|The Bruins finished above .500 in the third season of the program's rebirth.
Photo courtesy George Fox Athletics
Congratulations to the 25 teams who clinched their conference's automatic bid, and to Mary Hardin-Baylor, a sure lock for the lone Pool B bid. There are about ten teams realistically sweating out this evening's announcement of the Pool C berths. There are plenty of places to research and speculate who those six will be.
The final week of the regular season is a good time for hellos and goodbyes. A few young programs announced themselves as here to stay in 2016. A few legendary coaches said goodbye on Saturday.
George Fox secured a winning season in the program's third year since the school reinstated football. The Bruins finished 5-4, winning five of their final six games.
Southwestern completed a perfect SCAC campaign in the program's fourth season. After a 1-3 start, the Pirates reeled off six straight wins. The program won just three games total through its first three seasons.
Berry finished 9-1 in the program's fourth season. It looks like that might not be enough to earn the Vikings their first playoff berth. Berry shared the SAA title with Washington U., but the Bears' head-to-head win on October 1 gives Wash U. the automatic bid.
These programs are clearly on the rise. Another recent startup got over the hump this season, as Stevenson earned its first playoff berth in the program's sixth season.
Pomona-Pitzer had won just seven games this decade entering the 2016 season. Head coach Roger Caron announced that this was going to be his final season after 21 years at the helm. The Sagehens finished 6-3, sending their coach off on a high note and leaving the program with momentum. It was Pomona-Pitzer's best season since 1999.
Christopher Newport bounced back from an uncharacteristic 4-6 season to finish 7-3 in head coach Matt Kelchner's final campaign. Kelchner led the program for all of its 16 seasons. He finishes with 109 victories and 10 playoff appearances.
Ithaca won its final home game last week, but fell in the Cortaca Jug game, Mike Welch's final game as head coach of the Bombers. Ithaca finished 5-5 this season, winning all of its home games, but losing all of its road games. Welch finishes his 23-year run with 169 career victories.
Misericordia avoided a winless season by defeating FDU-Florham, 40-36, in its finale. Those seniors endured a long, difficult season (for the fourth straight year), but get to go out on a victorious note.
Trinity (Conn.)'s seniors went out on the best note, capping off a perfect 8-0 NESCAC season. The Bantams dominated the conference this season to claim their first title since 2012. Defense led the way for Trinity this season, as the Bantams allowed just 12.6 points per game. There are many folks around the country who would love to see what this team could do in the playoffs.
How about this for a final play of your football career? Aurora senior Justin Gibbons blocked a point after try in overtime, securing the victory and a share of the NACC title for the Spartans. What a way to go out, arguably better than getting to the playoffs and getting blown out in the opening round.
There will be some very good teams left home. Seniors at Frostburg State, Muhlenberg, UW-Platteville, and the other teams on the bubble have to put blinders on and try to go about their Sunday afternoon business a usual. Guilford was in the same position last year, finishing 9-1 and expecting to earn an at-large bid and keep playing. That bid never came, and those Quakers seniors were left stunned on Selection Sunday. For those left out and disappointed this year, it will take some time to sink in. It will hurt.
There are hundreds of seniors who played their final football game on Saturday. We spent a lot of time this season talking to players and coaches from around the nation about why they love football and what Division III football means to them. Today is going to be an emotional day, especially for those players who don't yet know if their football career is over. Some seniors might be happy that their season is over. Others will need some time to figure out what to do next. Some unsolicited advice from a former player: do not continue eating like a football player; do continue working out even though you'll want to take a break from lifting weights; stay involved, if you love football, either through writing or coaching.
Thank those who helped you on this journey. Thank your parents, every coach who ever taught you anything, every teammate who pushed you, every opponent who made you better, every patient friend who supported you. Thank your Division III school for affording you the opportunity to play the game you love for a few extra years. Thank your athletic trainers for keeping you healthy or for helping you recover from injury. Thank your professors for their support. Most of all, look back on your D-III football experience with pride. You put in the extra time and effort, not for money or fanfare or future opportunity. You did it for yourself and for those parents and coaches who got you to this point. Whether you ended on a win or a loss--and you'll always remember the losses more than the wins--I hope you can look back on your football memories with happiness. Today is going to be bittersweet. Go give a teammate a hug.
Some people think that D-III football season is now over. But we're just getting started. Over the next five weeks, we are going to bring you comprehensive playoff coverage. It will start with tonight's selection show and the unveiling of the playoff bracket. We'll release the final regular season Top 25 poll of 2016. Tomorrow will feature the Around the Nation podcast, essential listening especially this time of year. We'll have final Around the Region columns highlighting playoff teams coming Tuesday and Wednesday.
Around the Nation will have a panel giving you our surprises, disappointments, and predicted winners of each playoff region. On Friday, Quick Hits kicks it up a notch in the postseason, as we pick winners from each game as well as predict the scores of each game. Saturday, the Road to Salem gets real. Sixteen more teams will play their final game of 2016. Stay tuned as we provide you with all the information you need taking you through the Stagg Bowl on December 16.