What else can you feel but pity for the Indiana State football team?
In asking that, I know I’m treading on thin ice. Players don’t want to hear about pity, it can be condescending toward the effort they put in to win. No player wants anyone to feel sorry for them.
And that goes double for coaches, who buy completely into the black-and-white reality of wins and losses, even if the world at large doesn’t work that way. If your team didn’t win, even if a team that was leading with 2.3 seconds left to go, then you prepared 2.3 seconds less than you should have to avoid your lot.
No athlete or coach wants pity.
That said, losses don’t come more heartbreaking than ISU’s 27-24 overtime defeat against Missouri State on Saturday. ISU was 2.3 seconds away from a win that would have ended what was a 25-game losing streak.
Instead, the Bears tied the game with a touchdown on the final play of regulation and won in overtime. Instead of burying its recent woes, ISU will take a 26-game losing streak into the off-season and all the baggage of having the nation’s longest losing streak will stay inside ISU’s closet.
Considering what was riding on the outcome, it was probably the most emotional loss I’ve witnessed.
If ISU wins, it would still be 1-11, but it would have gone into an offseason with tangible proof they they’ve made strides. No one has to tell the Sycamores in the locker room or those who observe the team that they’ve improved — they know they have — but for the fans out there who just look at a team’s record in passing once or twice it would have made a difference perception-wise.
Instead of a rousing win to get the nine off-season months off to an inspiring start, ISU’s players and coaches will brood. In the spring. In the summer. Probably, for the rest of their lives. Athletes never get over losses like that.
So yeah, whether they like it or not, I feel pity for ISU, it deserved a happier fate. Especially when the quit that was there in some of the 26 losses suffered prior to this season, was nowhere to be seen on Saturday. ISU showed grit, wiped out a 14-0 deficit to take the lead, but still suffered its cruelest fate when it did the most to prevent it.
Pity is fleeting, perspective is more important, something that can be equally difficult to ask from players or coaches after such a hard loss.
But ISU’s players tried, even if the hurt was visceral.
“We’re better. It’s going to be a fun thing to come back next year to see these guys turn it around,” said ISU senior linebacker Jayden Everett, who was a standout on and off the field for the Sycamores.
Deep down everyone involved with the ISU program knew this season was about righting the ship. The 50-point blowouts that were commonplace last season had to be stopped, and though ISU suffered a few of those early in the season, ISU was competitive over the last half of its schedule. In its last three games, ISU lost by 14 at Youngstown State, by 28 to conference co-champion Northern Iowa, and in overtime to Missouri State.
“We’ve progressed, but that’s not good enough anymore. We have to start winning football games. This was one that was winnable, we just didn’t get it done in the end,” ISU coach Trent Miles said. “It hope this hurts. I hope it affects the off-season. I hope it sticks with them, the hurt should be motivation to get up and get there on time. To do the extra reps in the weight room. If I doesn’t hurt, there’s something wrong.”
ISU has much to build on next season, but still has a lot to do. Only five seniors walked off the Memorial Stadium turf for the last time on Saturday. Some of ISU’s best players — running back Darrius Gates, fullback Brock Lough, defensive backs Donye McCleskey and Alex Sewall, linebacker C.J. Cook, left tackle Matt Duke and quarterback Ryan Roberts — should all return for more next season, many of them with their first year of spring football under their belts.
The major responsibility, however, falls on the coaches. ISU will likely bring in another large recruiting class. Help is needed everywhere, but especially on both lines, at the receiver spots and at quarterback. A win would have been real nice for the coaches to show recruits they’re making progress, but the case can still be made.
So while ISU suffered a cruel fate on Saturday, it’s hard not to think that the Sycamores turned a corner. They haven’t won yet, but they’re far closer than they were at this time a year ago.
“It’s better than it was at this point last year, but like coach said, we have to start winning now. It’s not acceptable. We have to win, we have to do it. We have to get it done,” Everett said.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley
What else can you feel but pity for the Indiana State football team?
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