By Alyssa Kerry
The Statesmen’s football season ends with a 7-4 record total, 4-1 in conference play, and the label of a co-conference champions of the North Division in the Heart of America Conference.
What started out as a game of opportunity ended in the Statesmen’s devastating loss to Grand View on November 12th. Not only losing to their biggest rivals, but ultimately ending one of the best season’s that the squad has had.
Sophomore, Cooper Gosch, said “we played hard and left it all on the field just the outcome didn’t come in our favor this year.”
The rivalry between the Vikings and the Statesmen have been going on for years, with Grandview coming out on top since 2013. The last time the Statesmen took home the trophy was in the fall of 2012.
The statesmen started out the season with a huge amount of young talent. Hoping that the amount of talent within the returners, and the new recruits would be enough to trump the inexperience that some of their players had. After coming off of a solid debut in the Heart of America Conference last year, going 7-4 overall, fans were looking to see what was next for this team.
With a similar schedule to last year the Statesmen began their season with cross-over games with the South division.
The Statesmen squad begun the season with one of the lowest scoring games that they have seen since 2002. Falling to Missouri Valley 8-7 in a game that was considered to be defensive strong. The offense starting off the season struggling to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.
The Statesmen going on to have yet another one-point loss, this time to MidAmerica Nazarene. After having one of their best openings in a game, the statesmen were unable to close out the win in the fourth quarter. As the Pioneers were able to score 15 points in the final quarter of the game to capture the win.
Junior, Amos Johnson, said “we had a slow start putting things together and catching a rhythm as a team. We lost a couple of games by one point that I feel like we defiantly should have won.”
With two devastating losses under their belt the Statesmen went on to play one of the toughest teams in the south division, Baker. Losing to Baker 41-7, left the Statesmen with a 0-3 record to begin the season.
Over the next few weeks the Statesmen went back to the basics. Improving on team chemistry and working on developing plays that would work better for them.
With the experience from the first three games under their belt the newcomers started to settle down, and begun to get use to the level it takes to play in college.
Gosch, claimed “a lot of people counted us out and didn’t think we could turn it around, but it really brought us closer as a team and battled back.”
The statesmen broke the losing steak after beating Central Methodist 34-21. The squad had a blowout in the first three quarters of the game. This was only the start of the Statesmen’s winning streak. As they went on to win over Evangel and Avila.
Homecoming fell on October 15th when the statesmen played against Peru State. During this game, the statesmen suffered the loss of their quarterback, junior, Eric Cooper.
As he suffered an injury during the middle of the game and was unable to return for any of the games to follow. Even through injuries, the Statesmen pulled out a 13-9 win over the Bobcats.
Due to the injury of Cooper, it led to the team being handed off to Senior, Van Parker, who had to take control of the team and keep them focused on the upcoming games.
Parker said “I feel the season was good it didn’t start they way we hoped but it got a lot better we had a lot of adversity but we overcame tons.”
Coming out of his first start as quarterback Parker had 221 yards. This was the most since 2011. With Parker leading the Statesmen offense he guided the team to another victory, and their fifth straight win. Going on to the next week to win their 6th game in a row.
After 6 straight wins, the squad had moved up in the rankings to 20th, jumping 8 spots in the polls. This was their first time being in the top-25 since the pre-season poll.
The statesmen came into the game against Graceland with their heads held high, a complete 180 from the beginning of the season. Coming off of a large amount of success the previous weeks, and with the new rankings the Statesmen felt ready to take on the Yellowjackets. The game, however, didn’t start off as well as planned. The Statesmen only held a lead in the beginning of the game. The squad started the fourth quarter trailing by ten points with 11 minutes left in the game. The squad scored two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes of the game to secured a narrow win over the Yellowjackets, finishing 27-24. With the win over Graceland, paired with Grand Views loss to Benedictine it locked the programs seventh conference title, and its third in the last seven seasons. However, it was a first in the Heart of America conference.
Due to the first three losses of the season, it meant in order for Statesmen’s season to continue they needed to beat their rivals Grand View. With the loss against the Vikings, it meant that the Statesmen didn’t have a chance to compete in a play-off game this year.
Senior, Van Parker, said” I’m very happy we ended it with getting a ring. Playoffs were our goal but being a senior that never got a ring I’m happy we at least got something. This was a special season, we had a very tight team and I’m going to miss it.”
More recently, 11 players were recognized for their campaigns throughout the season, as the 2016 Heart of America Athletic Conference North Division teams were announced on November 21st.
Head Coach Todd Hafner was chosen as the North Division head coach of the year.
Senior, Hunter Barry
Sophomore, Hunter Dailey
Junior, Mason Wisse
Senior, Antonio Brown
Senior, Van Parker
Freshman, Sione Mafua
Junior, Winston Green
Junior, Amos Johnson
Sophomore, Cooper Gosch
Sophomore, Kyle Baldassarre.
In a season that was considered to be a rebuilding year when it first started, three straight loses, two of which only by one point, the Statesmen were able to overcome and finish the season with a co-conferenece championship.
The Statesmen now look into the off season, where they start putting in more work for the spring ball season.
Gosch, said “the off season starts now and we have to work even harder to have another successful spring ball and an even better season next year.”