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The Final: Haven't Got a Prayer

His football team has lost by an average of 74 points a game, but Rusty Bentley still believes in miracles

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By John Walters

The Lions of Trinity Bible College had already thrown four interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles in their Sept. 6 season opener against Rockford (Ill.) College. The game's final turnover belonged to the scoreboard operator. "Our scoreboard only has two digits per team," says Rockford sports information director Dave Beyer, "so after our last touchdown, it went back to zero and started over."

The scoreboard at Sam Greeley Field read ROCKFORD 05, VISITOR 0. If only. Trinity actually lost 105-0, the worst defeat in Division III history, a vanquishing of, well, Biblical proportions. It wasn't as if Rockford was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes; the Regents, in fact, lost 23-3 the next week, making them the nation's lone .500 team averaging 54 points per game.

You had to feel for Trinity coach Rusty Bentley. Only six months earlier he had moved his wife and four kids from Waco, Texas, to take his first college head-coaching job, at Trinity, located in tiny Ellendale, N.Dak. Bentley is a man of estimable faith. He has to be. With 307 students Trinity may be the smallest NCAA school to field a football team. Bentley inherited a Lions squad that finished 0-9 in 2002 and had only five players return. "We went into the Rockford game with 26 players," says Bentley, whose secondhand Lions would lose the following two Saturdays 60-0 and 62-6. "Only six of them played organized football last year."

During the 13-hour ride home from Rockford, Bentley says, "I was pretty bummed. I said, 'Lord, you brought me 1,317 1/2 miles. How do you turn 105 to nothin' into something good?'"

The day after Bentley called on the Almighty, he phoned a lesser god. "I've never met him," says Bentley, "but I called [Florida State coach] Bobby Bowden. I wanted him to help me out, like a Christian brother should."

Twenty minutes after Bentley left a message with Bowden's secretary, the second-winningest coach in Division I-A history called him back. "Son," said Bowden, "this year you're gonna lose some ball games ... big.

Uh, yeah.

"Just go out, just block and tackle," the Seminoles' coach preached. "Just do your best."

Bentley's faith, optimism and dadgum gumption are being rewarded. Two students have since joined the Lions. One of them, Jerry Rush, is a 33-year-old, married freshman with a teenaged son. "The Lord laid it on my heart to come play ball," the 6'2", 307-pound Rush told Bentley, "because we need some linemen."

On Sept. 16 the Lions, although they sorely needed it, cut practice short. Some of them left to dig 56 holes for a farmer who wanted to plant fence posts, others painted a house, and a third group helped a farmer take down a chicken coop. "We make time for community service each week," says Bentley. "Football doesn't change lives. The way you live changes lives."

Ask Milo: Trying to Solve an Old College Mystery

Is SIOC continuing the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? Madison was chosen as the best college town in the nation (Sept. 16), and the Badgers subsequently lost to UNLV. Texas A·M has a big game coming up. Is there any way that you can put Pitt on this week's cover? -- Curtis, Texas A&M '06

That's the type of thinking Milo likes. While we're at it, let's try to squeeze Milo's bookie onto the cover, too. Here's the breakdown of the "SIOC jinx" so far. Issue 1's Jeremy Bloom (a Colorado wide receiver, who is the only athlete from that cover to have played so far) had one catch for three yards the following week, then his Buffaloes were upset by Washington State in their next game. The cover subject of Issue 2, the Badgers, took a 23-5 thumping. (The fan on the cover, Dan Klug, says he had a "really, really bad hangover that Saturday." Somehow Milo thinks that's unrelated to the jinx.) So don't be surprised to see an acid-rain storm hit the set of College GameDay, our Issue 3 subject. And Milo will get working on that Larry Fitzgerald story for you.

Got a question for Milo? Ask him anything at askmilo@sioc.timeinc.com

Issue date: September 30, 2003

SI On Campus: September 30, 2003 issue 
SI ON CAMPUS
Sports Illustrated On Campus, a new magazine covering college sports and collegiate lifestyles, is available as an insert in 72 major college newspapers across the country every Thursday throughout the school year. Click any of the links below to see selected content from the latest issue:

Cover story: 100 Things You Gotta Do
Road Trip: Knoxville, Tenn.
The Final: For Your Viewing Pleasure
Previous week's issue: Sept. 23, 2003

Send your college sports questions to Milo at askmilo@sioc.timeinc.com. Your query might be answered in a future issue of Sports Illustrated On Campus.

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