Dec. 15, 2010
Plenty to smile about in 2010
By David Boyce
For five straight seasons, the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" were pure honey to the ears of Northwest Missouri State football players, coaches and fans.
Because of a hard-fought 17-13 loss at Minnesota Duluth Saturday in the NCAA Division II semifinals, the trip coach Mel Tjeerdsma and senior quarterback Blake Bolles are taking to Florence, Ala., this week is bittersweet.
Tjeerdsma will be among the first three coaches inducted into the Division II Hall of Fame, and Bolles is one of three finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy.
The Harlon Hill winner and the coaches will be honored Friday evening in Florence.
Tjeerdsma is going into the Hall of Fame with Carson Newman head coach Ken Sparks and former North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace.
"Being the first coaches in there is pretty humbling when you consider D II has been around a long time. I am honored," Tjeerdsma said.
"Ken and I are very good friends. We spent a lot of time together. He's a nice guy. His wife and my wife are very good friends. We get together at the AFCA Convention. I was president in 2005 and he was president in 2006. I have a deep respect for Ken and what he stands for, not just his success on the field, but the kind of person he is and the values he holds.
The only thing that would have made it better for Tjeerdsma was if his team was also in Alabama preparing to play Delta State for the championship.
"I probably won't go to the game," Tjeerdsma said. "I was holding out hope all the time that we would all be there, which would have been a lot nicer. Sometimes it just doesn't happen and this time was one of them."
The Bearcats' bid for an unprecedented sixth straight trip to Florence ended on an evening when wind chills dipped to 20-below zero.
When you get so close to a title game and fall short, the pain of it will linger for more than a few days.
But as the Bearcats begin their offseason weight lifting drills during the cold days of January and February, they will realize how special the 2010 season turned out to be.
Northwest finished 12-2, went undefeated in the MIAA for a fifth straight season and thrilled their fans with one gritty, nail-biting victory after another.
"I will remember all the close games," Tjeerdsma said. "Yesterday I was looking back and I think we had six games that were either decided or could have been decided on the last possession. We were 5-1 in those six so you have to feel pretty good about that.
"It was one of those deals where it eventually caught up with us on Saturday. This team found itself in the playoffs and played so well during the playoff stretch. We made some mistakes in the Duluth game, but we still played hard."
Tjeerdsma was really proud of the toughness his Bearcats showed in the playoffs. A lesser team would have fallen in the first round. Northwest trailed its rival Missouri Western 17-0 at halftime.
The Bearcats came back and beat Missouri Western 28-24. They trailed all but the last 16 seconds at Texas A&M-Kingsville in the second round and then beat Central Missouri in the quarterfinals.
And although they lost at Duluth, Tjeerdsma said the Bearcats gave everything they had in adverse weather conditions.
"So much was made of the weather all week," Tjeerdsma said. "I just felt our kids never let that be a factor. To me that will be the thing I will remember about this team more than anything else. When they had to be mentally tough, they were. That's a credit to them."
Before the Duluth game, Tjeerdsma heard one of his players say that if they don't win and fail to play in the national championship game, then Northwest was just an average team in 2010.
"I felt kind of bad," Tjeerdsma said. "Our standards are so high that when you play in the semifinal game that's not good enough. But that says a lot about our program, too."
In time, when that player looks back at the amazing 17-16 win at Central Missouri to win the MIAA, the three playoff victories, the countless nice moments the players shared with each other and the memories they gave their parents and fans, he will realize the 2010 Bearcats had an extraordinary season.
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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