College Football

Gap between Indianapolis, rest of GLVC is closing

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 5, 2016 8:00 am

LEBANON, Ill. -- When someone suggests an outcome is "this close," Gregg Nesbitt knows just how close that actually is.

The Truman State University football team was tied at 14 with Indianapolis in the closing minutes of the regular-season finale in 2013 when the Greyhounds put together a 57-yard scoring drive, punched in a 3-yard touchdown run and capped off another undefeated Great Lakes Valley Conference season with the 21-14 victory.

A year later, Indianapolis scored 17 fourth-quarter points against Truman State to erase a two-touchdown deficit and escape Stokes Stadium with a 23-20 victory.

In a league where no one can derail the Greyhounds, the Bulldogs have come awfully close.

"To their credit, they find a way to win those games," said Nesbitt, now in his seventh season as Truman State's head coach. "They seem to do what they need to do.

"They kind of have that aura, swagger, confidence, whatever word you wish to use."

That comes with being the unquestioned leader of the pack.

Since the GLVC introduced football as a championship sport in 2012, Indianapolis has been virtually unbeatable. The Greyhounds have won four straight league titles and gone 29-1 in league play. The only blemish occurred in 2014 when William Jewell, which had a sub-.500 record, scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and posted a 27-24 upset at Indy's Key Stadium.

"You can't take any game lightly," Indy coach Bob Bartolomeo said. "We learned that lesson the hard way two years ago, and it cost them.

"I know our senior group won't let this group forget about that."

Nor will Bartolomeo allow the Greyhounds to believe they can run roughshod through the league the way they once did.

Indianapolis scored 45 or more points in six of its seven GLVC games in 2012 and won by an average of 34.4 points. Not much changed the next season. The Greyhounds enjoyed an average winning margin of 30 points, but they had two games decided by seven or fewer points.

There have been four such games the last two seasons. The Greyhounds beat teams last year by 16.1 points per game.

"Every game is a struggle," Bartolomeo said. "It's getting better and better. The talent level is getting better. The coaching talent we have is impressive. We have guys who know the game, are building programs the right way and doing things they need to do to win football games."

They're all trying to figure out how to topple the GLVC giant.

Emulating Indianapolis' program seems to be the way.

"When you have a top team like that, you're focused on, not necessarily just beating them, but how do they do it, how can we incorporate what they do," said McKendree coach Mike Babcock, whose team finished second last season with a 6-2 league mark. "Bart gets quality guys in there. He's a hard, blue-collar, work-ethic coach. Guys buy into that.

"They are able to sustain their success and not go up and down and go through the roller coaster of what can happen where teams get up for one game and then going flat for another goal. Can you maintain an even keel and stay on top of your game for that long? That's what we're all trying to strive for."

That comes with experience and depth, something the league's teams are developing.

Babcock is in his fourth season at McKendree and will have seven starters returning on offense and nine on defense. All but one are juniors and seniors.

Missouri S&T's Tyler Fenwick also is in his fourth season as the head coach, and the Miners return 20 starters. Four are sophomores. The rest are upperclassmen.

"When you look at Indy, they develop their players well," Fenwick said. "They have depth. Year in and year out, they reload. Those are the building blocks we're trying to put together."

It's the case throughout the league.

Truman State will have 13 starters who are junior or seniors, including senior center Brad Wellman, a Quincy Notre Dame product who has started 31 of his 32 career games. Quincy University has three senior starters along the defensive line who have started at least two years each, as well as three starters in the defensive backfield who are upperclassmen.

With 18 starters total returning from a team that lost by six points to Indy last season, the Hawks are closer than they've ever been to earning that signature victory.

"We've beaten everybody in our conference at some point except Indy," QU coach Tom Pajic said. "But even though you might look at us and say we're still a young team, and we are and I'm excited about this team, we have guys who have played together for two or three years. Some of them have 22, 24, 26 games of experience between them.

"They've played and been in the thick of things. That's what you need to compete."

That's the only way to compete with Indy.