The Warhawks put in hundreds of hours on the practice field and in the weight room and seniors Darin Heinrich and Nick Sindic even delayed their graduation so they could finish the season.
That hard work paid off, as the ’Hawks captured their first national championship Sunday when they defeated Middlebury College, 7-3, at Founders Field in Pittsburgh.
“It’s such an awesome feeling,” freshman Chuck Koehler said. “After the game ended I hugged Darin and started crying. We were all so proud.”
It rained all day Sunday, making for a muddy field, a slick ball and a low-scoring game.
“It was a very physical game and the conditions made it difficult to hold onto the ball,” head coach Pat O’Connor said. “Sometimes that’s how it goes, but the boys never got frustrated and just kept at it.”
The ’Hawks were in scoring position early and they controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes in the first half. The stout Panther defense held until a yellow card sidelined one of their players.
The ’Hawks cashed in at the 15-minute mark with the game’s only try from Will Atkinson, and the conversion was made by Brian Hime. The Panthers responded with a three-point penalty kick near the end of the half.
O’Connor said he was proud of how hard the team worked through the sloppy conditions.
“It’s such a great feeling,” O’Connor said. “They worked so hard for this, and I’ve been coaching here for 18 years and to come home national champions is huge.”
Heinrich hurt his knee during the game, but came back with a brace determined to play.
“I was supposed to graduate in December,” Heinrich said. “But I stuck around for these guys and now we’re national champions. It’ll be nice to go out on top.”
The ’Hawks faced Sierra College in the national semifinal Saturday and took control of the game early.
The Wolverines would start the scoring in the second half at the five-minute mark and would even outscore the ’Hawks 15-10 in the second half.
In the end, it was not enough. The Wolverines had no answer for the ’Hawks size and speed.
Junior Joe Epping and Koehler spent their afternoon running over Sierra defenders and would finish with two tries each. The ’Hawks’ great ball movement also gave the backs opportunities to run. The team saw several runs over 20 meters by Dustin Bell and Nick Sindic.
The Wolverines were also 0-for-4 in conversion kicks and they missed a three-point penalty kick midway through the second half. The ’Hawks won 29-20, but if the Wolverines’ kicking game had picked up those 11 points it could have been a very different game.