A year ago they needed a little help.
In the second to the last game of the 2009 season, DePauw had defeated Austin 34-23 to clinch a share of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title. But their playoff fate that was still to be determined.
Players, parents, coaches and the rest of the Tiger faithful gathered around a laptop computer in the parking lot following the victory listening and hoping that Trinity could knock off Centre. When that happened, the program earned its first trip to the NCAA playoffs.
And as much as that was a great moment in the history of DePauw football, it wasn’t a moment that second-year coach Robby Long wanted to repeat. Long has spent much of this season preaching to his Tigers that they needed to control their own destiny.
“We’ve talking about that since we got into conference play,” Long said. “As you win the stakes get higher. When we went down to Millsaps, that was our mantra, we wanted to put ourselves in the driver’s seat in the conference.
“Every week, regardless of the opponent, those were things that we talked about. There’s no point in being in the driver’s seat if you are not going to press the gas. Those are the things we talked about on a daily basis, staying fired up, staying focused, prepare for each opponent as if it was the conference championship game, which they all are. The kids really ran with that.”
On Saturday against Trinity, Long got the chance to put his money where his mouth was.
His 7-0 Tigers had dominated the game statistically, but still trailed the Texas Tigers 31-24 late in the fourth quarter largely due to three turnovers. The most costly was a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by Trinity’s Ben Robinson with just 1:19 remaining in the game.
Fortunately for Long, the driver of his offense is senior quarterback Michael Engle. And it was Engle who was able to “step on the gas” in leading DePauw on five-play, 62-yard drive that was capped with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Alex Koors that pulled them to within 31-30. Engle completed five straight passes to four different receivers on the drive.
At that point, a coach has a decision to make, kick the extra point to sent the game into overtime or go for two and the win.
And Long had made his decision not long after Robinson crossed the goal line to give Trinity the lead. If DePauw scored, they would go for two.
Long’s decision paid off. Engle hit Nathan Evans in the end zone and the Indiana Tigers walked away with a 32-31 victory. The win clinched the program’s second straight NCAA bid and also marked the first time they had beaten Trinity in San Antonio in six tries. It is also the first time since 1951 that they have started 7-0. They can clinch the SCAC title outright if they beat Austin on Nov. 6.
And while the decision to go for two was certainly gutsy, Long felt it was really rather easy considering the confidence he has in his team.
“I’ve got a lot of trust in our players,” Long said. “Putting the ball in Engle’s hands in that situation was not a tough call for me.
“We were able to swing the momentum and go down and score. So I felt we had the momentum, you are on the road, you’ve got a great group of wide receivers and quarterback. It was not a touch decision for me. Luckily it worked out for us.
“You talk to 100 coaches and 50 would tell you one thing and 50 would tell you another. On the that day, in that situation, the way I felt about our team and how we were playing, I wanted to go for it and get out of there with a win.”
But confidence aside, you have to be impressed with the other factors Long considered at the end hard fought emotional football game with conference and playoff hopes on the line. The emotion of the moment is not always conducive to sound decision making. But when listening to Long going for two sounds perfectly logical
“There were other things involved,” Long admitted. “They’ve got a great kicker. If you go to overtime and give them the ball on the 25, it’s probably automatic. So you have to be perfect. So that went into (the decision.)
“If you can get the ball on the 2-yard line with an opportunity to win the football game; I like that scenario a little bit better than having it on the 25, especially with the momentum that we were playing with. Those were the things that were running through my mind, and that’s why we made that decision.”
Most teams have their two-point plays scripted out well in advance. Think back to the “Statue of Liberty” play that Boise State ran a few years back in the Fiesta Bowl to beat Oklahoma. And while DePauw’s score was play call was not nearly as flashy as the Broncos, it was something the coaching staff felt was perfect for the situation.
“It’s one of the plays that we have that we like to run down inside the five-yard line,” Long said. “We have three to five plays that we know we can rely on down there.
“It was simply a smash route. The inside receiver goes to the corner; the outside receiver is going to run a hitch or slant or something underneath. From the sideline, all I wanted hear from the offensive coordinator was ‘did he like the look.”
Meaning as they lined up there was the potential that Trinity could come out a defensive alignment that could take that particular play away.
“We’re sending guys in motion to find out whether or not they’re in man coverage or zone coverage,” Long said. “We were prepared to call timeout if there was something going on that we couldn’t handle from a protection or coverage standpoint.
“Once we saw the look, we knew we liked it. You have to put the ball in your best player’s hands, which we did and it worked out for us. I don’t think they sold out (on the blitz) and came after us, but they were definitely in man to that side of the field.”
“Hats off to our offensive staff and players, they are always well prepared. They knew what they were looking for, they got what they were looking for and they executed it.”
And according to Long, there was no doubt among his players at the time that the decision was the right one.
“They wanted to go for it,” he said. “There was no question that when we threw that ball to Koors for a 34-yard touchdown that they wanted to go for two.
“I am glad that their mind sets were in the same place as mine. They are an aggressive group. They love to win. They are not afraid to take risks and lay in on the line for each other.”
But as the first team to clinch an NCAA playoff bid, Long knows that with three weeks left in the season the potential for a let up is possible. Especially now that the top three contenders for the SCAC title are now in their rear view window. Last season, DePauw clinched a bid, but the lost the following week in the Monon Bell game to Wabash and in the opening round of the playoffs to Thomas More. It left a bad taste in the mouths coming into this season and has spurred the team’s success this year.
“We had to go to Millsaps, we had to go to Centre, we had to go to Trinity,” he said. “We never really had a letdown. The guys went and took care of business and came back the next week ready to go.
“We’ve gotten some good breaks along the way. There’s no question about that, but that’s football. Our guys have been focused on getting to this point. We’re extremely proud of them as coaches that they’ve put in the work to get where they are.”
“Now we are in a three-game season. It’s no different than starting the season back in September. You want to go undefeated. We want to go 3-0 in this home stretch and we are going to prepare for each of them individually.”
If they can go 3-0, they may just be hosting the program’s first playoff game at Blackstock Stadium.
This Week’s Games
Birmingham-Southern (5-2) at DePauw (7-0): DePauw will have to guard against a letdown against the Panthers, whose two losses (Trinity and Centre) came by a total of just 17 points.
Trinity (3-4) at Huntingdon (4-4): The Tigers could have a tough time bouncing back on the road against a Hawk team that beat the 17th-ranked team in the NAIA, Webber International, on the road last week.
Sewanee (1-7, 0-4) at Millsaps (5-3, 4-1): The Majors should keep their hopes of at least a share of the SCAC title with a win over the Tigers who have lost seven straight.
Centre (4-3, 2-2) at Rhodes (2-5, 1-3): The Colonels have won three-of-four despite falling to Millsaps last week, while The Lynx have dropped four straight.
Sul Ross State (1-5, 1-4) at Mississippi College (3-4, 1-4): The Choctaws, last year’s ASC co champs, continue the climb back toward the .500 mark against the Lobos who have sputtered recently but at least quarterback Monty Morales is back and still putting up big numbers.
Texas Lutheran (3-4, 2-3) at Louisiana College (4-3, 4-1): The Wildcats are still putting up a ton of points and could put up 50-plus again against a young Bulldog team that has struggled against the conference elite that past couple weeks.
McMurry (5-2, 3-2) at Hardin-Simmons (7-1, 5-1): The Around the South game of the week. The crosstown rivals tee it up. It may be McMurry’s best chance to beat the Cowboys since Kennedy was President. Hardin-Simmons desperately needs this one to continue their Pool C hopes. With both teams putting up tons of points, you could expect a shootout, but the score was a relatively low 21-10 HSU last season.
Howard Payne (2-6, 1-5) at Mary Hardin-Baylor (7-0, 5-0): The Crusaders are hoping to take another step toward the ASC title after surviving an overtime scare against ETBU last week. The Jackets are hoping they can pull off the upset. They are one of two teams to give UMHB a conference loss since 2005 (I think they beat them in 2005 if memory serves.)
Newport News (2-5) at LaGrange (2-5): The Panthers are coming off a tough loss to D-II North Greenville but did score 27 points. They should have a good chance to get a win against a Builder team that is young on both lines, but has some good skill players.
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