It is sweet to be one of the final 16 teams with a chance to play in the NAIA national playoffs. The bitter comes about when the season ends. Especially on a sour note.
The Ottawa University football team was in that boat after Saturday’s 56-21 loss to No. 2 Missouri Valley in Marshall, Mo.
“It is more bitter than sweet,” senior defensive lineman Zach Van Duesen said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. We did not play well enough to win.”
Ottawa has not put together the same kind of performance in the playoffs as it has done in the regular season. Ottawa is now 1-8 in nine playoff games.
“Playoff games are tough,” Ottawa fifth-year senior Matt Gross said. “The last few years it has been rough. Losing the last game of the season is always hard. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
Missouri Valley turned Ottawa turnovers into points. The Vikings had four interceptions. Ottawa gave up a safety early after bad snap got past punter Travis Adamson.
Missouri Valley returned the kickoff for a score and then scored twice in the waning moments of the first half to open a 30-7 halftime lead.
Ottawa senior safety Logan Schultz, who had three interceptions in the game and broke the career interception mark with 20, said the Vikings were big upfront and came right at the Ottawa defense.
Gross and Van Duesen said the playoffs are a different animal than the conference games.
“It was fun to play in a playoff atmosphere,” Gross said.
Van Duesen said, “The atmosphere is excellent. There are so much more butterflies.”
Ottawa withstood the early moments and cut the Vikings’ lead to 15-7 early in the second quarter on Jon Hilliger’s 19-yard touchdown pass.
Missouri Valley notched two touchdowns in a span of about 1:30. The first came with three minutes left in the first half and the second with 1:26 remaining.
Ottawa (8-3) turned the momentum around early in the third as Hilliger caught a 26-yard touchdown pass as Ottawa clawed within 30-14.
Missouri Valley answered with a score and tacked on three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Ottawa’s final score came on a 3-yard run by senior quarterback Shane Gimzo, the conference player of the year.
Making it to the playoffs again was not an easy chore after getting off to an 0-2 start for the second straight season.
Van Duesen said the team showed some grit, winning the final eight games to garner a second straight Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title.
“We really preached perseverance,” he said. “Playing as hard was we could as long as we could. Perseverance was the story of our season. Unfortunately we were not able to perservere through this one.”
Gross said the Braves football program has a family atmosphere.
“This football team brings you in as a family,” he said. “This program has come a long way. We were able to turn it around go to the playoffs four years in a row. It has been a fun ride.”
M — Safety after snap goes out of end zone.
M — Black 79 kickoff return (run failed).
M — Dukes 10 run (Miramontes kick).
O — Hilliger 19 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick).
M — Dukes 5 run (Miramontes kick).
M — Reyes 2 run (Thornton run).
O — Hilliger 26 pass from Gimzo (Stamp kick).
M — Dukes 17 run (Miramontes kick).
M — Dukes 1 run (kick failed).
M — Martinko 52 pass from Beasley (kick blocked).
O — Gimzo 3 run (Stamp kick).
M — O’Neal 18 run (Miramontes kick).
Rushing — Ottawa (49-50); Staats 14-56; Hayes 12-19; Gimzo 22-5; team 1-(-30); MV (40-229): Dukes 15-105; Steward 15-67; O’Neal 7-46; Reyes 3-11.
Passing — Ottawa: Gimzo 19-34-4 178; MV: Reyes 12-26-3 152; Beasley 2-4-0 71; Brinkley 1-1-0 35.
Receiving — Ottawa: Hilliger 10-107; Adamson 7-63; Wilkerson 2-8; MV: Martinko 5-90; Johnson 4-50; McClee 1-35; Bensen 1-33; Bellard 1-19; Gordon 1-17; Owens 1-8; Thornton 1-6.
Tackles — Ottawa: Matt Gross 7, Nate Bruto 6, Van Duesen 5, Coomes 5; Hall 8, Phillips 7, Huhman 7, Barnes 7; McClee 6.