When the Bemidji State football team defeated Concordia-St. Paul Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale, the players celebrated with belief the season would extend at least one more game.
Then came the devastating news.
The coaching staff notified the players of the NCAA's penalty on Bemidji State for using an ineligible player in nine games this season.
"We were in total disbelief and total shock," Bemidji State senior captain Kyle McMartin said. "The overall effect was absolute shock. I just put my hands on my head and looked down and said 'you can't be telling this to us right now' and that was the feeling of every other senior. There's just no better word to use than shock."
The nullification penalty negatively affects winning percentage and other criteria used by the NCAA National Tournament Selection Committee in the selection process. That penalty essentially ended Bemidji State's season and the Beavers were not selected to the national field when the bracket was announced Sunday.
"We are obviously a little upset and not ready for the season to be over because we thought we were going to be in the postseason," Bemidji State senior captain Jake Anderson said.
Bemidji State was a bubble team even with the win against Concordia-St. Paul, but had a slim chance to earn a national berth based on tiebreaking criteria before the NCAA penalty. Bemidji State's favorable chances to play in the Mineral Water Bowl also took a major hit by the NCAA's ruling.
A team e-mail was sent out late Saturday night to notify the players the NCAA had rejected Bemidji State's appeal and that the season was over. An end of the season meeting to turn in equipment will be held Wednesday.
Saturday's scene at Sea Foam Stadium played out in front of family, friends and fans who traveled to watch the game.
"We were all over talking with everyone and the coaches told us we needed to go over to a building on the other side of the field," McMartin said. "That's when they told us."
McMartin said his entire family showed up to watch the game. A defensive end, McMartin put in one of his best games of the season and finished with five tackles, completing a full season after he missed the majority the 2008 season to a severe ankle injury.
"I was lucky enough to have my entire family out there and they were standing there as a group when we came out of the meeting as a team," McMartin said. "My parents were incredibly sad to see how things turned out. They were more sad to see that all of the hard work and the promising attributes of this team just disappear."
The ineligible player on the team has been identified as Anthony Ragsdale, a junior transfer from a California community college. He was held out of the last two games while Bemidji State investigated the situation and forwarded findings to the NCAA
Rumors were circulating that some players blamed Ragsdale for the NCAA infraction.
"He did nothing wrong and it was made very, very clear that Anthony had nothing to do with what happened," McMartin said. "I haven't heard those things. But I speak for the team on this one. We stand behind him 100 percent and we would love to have him back on the team next year. We hope this does not deter him from coming back next season."
Bemidji State University cited an "administrative oversight" in the transfer process as the reason for Ragsdale's ineligibility. Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb and Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch have said Ragsdale was not at fault.
Why Ragsdale was declared ineligible or where the error occurred within the administration has yet to be determined and BSU has declined further comment.
Anderson did not feel comfortable holding anyone in the administration accountable for the error.
"It's not up to me to make that decision," Anderson said. "I'm just a player and I leave that kind of stuff up to the people who make the decisions. It's not up to me to pass judgment on anyone."
Bemidji State finished the season with an 8-3 overall record and 7-3 in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play.
"I think we can classify this as a winning season but obviously it doesn't work that way," Anderson said. "But we're 8-3 in my eyes regardless of what the NCAA thinks and I was really happy with our season up until this point."
The NCAA penalty dropped Bemidji State's winning percentage from .727 to .502.
"In the end, I think the coaches did the right thing by not telling us, so we were whole heartedly into the season on Saturday," McMartin said. "We finished with a good record instead of what could have been a mediocre record."
Most of the team filed out of the team bus Saturday night around 9 p.m. outside the John Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji.
The football locker room is adjacent to the hockey rink, where the Bemidji State men's hockey team was closing out a 6-1 win and a weekend sweep over Robert Morris.
Bemidji State junior safety Aaron Roland stopped and paused to watch a few minutes of the game with a large bag of equipment strapped over his shoulder.
When asked how he was feeling Roland said, "We're just disappointed ... just disappointed."