Those involved with Westminster Christian's inaugural football season will remember Saturday afternoon forever.
The Warriors rallied from an early 9-0 deficit to defeat Christian Liberty Academy 33-28 in a battle between scrappy, winless Northeastern Athletic Conference teams.
"It feels so good. It's an emotional moment," said senior Clay DeHaan, who threw the go-ahead 53-yard, halfback option touchdown pass to freshman Scotty Graziano on the first play of the third quarter. "As a senior I'm leaving, but a lot of these guys have a couple of more years. To be the foundation for that is an awesome feeling. It's great to finally get a win."
The teams demonstrated their desire to escape the NAC basement by trading 4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Christian Liberty senior Alex Glynn celebrated his 18th birthday by rushing for a career-best 178 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24 carries. His fourth touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, capped a 10-play, 52-yard drive that trimmed the deficit to 33-28 with 47 seconds left in the game. A failed conversion try left it a 5-point margin.
However, any flicker of hope faded for the Chargers (0-8, 0-8) when their ensuing onside kick was recovered by Graziano. Westminster quarterback Max Tucker knelt three times to run out the clock, thereby sealing the first football victory for the growing Elgin private school.
"They made history," Westminster Christian coach John Davis said of his players. "It's the first win and I think this sets the tone for next year. I'm really proud of my senior leaders. They played great."
DeShawn Bloom was a force for the Warriors. The senior running back made 5 receptions for 107 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown, and he ran for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns on 7 carries. Bloom racked up 35 yards on Westminster's final drive, highlighted by his leg-pumping, 21-yard touchdown run.
"There was more (running) room at the end," Bloom said. "I think our conditioning paid off. We finally got one. All that work paid off."
Christian Liberty was led by Glynn and two-way lineman Aaron Cunningham. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior blocked a first-quarter punt that resulted in a safety and he nimbly intercepted a Tucker pass and returned it 45 yards.
"He's always telling me, 'Coach, let me play wideout because I can run,'" Chargers coach Jim Calkins said of Cunningham. "And I look at him and go, 'What?' But he is a very, very strong runner. And he has great hands. I wish there was two of him."
Cunningham knows why he's not a receiver. "They need someone blocking," he said with a smile.
Westminster Christian (1-7, 1-7) cut Christian Liberty's lead to 16-13 with 24 seconds left in the second quarter. Connor James Albrecht was in the right place to catch a ball deflected by a Charger defensive back for a touchdown.
Tucker completed 15 of 25 attempts for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns. Once the game ended, he left the field to celebrate the moment in the stands with his ailing father, Jim, who is fighting cancer.
An emotional Tucker returned to the field moments later with his entire team chanting, 'Win for Jim,' the motivational motto they wrote on their eye-black stickers.
"My dad making it out to this game really meant a lot," Tucker said. "This might be the last time he sees me play football, so all week I just really wanted to play for him. It just means so much to me because my dad and me have been doing this football thing since I was in third grade.
"I'll never forget this game. Even if I go on to play in college and get to play on a bigger stage, there will never be a bigger game to me personally than when two 0-7 teams played and we got the win for my dad."