Searching for its first victory as a varsity football program, Westminster Christian received a shot of adrenaline right before halftime Saturday after DeShawn Bloom's 4-yard touchdown run sliced Hiawatha's lead to 14-13.
"They're a first-year program looking for their first victory," said Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly. "My biggest fear was that if we kept them in the game bad things happen."
Unfortunately for the Warriors (0-4, 0-4), most of the bad things that happened in the second half went against them.
Hiawatha (3-1, 3-1) scored touchdowns on its first 3 offensive possessions of the second half and pulled away for a 40-27 Northeastern Athletic Conference triumph in Elgin.
After a 3-and-out series on the Warriors' opening possession of the second half, the Hawks capitalized on a short field with a 5-play, 33-yard drive capped by quarterback Mike Mercado's 9-yard TD pass to Allen Letterer to make it 21-13.
The next 2 times Hiawatha got the ball Mercado added touchdown runs of 24 and 4 yards, respectively, that left Westminster Christian trailing 34-13 with 10:08 remaining.
"We're missing some assignments on defense," said Westminster coach John Davis. "We've got an explosive offense capable of making a lot of big plays. We just need to do some tightening down on defense so that we don't keep getting scored 40 points a game on us."
Mercado (9 of 17, 136 yards), who completed just 1 of his 7 first-half passes for 18 yards, looked like a completely different quarterback in the second half as he ran and threw for 2 touchdowns apiece.
His second TD pass was a 24-yard strike to Letterer with 54 seconds left.
"I wish I could tell you what we did to Mike (Mercado) at halftime because I'll do that before every game," said Donnelly. "He came out with a purpose and picked it up in the second half."
There were several positives in the loss for Westminster Christian, playing its second-ever varsity home game.
Clay DeHaan connected with Scotty Graziano for a 79-yard touchdown off a halfback option pass midway through the fourth quarter and quarterback Max Tucker (15 of 25, 158 yards) tossed a 43-yard TD strike to Bloom with 20 seconds left to close out the scoring.
Graziano, 1 of 14 freshmen listed on the Warriors' 30-man roster, made a pair of first-half interceptions from his defensive back spot, finished with 7 catches for 179 yards and hauled in a 2-point pass conversion.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Davis said of Graziano, who also caught a 57-yard option pass from DeHaan in the first half. "He catches anything thrown to him."
"We had our hopes high," said Graziano. "We really came into this game thinking we were going to win. It just slipped away from us in the second half."
Freshman linebacker Xavier Brown led the defense with 16 tackles, including a sack.
"It's a learning process," said Davis. "The fact that we've got almost entirely a freshman-sophomore squad is encouraging for the future."
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