Morning Sun
  • SISNEY: Championships have to involve a bit of magic

  • National championship seasons are extremely special and rare and how quickly do fans and observers not remember it the next season and the next season and the next season.

    For example, taking a look at Division I football since 1980, 20 different schools have won outright or shared national championships and only nine of those schools have won more than one title.

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  • National championship seasons are extremely special and rare and how quickly do fans and observers not remember it the next season and the next season and the next season.
    For example, taking a look at Division I football since 1980, 20 different schools have won outright or shared national championships and only nine of those schools have won more than one title.
    Miami (Fla.) won titles in 1983, 1987, 1989 and 1991 (shared with Washington) but had to wait until 2001 for its fifth national title, the Hurricanes’ last title. Georgia Tech won titles in 1917 and 1928; the Yellow Jackets waited over six decades for a third, shared with Colorado in 1990. Tennessee had a title gap of 47 years (1951-1998) and Auburn 53 (1957-2010).
    I bet you can’t remember when Pittsburgh (1976), Michigan State (1966), Arkansas (1964), Minnesota (1960), Mississippi (1960), Syracuse (1959), Iowa (1958), UCLA (1954), Maryland (1953), Army (1945), Texas A&M (1939) and Texas Christian (1938) last won national titles in football.
    You’re right, all those schools won those national titles before I was even born (1978).
    That leads us to Pittsburg State, the defending Division II national champions.
    I heard talk before the season about how many national titles the Gorillas could win in a row. It’s only natural, only human to discuss these subjects at whatever length but it holds absolutely no bearing on what happens on the field. Crowd noise on game days proves more a factor, i.e. Pitt State fans affected Delta State (Miss.) in the National Semifinals last season and Gorilla players of the past and present, especially defensive players, have said they feed off the Carnie Smith crowd energy.
    Anyway, I was quick to point out that several PSU teams between 1991 and 2011, as well as between 1961 and 1991, had national title potential but fell short of that difficult feat.
    Pitt State finished national runner-up in 1981 (NAIA) and its 1986-1990 seasons were each distinguished by their only loss in the playoffs, NAIA and NCAA. Between 1991 and 2011, Pitt State finished national runner-up in 1992, 1995 and 2004, seasons where the only loss came in NCAA-II national title games; all those great Pitt State teams did not finish with national titles. The Gorillas — the all-time winningest NCAA-II football program — won titles in 1957, 1961, 1991 and 2011.
    At the press conference last December in Florence, Ala., Pitt State head coach Tim Beck discussed 1991 and 2011.
    “In 1991, I coached for Coach (Chuck) Broyles,” he said. “I got married that summer and I am the worst golfer in America and they say my swing makes Charles Barkley’s look smooth. I hit a hole-in-one two days before I got married and won the National Championship that year. I thought, man, this feels pretty easy but then it took 20 yards to finally get one.
    “I told my players the other day, ‘Think about this now. Some of you are 18, 19 years old, but I’ve been walking in my office for 20 years looking at that big picture of the 1991 National Championship team. I was very proud to be a part of that but 20 years looking at the same picture, it’s time to get another picture up there.’”
    Page 2 of 3 - Last season, there were 1,923 plays from scrimmage over 14 games for the Gorillas. If one looks at it objectively, let’s say if any one or two or three or a dozen of those 1,923 plays went another way, Pitt State would not have won a national title. It’s as simple or as complex as that.
    There’s so many elements that have to come together and synergize during a national championship season. I believe that’s why you hear the phrases “a magical season” or “a dream season.”
    Something transcends hard work and dedication. Hard work and dedication are necessary but not the only factors in a championship season. Chemistry, patience and playing through adversity all play a factor; Pitt State playing three consecutive home playoff games made a huge difference.
    Expectations became so high for Pitt State over that long build-up between the completion of last season and the 2012 season opener against Northeastern State (Okla.) that anything less than a 14-0 National Championship season would feel like a disappointment.
    The 2011 team entered the season unranked and picked No. 5 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The 2012 team was selected No. 1 in every preseason ranking known to football.
    After all, All-American players Nate Dreiling and John Brown were returning, as well as Gus Toca, Briceton Wilson, Jason Spradling, Andrew Castaneda, Luke Rampy, Aaron Kolich, Cody Holland, Joe Uzzel, plus Solomon Watkins and Chas Smith would be recovered from knee injuries.
    The defensive backfield would be aided tremendously by the return of Smith and the additions of KU transfer Keeston Terry and former Northwest Missouri defensive back Graylon Sanders to the mix.
    Third-year sophomore quarterback Anthony Abenoja would be taking over at starting quarterback, his performance in the 2011 Spring Game and his potential fresh in everybody’s mind. This was a talented football team with several returning contributors and a veteran coaching staff fresh off the ultimate success.
    Pitt State took care of business its first five games: Northeastern State 41-20, Central Oklahoma 34-19, Southwest Baptist 52-9, Lincoln 59-17 and Central Missouri 30-21. The Gorillas feasted on teams predominantly in the bottom half of the MIAA.
    The Gorillas led Northwest 7-0 at halftime, 14-0 after the first drive of the second half and 14-10 after three quarters in Game 6. That’s when the wheels started falling off and opponents started making more of the “money plays” than the Gorillas, those plays crucial to every game. Remember that Pitt State believes in the “one play at a time, one game at a time” philosophy.
    A pair of fourth-down plays early in the fourth quarter were essential in the Fall Classic at Arrowhead XI. With a fourth-and-1 at the Northwest 17, Beck chose to go for it rather than kick a field goal with a 14-10 lead; Northwest stonewalled short-yardage specialist Mandel Dixon for no gain and no points. It was not a bad decision. Northwest just made the play.
    Page 3 of 3 - Two Northwest possessions later, Northwest took advantage of field position gained on an interception of Abenoja in Pitt State territory. It took cashing in on a fourth-and-4 at the Pitt State 29, a perfectly-executed play by Northwest quarterback Trevor Adams and receiver John Hinchey for a 29-yard touchdown. Again, the Bearcats just made the play. Northwest took a 17-14 lead and eventually built it to 31-14, scoring 31 unanswered before Pitt State added a late TD for the 31-21 final score.
    Game 7 of the Gorillas’ season presented two nationally-ranked teams both off their first losses: Pitt State in the Fall Classic and Missouri Western 31-30 at home to Missouri Southern. One nationally-ranked team answered the bell and it was not Pitt State.
    Pitt State looked good early in front of a stadium-record Homecoming crowd, forcing a Western punt on defense and scoring the game’s first points on a 11-play, 87-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 6-yard pass from Abenoja to Brown. After that early 7-0 lead, Pitt State would not score again until Trezz Tillman ran in from 2 yards out with 11:08 remaining in the game. Western scored 56 unanswered points and won 63-14.
    It was an unbelievable loss. Worst loss in Brandenburg Field/Carnie Smith Stadium (opened 1924), worst Homecoming loss, worst loss to Western, worst loss since 2009, worst home loss since 1914 and 10th worst loss in program history. Western came into the Jungle and humbled the Gorillas.
    Pitt State defeated Truman State 20-6 in Game 8, overpowering an undersized Truman defense for 382 rushing yards but penalties and turnovers kept Pitt State from a more sizable victory margin.
    I was not surprised that Lindenwood won Saturday, definitely not after the Lions delivered a 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. That play set a tone for the rest of the game and Lindenwood scored 17 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters to build a 41-19 lead en route to a 44-33 win.
    The Gorillas did not play badly against Lindenwood — untimely penalties, a bad turnover, three TDs of at least 80 yards by Lindenwood standout Denodus O’Bryant and those 17 unanswered combined to do in Pitt State.
    Pitt State now owns a 3-2 home record this season.
    The Gorillas close out their regular season Saturday with Missouri Southern, a game that will show their competitive mettle, their character and will go a long way in determining how one looks at this year. It will also have an impact on next season. Every game’s a big game and for their sake, the Gorillas had better play like it on Saturday or they’ll be 6-4.

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