No one expected the University of West Florida football team to be playing in the final game of the 2017 season.
But here the Argonauts were Saturday night, at Sporting Park in Kansas City, playing on the biggest stage in NCAA Division II football, a national championship hanging in the balance in a showdown with No. 8 Texas A&M Commerce.
A dream season nearly had a storybook finish.
Ultimately, the Argos were forced to settle for second-best after a 37-27 loss to the Lions that lowered the curtain on a remarkable year.
Being the national runner-up isn’t a bad place to be considering where this program started. It’s only in its second year of existence and was just 5-6 a season ago.
The Argos finish 11-4 and won four consecutive postseason game on the road against nationally ranked opponents to reach this point.
UWF head coach Pete Shinnick congratulated the Lions on the victory, crediting them for rising to the occasion.
But what his own team accomplished was special and that fact wasn’t lost on him.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” Shinnick said in a post-game press conference. “We have a lot of guys who are in pain and are hurting right now, and are beat up. But they have done a lot of good and somewhere here in the next couple of weeks they will probably realize that.”
UWF never led against the Lions but did tie the score at 7-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Chris Schwarz in the opening quarter.
A&M led 14-7 after one and was up 20-7 late in the second half before Antoine Griffin caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mike Beaudry that cut the deficit to six at halftime.
The Argos got as close as 20-17 after an Austin Williams field goal from 27 yards out with 10:03 left in the third. They trailed 34-20 going into the fourth.
Luis Perez, the Harlon Hill Trophy winner — the D-II equivalent of the Heisman — threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns to pace the Lions. A&M finished with 477 yards in all.
UWF tallied 276 yards of offense but were held to minus 24 yards of rushing, a season low. Jonathan Coleman led the defense with 14 tackles.
The Argos have raised the bar heading into 2018, and with most of their starters back, the expectations will be high for a program that has gone from hoping for success to expecting it.