What began and ended as a promising season for LIU Post ultimately came up just short of a postseason berth.
Post (8-2) entered Sunday ranked No. 10 in Super Region One, with a top-seven finish necessary to qualify for the NCAA Division II football playoffs.
Once the final poll was released at 5 p.m., the Pioneers found themselves on the outside looking in.
Post coach Bryan Collins was confident that his team would get the nod from the selection committee.
“We were extremely disappointed,” Collins said. “It’s one of those things where you feel good about winning a big game up at Saint Anselm; we were on a good five-game winning streak. There was a lot of buzz on the bus afterwards from the players after finding out four teams ahead of us had just lost.”
“A bunch of us got together and watched it in the dorm lounges, and we definitely felt the sting,” said Yianni Gavalas, who threw for 3,087 yards, 37 touchdowns and completed 70.8 percent of this passes this season. He added 155 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 46 attempts.
Back-to-back lackluster losses of 40-21 at Bentley and 54-20 at home against Assumption after a 3-0 start eventually cost the Pioneers a playoff opportunity. Post had six turnovers against Bentley and trailed by 47 before scoring in the Assumption game.
“We obviously wanted to limit the turnovers against Bentley and we just didn’t come out ready to play against Assumption,” Gavalas said. “There was definitely some regret there.”
Collins believes Post’s talent is comparable to elite teams of its past.
“We’ve won a lot of championships here and been to the playoffs quite a few times, and this team was just as good as those teams,” Collins said. “But I told them it’s just a life lesson.”
For Gavalas, a graduate student who transferred to Post this year, the end of this season also marks the conclusion of his collegiate career. But what he’ll miss extends far beyond the game.
“Definitely the friendships and brotherhood,” Gavalas said. “I was only here one year but I’ll definitely miss everyone.”
Collins said Gavalas’ successor is yet to be determined and that Post will look to develop an incoming freshman and transfer student at quarterback.
“There are a lot of holes to fill, recruiting-wise,” Collins said. “We’re going to recruit some depth. I think we want to get bigger. We get our skill guys back. We want competition at every position.”
Two such skill players include junior receiver Michael Richardson and junior running back/kick returner Malik Pierre, who both displayed supreme playmaking ability in 2017.
Richardson finished with 60 receptions for 880 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Pierre rushed for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries. He also returned 15 kickoffs for a total of 499 yards and two touchdowns and was a threat in the receiving game, catching 48 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns.
Pierre has high hopes of making the postseason next year.
“I’m excited with all the returners we have coming back and with the competition we are going to have in spring ball,” Pierre said. “I feel we have a very good chance of making the playoffs next year and the only way to guarantee that is for us to win every regular-season game, and that’s the mindset we are going to have.”