Stillwater, OK: Down by seven points in the third quarter against Oklahoma State, an Ames-area man was at the end of his rope. Feeling like he had no other options, he did something few parents could imagine: He abandoned his running game at the local orphanage.
Sister Mary Catherine, a nun at Sacred Heart of the Forgotten Children, describes the scene. "Last Saturday afternoon I heard a knock at the door around 1:30. And goodness gracious, what did I find on our front steps but three adorable running backs in a basket! I'm pretty sure a saw someone with a mustache wearing a ballcap and polo shirt hiding in the bushes across the street, but I can't be certain."
That man, who was indeed hiding in the bushes after leaving his running backs on Sacred Heart's doorstep, asked only to be identified by the alias "Messtache" to protect his identity. He explained his actions thusly, "Look, we were down by seven points! In the third quarter! With that kind of deficit, we needed to score points in a hurry, and passing is the only way to make up lost ground. I had to abandon my running backs so I could take better care of the rest of my offense. It was the only way."
After it was pointed out to Messtache that there were still 12 minutes left in the third quarter when he decided to leave his running game at the local orphanage, he choked back a sob and repeated, "It was the only way."
Sadly, running game abandonment is a problem across all levels of football. "Oh, we usually get a few deliveries every Saturday," Sister Mary Catherine explains. "It just breaks your heart. The thing I don't understand is that these three running backs are especially talented. It doesn't make sense that a coordinator wouldn't want to use them in a game. Whoever left them must have an amazing quarterback and excellent wide receivers."
This case is especially tragic, and the stats paint a telling picture of an offense's failures. Of the 32 plays run by Messtache in the second half of Saturday's game in Stillwater, just five were designed runs for the running backs accounting for only 32 yards.
And this has been an ongoing problem, one with no solution in sight. Against Kansas State the previous week, Messtache abandoned his running game in the third quarter after going down by three points at the end of the first half. Of the 29 plays run in the second half against the Wildcats, just six were designed runs for the running backs accounting for only 11 yards. When trailing 14-13 against Texas Tech on September 29, the fourth quarter saw only two runs from the running backs out of 18 plays.
Indeed, Messtache seems penitent, but continues to defend his actions, "I'm not proud of leaving my poor running backs on the steps of a local orphanage the way I did, but I know the sisters of Sacred Heart will know how to properly utilize little Shontrelle, Jeff and DeVondrick. God knows I can't take care of them."
Unfortunately, there is little to be done for running backs in this situation. Coordinators like Messtache get in over their heads, panic at the situation they find themselves in and immediately jettison a vital part of their game. States like Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas have enacted safe-haven laws to provide a sanctuary for running backs deemed unnecessary by their coordinators. But this has only enabled the actions of Messtache and others like him who can't provide proper care for those in their charge.
Even Messtache's employer, a wealthy benefactor known as Mr. Rhoads couldn't provide an answer for his employee's actions. "I am not a (pounds table) gotta run the ball guy. But (pounds table) you've got to run the ball," Rhoads said in a meeting last week. "Just thinking about those poor running backs out there in the cold, alone and abandoned... Makes me sick. I'll have a talk with Mr. Messtache this week and let him know this type of behavior won't be tolerated."
Perhaps the saddest part of the situation is the fact that all three running backs were adopted. Shontrelle and DeVondrick both found their way to Messtache from Florida, while Jeff was a local Iowa boy raised in Pleasant Hill. All three running backs apparently hold no ill will towards Messtache, and only talk about helping the team, despite the fact that Messtache has abandoned them three times already this season.
Sipping a juice box in the chapel of the orphanage, Jeff tried to make sense of the situation."We're so close," he said, playing idly with a ball that had been given to him by the nuns. "We know Mr. Messtache cares about us. We'll find our way back to him sometime this week, and we'll all be ready to go next Saturday. All in."
Such a scene breaks your heart. Messtache's next game is this Saturday against Baylor. Time will tell if a remorseful man has truly changed his ways.