YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO —
In the wake of Indiana State’s 27-6 loss to Youngstown State, the postgame disappointment expressed by the Sycamores was the grimmest and saddest I’ve seen in eight years of covering ISU athletics.
We all know life is unfair. We all know sports can be unfair. You only get what you earn.
And though ISU certainly didn’t do enough to beat the Penguins on Saturday and make their case for a FCS playoff spot, it was hard to be in a detached “life is unfair” mode as the Sycamores filed dejectedly out of the Stambaugh Stadium locker room.
The sadness worn on the Sycamores’ sleeves and the tears that rolled down the Sycamores’ cheeks hit me as really unfair to ISU’s seniors.
ISU’s remaining fifth-year seniors were part of Trent Miles’ first recruiting class. The fourth-year seniors committed to ISU when the program had the nation’s longest losing streak millstone draped around its neck and was still a running joke.
These seniors committed to hope and a dream and little else other than Miles’ belief that it could be turned around at ISU.
Since then, ISU has won 20 games. These seniors are responsible for the first three-year stretch of winning seasons since 1969.
These seniors are the mortar for what is now a solid football program. So to see those tears? The loss was an untimely end that didn’t do justice to the legacy these seniors leave behind.
“It’s going to be hard … not having football anymore. This is going to be a tough one. You have to face reality now. Football is over,” said crestfallen ISU fifth-year senior linebacker Aaron Archie.
ISU defensive end Ben Obaseki was in tears after the game too.
“I’m just glad I’ve been blessed for these four years with the people I’ve played with and the people I’ve been standing by,” Obaseki said. “It’s been the best four years of my life. This is a great team that’s going to go on to do great things. I’m just glad I was a part of it.”
All of ISU’s 16 seniors helped build the Sycamores’ program, but I especially felt for those on the defensive side. Archie, Obaseki, Jacolby Washington and Johnny Towalid have been rocks for an ISU defense that’s been stellar from the time they took the field.
It was doubly sad to see Towalid carted off the field in his last game. That was just salt in the wounds.
Offensive players get more attention, but ISU’s defense has really been its center during the Sycamores’ rise to respectability.
That made Saturday’s game even crueler. ISU’s offense has played worse games this season, but it’s also played better, and the missed chances in the red zone hurt badly.
ISU’s defense was once again put in the position to be the white knight for the Sycamores’ hopes. A revived YSU offense, given several chances to get its rhythm, finally did.
The 21 unanswered points the Penguins scored seemed unfair in the cosmic order of things. ISU’s defense had answered the bell so many times before, but you can’t ask them to answer it every game and not expect to pay a heavy price.
But that’s not what makes this senior class memorable. For all of the disappointment that Saturday brought to the Sycamores, it should never be forgotten that it was these seniors who made it possible for the next generation of ISU football players to perform in a program that is respected instead of laughed at.
Though the playoffs weren’t reached, they’re a realistic possibility for this program now, and have been for the last three seasons. When you think about where this group was as freshmen in 2009, they’ve driven this program light years beyond where anyone thought it could be.
But those tears still rolled. And it hit me as brutally unjust.
“I was here from day one with Coach Miles and I believed everything he said. We went from the laughing stock to a playoff contender. It’s a great feeling to have done that, but I’m still in shock,” Archie said.
So am I. This senior group deserved a better fate.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.