Coaching is an activity unlike any other. It requires strong will, determination, and an unparalleled drive to succeed. It also encompasses the ability to connect with and cooperate with players and other coaches.
When these factors are simultaneously strung together, memories that last a lifetime can be made.
Mike DeLong has been the head coach of the Springfield College football team since 1984 – exactly 30 years now.
While it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint just one moment over 30 years of coaching that would be considered the most memorable, one does stick out more than the others; a 19-17 win against Southern Connecticut, in the year 1984.
This was, of course, DeLong’s first year as coach, and in just his second week on the job, he may have coached the Pride to one of the most dramatic and entertaining games in school history.
Southern Connecticut was one of the strongest teams on the Pride’s schedule that year, as they, believe it or not, had several players go on to NFL tryouts. But despite the odds, Springfield battled hard and came into the waning moments of the fourth quarter with just a one-point defect.
“We were battling, they were a good team,” DeLong explained, “and we were still finding our way.”
The Southern Owls scored late in the game to take the lead. In what would be the series before their final drive, two players were seriously hurt, Doug Goodlack and Bob Arsenal, one with a broken nose and another with a broken jaw.
Nonetheless, the Pride received the kickoff with time ticking down. The team had to move down the field quickly if they wanted a chance to win.
The series started off with a pass across the middle to Joe Dutsar, who is now the Head Coach for Dean Tech’s football team. The next play was a fullback rush from Don Boland, and the Pride successfully got deeper into Southern Connecticut’s territory.
This late into the game, the team was low on timeouts, but the objective was simple: score. With around 20 seconds left, Springfield called their last timeout. With just seconds remaining and the clock stopped, DeLong sent quarterback Brian Timbrook and his offense back out onto the field with a simple objective.
“I told Brian to either score a touchdown or throw the ball out of the endzone, and he got caught. Not a big deal, we’re on to a last second field goal. We practiced this a lot.” Of course, a clutch last-second kick to win the game is no easy feat, especially when small errors are made.
DeLong sent his field-goal team out onto the field, but they forgot the block to hold the ball. With the clock ticking down, the team scrambled to find the block. Sure enough, it was eventually found and given to the kicker.
Now if that wasn’t enough chaos, the block was tossed from the kicker to the holder, who dropped it. With the block rolling around the turf and the clock heading into single digits, it seemed like a minor error like missing a block would be putting this comeback on hold.
“Ten seconds, nine seconds, bang. Southern Connecticut called a timeout,” DeLong stated. The Southern Owls had too many men on the field. What started with a Springfield mistake ended with a Southern Connecticut mistake, allowing the clock to be stopped, the Pride to regroup, and Springfield to kick the field goal to win the game by a two-point margin.
“We had probably no chance of getting the kick off,” Coach DeLong went on, “but they killed the clock, we got settled down. Boom. We kicked a field goal, and won the game.”
What started as a hard fought match on both sides turned into a last-minute game of errors, with the Pride coming out on top. Springfield only managed to win three games that season, but their early heart-stopping week-two victory will be remembered by many, including Head Coach Mike DeLong.
Shawn McFarland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org