For their first road experience, Hendrix’s young football team ran right into Murphy’s Law last weekend.
And the Warriors, fielding their first football team in 53 years, almost overcame it and beat Birmingham-Southern.
After morning classes and without a lunch break, the Hendrix team left for Birmingham on two buses last Friday afternoon.
Because of an accident, the team stalled in traffic near the Mississippi-Alabama border — basically in the middle of nowhere.
“We’re in the woods and I have one bar on my cell phone,” said coach Buck Buchanan. “We waited.”
All they could do for a couple of hours were to relax and see if anyone could spot “Bigfoot.”
The Warriors arrived in Birmingham at 8:45 p.m., ate a quick meal and bedded down. They woke up Saturday, ate a pregame meal and played a 1 p.m. game.
They fell behind the defending Southern Athletic Association co-champions, 21-0,
They rallied, took the lead in the fourth quarter and lost, 35-32, after the Panthers recovered an onside kick in the final minute.
“I was proud of how our guys maintained focus,” said Buchanan. “Even being caught in traffic, our guys kept their composure. Maybe that’s part of being freshmen; they may expect road trips to be like this. Juniors and seniors might have complained more. These guys just like to go play football.”
The Warriors rallied to take the game to the final seconds the hard way. They drove 80 yards to draw within 35-32, taking it down to the onside kick.
“Our plaers played their hearts out,” said Buchanan. “Birmingham-Southern is a good team that doesn’t make mistakes. I don’t remember a game I’ve been in in which there were no turnovers on either side of the ball.
“But when we took the lead (24-21) in the fourth quarter, you could see the experience kick in with Birmingham-Southern. You could see that ‘we’re in trouble look’ and they turned it on.”
Even after trailing, 21-0, Buchanan didn’t see his team flinch.
“Nobody hung their heads; I never saw that we were teetering,” Buchanan said. “Our kids are resilient. I think our defensive staff and players did a good job making adjustments. We made some things happen on defense. But we had the most problems on third and long. We didn’t allow many third-down conversions, but the ones we did were beneficial to them.”
The Warriors have their only open date of the season Saturday and Buchanan has given his players the weekend off.
“We’re playing pretty good and when you do that you want to keep playing,” he said. “But this gives our guys a chance to go home and a lot of the freshmen want to go watch their high school teams play. That can be a good thing because they can tell their friends and students about having a good experience here.”
There are challenges ahead, but Buchanan and his coaches have determined that the group of players they carefully selected for the core group in building a program form a pretty good football team, already competitive at their level.
“We know we can play from behind under pressure,” he said. “Now, I’d like to see us play when we’re ahead.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)