It is strange to call a loss a sign of a football teams growth. But, growing through losses has been one of the staples of the Pacific University football team since the Boxers revived the football program three years ago.
Last week, Pacific lost to Whitworth 28-25. The score of the game was just one sign of the Boxers growth after losing to Whitworth 48-6 last season.
Even more than the score being close, though, was the way the Pacific players viewed the game. Although it was homecoming for the Boxers, they did not put any more importance on winning than they have in the rest of their games this season.
Every game is important to win, Pacific coach Keith Buckley says. I dont think that because it was homecoming it was any more or less important to our kids. We wanted to come back out and really prove to ourselves that we could go toe-to-toe with Whitworth and put ourselves in a position to win.
We made some critical mistakes that didnt allow us to win. We left things out on the field that could have put us in the win column.
Pacific is 1-3 this season. Two seasons ago, in the programs first year, the Boxers did not win a game. They had just a single win last year (44-25 over Puget Sound). The team has looked much more competitive this year, though. After falling to Simon Fraser 41-25 in the season opener, the Boxers went on the road and beat Occidental 27-6.
Matching the teams win total from a year ago in the second game of this season gave the players confidence. The win was also Pacifics first road win in three years.
The biggest thing was that it was a win on the road, Buckley says. When you put up the checklist of things that you want to do building a football program, being able to go on the road and win at somebody elses house is right up there.
It was great to get a non-conference win and gave the guys some positive feelings to move us into Northwest Conference play.
Buckley has seen improvement throughout the season, especially in the Boxers ability to win the battle up front so that Pacific can run the ball and stop the run.
The Boxers are averaging 94 yards rushing per game, up from 50.3 yards per game last season worst in the NWC.
The most noticeable change (on offense) this year has been our ability to run the ball effectively, Buckley says. The first two years we just were not physically capable of pushing people around.
The running game is especially important for Pacific after starting quarterback T.C. Campbell an All-NWC selection a year ago was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first week. P.J. Minaya has filled in admirably for Campbell, though, completing 67-of-109 passes for 788 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions.
If you talk to any single coach in the country, everybody is facing injuries and feels like theyre banged up, Buckley says. Were no different. Its something that we have to deal with and work with and find the guys who are going to be there on Saturday and get them prepared to play. I dont think anybody feels like we have to stop what were doing because guys are hurt.
We feel terrible for them and its painful to watch guys who had put so much work in not be able to compete. But, its something that happens and it happens to everybody. Its the ones who can overcome that adversity who are going to be most successful.
The Boxers defense is another pleasant surprise this season, holding opponents to 114 yards per game, down from 187.2 last year.
Were doing a heckuva job stopping the run, Buckley says. Thats what youve got to do first and foremost for a defense to be successful and weve been pretty good at that.
Pacific is still having trouble stopping the pass, though. The Boxers have given up 314.8 yards per game through the air this season.
Thats not just the secondary, Buckley says. Thats the d-line not making sacks when theyre presented. Its linebackers not carrying the under coverage and the secondary not making plays when we need to make them.
That in turn affects your third down efficiency when youre not making those kinds of plays against the pass.
Still, Pacific is clearly much closer to being the program that it wants to be.
All the way across the board were an improved football team from where we were against the same opponents last year, Buckley says. That doesnt necessarily reflect in the win-loss column, but we are getting better as a football team and we feel like were on the verge of turning the corner.