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
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.
"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."
Issue date: September 30, 2003