|Anthony White carries the ball a lot for a defensive player. He added his eighth interception of the season in the Hawks' first playoff victory.
Huntingdon athletics photo
By Adam Turer
Ten of the 32 teams in the 2015 playoffs had a chance to make history by earning their program's first ever tournament win. Only one delivered.
Huntingdon, making its second playoff appearance, defeated Hendrix and earned a trip to the second round at Mary Hardin-Baylor. The 2015 Hawks squad will forever be known as the first Huntingdon team to win a playoff game.
- Playoff scoreboard
- 2015 playoff bracket
- ATN Podcast: Moving on
- Feature: JHU-Wesley rematch, last chance
- Feature: Saints enjoy chip on shoulder
- Feature: Huntingdon makes history
- Feature: Cortland finds a way
- Feature: The Warhawks' workhorse
- Feature: Wabash keeps running
- Latest D-III football news releases
- More playoff coverage
"I'm really excited and blessed to be a part of this team," said junior quarterback Luke Bailey. "We felt the frustration. We've been so close, but it seems like every year we let one game get away from us."
The Hawks are in just their 13th year of football, and third year as a member of the USA South conference. The past two seasons, the Hawks were one win away from earning at least a share of the conference title. This year, they broke through with a 9-1 season and perfect conference record. The team last qualified for the postseason as an at-large independent in 2009. That game ended in a 56-35 home loss to Mississippi College.
Head coach Mike Turk has been at the helm since 2004, the program's second season. He has led the Hawks to all 80 of the program's victories.
"This is what we set out to do a long time ago," he said. "It took longer than we wanted it to, but it's a great feeling. This group has been able to see things through and finish the job."
The Hawks (10-1) became the first USA South team to ever post a ten-win season. Huntingdon had previously won eight games in a season, in 2008 and 2009.
"I'm proud of what this group has been able to accomplish," said Turk. "We're just happy to be playing another week."
At the same time, the Hawks are far from satisfied with their historic season. That drive is what has carried them to their most impressive victories late in the year. The Hawks dismantled conference runner-up Maryville at home on Nov. 7, then took care of business against Hendrix two weeks later.
"I told them that I don't think they've played their best game yet. I still don't," said Turk. "They haven't gotten to the point where they feel like they've arrived. They've stayed hungry week in and week out. That, as much as anything, has been the difference. We've steadily gotten better as the season has gone on. Not every team does that."
Playing in front of their home crowd in the opening round was an advantage, which helped the team rally from an early 17-7 deficit. The Hawks have won seven straight home games and this year's team became the second in program history to go undefeated at Charles Lee Field at Samford Stadium.
"We believe we're a pretty tough team to beat at home," said Bailey.
The first people to celebrate with the Hawks after the win on Saturday were recent alumni who fell short of reaching this level of success. To share in that moment and sing the fight song with the players who laid the foundation for this team was special, said Bailey. He and his teammates finished what the teams before them started.
"That was awesome," said the junior quarterback. "To be able to put the nail in the coffin [and win a playoff game], that really motivates us."
The Hawks defeated Hendrix by sticking to the balanced attack that has worked for Huntingdon all season. John Iwaniec returned after missing two games and rushed for 122 yards and three scores on 17 carries. Bailey passed for 230 yards and a score and rushed for 74 and a touchdown. The Hawks passed for 230 yards and rushed for 239. They average 221.5 passing and 253.8 rushing yards per game.
"It starts with the offensive line and our running game," said Bailey. "With our balanced attack, it's been pretty tough to beat."
Anthony White picked off a pass for the third week in a row and now has eight interceptions on the season. The Hawks have picked off 17 passes this year, and Bailey has thrown just six interceptions while tossing 26 touchdown passes.
Now, the Hawks get a trip to Texas to face No. 13 Mary Hardin-Baylor. It will take a disciplined and balanced effort to hang with the playoff-savvy Crusaders. The team is in uncharted territory, but plans to prepare for the biggest game in program history just as it has for each week leading up to this moment.
"It all started with the attitude and commitment level in December and January," said Turk. "This is a very special group. They just seem to understand and really get it, what has to be done on a weekly basis to prepare to play.
"We know that this opportunity could be once in a lifetime."