By Gregg Dewalt/(Florence, Ala.) TimesDaily
For Delta State football coach Ron Roberts, it was simply a matter of keeping the faith after his team dropped its third game of the season on Oct. 28.
After North Alabama pulled away late for a 31-7 victory in Cleveland, Roberts’ Statesmen were 6-3 overall and had two conference losses – not exactly a high-profile resume with which to impress the NCAA Division II playoff selection committee.
“We lost a heartbreaker to Harding but had a good week of practice and beat West Georgia pretty good,” Roberts said earlier this week. “Then the game with UNA, we fell apart.”
Even after that loss, Roberts said he remained confident that the Statesmen were a good football team and that the playoffs remained a distinct possibility.
Five straight wins later, Delta State (11-3) is in Saturday’s championship game against Minnesota-Duluth (14-0).
That’s quite a turnaround for a team that was barely scraping by until late in the season. Four of Delta State’s wins this season have been by six points or fewer.
Those wins were early in the season, however. In its winning streak, the Statesmen have been steamrolling opponents by an average of 17.2 points.
Roberts said he saw something in his team after the UNA loss that gave him hope.
The beating at home by North Alabama was followed by what Roberts called “a great week of practice” and a narrow 33-27 win against Ouachita.
The Statesmen have been rolling ever since.
“I knew our backs were against the wall after we got that second Division II loss, but I felt like if we could win out we would be in good shape. At that point we were hoping to get the No. 5 or No. 6 spot (in the playoff seedings.)”
Instead, a series of late-season upsets left Delta State in a three-way tie for first place in the GSC and a first-round bye for the playoffs.
“Everything fell our way,” he said.
Now that the Statesmen are Florence-bound for the first time since 2000, Roberts said he doesn’t expect them to get caught up in the hoopla of the game.
“We’ve been on some big stages,” he said. “We’ve played in five TV games this year and twice on national TV. I don’t think we’re going to get big-eyed. I just want our guys to soak it all in and have fun.”