WEST CHESTER made the Division II playoffs every year from 2004-08. The Golden Rams went to the national semifinals the first time and won four postseason games in all.
Then they got to experience the flip side. In 2010 they went 4-7. That was followed by a 5-6. And naturally you ask why?
"You know you've had success, at two different places [also D-III Widener], so you believe in what you're doing," said coach Bill Zwaan. "But when that happens you do question everything. We thought we had good kids who bought in. So we stuck with it, hung in there with them, really thinking that these were the guys who were going to turn it around.
"Last year we were one play away from the playoffs. And when you're that close, I think we all felt it. They had that taste, that they could really do something. Once you get to that point you want to keep going. I think that really spurred them on in the offseason."
And now they're in the quarterfinals for only the second time, having already set a program record for victories with 12. Last week they avenged their lone loss with a 40-38 win at Bloomsburg, which had beaten them four straight and where they'd lost seven of their previous eight.
Tomorrow they'll be at Shepherd (11-0), the top seed in their region, which advanced by beating Winston Salem State at home, 7-0. Shepherdstown, W.Va., is about a 3 1/2-hour bus ride.
"In our league [PSAC], we have 6-hour trips," Zwaan duly noted. "So that's not too bad."
Especially when you're one of only eight teams still practicing.
"It feels really satisfying to be back in this position," Zwaan said. "Especially when it's with a group you really like. Now you want to make the most of it. We're one of the best teams in the country. We have a chance to do something really, really special. We worked so hard for this. And you have to have things go your way, too.
"When you're going all the time, maybe you do kind of take it for granted after a while. Then you realize what you're missing. We thought we could make a run. If we can take it another step, then we'd really be in that national picture."
Junior quarterback Sean McCartney (Archbishop Wood) has thrown for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns (with four picks) the last 2 weeks. Shawn Leo made all four of his field goals against Bloom, including a late, season-long 43-yarder that made it a two-possession game. And Rondell White, the team's leading rusher (he set a program record this season) and receiver, 2 weeks ago became just the second guy at any NCAA level to reach 4,000 career yards rushing, 2,000 receiving and 1,000 on kick returns. The other was Villanova's Brian Westbrook.
"Going into the season, we knew we had the talent to do big things," White said. "But we had to do it. It wasn't fun my freshman and sophomore seasons. It seemed like we were always a play or two away from winning a majority of those games. We wanted to get back to where the program was.
"As long as we keep making plays, we'll be fine. Our team will be remembered in West Chester history for a long time. Coach told us we're possibly the greatest team they've ever had. Just knowing that is pretty awesome. But we want to leave no doubt."
There's one sure way to do that.
"Last week we were probably as emotionally high as we've been in a long time," Zwaan said. "It'll be hard to do that again, but they know what they have to do. They realize where they're at."
Just like old times.
The survivior will get the winner of 10-2 North Alabama at 11-1 Lenoir-Rhyne (Hickory, N.C.). North Alabama is coached by one-time Temple coach Bobby Wallace, who won three straight national titles with the Lions in the mid-1990s. This is his second season back in Florence. He was at West Alabama from 2006-10.