September 15, 2011

Trinity (Texas) facing a new world

More news about: McMurry | Trinity (Texas)
Trinity (Texas) might find itself in bad shape for scheduling future football games.
Trinity athletics photo 

Steve Mohr hasn’t had a whole lot to worry about over the past 20-plus years as the Trinity head football coach. During that time he has a established the program into one of the most recognizable names in Division III football. The Tigers have won more Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference titles than you could count on your fingers, advanced to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in 2002 and pull off one the most memorable fantastic finishes in football history at any level.

But one fear has lingered ever since he took the job back in the early 1990s, the loss of a conference affiliation.

“That was the only thing over the last 20 years that I’ve been worried about,” Mohr said. “If Trinity ever lost its league affiliation, we were not going to be in very good shape.”

But Mohr saw that fear come true over the past offseason as seven schools, including five that play football, broke away from the SCAC to form the Southern Athletic Association. With DePauw having already gone, following the 2011 season, the SCAC will only have five schools left in Austin, Colorado College, Southwestern, University of Dallas (new this fall) and Trinity. Of those only Austin currently has a football program.

“In the ‘80s, when Trinity had no conference,” Mohr said. “Some years we only played seven or eight games in a season. We didn’t have anybody to play.

“We are kind of sitting down here on an island. When you look around for southern region opponents, gosh there’s just not a lot to choose from.”

Though most of the current SCAC teams will continue to play each other in 2012, insuring a ten-game schedule for all teams, neither the SCAC nor the SAA will have the seven required teams to receive an automatic qualifier to the NCAA football tournament. Hendrix has committed to starting football in 2013 in the new SAA, but either Berry or Oglethorpe would have to add the sport to reach the required number of seven. That or the SAA would have to add football-only members. There was a proposal to add Trinity and Austin as football-only members, but apparently that idea was not accepted.

This left Mohr and even some of the coaches from schools leaving the SCAC scratching their heads.

“It hurts everyone involved, not having a league and an AQ that gives these kids an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament” Mohr said. “I think maybe two of the five are looking forward to breaking away. I think three of the five would really rather stay and keep the conference intact.

“It’s out of the coaches hands. It’s in the president’s hands. They see it as a cost-cutting thing. I’m not so sure that I buy into all that to be honest.”

One rival coach even suggested that a couple of the breakaway schools simply didn’t want Trinity because of the across the board strength of all their athletic programs.

“I don’t know if it is so much that,” Mohr said.

Mohr feels that a divisional east/west type scenario in the other sports with the champions coming together at the end of the season to determine a champion could have cut travel costs.

“It’s out of our control,” Mohr said. “Football gets hurt the worst because of the lack of teams. We only had seven teams to begin with.

I think it’s not a very good situation for everybody involved. I think in football it shakes out as there really being no winner. Really it leaves a lot of what ifs.

“I think the remaining five schools in the SAA are going to be affected by this too and everybody’s going to be scrambling for competition.”

Short term scheduling will not be a problem for SCAC remaining Austin and Trinity as they will continue to play the SAA teams in 2012. But long term prospects are still uncertain.

“When ’13 rolls around, it’s anybody’s guess,” Mohr said. “There’s a lot of speculation of what’s going to happen, but the general consensus is Trinity and Austin are on their own. For us, and Austin, we have a lot of hole to fill in ’13. It’s not a very good scenario right now.”

Games early in the season should not be hard to find for the pair, but when other teams are in their conference schedules later in the season, games could be harder to come by. Southern independents like LaGrange (who will join the USA South next season,) Huntingdon and Wesley have faced this issue.

So what are the future prospects for Trinity and maybe Austin, who left the America Southwest Conference in the mid 00’s to join the SCAC?

The geographic fit would seem to be the ASC which will have six Texas teams after McMurry leaves to join D-II next season. Both for many reasons, most probably, the idea of being in a conference of like-minded institutions, this isn’t likely where Trinity of Austin will end up,

“I don’t think that’s going to be an option, honestly,” Mohr said. Even though geographically it might fit, I think that would be one of those last resort type things.

“If it comes down to the worst case scenario, we might consider it. I just know that right now our administration is not looking that way. Somewhere out on the horizon, there’s some schools that we’ll approach to form some sort of affiliation. Whether it’s a football-only type league or playing as an independent for a couple of years until we see what shakes out with new schools starting football or some other schools out there as an independent that might be intent on starting a league.”

Perhaps the most attractive option for Trinity is the University Athletic Association which includes football-playing schools in Carnegie-Melon, University of Chicago, Case Western Reserve and Washington University.

“I would certainly approve it,” Mohr said of an alliance with the UAA. “That would be my first thought.

“Their affiliation with the North Coast ends in ’12. To me, we are used to traveling and flying anyway. Trinity would be a natural fit for those UAA schools and yet you just don’t know what their administrations want to do.”

“I do know in talking with some of the coaches in the UAA that it would be a distinct possibility. I would certainly be in favor of that, to try to form a seven-team league, even if it’s just football-only.”

The possibility of drawing other teams, maybe even from the ASC, to join the SCAC aren’t likely as of this time.

“I don’t think that that’s and option to be honest,” Mohr said. “I haven’t heard of a lot of schools willing to separate themselves.

“They have to look at the coast of travel and what it would involve. I’m not so sure it would be advantageous to them. I haven’t heard a lot of conversation along those lines.”

At any rate, the SCAC will play its first conference game this weekend as Trinity will travel to Rhodes this Saturday. The Tigers, have started the season 2-0 with wins over ASC conference members Howard Payne and Texas Lutheran. In beating TLU 43-14, they avenged a 42-14 loss to the Bulldogs from last season that spiraled into 4-6 record. It was their first losing season in eighteen years.

Thus Saturday against Rhodes they’ll get another chance to avenge a 2010 loss. The Lynx beat Trinity 22-16 at E.M Steven Field last season, building a 22-3 lead by early in the fourth quarter before withstanding a late Tiger comeback.

The Tigers are secure at quarterback for the first time in a couple of seasons. Nyk McKissic is playing a very high level completing 24 of 32 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception with a young receiving corps. Meanwhile, Pat Granchelli and Desmond King have combined for 237 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The defense has been solid as well allowing just 10 points a game and 182 total yards.The tigers have been spearheaded by the play of linebackers Nick Darling, who missed last season with injury, and Ben Robinson.

“This being the last year for the conference, I think it’s pretty wide open,” Mohr said. “I am  looking forward to a very competitive race.”

And with a 2-0 start and an uncertain future, you can bet that Mohr and the Tigers would love to finish that race in first.

McMurry comes up big

Around the West columnist Jason Galleske sent me this on the War Hawks' big win over UT-San Antonio in the Alamodome Saturday night. (I guess he got confused on which teams he covers, Sheesh, newbies! But seriously thanks to him.)

Big game, dwindling clock, heroics.

Jake Mullin had done it before.

The junior quarterback from McMurry threw a game-winning strike to Delfonte Diamond with 19 seconds to go to give the War Hawks a 24-21 victory over Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision UT-San Antonio Saturday in front of a 31,634 crowd at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

"I don't how to describe it, just blessed," Mullin said. "It really felt like déjà vu on the field that night. I think having that last drive in high school really helped us out in this game."

The other drive Mullin was referring to was in 2006 while at Burleson High School, he threw a touchdown pass to Courteland Gilbert in the final minutes to give Burleson the district title over Mansfield Summit. Ironically, both players were on the field for Saturday's win as Gilbert is a receiver for the War Hawks.

"Exact same story, exact same play, it was nuts," Mullin said.

It was a big turn of events from the previous week as the War Hawks were trounced 82-6 a week prior by Stephen F. Austin, another FCS school, but this one ranked rather than a first-year program.

"Against SFA, we weren't ready for their speed and size," Mullin said. "That was a wakeup call for us to wake up and get back to basics. The whole week against UTSA, we made the game plan easier, running plays that were basic and we worked off of those. After we came out against UTSA early and we had some good plays, we built up our confidence and went from there."

The War Hawks not only earned the victory but took some good sightseeing adventures of several San Antonio landmarks, most notably the Alamo.

"We weren't supposed to win," War Hawks coach Hal Mumme said. "So getting something out of it was great and then coming from behind and getting the win was tremendous."
Now another tough task awaits as McMurry will face third-ranked Mary-Hardin Baylor this week to open up conference play.

"We need a little better and be solid," Mumme said. "A lot more solid than first week. We were a little more consistent. We have 23 seniors, they know what this game means, I don't have to say much to them."

Games this Week

Sewanee (1-1) at Puget Sound (0-1).   It will be a long road trip mileage-wise to the Pacific Northwest for the Tigers, who have looked improved this season under first-year coach Tommy Laurendine.

Millsaps (1-1) at Louisiana College (1-0). This is a interesting matchup between top team in the SCAC and ASC, but will Millsaps have their starting quarterback in Gabe Pinciotti? The Wildcats had a week off after an OT win over Belhaven. New quarterback Jamie Bunting, replacing graduated Ben McLaughlin, had good numbers, but three interceptions.

Birmingham-Southern (2-0) at Ave Maria (0-1). The Panthers should go to 3-0 against a first-year  program after an amazing comeback OT win over Huntingdon for the Wesley Cup.

Trinity (2-0) at Rhodes (0-1). First-year Dan Gritti felt the opener against Washington U would be a measuring stick, but after a 48-21 loss it looks like the Lynx have a way to go. Of course they do usually sneak up and bit somebody during SCAC play. Can they do it against an unbeaten Trinity squad?

Washington & Lee (2-0) at Centre (1-0). An interesting matchup between contenders in the ODAC and SCAC. A win here makes a Pool C resume look pretty good for either team.

Texas Lutheran (1-1) at East Texas Baptist (1-1). The ASC  opener for both teams, This was a trap game for ETBU last year when they lost 17-14 to a team that was winless in 2009. After playing Wesley touch and crushing Austin, the Tigers hope not to get fooled again. TLU gets a fresh start after getting crushed by Trinity.

Southwest Assemblies (1-1) at Austin (0-2). The Roos are off to a disappointing start, but did this matchup last season 28-6.

McMurry (1-1) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (1-0). The War Hawks start their ASC and D-III schedule after splitting a pair of games with D-I FCS opponents. Why not do it against the D3Football.com third-ranked Crusaders? UMHB beat UW-Lacrosse 27-20 last week with 291 passing yards and 30 passes. Who are these guys? Oh yeah, they still ran for 220 yards.

Hardin-Simmons (2-0) at Mississippi College (1-1). Great early season ASC matchup. The Cowboys have a pair of good looking nonconference wins to open the season, while the Choctaws could be 2-0 but last a tough one 35-31 to Belhaven last week.

Sul Ross State (1-1) at Howard Payne (0-2). ASC opener an important one for two teams that finished at the bottom of the conference last year.

Faulkner (1-0) at Huntingdon (1-1). Montgomery cross town matchup. The Hawks blew a late 21-2 lead last week to BSC but have yet to ever lose to NAIA Faulkner.

Maryville (0-2) at LaGrange (0-2). Somebody gets their first win in this matchup of future USA South Conference foes.

Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@D3Jason).

Contributing: Jason Galleske
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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join D3football.com for his first season as the Around the South columnist..
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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