Football team intercepted on path to SAA Championship

Tigers lose 13-3 to Hendrix Warriors

On Saturday, the football team lost 13-3 to the Hendrix Warriors in their third game of the shortened 2021 spring season. Both Trinity and Hendrix went into Saturday’s game undefeated and determined to win in order to earn a spot in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) Championship Game in Little Rock, Arkansas, on March 13, but the Tigers came up just short and saw their nine game win streak that dates back to last season snapped.

It was a sunny but chilly afternoon with a strong wind blowing throughout the game. Played in front of no fans, the game promised to feature tough competition. According to junior tight end Anton Noble, games against Hendrix have historically been very evenly matched.

“The last three years that we’ve played them have been very competitive, as well. Last season it went down to the final minute until we decided to win and then the year before, and it was down to the last quarter, so they always play us hard,” Noble said before the game.

The two teams certainly delivered on the promise of competition. The game opened with Trinity on offense and receiving the kickoff, but Hendrix quickly took over possession of the ball by intercepting a pass from senior quarterback Wyatt Messex just three plays and 56 seconds into the first quarter. Over the course of the game, Hendrix’s interceptions proved fatal to Trinity’s offense, as they intercepted a total of five passes.

Three consecutive first downs and 51 yards later, Hendrix scored their first touchdown but missed the point after touchdown (PAT), earning them just six points. After the kickoff, Hendrix intercepted another pass — this time from sophomore quarterback Tucker Horn — and regained possession of the ball.

With Hendrix on the attack just 35 yards from their end-zone and 12 minutes and 28 seconds left on the clock, it seemed like the Warriors were primed to score again. Hendrix had a second down and goal when Trinity’s first-year defensive back, Trey King, intercepted the ball in the end zone.

That play effectively shut down the momentum that Hendrix had after that first touchdown and gave the Tigers’ sideline a boost of energy, although they ultimately were unable to capitalize on it and score. For the rest of the first quarter, as well as the second and the third, possession would go back and forth between the two teams, and neither offense was able to get past the opposing team’s defense to score.

Both Trinity and Hendrix had been high-scoring teams this season, with Trinity averaging 36 points a game and Hendrix averaging 43 points a game. However, Hendrix’s aggressive defense prevented Trinity from scoring at all in the first three quarters. And after scoring a touchdown early in the first quarter, Trinity’s defense didn’t allow the Warriors to put any more points on the scoreboard.

The success of Trinity’s defense can be attributed to their hard work and preparation, but they also had the support of their teammates on the sidelines to back them up. Whenever the Tigers’ defense took the field, Trinity’s sidelines would be constantly cheering. From the stands, it sounded like a long drawn out ‘whoo’ to distract the other team and to fill in for the missing crowd noise. According to Messex, this is a time-honored tradition for the football program.

“[T]here’s a tradition at Trinity on the football team, where I honestly don’t know much about the roots. Apparently, there was a player that was a, I mean, this was years ago, apparently that he was just a really high energy person. And so they started [a tradition where] everybody in the sideline would yell his last name, and just chant his last name, and it stayed. And so I have no idea who this player is, I don’t know much about him, but to this day, we all yell that, especially when we’re on defense to create noise and distractions for the opposing team,” Messex said.

After two entire quarters with no points earned, the tide looked like it was starting to turn for Trinity at the start of the fourth quarter. The Tigers started the last quarter with the scoreboard still reading 6-0 in favor of Hendrix. Only 21 yards from the end zone, if Trinity was able to score a touchdown, they could have taken the lead.

After two first downs earned by senior running back Mike Edmonson and a completed pass from Horn to sophomore wide receiver Ryan Merrifield that placed the line of scrimmage just six yards from the end zone, it seemed as though Trinity was about to finally get on the board.

However, Trinity had been in a prime position to score at Hendrix’s four-yard line earlier in the third quarter when a pass from Messex was intercepted — the fourth pass that Hendrix had intercepted in the game.

Hendrix stood firm on defense and forced the Tigers to settle for a field goal from junior kicker PJ Hensley.

After the kickoff, Hendrix wasted little time responding as they scored a touchdown in just six plays with a made PAT that extended the Warriors’ lead to 13-3. With just over seven minutes on the clock, Trinity would need a touchdown and a field goal to force overtime and have a chance to compete in the SAA Championship Game.

Trying to lead the comeback, Messex drove the Tigers all the way back to the redzone. On a big third down, the Hendrix defense left Messex with nowhere to throw, and he forced a pass that resulted in Messex’s fourth interception of the day and Trinity’s fifth overall. The Hendrix sideline went wild, knowing that with five minutes left, they had all but sealed the game and clinched a spot in the SAA Championship.

According to senior wide receiver Chris Stewart, a major factor in the game’s disappointing outcome was that the team underperformed offensively.

“We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot. But from an effort standpoint, I think we played with great effort, nobody gave up, all sides of the ball,” Stewart said. “I just think that you got to give Hendrix credit. They came out early, and they were kind of trying to get revenge from last year’s game and how we beat them last year. They came out with more urgency in the beginning than we did and, at least offensively, we were never able to get our feet under us and execute at the level we are accustomed to.”

In a normal season, a loss like this wouldn’t necessarily mean that Trinity couldn’t go on to compete for the conference title, but because there were only three guaranteed games on the schedule, each individual game carried significantly more importance than in years past.

Although Trinity will not have a chance to compete for the conference title, they will still compete one last time in the conference “Crossover” game. The SAA planned this Crossover to allow teams from the West Division — like Trinity — to play a team from the East Division after teams were confined to play only teams within their division to limit travel during the COVID-19 season.

The Tigers will wrap up their season against Birmingham-Southern College on Saturday, March 13 in Little Rock, Arkansas.