UW-L football

Michael Garvey (bottom) and Luke Winnen (top) team up to take down River Falls wide receiver Nicholas Studer as Colton Nieman (13) and Tyler Halverson (18) look on during the Eagles’ season finale on Saturday.

Coach Mike Schmidt had to turn away from the projector screen about three-quarters of the way through the NCAA Division III football playoff selection show.

He knew a couple of minutes before it was made official — despite an 8-2 record and a resounding 56-7 win at UW-River Falls on Saturday, the UW-La Crosse football team did not earn one of the seven at-large playoff berths.

UW-Oshkosh (9-0, WIAC champion) was the only WIAC team to make the 32-team tournament.

“We knew the contenders for those at-large spots coming in, and we knew it was going to be a longshot,” Schmidt said after the Eagles watched the selection show together in a conference room in the student union.

“It’s a tough break for our guys, but I’m pretty proud of this group.”

The eight wins was the most for the program since 2006, and a sign that UW-L is making strides toward reasserting itself as the perennial power it once was. Had the Eagles been able to pull out either of their two losses this year — 21-14 at Whitewater and 42-28 at home against No. 3 Oshkosh — they would’ve been shoo-ins for an at-large bid.

Once all the teams were announced, more than 20 seniors gathered near the front of the conference room, exchanging hugs. There was a mix of tears and “thank yous,” emblematic of the moment that was a combination of both disappointment that the season was over, but appreciation for what the team had accomplished.

“It’s a gut-punch,” senior safety Ryan Weber said. “It’s devastating not to get called because we know we could compete with every team on that board.”

Weber — twice elected team captain — said while there was pain now, the team will look back at itself as the group that got UW-L turned around.

“We’ve got to celebrate what we did this year. 8-2. This group of seniors, everything we went through, I’m so proud of this group,” Weber said. “La Crosse football is back.”

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Reporter

Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for River Valley Media Group. Colten is the college sports coordinator for the La Crosse Tribune.

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