by Kaitlyn Martens
The University of Northwestern men’s football team’s season came to an end during an NCAA Division III playoff game against the University of St. Thomas. Though St. Thomas took home the win in the first round of the playoffs, the Eagles can look beyond the loss and look back at just how much they accomplished this season.
“The key to our young offensive success was the patience of the coaches,” said Kirk Talley. “We knew that they were young and that it would be a matter of time as it always is; however, with less experienced players, it takes longer as they don’t have the game experience behind them, just practice.”
The team experienced social challenges, injuries, and players leaving, but they didn’t let this stop them. “Relationship is the strongest aspect of our program,” stated Talley. “Players leaning on each other and coming together. In social situations, one could not tell the difference between our freshmen and seniors.”
Mid-way through the season, the Eagles traveled to Duluth to take on the College of St. Scholastica. The UMAC Game of the Week was snagged by the Eagles, breaking Scholastica’s 35-game conference-winning streak and 18-game-home winning streak. “It was a big deal to beat Scholastica after coming close for a couple of years,” said Talley. “However, we had to get back to work the next week as we played a really good Westminster team. The celebration was short lived.”
After winning the next two games, the Eagles traveled to Eureka, Illinois, to battle for the UMAC conference title. Heading into the game, both teams were 7-1 in the conference. The Eagles scored in every quarter, including a 20-point fourth quarter, leading the Eagles to capture the UMAC conference title, the first time since 2008. It is a moment the team will remember forever. “For me personally,” said Talley. “It was a joy to see the players have fun and celebrate. I rejoiced for the upperclassman who had come close in the two previous years. There was a lot of noise and celebrating in the locker room.”
After snagging the UMAC conference championship title in Eureka, the team had a bye week before finding out who they would be paired against in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Eagles traveled down the road to St. Paul to make a debut for the first time in the NCAA playoffs and to take on the University of St. Thomas. The team battled hard for 60 minutes, but fell short to St. Thomas. “We did our best to keep things the same,” stated Talley. “We made sure to emphasize to the guys that we were going to be in the game until 0:00. We did that. Even though we were down by a lot of points, the men never quit and finished strong. I was proud of the way they played the entire game.”
This team of course plays football, but something that is more importantly emphasized, and something that is unique about this team, is the relationship aspect is very important. “I knew we had a special group, and they are all special,” said Talley. “When we were on our first overnight road trip, we did not have to have movies going to contain the craziness. Instead, they talked and sang with each other, every overnight road trip, which was very cool to watch.”
Playing for the glory of God is another part of Eagles football that makes this team so unique. “Playing for God and in His presence is the most important aspect of our program,” said Talley. “Nothing is ‘enforced.’ When we have a season like this, most of the men live out their lives in ways that are pleasing to Him. Fifth quarter is one way it is brought out. The other, and maybe most significant, is our breakaway retreat. It is there that we find out that we, as human beings, are about relationships first and foremost. Horizontal and vertical relationships.”
“These players had more fun, just being together than any team I have coached,” said Talley. “That was the difference this season. We lost the right game and won the right game this year.”