Loras football wrapped up its 2015 campaign on Saturday, hosting perennial powerhouse Wartburg on Senior Day at the Rock Bowl. While the Duhawks fell to the 14th-ranked Knights, 49-34, Loras fans had plenty of cause for optimism in the game, as well as the exciting season it culminated.
“I still think Wartburg’s the best team in the league, and I thought we played with them all game long,” second-year head coach Steve Helminiak said. “A year ago I felt like Wartburg physically dominated us. They were, by far, the better football team. I felt this year it was a very even matchup, with guys going toe-to-toe. I felt good about our guys physically.”
The improved physicality Helminiak noted on the field resulted in a much more even matchup on the scoreboard, as well. Last season, Wartburg pounded the Duhawks in Waverly, 81-21. This time around, Loras rallied to within two touchdowns of the Knights at the final gun.
Senior wide receiver Nate Even hauled in six receptions for 92 yards against the Knights, and his third-quarter touchdown snag gave him a share of the school record for career touchdown receptions with 26. Even also finishes his collegiate career as Loras’ all-time leader in receiving yards and receptions. The two-sport athlete got a chance to show off his arm in the fourth quarter, heaving a 39-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Zach Minch on a trick play. Minch finished the game with 190 total yards and two touchdowns.
Closing the gap on Wartburg (9-1, 6-1) was just one of many encouraging signs the Duhawks showed in 2015.
“You’ve always got to put things in perspective,” Helminiak said. “Just look at where this program was two seasons ago, and compare that to where we’re at now. I think there are drastic differences in the talent level on our roster, the job the coaches are doing, the attitude of our players, the excitement of fans and alums — we’re pleased about all of it.”
Fans who love offense have been pleased, too. The Duhawks (4-6, 3-4) broke 27 individual and team school records on offense in 2015, more than half of which were only a year old. According to Helminiak, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
“Even with all [the broken records], I don’t think we’re anywhere near what we can be offensively. We’re just beginning. We want to win an Iowa Conference Championship, and until we do that we’re not going to be satisfied.”
“We’re a young team that’s trying to figure out its identity,” Helminiak said.
“We know what we want to be, and we’re getting closer and closer to that. It’s a matter of us growing up, we’ve got to continue to grow up.”