YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Wofford football was picked by experts to finish sixth in the Southern Conference.
Well, the Terriers managed to finish only in the top seven.
RELATED: FCS interactive playoff bracket
That is, they were among the last seven teams remaining across the FCS at the end of the season. They made the national quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs, watched as one of the eight was eliminated on Friday night, and then took Youngstown State to double overtime Saturday before bowing out 30-23.
Wofford head coach Mike Ayers had become emotional during postgame news conferences following the first two postseason rounds, victories against Charleston Southern and The Citadel, but not so much after this defeat. Perhaps it was because he knew the Terriers squeezed out everything they could and, considering all of that, felt satisfied with what they accomplished.
Nobody expected Wofford (10-4) to still be playing football in the middle of December. The Terriers lost their starting quarterback to injury in August, then the next quarterback in September, and actually won a playoff game after the third quarterback went down. They lost two of their best linebackers in frightening situations, one that went into cardiac arrest and one that fractured vertebrae in his neck.
In every case, the Terriers rallied together, picked each other up and continued on with dreams of a national championship. It seemed absurd, perhaps. But they believed it could happen. After an overtime loss against The Citadel, the second defeat by a total of five points, the Terriers had to win the last four games on their regular-season schedule just to have a chance at making the playoffs.
"We had kids that competed their tails off and did it the right way," Ayers said. "Look at the season and the adversity that these kids have faced. Never once did they slow down, back up or want to give up. They just kept fighting ... You see a bunch of kids that love each other, care for one another and compete for one another. I was proud to be out there and be their coach."
Defensive end Tyler Vaughn, a fourth-year junior who not only became a starter but first-team all-conference, was asked what he will take away from this season.
"That we have a really good football team," he said. "And regardless of what anybody says, we can win football games, we can go deep into the playoffs and we can do anything we can put our minds to. ... There's a couple of old guys coming back and that will help the leadership. All the youngsters are really talented and dedicated. They really want to be here and do well. That makes it so much easier to go out and have success and have fun."
Wofford's defense will lose six key seniors: linemen Boston Bryant, Steven Cornellier and Chris Boudreaux; linebackers Dylan Young and Lincoln Stewart; and safety Jaleel Green. The offense will lose linemen Anton Wahrby, Dequan Miller and Bradley Way; as well as running backs Will Gay, Hunter Windham and, of course, Lorenzo Long, fifth-leading rusher in school history.
A big thank you to all of the students, alumni, family and friends in the Wofford community for their support this season!— Wofford Football (@Wofford_FB) December 11, 2016
But overall, the team was rather young. Seven of the eight defensive backs on the two-deep chart were underclassmen, as were two of the three starting linemen. Leading tackler Datavious Wilson is a true freshman, as is nose tackle Mikel Horton, linebacker Jireh Wilson, cornerback Dimitri Redwood and safety Mason Alstatt. On offense, there is quarterback Joe Newman and running back Blake Morgan, both of whom emerged as two of the most explosive players on the team.
"You feel for the seniors and you just wish things could have kept going," said Alstatt, who figures to replace Green next season at strong safety. "They believe we had a shot to win it all. What they should take away is that we did things people didn't expect us to do. And I think they will. It just might take a little bit of time."
This article is written by Todd Shanesy from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.