It wasn’t supposed to end like this. For a group of seniors that won a school record 38 games in four years, and represent the winningest recruiting class in school history, its final playoff run should have extended for at least two more weeks, sipping the sweet taste of victory leading up to if nothing else, a rematch against the California Vulcans in the Northeast Region final.West Chester’s chapter in the football history book here was supposed to end with this group walking together as National Champions.
Instead, this group’s legacy is soured by Saturday’s heartbreaking 45-35 fourth quarter collapse at home in the opening round of NCAA Division II postseason play against IUP.
“I’ll tell you flat out, it’s a tremendously heartbreaking loss for me,” Head Coach Bill Zwaan said in the moments following Saturday’s defeat. “With this group of seniors that came in with me five years ago, I’m just heartsick that they’re done, that they’re leaving and that it ended this way. My emotions have really overtaken me here.”
What’s perhaps more disheartening then the fact that this group never had the opportunity to write its own epilogue to a story riddled with success over the past four years, is the very way that it all came to an end. During a nightmarish fourth quarter for WCU, an eight-point lead disintegrated into a ten point deficit in the span of 12 minutes and 16 seconds.
This game saw WCU surrender its third kickoff return for a touchdown in the last four weeks, the offense commit six turnovers, and play calling worthy of serious head scratching with nine minutes remaining in the game.
Yet, despite all that, WCU held the lead with 10:37 remaining.
Look, there is more then enough blame to go around for why this season of promise ended in heartbreaking fashion, but this is not the time for it.
This team should be appreciated for what it was, a group of veteran players whose mission was to win their division, make the playoffs, win a regional championship and compete for a National Title. Two of those pre-season aspirations were attained, while the ultimate prize ended up just out of reach.
“That was a bad way to end,” running back Osagie Osunde, and one of those 23 players who hung his jersey up for the final time Saturday, said. “The thing about it is, this group of seniors, I’ve played with them so long, everything I have is because of them, the players, coaching staff, my personality everything I have is about the way they shaped me.”
For this group, that will be their legacy. While they do not have the opportunity to come back to West Chester 25 years from now to celebrate a National Championship, what this group of seniors, what this team now has as its defining legacy, is the fact that in a four year span, they won more games then any football team in University history. They made it to the post season for four times in four years, something that had never been done. And they’ve left behind a program that is on the rise.
While the epilogue is filled with heartbreak, this novel deserves a spot on the best seller’s list.
Matt Lombardo is a third-year student majoring in communiaction studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at ML606516@wcupa.edu