Within minutes after Hendrix’s 46-44 victory over Westminster on Saturday, Warrior football coach Buck Buchanan said he received 115 text messages — from friends, alumni, Hendrix staff, former teammates and former players he coached at Louisiana College.
The victory in Hendrix’s first football game in 53 years came as a surprise to many. Buchanan was most satisfied to see the victory through the alternately tearful/joyful eyes of alumni and former players.
Arkansas Razorback analyst Keith Jackson even gave the Warriors a shoutout for their victory during the broadcast of the Arkansas-Samford game.
“It was a great atmosphere for the game and for most, just playing the game in that type of atmosphere was a victory,” Buchanan said. “But to win the game and to come back the way we did it (on a field goal by Steve Crenshaw with 1.7 seconds left) made it really special.”
The contest began with a ceremonial handoff before the coin toss between the captains of the 1960 team and those of the current team, using the same ball that was used in the final game in 1960.
“You could tell the players realized they were playing for something beyond themselves — those former players, the students, the alumni, the campus,” Buchanan said. “It was bigger than making tackles or 500 yards of offense or just having football back.”
The manner of the Hendrix victory couldn’t have been scripted more dramatically.
The Warriors had to drive 67 yards in 15 plays for the winning field goal. In doing so, they had to overcome penalties that put them in first and 15 and first and 20 situations and converted third and five and fourth and five. They came back seven times to win, overcoming a worst-case scenario start of a sack, an interception, a long run and a Westminster touchdown in the first four plays.
“There were going to be a lot of firsts in that game,” Buchanan said. “I wasn’t counting on having so many firsts of bad plays occurring right off the bat.”
Buchanan learned something about his team and his selective recruiting of the 54 players.
“I was proud of our resilence,” he said. “You cannot simulate that in preseason practice. But it was part of our recruiting process. You get the right guys with character and you don’t have to teach resilience. It comes on its own.
“We had different guys step up and make stops and make plays. We had three running backs make big runs of 10 yards or more in crucial situations.”
The Hendrix coaching staff — a nice blend of young and old, outwardly enthusiastic and more laid back — worked together beautifully in the opener, making adjustments, coming up with the right calls and the right time and rotating personnel. Buchanan hand-picked the staff, with special relationships with most of them from past coaching or playing days.
“The good thing is there are not many situations we haven’t seen either as players or coaches,” Buchanan said. “We’ve all experienced these type of pressure situations and tight games, just not here together. They are new to this team but not to us.”
Aside from the coaches and players, the game opps and game management and all kinds of details were handled magnificently by the Hendrix staff and volunteers. Cody Usher, the sports information director who came to Hendrix from the University of Central Arkansas, was the only major staff person who had been involved with operations of a college football game and his guidance was invaluable.
But he had a whole lot of help with people making adjustments on the fly, just as the coaches did.
“There were a lot of moving pieces,” Buchanan said, “and we received a lot of compliments from fans, alumni about the class in which our folks conducted themselves. That’s a tribute to staff and faculty, who devoted Saturday to doing their part to making the day special, just lots of people. The Westminster coaches were complimentary about how we made the event with an atmosphere of big-tme college football. I told them, ‘big-time college football is where you’re at.’”
You don’t have to charge admmission to create an electric environment and fantasy-style endings don’t have to be engineered by players on athletic scholarship.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)