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Life’s not fair

I looked on helplessly as an official possibly cost my team an important victory last Saturday afternoon.

So you think you have a problem with the Southeastern Conference officials? You ought to try those in the Gulf South Conference on for size.

Here was the situation: The team I follow religiously, the Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University, had blown a 17-point lead and now trailed the Statesmen from Delta State University, a traditional power in NCAA Division II.

Both Ouachita and Delta State compete in the GSC, which generally is recognized as the SEC of Division II.

Ouachita had come into the game with a record of 5-3. Delta State was 6-3. Both teams needed a victory to keep their hopes alive for a spot in the Division II playoffs.

With the score tied 27-27, Delta scored a touchdown with 4:22 left in the game to go ahead. Ouachita blocked the extra point.

Trailing 33-27, Ouachita could still win the game with a touchdown and an extra point. With time running out, the Tigers marched down the field in Arkadelphia (from my right to left as I called the action on the Ouachita Football Network). On second down from the Delta State 17, senior quarterback Eli Cranor found sophomore wide receiver Brett Reece on the left side of the end zone for what should have been a touchdown to tie the game.

The extra point would have given Ouachita a 34-33 lead with just more than a minute remaining in the game.

An official was right on the play. He blew the call.

I watched usually mild-mannered people go crazy down below.

On the next play, Cranor completed a swing pass to Jaime Harris, but the receiver lost his footing at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

On fourth-and-seven, Cranor kept the ball and came close to a first down. The chains came out, and Cranor was inches short.

Delta State took over on downs with 1:12 left. The quarterback took a knee twice, and the game was over.

Ouachita’s playoff hopes were dead due to a clearly blown call.

Ironically, a blocked extra point in overtime and a Reece reception in that same west end zone (yes, A.U. Williams Field runs east-west rather than north-south) had led to a dramatic 24-23 Tiger victory over Terry Bowden’s nationally ranked North Alabama team two weeks earlier.

Todd Knight began coaching at Ouachita in 1999, and I’ve never missed a game — home or away — in his almost 12 seasons as the head coach. I can tell you that I’ve never seen him as dejected as he was after Saturday’s loss to Delta State, the school where he was the head coach before returning to his alma mater.

For the players on the team, it was a hard lesson: Life is not fair. But they will experience a lot of unfair things in their adult lives and probably ought to get used to it now.

They knew they had scored, but alas there are no replays in Division II football.

They will have to live with the results, a finish most of them will remember the rest of their lives.

Heck, I’m 51 and I was upset the remainder of the weekend. I wanted to say I was so upset I couldn’t eat supper Saturday, but you know better than that. Still, writing this post gets me worked up all over again.

I know. I take college football too seriously like so many other Southern males. And, yes, there are plenty of life lessons that I still need to learn.

But one thing I’m convinced about is that everyone should have some great passions in life. It’s important that we not lose a sense of perspective, but it’s also important to have things you really get fired up about.

I’m passionate, for instance, about Ouachita football. I have been since childhood when I would walk the two blocks from my house to the practice field to watch practice each fall afternoon. As noted, I haven’t missed a game since 1998, and the only reason I missed a couple of games that season is that I was managing Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign. I didn’t feel I could be out of the state during that stretch run.

I’ve also never been one to follow the crowd. While I enjoy SEC football and seeing the Razorbacks do well, I much rather be at Ouachita games each Saturday. There’s something so much more pure and accessible about football at the Division II level. And I kind of like going one direction when most people are headed the other way. For instance, I’ve worked for Republicans through the years in a state that, at least until last week, was heavily Democratic.

Republicans instead of Democrats (though I still split my ticket and vote for those Democrats I know and like).

Tigers instead of Razorbacks (though I root for the Hogs).

It’s just the way I’m wired. Heck, I even grew up a Saints fan, subscribing to the Saints Weekly back in junior high and watching losing season after losing season.

Now, the Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions, a red political tide is sweeping our state and Ouachita is having a third straight good season. I’m not sure how to act.

I do, however, feel a bit sorry for those who haven’t found some passions in their lives, whether it’s collecting old guns, hunting ducks, watching foreign films, cooking, hiking, reading mystery novels or keeping up with European soccer standings.

Everyone should have a passion. Or two. Or three. My wife tells me I have far too many.

And my passion for Division II football in Arkansas will probably increase with the formation of a new conference made up of the six Arkansas schools and three schools from Oklahoma. Those of us of a certain age still lament the passing of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, and this is as close as we’re ever going to get to bringing back the AIC.

The death of the AIC in the 1990s was perhaps inevitable. UCA was growing too large for the other schools in the conference and was anxious to make the move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. Arkansas Tech and Henderson, doing their best to “keep up with the Jones,” made the decision to follow UCA into Division II.

The Gulf South Conference, which is based in Birmingham, decided to accept not only UCA, Tech and Henderson but also UAM and Southern Arkansas.

That left the two private schools that play football, Harding and Ouachita, stranded. After playing an independent schedule, Harding and Ouachita joined the Lone Star Conference for several years before finally being welcomed into the GSC.

Still, there was a problem that persists to this day. With 11 GSC schools playing football — the six Arkansas schools, one in Mississippi, two in Alabama and two in Georgia — and only eight conference games, there would always be two conference schools that each team would not play. Unfortunately, the rotation is such that the Arkansas schools don’t always play each other. In fact, there were seasons when there was no Battle of the Ravine, reason enough to form a new conference.

UCA is probably where it needs to be now, playing at the Division I-AA level in the Southland Conference.

Beginning with the 2012 football season, the eight conference games for each Division II Arkansas squad will include the five other teams from Arkansas and the three schools from Oklahoma. Ouachita will always play Henderson, Tech will always play Harding, Southern Arkansas will always play UAM and so on.

I can’t wait. Like a told you, I’m passionate.

I’m also still mad at the GSC official who blew the call Saturday. But life’s not fair, is it?

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