Heartbreaking might not be a good enough word to describe Lock Haven's loss last week. The English language might not have anything that can sum up how crushing it was.
Lock Haven had lost 49 straight times, a NCAA Division II record, as it went into a game against Clarion. The Bald Eagles players couldn't remember the last time they won a game, considering it was at the end of the 2007 season and they were still in high school, but the program's last victory came against Clarion. Lock Haven fell behind by 10 points last Saturday before an unlikely comeback. The Bald Eagles scored late in the third quarter, and then again with 1:26 remaining in the game as Jesse Hoover caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Kratzer to take a 28-24 lead.
This was going to finally be it, the end of the streak. And then it wasn't.
Clarion started on its own 10-yard line. Lock Haven's defense, which had played well to that point, couldn't get a stop. Third-and-7 resulted in an 11-yard pass. Fourth-and-5 was converted too, with a 24-yard pass. Clarion was still 35 yards away in the final seconds, but the Bald Eagles gave up a 32-yard pass. The Golden Eagles immediately called timeout with two seconds left.
Lock Haven needed one stop on the final play of the game. Clarion scored. The losing streak was at 50.
"They were tired. They were spent," Lock Haven coach John Allen said about his players' reactions after the game. "They were down, no question. But that's how this game goes. That's how sports goes."
Allen talks about the plays that Lock Haven gave up on that last drive, just small breakdowns that left gaps in the defense at the wrong time. He is patient because he has to be.
"Quite frankly, these kids have never been in that spot before," Allen said. "They're still learning how to finish. We're young and we're still learning. I know the next time we're in that situation, we'll finish."
A big part of Allen's job is dealing with the psychology of his team dealing with the negativity of an astonishing losing streak, and he admits he worries about it a little. But he avoids mentions of the streak. The team doesn't talk about it. And there's a 48-hour rule after games, so on Monday the team quickly discussed the painful loss to Clarion and then moved on.
"We don't worry about numbers and the streak," Allen said. "It is what it is. My focus is on building this team."
Allen, who is in his second season at Lock Haven, is positive and patient as he tries to change the culture, even though the frustration in his voice is hard to miss. Any coach has trouble dealing with an 0-8 start.
He talks about being excited for every week because it presents the opportunity for his players to get better, and mentions the obvious fact that none of them have won a college football game. He wants them to experience a win. Maybe this is the week.
Lock Haven hosts Gannon, which is 1-7 and has lost all five conference games. Allen refuses to acknowledge that Gannon's record gives his team a good shot at a win and breaking the streak, but it has to be on the minds of the players, coaches and Lock Haven fans.
If Lock Haven could just get one win it could go back to being a normal college football team, not one burdened with constant reminders of a record losing streak.
"I knew what I was getting into when I took this job," Allen said. "But we have a plan. We're going to stay focused on that plan. The outcomes will come, whether they're now or later."
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