News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 7, 2009

From The Press Box: Moral victory milepost for Sycamores

By Todd Golden

After dire predictions by some of a historic blowout, Indiana State’s football team hung in there at Football Championship Subdivision opponent Louisville on Saturday. It was a 10-point game deep into the third quarter before ISU eventually lost 30-10.

It was the closest margin of loss for ISU in a “money game” against an FCS (Division I-A) school since 2003. It came nine days after the Sycamores suffered an embarrassing 26-20 loss to NAIA Quincy, a defeat that had ISU fans understandably steaming.

So it was the right time to ask ISU coach Trent Miles if it was a moral victory, no?

Yeah, right.

He hasn’t been a head coach for too long, but Miles sniffs out moral-victory-type questions like a past master. And when a team is trying to turn itself into a consistent winner from the Marianas Trench-like depths ISU football mined for itself, those types of questions come up a lot.

To wit, I asked Miles whether ISU was “relieved” to get the outcome they did against the Cardinals given what had happened against Quincy and whether it helps the team move forward.

“I don’t think there’s a sense of relief because we’ve always been moving forward. We stubbed our toe against Quincy, that was a mulligan. You can’t do that at this level because you only get 11 games, and when you have a game like that, it’s magnified,” Miles said. “It’s not relief to us. I wouldn’t say the word relief. Our kids have believed in the plan and in themselves.

“We believe in the plan and we’re sticking to it. This just confirms we are getting better. We believe we can win games and it’s going to happen, but we’re not satisfied to just compete. We want to win.”

I have no doubt that Miles believes what he says. I have no doubt that he doesn’t want to give the Sycamores any reason to be satisfied with their lot — which, need anyone be reminded, is ownership of the nation’s longest losing streak at 28 straight losses.

But the bottom line is this was a moral victory. No one is going to convince me otherwise.

It was a moral victory. It was a moral victory. It was a moral victory! If Terre Haute had a mountain, I’d shout it from it.

Coaches and players alike hate to admit moral victories because it shows a sign of weakness. Accepting losing and all that. I can understand it, although deep down inside, whether they’d be loathe to admit it or not, I think nearly every player and coach knows them when they experience one.

However, given where ISU’s program is and where it wants to get to, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a moral victory along the way. Moral victories are better than demoralizing losses and they are often the first step to real victories. They’re another milepost on the way to consistent winning. They don’t show up in the record book, but they do matter.

The body language of the Sycamores as they filed off the Papa John’s Stadium turf was evident of that. It was light years’ removed from the vibe put out after they dejectedly filed off Memorial Stadium’s field in the wake of the Quincy loss on Aug. 27.

Mind you, none of the Sycamores were happy to lose, but you can bet they were glad, and yes, relieved, that they hung with the Cardinals for as long as they did.

“It think it was [relief]. I think we feel just a little better. We went out and played hard,” said ISU running back Darrius Gates, before he quickly caught himself in a moral-victory moment. “You should play hard, it’s a given, so I think tonight we did better [execution-wise] and can build on it to show we can do it again.”

ISU needed a victory of any sort after the disaster that was Quincy. Everyone involved with the team was under more pressure than anyone will ever really know. This effort should turn down the heat, settle everyone down, and let the program progress the way Miles intends it to.

A real victory would have been massive for ISU. But a moral one will do for now.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com