Head Coach Steve Helminiak called it “a moment of truth.”
Pinned down on their own 2-yard line, clinging to a 2-point lead with five and a half minutes to play, the Duhawks knew exactly what needed to be done.
On 3rd-and-8 from the Loras 4-yard line, first-year quarterback Robert Kelly hit senior wideout Nate Even for 12 yards and a first down to move the Duhawks out of the shadow of their own goalpost. Senior running back Calvin Smith added a 21-yard rush for another Duhawk first down. The drive stalled out at the Loras 37, but it chiseled 3:29 off of the clock and allowed the Duhawks to flip the field with sophomore Jeremy Peters’ 41-yard punt to the Luther 22-yard line with just over two minutes left in the game.
“It was so important for us to get out of there,” Helminiak said. “I told the guys it was a moment of truth when we got out of the 1-yard line and got almost to midfield and buried them with that punt. We talked about it all week long — (Luther’s) not a team that can play from behind because of what they do. With a minute or two minutes left on the clock, they are not comfortable throwing the football. It takes them completely out of their element.”
The head coach couldn’t have been more right. Luther (4-5, 1-5 IIAC) managed only 12 yards on their final possession before turning the ball over on downs, and the Duhawks (3-6, 2-4 IIAC) held on for a 22-20 victory on Senior Day at the Rock Bowl.
“This was a huge win for us, especially where we’re at as a program,” said Helminiak. “We’ve got ten seniors that are working their tails off. They’ve been through so much adversity, and to finish it with a win in the Rock Bowl is huge. It’s big for the program and it’s big for those guys. It’s a memory they’ll never forget.”
Senior Day was much more than a ceremonial event for the outgoing class of Duhawks — every senior in the lineup contributed to the Loras victory. Senior defensive backs Mike Canevello, Dave Pirkle, and Tucker Brady were instrumental in bottling up Luther’s potent triple-option running attack and creating negative yardage plays. Pirkle’s third-quarter strip of Luther’s J.J. Sirios, and Brady’s subsequent fumble recovery, set up an 8-yard Kelly-to-Even touchdown pass to make the score 22-13.
Even, who missed significant playing time last season with a fractured clavicle, will return to the Duhawks next season to play out his final year of eligibility. The senior wide receiver stands on the cusp of breaking the Duhawks’ single-season records for receptions and receiving yards, needing only four catches and eight yards in Loras’ season finale to eclipse the respective marks.
“I’ve got to thank the offensive linemen. They’ve been doing a great job,” Even said when asked about his stellar season. “Bob Kelly and Dylan Jones have both been throwing me the ball this year, and they’ve been doing fantastic. With the new offense this year, it’s just been great.”
The standout receiver will relish the opportunity for another season in a much-improved offense. “I’ve been waiting three or four years for this,” said Even. “I’m glad I’ll be able to come back for one more year and really stick it out. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Loras football will close out its 2014 season this Saturday with a trip to Waverly to take on #5 Wartburg. The undefeated Knights locked up at least a share of the Iowa Conference Championship with last week’s 41-10 drubbing of the Simpson College Storm and are automatic qualifiers for the NCAA tournament.