Semifinal loses are the cruelest of blows

Semifinal losses tough

But Fayetteville and James Monroe had seasons to remember


ESPN Radio 102.3 The Ticket

It is the cruelest blow in sports.

Nobody likes to lose in overtime, it’s harsh.

Coming to the end of the regular season and not advancing to the postseason is a sad ending.

Getting to the championship and not winning the title is certainly hard to take.

But, getting to the semifinals of a sport and then losing?

That’s the cruelest blow of all.

Let’s take the recently concluded football season – concluded in these parts because nobody made it to the Super Six for the sixth time in the last seven years (Greenbrier West did make the Class A title game in 2013).

Losing in the semifinals was the fate that befell Class A Fayetteville (47-0 to St. Mary’s) and Class AA Hames Monroe (41-21 to Mingo Central).  In both those cases, the team’s lost on the road at the higher seed, so it wasn’t an upset by any stretch of the imagination.

Only losing as the higher seed in the semifinals would be tougher than what happened on Friday to Fayetteville and Saturday to James Monroe.

Over half the teams that started the season Aug. 26 knew by late September, or at least by mid-October, that the regular season finale was final. You can kind of build up to it.

Losing in overtime, well, it is its own beast. Ask Bridgeport, who had the triple whammy of sorts, being the higher seed (and the three-time defending state champion in Class AA), losing in the semifinals to a team it beat (albeit precariously in beating Fairmont Senior 17-14) and losing in overtime (on a two-point conversion of all things). That is beyond harsh.

If you make it to the title game and lose, well, that is a hard reality but you knew when the game ended, that was it anyway.

No, losing in the semifinals is much tougher. You got within a game of the stated goal (making you one of over 100 with the same stated goal, although most know that it’s a pipedream at best).

When you make the playoffs, it’s a quick whirlwind romance, winning and advancing, looking at more tape, never slowing down.

Then, there you are, a game from the Super Six. A couple of hours later, it’s over. Like that. No more practice. No more tape. No more camaraderie with your teammates, what was, for that moment in time, essentially your family (though that analogy is overused and overhyped more than it actually should be).

That was the fate of Fayetteville, a team that had gone into the semifinals 12-0, the fifth undefeated team in school history.

It was the fate of James Monroe 24 hours later, after an 11-1 season (to that point) that included an earlier upset of Point Pleasant, 21-0.

That finality is cruel in every sense of the word.

“It was kind of different,” James Monroe coach John Mustain said Monday. “You miss it. You’re kind of glad for the break but it’s like I told a couple people today, I sure for the world would like to be practicing this week.”

For Fayetteville coach Dave Moneypenny, the whirlwind of what will go down as the Fall of the Dirty Dozen, fall meaning the autumn, not the final game, was just that. It was quick.

“We started this thing about this time last year, November or December, with weight room and pretty soon it was spring conditioning,” Moneypenny said. “Then summer comes and you have 7-on-7 seven, then August rolls around and then season starts and then, here you are, in the third round of the playoffs. Then it ends. The finality of it is kind of brutal.”

Moneypenny held his final team meeting Monday.

“It was pretty emotional when you have that many kids that you’re losing and you’ve had those kids together for the last four years,” Moneypenny said. “Typically we’re not going to have 10 seniors on this football team. You have five or six years, maybe seven.  A lot of those kids played as freshmen or were thrown in the fire as sophomores. It’s tough. It’s very emotional. But that’s what coaching in high school is all about. You develop relationships with these kids

So, as coaches know, players come and go and that is the nature of the beast. The great thing about sports is, there is always next year. Mustain knows that you have to start considering next year.

“I think I made until about Noon today,” Mustain said Monday. “Then I started thinking about next year. It’s hard not to.  Especially when you’re losing 15 or 16 seniors but you know you have some major pieces coming back.

“And we really feel that way, not only in the backfield but on the line, on defense. We’ve got some good kids coming back. But some of the young kids are going to have to step up and get the job done. As a matter of fact I made that challenge to the underclassmen before we came off the field, ‘I challenge you to get in the weight room.”

Both teams have a lot to be proud of and that is the memory they will carry.

For Fayetteville, it was that perfection and that ability to overcome the odds of a short bench. Against Nicholas County, which had, at the time, given up just nine points in five game and was coming off a victory at James Monroe, Fayetteville dressed 19 players. The Pirates won that game at Nicholas, on homecoming for the Grizzlies, 44-42. That had been beaten, badly, two previous years by Buffalo. The Pirates won that one 24-21 on a Dalton Dempsey field goal.

Then nobody, I mean nobody, outside of Fayetteville, thought the Pirates, despite hosting the game, though the team would beat Wheeling Central. But the #Dirty2Dozen, as they were called, did win that game.

For James Monroe, the Mavericks overcame that midseason loss to Nicholas County (25-9). More precise, the Mavericks used that loss to go on a run that included the first win over Bluefield (in a decade), a first win over Princeton in years (You can give the Mavericks the Mercer Cup, because they beat all three Mercer teams when you throw in PikeView) and the shutout of No. 3 and high-powered Point Pleasant, that practically nobody saw coming. Save the team.

Those are great seasons by any standard. Yet the ending was probably not scripted the way they wanted, especially for the seniors on both teams.

As Moneypenny said, it is brutal. Players will miss it. Coaches will miss it. But you can’t miss what you never had and what these two exceptional teams had was a season to remember.

Another truth about sports is this: You can’t take away the memory. Both these teams wrote a lifetime of memories since August. There is nothing brutal about that.

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