But then a weekend opened up at the last minute that enabled me to catch my hometown University of Indianapolis Greyhounds, and shortly after that, the University of St. Francis Cougars in Fort Wayne qualified for postseason play in the NAIA tournament, and 2012 did not end up nearly the washout I thought it would be.
I spent this past Saturday in Fort Wayne, photographing the St. Francis campus and then shooting the Cougars' 22-17 victory over Baker University of Baldwin City, Kan. The Cougars were one of four Indiana small colleges to qualify for postseason football play this year. They will meet one of those other teams, Marian University, a fellow member of the Mid-States Football Association, in quarterfinal action this Saturday in Indianapolis. The Cougars lost to Marian 45-38 on Oct. 13 in a conference game also in Indianapolis.
The two other Indiana small-college teams are playing in NCAA tournaments -- UIndy in Division II, Franklin College in Division III. Those two also won Saturday in first-round games at home and will play games on the road this weekend. This has got to be the first time in ages -- if not ever -- that Indiana has had as many as four small-college football teams playing past the first round in postseason tournaments. It definitely is UIndy's first appearance in an NCAA football tournament since it moved to Division II.
In one key way, Saturday's game at Bishop John M. D'Arcy Stadium was reminiscent of one I attended the previous week at Wabash College for the 119th meeting of Wabash and DePauw Univeristy in the Monon Bell Classic: Penalty flags. Twenty-five times officials stopped play because of infractions -- 14 for Baker, 11 for St. Francis.
Another factor proved crucial on the day -- special teams play, particularly place-kicking. The Cougars packed three Emerson Ueber field goals around two touchdowns (but Ueber missed the conversion kick after the first TD) to give them just enough points to hold off the Wildcats. Ueber's third field goal, which tied a school record for most FGs in a game, came with 3:44 to play, giving the Cougars the final 22-17 margin and forcing Baker to score a touchdown to have a chance to win.
Baker's fortunes might have been different if kicker Steven Stewart had converted on all three of his field goal attempts. But Stewart was wide on two first-quarter tries -- from 38 and 40 yards out, respectively -- before converting on one from 44 yards in the second quarter.
Despite the special teams difficulties, the Wildcats were driving for a possible lead-taking score late in the fourth quarter, after Ueber's third field goal, when St. Francis linebacker Jamael Green saved the day for the Cougars. With 2:23 left on the clock, he picked off a Sam Vossen pass at the Cougars' 42 yard line, and from there the Cougars ran out the clock. In the photo leading off the post, senior Quinn Doan (52), who had picked off a Vossen pass to cut short a Baker drive in the first quarter, is riding high on adrenalin along the St. Francis sideline after Green's big drive-killing interception.
As you might know, my tour of Indiana small colleges includes photographs I take of the campuses during my visits for games. My next post will be devoted to those images at St. Francis, which is laid out around scenic Mirror Lake, which is aptly named. You'll see why in the images.
For a gallery of game shots from St. Francis' win on Nov. 17, visit my site at SmugMug.
Colin Harruff (above) pulled in a pass from Josh Miller then scampered 11 yards before tumbling into the end zone (below) for St. Francis' first-quarter touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
Above: Yardage didn't come easy for St. Francis running back Antoin Campbell, but he did end up with 95 yards on 27 carries on the day.
Above: Campbell's counterpart, the Wildcats' Dillon Baxter, gained 102 yards on 22 carries. Here, he's stopped by Cougars Quinn Doan (top) and Kory Stamps.
Above: Bishop John M. D'Arcy Stadium in a high-dynamic range (HDR) capture.
Above: Allen Troyer tries to squeeze through this hole near the Wildcats' goal line in the second quarter. Moments later, teammate Jesse Schultz would hurdle over for Baker's first touchdown.
Above: St. Francis quarterback Josh Miller darted, twisted and survived several near-tackles on this 13-yard touchdown run with under a minute left in the first half, giving the Cougars a 16-7 lead. The Wildcats would squeeze in a field goal just before half, to close the margin to 16-10 at half.
Above: The Kevin Donley Field at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium is covered in Sporturf, which sends turf flying freely with the slightest movement and contact, illustrated on this Baker tackle of St. Francis quarterback Josh Miller. Player uniforms were covered with the turf, which sticks to clothing. I got prone to grab a low-angle photograph of a penalty flag (below) before halftime and spent the rest of the game brushing turf off my clothes -- and my gear.
Above: Behind the fence at the south end zone, there are tents lined up side by side, where spectators gather to watch the game and, presumably, extend their tailgating enjoyment.
Above and next two below: A quick Sam Vossen pass to Kyle Bolton netted a modest gain ... and another penalty.
Above: Saint Francis' mascot is named Johnny Cougar.
Above and below: Quarterback Josh Miller, the NAIA's offensive player of the week, suffered a leg injury in the third quarter, and was helped off the field.
Above and below: Antoin Campbell shook this tackle attempt by Baker linebacker Emerson Clarke in the third quarter. After a modest gain, Campbell was pulled down (below) by linebacker Ryder Werts (9).
Above: Saint Francis cheerleaders drum up support for the Cougars' defense late in the fourth quarter.
Above and next four below: For a fleeting moment late in the fourth quarter, it appeared Saint Francis had pulled off a crucial -- and magical -- touchdown. Wide receiver Aaron Knight (3) got his hands on a David Yoder pass in the end zone (above), but Baker defender Joshua Fairley (7) jarred the ball loose on Knight's way down from the leaping catch (first below), and the ball popped free (second below). The Cougars' Austin Coleman (2) scooped up the loose ball and celebrated as if he had scored the TD. But officials ruled the ball had made contact with the ground along with Knight, and that the contact with the ground is what bounced the ball into the air for Coleman to snag. The Cougars settled for an Emerson Ueber field goal to close the scoring at 22-17.
Above: The post-game scene on the field, as seen from the top row of the stadium seats.