By Cassidy Thornburg
Twelve consecutive wins, spring ball, summer offseason plans, fall practices and Monday film sessions all came to a halt in the final seconds of play as the Thunder football team fell 34- 33 to St. John’s (Minn.) in the DIII Quarterfinals on Saturday, Dec. 7.
“That one is going to hurt for a long time, but I’ll tell you this, nobody can question how tough these guys are,” Coach Mike Swider said during a post-game press conference. “Nobody can question how they’ve endured. We came up a play short. It’s just hard to swallow.”
The Thunder trailed the Johnnies most of the game before tying the score 27-27 with 8:22 remaining in the game.
As the clock wound down, senior offensive lineman Jake Hibben dove into the end-zone to give the game a one-point difference. With nine seconds left in the game, a successful extra point kick would have tied it, but before the field-goal team took the field, things got complicated. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called against the Thunder to push the field goal back to the 35-yard line. An offsetting penalty replayed the down twice, each yielding the same result: a slightly wide kick just outside the posts.
“We give up three or four big plays, turn it over a few times, have a couple critical penalties, and that’s the game,” Coach Swider said. “Getting beat is one thing, but getting beat like that is really hard.”
However, in the midst of a painful loss after an undefeated season, the team continued to emphasize their confidence in their relationships with one another and their relationship with Christ.
“This group is really special,” Coach Swider said. “You know they came together in ways that are really unique. ‘Pound the Rock’ was our theme this year. Life is not always going to be easy, fair or go the way you want it to go, but we have to keep chipping away at that rock because you never know the day it’s going to break.”
“Even though college football is over for me, I know I’ve always got my relationships with those guys,” senior wide receiver Phillip Nichols said. “That’s the brotherhood — the legacy of Wheaton football. That’s what brought me here. As much as this hurts, at the end of the day I can rest my head knowing that our identity is found in Jesus Christ.”
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