Postseason football returns to Trinity

Tigers open NCAA playoffs with chance to host three rounds

This Saturday, the NCAA Division III football championships will return to Trinity University for the first time in 11 years. After the Tigers’ second consecutive undefeated regular season, they will take on the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboys at 12 p.m.

The team filed into Trinity’s Multi-Sport stadium this past Sunday, where they watched on the jumbotron as the NCAA’s selection show played, revealing who and where they would play. Even after earning an automatic qualifier bid by winning the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) crown, hosting was no guarantee. A year ago, the Tigers made their first playoff appearance a decade after winning the SAA but were sent on the road to face the eventual national champions, the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor (UMHB) Crusaders.
As the 32-team bracket was unveiled quadrant by quadrant, the team waited until the first three had been completely revealed. Their name would be the first called in the final section of the bracket, signifying a top national seed and the opportunity to host not just one, but three games during the five-game playoffs.
“I think it’s awesome to allow our fans to come and see us play. They really haven’t seen us in super big games, previously. They had a solid couple this year, but we’ve never had really high-stakes games played at Trinity before and I think this is a really awesome opportunity. Last year, for UMHB in the playoffs, we had to travel, and for the conference championship against Birmingham Southern, we had to travel. This is a bigger national stage, so I’m excited,” Harris Good, a senior defensive lineman and captain for the Tigers, said.
The rest of the team echoed the same message regarding the value of playing at home, especially during the playoffs. Even those who hadn’t experienced last year’s postseason affair, like first-year Marcus Vondrak, acknowledged the importance.
“You definitely feel a kind of special sort of presence when you have everyone here, especially just playing here. It’s a unique environment for sure, at our level. I think we’re blessed to have the opportunity to play round one here because it gives us a competitive advantage compared to a lot of places,” Vondrak said.
While fans will certainly fill the stands, the NCAA championships have rules in place that reduce roster sizes to 58 players. The remaining players are not allowed on the team’s sideline, meaning that they will retreat to the stands to cheer on their team, which will likely result in one of the highest attendance totals of the season.
“It’s everything. It’s huge. To be here, you don’t have to stay at a hotel, our fans are gonna be behind us. It’s a big advantage, for sure,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Merrifield, who also talked about the matchup this week.
“We haven’t played them since 2019, but we know they have a loss this season, and we’re undefeated … we’re very confident about the players we have this year and what we’ve been able to do this season,” Merrifield said.
Hardin-Simmons finished the season ranked fifth in the NCAA regional rankings. It’s the only ranking the NCAA offers, however, both the American Football Coaches Association and have top 25 polls ranking the Cowboys in the top 10 in the country.
“We knew going into the season that the road to the national championship wouldn’t be easy, especially in the first round,” Vondrak said. In fact, six of the eight teams in the quadrant are ranked in the top 20 of the aforementioned polls, and four of them are in the top 10.
The Tigers certainly have their work cut out for them. But they will maintain the approach they’ve had all season long, and take things one week at a time. It’ll be made much easier, though, with the opportunity to play three more at home.