebration that was about much more than a game. Four minutes later, players were still hugging on the field, doing chest bumps and making rain angels by laying on the wet turf as though there were snow present. No one cared that there wasn't.
"The weight was just gone," Ream said. "Goosebumps hit. It was ‘Wow, the streak is over.' "
And therein lies perhaps the best part of Hiram's story, at least for those who love a good tale of triumph. Second-year coach Bob Wolfe didn't pretend the losing streak didn't exist. He hammered it home.
"The streak had to go," Henderson said. "Any time at camp someone was dogging it, Coach Wolfe is on our butts: ‘The streak.' "
At a school where the tradition is to ring the victory bell after wins in any sport, the football team's chances to gather around the bell had dwindled since the Terriers last had a heyday in the '80s. Henderson is one of just three seniors, but Wolfe's staff brought 113 players to camp, including the largest recruiting class in the school's history. Twenty starters returned, but Henderson said the extra numbers were necessary to create competition for jobs, something that doesn't happen much when a program is struggling just to stay afloat. Workouts began at 6 a.m., and the team talked of learning how to win, whether it be against Gallaudet, or somewhere down the line in the NCAC schedule.
Judging by the actions and reactions on Saturday, Hiram's spirit had never been broken, but Wolfe and staff had revitalized it.
As Ream, who hadn't participated in a Hiram win before, walked down a hill in the pouring rain next to the Gallaudet field house, he called out: "Hey Dogs, we get to ring the bell tonight!"
Back came the response: "Twenty-six times! It's over."
Two more new beginnings
About the time Todd Mooney was beginning the job of
building Division III's only program in Georgia at LaGrange, Chris
Sulages was taking on perhaps the ultimate rebuilding job. The
truncated season at Lewis and Clark was brought on by low
participation in the program, and it didn't exactly work wonders
for boosting it.
"We're still not out of our numbers crunch yet," the third-year coach said. "We've got 46 with four seniors. We feel next year is the year we're really going to see that jump in numbers."
The zero in the Pioneers' record jumped to the side they weren't used to seeing it on after a trip from Oregon to Illinois and a win against a Principia team in a similar bind. Just 30 players began the Panthers' training camp.
"It was pretty nice to walk around the airport with your travel stuff on," Sulages said. "They're going to ask the question, if you won. It's nice to be able to answer ‘yes, we did.' "
For Lewis and Clark's four seniors, the taste of victory was well-deserved.
"It was great for them to see that," Sulages said. "For all the hard work they put in, not just on the field, but for helping us recruit."
Keeping a tradition going, one that dates back to when the school was known as Albany College, is perhaps those seniors' greatest reward. That tradition was something few associated with the school wanted to break after 2005. The administration felt its football program was worth preserving. And Sulages said since he came on board, he's felt he's had the support of president Thomas J. Hochstettler, the administration, faculty and student body.
"I'm lucky," he said. "They're in our corner pulling for us."
And when you're able to deliver a win?
"We've got really good alumni," Sulages said. "I got a bunch of e-mails and phone calls, they were pretty fired up. For sure more than a normal week."
Of course, he says those inside the program weren't as surprised as those outside it. For one, the signs of progress had been evident in Sulages' first two years, just not in the win column. Second, the Pioneers expect to win each week.
"That's what athletes are about, the competition," Sulages said. "We prepare to win every week. We've got another game this week, on the road (at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the last team it beat before Principia, 27-11, on Oct. 9, 2004), and we'll be ready to go and play."
Mooney calls that "the nature of the business." Though he and his players have long since turned their focus to NAIA Shorter, LaGrange's next opponent, he says there was "jubilation" after the dramatic finish Saturday.
"The celebration afterward continued into the evening," said Mooney, acknowledging a group of parents who made the two-and-a-half-hour trip to Birmingham.
Mooney and his staff knew that playing a varsity schedule in 2006, the program's first season, would be a struggle. (St. Vincent, by comparison, spent 2006 practicing with its first 26 recruits before making its official debut last season.) The coach said an understanding administration gave him the opportunity to build without "trying to do things too fast," and that his staff was "very open" on the recruiting trail about the expectations.
"As much as we're all confident we can step on the field and play college football, it takes time," Mooney said. "The competitive nature in all of us says you want to win Year 1, but you know in the back of your mind when you're going against juniors and seniors each week, you've got to get your kids to that level to compete."
LaGrange didn't expect another 0-10 last season.
"I think we found some disappointment in Year 2," Mooney said. "We had some places where we had opportunities to get a win and we did not get over that hump."
The best part about Saturday was watching his players, many of whom are now juniors and sophomores, get over the hump.
"The thing that was really neat about Saturday -- for the first time we have a good nucleus of returning players, and they never had a doubt they were going to get us out of that hole. In the fourth quarter, you could see the resolve on their faces."
From Ohio to Oregon to Georgia, it took a lot of resolve to keep pushing forward when after 20 or more weeks of trying to win, there was still nothing to show for it. But heart and playing for the love of the game, and really meaning it, kept a scarce few taking on that challenge. For the programs who can count their seniors on one hand, we salute your victories.
Hiram's triumph came after it was ranked 233 in Kickoff ‘08's 1-239 ranking. The team it beat, Gallaudet, came in at No. 230. Lewis and Clark/Principia matched Nos. 234 and 239.
Here are how five other matchups of low-ranked teams turned out:
No. 225 Grinnell 25, No. 152 Cornell 24
No. 219 Beloit 27, No. 237 MacMurray 17
No. 215 Knox 26, No. 235 Eureka 0
No. 171 Denison 49, No. 207 Kalamazoo 27
No. 161 Carroll 55, No. 214 North Park 14
Longest losing streaks: In Week 1
last season, Heidelberg broke the nation's longest streak with a
win after 36 consecutive losses. In Week 1 of '08, the nation's
three longest losing streaks -- each at least 20 games -- fell.
Muskingum, 0-10 last season, beat Defiance 35-10 to end a 10-game
skid. That leaves the other three teams that lost all of their
games in 2007 atop the list. Which is actually a good thing, since
everyone who's played Division III football for longer than a
season should have experienced the thrill of victory.
The longest current losing streaks in Division III:
Averett (11 consecutive losses, last win vs. Maryville 58-44, Nov. 11, 2006; 0-1 in 2008)
MacMurray (11 consecutive losses, last win at Blackburn, 34-6, Nov. 11, 2006; 0-1 in 2008)
St. Vincent (11 consecutive losses, no wins since program resumed; 0-1 in 2008)
Stringing together more than a season's worth of victories is virtually impossible in Division III, because unbeaten teams tend to make the playoffs and all but one loses its final game. After breaking a 37-game Mount Union win streak in the Stagg Bowl, UW-Whitewater extended its mark for consecutive wins to 14. Anyone else on the list is either from the NESCAC or finished last season strong, but failed to make the playoffs.
Curry needed overtime to defeat Worcester State, but in doing so extended its regular-season winning streak to 30 games. Central kept pace at two games behind with a 41-0 win against Lakeland, but St. Norbert lost a regular season game (44-20 against Wartburg) for the first time since a 28-20 loss to Monmouth on Sept. 17, 2005. The Green Knights had won 27 in a row in the regular season.
The longest current regular-season winning streaks in Division III:
Curry (30 consecutive wins, including two NEFC title games, last loss at Maine Maritime, 28-21, Sept. 17, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
Central (28 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Coe, 17-14, Sept. 17, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
Mount Union (24 consecutive wins, last loss vs. Ohio Northern, 21-14, Oct. 22, 2005; 1-0 in 2008)
As conference play gets underway, we'll add the longest conference-only winning and losing strings to Streak Watch. As always, we try to stick with strings at least a season or longer, and streaks are tracked by hand, so if you see something that should be added to one of the lists, give me a shout.
Five games to watch
With three clashes between Top 25 teams and another
between teams that have Top 25 on their minds, this was an easy top
five to pick. And even if it wasn't, all I had to do was look back
at last week's non-conference primer ATN.
No. 2 UW-Whitewater at No. 12 UW-Eau Claire: I've got a hunch that the Blugolds are way overranked, but I've also got a hunch the young and still-meshing Warhawks will lose a game this season. One of my feelings has got to be wrong. Luckily, regular ATN readers have grown accustomed to that.
No. 5 Bethel at No. 17 Wheaton: This one could be a lot of fun, if only the two strait-laced schools would let it be. Oh, fine, I'm poking a little fun at our Christian brothers, but I've got love for them. It was just too easy. What won't come easily is a victory by either the Royals or Thunder. Bethel having a game under its belt, last week's 38-10 win against Concordia (Wis.) might be an advantage if you believe in the old coaches' adage about the improvement between the first and second game. Of course, Wheaton got a chance to scout Bethel, and brings back seven starters on each side of the ball, including talented cornerback/returner Pete Ittersagen.
No. 16 Ohio Northern at No. 15 North Central:
Clyde Hughes covered this one pretty fully in Around the Midwest, but let me add that we'll be watching from afar and assessing the North Region playoff implications. CCIW contenders and the best OAC teams not from Alliance often get in, and make tough outs.
No. 20 Wartburg at Augsburg: The Auggies had been so 'meh' for so long until last season's surge to 5-5, sparked by a 14-13 stunner in Waverly. Augsburg had given up 62, 70 and 51 points in its three games prior to the Wartburg trip -- the Knights must have seen video of one of those games and taken them lightly. That won't happen this time around, but question is whether the pass-happy Auggies built up enough confidence in a the second half of last season, winning three of their last four and giving Bethel a scare in the Metrodome, to make it irrelevant.
Linfield at Hardin-Simmons: Either the Wildcats or Cowboys, the equivalent of Nos. 28 and 29 given their standing in the also receiving votes department of the D3football.com poll, will likely sneak into the Top 25 with a victory. Hardin-Simmons looked much improved on defense in second-half comeback against UW-La Crosse, and it'll need to continue that theme. Last season Linfield hung 52 points and 629 yards on the Cowboys (who managed 42 and 562 themselves).
Also keep an eye on: No. 3 Wesley at Delaware Valley, Geneva at No. 11 Salisbury, No. 21 Ithaca at King's, Dubuque at No. 25 Redlands, Dickinson at Hobart, UW-La Crosse at North Dakota, Wilkes at Montclair State, Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon, N.C. Wesleyan at Widener, Union at Springfield.
Brief thoughts on Week 1 results and what's coming up in Week 2:
1. The Wesley-Christopher Newport cancellation meant eight teams on my preseason Top 25 ballot haven't played a game yet. I'm perhaps most eager to see what Mary Hardin-Baylor does with a new quarterback (although not its first-stringer) and three returning starters on offense. I have no idea what kind of test NAIA No. 22 Southern Nazarene will be.
2. Aside from UW-Whitewater's convincing win over NAIA quarterfinalist St. Xavier, I initially didn't think much of what the WIAC did in Week 1. But its teams went 6-1 (only UW-River Falls was idle) and winning is the name of the game. Nobody but the Warhawks won by more than a touchdown. UW-Stout needed overtime to get past Menlo, but bringing back a win from a road trip like that is a positive. UW-Oshkosh only had five returning starters, so they'll take a 14-13 win against Ripon, a member of the traditionally weaker Midwest Conference. UW-Platteville's win at Buena Vista should start the season off right, and UW-Eau Claire's 11-6 win came against a Bethel (Tenn.) team still in the NAIA top 25. So maybe it wasn't so bad.
3. Willamette's 35-21 win over Concordia-Moorhead was a blast from the days when the Bearcats were a playoff-caliber team. (OK, 2004 wasn't that long ago). After a four-win season, a win over the trendy Cobbers and another win at Cal Lutheran this week would set in motion perhaps another run to the postseason.
4. King's (1-9 last season) 34, Randolph-Macon (8-2 in 2007) 13. That's the ‘wow' of the week. Closely followed by Wooster's 27-6 win against Waynesburg (8-2) and Willamette's win.
5. That Hartwick revenge against WNEC we talked so much about? It's been delivered, 63-37. Can the Hawks maintain that momentum during a two-week break before visiting Ithaca, and then another two weeks before playing again, at St. John Fisher?
6. Millsaps got its revenge too, and we imagine 42-6 against a rival tastes sweet.
7. Wonder if the unexpected extra week of practice means anything for Wesley in its opener against dangerous Delaware Valley.
8. Cornell (vs. Grinnell) and North Park (vs. Carroll) haven't had conference success lately, but they've gotten wins in non-conference play. Cornell has started 2-0 the past two years, and North Park was 3-0 in 2005. Both are 0-1.
9. Four WIAC teams must play non-Division III opponents this week. Their scheduling woes have reached an extreme, someone man up and play them.
10. My wife must really love me. On the only weekend day I had off to celebrate our fourth anniversary, she trudged her suede boots through mud and pulled out an umbrella to accompany me to the Hiram-Gallaudet game. That I even went at all is a minor miracle, even if we did go to dinner right afterward. See what I do for you loyal readers!
Insight on the ballot of a D3football.com Top 25 voter, and the teams who are on the fringe:
I have 24 of the 25 teams ranked in the overall poll on my ballot, but in a much different order.
To add more proof to the ‘voters can be fickle early in the season' file, I felt like two teams played their way into my Top 25 this weekend while only one team played its way out. So while I made certain not to punish Wesley for having its game canceled, I couldn't say the same for its opponent, Christopher Newport.
Some of the unexplainable movements you see in this week's poll could be attributed to more than just the Week 1 games. Seven of this week's Top 25 teams did not play in Week 1, yet a few leapfrogged teams who did play. Our preseason ballots were due before practices even began, so in addition to Week 1 results, voters also had added data from training camps and Kickoff '08 at their disposal. And some things aren't easily explained, like why Mount Union's 33-3 victory against St. John Fisher earned it an extra first-place vote despite UW-Whitewater looking pretty impressive in a 24-9 win against a top NAIA program, St. Xavier.
My fringe (in a not-that-well-thought-out order): 26. Christopher Newport, 27. St. John Fisher, 28. Hobart, 29. Linfield, 30. Curry, 31. UW-La Crosse, 32. Montclair State, 33. Hampden-Sydney, 34. Mississippi College, 35. Albright.
Watching some other teams closely as well, and a lot tends to move in the first few weeks of the season.
Discuss the top 25 on D3boards.com.
As we track Division III's performance against teams from other classifications, the results seem to follow a familiar form over the past two years. Division III teams have a hard time with Division II, they split with Division I, FCS, playing mostly non-scholarship I-AA programs, and they defeat NAIA teams about two out of every three games. In Week 1, Plymouth State beat St. Anselm for our only victory in Division II, and the WIAC accounted for three of the five wins against the NAIA, although Whitewater and Eau Claire were each Top 25 teams playing Top 25 teams.
Inter-division games are common in the pre-conference-slate early going, but this week's list of 19 games is perhaps the longest I've seen. Highlights include UW-La Crosse trying to rebound from a Hardin-Simmons comeback by visiting North Dakota, a former Division II power from the North Central Conference making the move to Division I, FCS. There's also a clash between ranked teams, in Southern Nazarene/Mary Hardin-Baylor.
vs. Division I, FCS (1-2 in Week 1, 2-2 in 2008)
Franklin at Butler
Concordia (Wis.) at Valparaiso
UW-La Crosse at North Dakota
vs. Division II (1-2 in Week 1)
vs. NAIA (5-2 in Week 1)
No. 22 Southern Nazarene at No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor
No. 13 Virginia-Wise at Newport News
UW-Platteville at No. 11 St. Ambrose
No. 14 Jamestown at UW-Stout
Iowa Wesleyan at UW-Stevens Point
Dickinson State at Concordia-Moorhead
Kentucky Christian at Bethany
Southern Virginia at Ferrum
Shorter at LaGrange
Mayville State at Wisconsin Lutheran
Texas College at Howard Payne
Mississippi College at Cumberland (Ky.)
Huntingdon at Faulkner
Millsaps at Belhaven
Dakota State at Minnesota-Morris
Southwestern Assemblies of God at Sul Ross State
NAIA rankings come from Victory Sports Network's Sept. 8 poll.
This season you'll find the rest of our articles of interest from outside sources linked on the front page, down the right-hand rail under the heading ‘What we're reading.'
And even after we've kicked off, you can still get your hands on the 16 feature stories and 239 team capsules in Kickoff -- our preseason preview still available here.
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