FORT WAYNE – How many times had it been like this, with the clock chasing zero and another W sealed in the vault? How many times had he stood there, hands on hips, rain falling gently this time, waiting to run out on the field and whisper a few kind words to the opposing coach, and then to gather his boys around him and say what he always says?
Go out and celebrate this one, but be smart, is what Saint Francis football coach Kevin Donley says, or something like it.
How many times have we heard that?
Ive lost count, but I do know it seems like a thousand years since that sunny Friday when he gathered his first Saint Francis team around him and explained that they were about to head off on a business trip. And of course, immediately a hand flew up.
Can we take our bathing suits? someone asked.
I wish you could have been there to see the look on Donleys face.
I wish you could have been there, too, on Saturday afternoon, Donley standing at the 37-yard line on the south end of the football field they named after him some years ago. Forty-four seconds remained on the scoreboard, the Cougars were 15 points clear of a Wisconsin-Stevens Point team that had refused to play the victim all day. In a few more seconds, the Pointers would tack on a meaningless touchdown, making the final score 39-31.
They had once led 24-13, outscoring Saint Francis 24-6 at one point. And they still led 24-19 at halftime.
And yet here, at the end, it was one more win for the man dressed all in black, save for a damp powder-blue towel draped around his neck. And now hes tied with Frosty Westering for the all-time NAIA record in career victories with 256.
Not long after Donley stood on the wet field, his white hair plastered to his scalp, he said the best part of it all was this was the sort of game he loves to win. It was the sort of game in which his boys had to scrape and claw and get their heads right. It was the sort of game for which those 256 wins were valuable currency, because how many times in all of those wins had he been in exactly this place?
No one really panicked (at halftime), linebacker Brody Kalbaugh said. (Donley) had faith in us, and we had faith in all our teammates.
So no Gipper speeches, no paint peeled from the walls. Defensive coordinator Warren Maloney moved a linebacker half-a-step here and a defensive end half-a-step there. Former scout team quarterback David Yoder was informed he would start the second half, because starter Josh Miller was dizzy with a concussion and Wes Hunsucker was still nursing an iffy wrist. And out into the quickening rain they went.
Yoder, rising to the occasion, completed 14 of 18 passes for 126 yards in the second half. The defense, flummoxed by Stevens Points read option in the first half, limited quarterback Mitch Beau to 10 yards rushing after hed gouged the Cougars for 57 in the first half. And Saint Francis scored 26 straight points to put it away.
So, Donleys kind of win. That it was such a momentous one, in terms of sheer numerology, didnt much matter.
Oh, I dont know, he said, cradling his granddaughter in one arm. You know, Im thankful every day to do what I do. Its a dream of life to get to do what you love every day.
One win, or 256.