Pat Gareau, Editor-in-Chief
Bobby Colla, Sports Editor
Excitement and interest bubbled up on campus and overflowed throughout the Capital Region last week as Hudson Valley’s football team prepared to play in the Salt City Bowl, but Hudson Valley fell 52-7 to an opponent who had been in that situation many times.
The Vikings earned a spot on the field with this elite program by having one of the best seasons in school history. They were one of only 14 teams selected to play a postseason game in NJCAA football.
On Saturday, the Vikings took the field against Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, the number four team in the country and host of the bowl. The Hutchinson Blue Dragons have won the game every year since it was created in 2008. Hutchinson is an elite junior college football program with a Division I pipeline and 85 scholarships for their players.
“They’re one of the best teams in junior college football,” said head coach Mike Muehling.
By contrast, the Vikings do not have any football scholarships available. They have a 4-24 record in the last three years and haven’t played in a bowl game since 2003. While Hutchinson plays in a stadium that seats 5,000 with a turf playing surface, Hudson Valley plays on a beat up field that kicks up dust with every step.
The broadcasters described Hudson Valley as a big underdog before the game, and what happened on the field bore that out. The Vikings got the ball to start the game, but the possession ended with a blocked punt.
The Vikings made some defensive stops and put an effort in to go for the comeback. Chandler Foster intercepted the Hutchinson quarterback Kylen Binn in the second quarter while trailing 10-0. The Vikings gained some momentum, but the offense was unable to capitalize and the team faltered.
“We couldn’t finish drives or make the plays we needed to,” said Muehling.
By halftime, it was 24-0 with Hutchinson in the lead. The Blue Dragons running game proved unstoppable in the second half and propelled them to the victory.
Running back Tyler Gagnon scored the lone touchdown for Hudson Valley, his fourth of the season, to put a halt to the shutout.
Defensive star Ashton MacKenzie was injured early in the game. This, along with players like middle-linebacker Kevin Melder feeling sick during the game, hindered the Vikings already-diminished starting team.
“I don’t think the score reflects the distance between the teams. One could say they’re better than us, but I don’t think they’re 52-7 better than us,” said Muehling.
It proved to be a tough day on the field, but the team is still being celebrated by the campus community for the accomplishment of going from a team that rarely wins in years past to one that rarely lost this year.
“We would’ve wanted the season to end differently, but it doesn’t change the fact that we had a great season. This does give us more focus as to what we are going for, as a program. I think this is something we can build off of,” said Muehling.
Overall, Muehling said he was very pleased with how the team played this season, and looks forward to next year and his future seasons at Hudson Valley.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s good for recruiting. It shows that Hudson Valley football is back,” said athletic director Kristan Pelletier.
Pelletier hopes that the team will continue to compete and play in bowl games. “It’s a special year. It’s a goal that we’ll have. This year showed that it’s a possibility and can be reality,” she said.
After losing their final regular season game to Navy Prep, the Vikings thought that their chances of playing in a bowl game were slim to none. When Muehling found out, him and the athletic department decided to surprise the team with the news.
They scheduled a team meeting to hand their equipment in on Nov. 11. The coaches told the players that there would be some cameras there to reshoot a video the team made on standing up to domestic violence. When Muehling told the players the news, they celebrated in excitement while the cameras were running.
Their excitement was transferred to the campus community last Wednesday at a send-off party for the team before they left to fly to Kansas. The video of Muehling giving the news was displayed on a television screen and added to an already festive environment that included food, music by Fly92.3, cheerleading, and local media coverage.
College president Drew Matonak spoke at the event. “We are really, really proud of this group of young men. Not only for what they are doing on the football field, but for what they are doing in the classroom and representing this college. I would like to congratulate all of them,” he said.
Muehling also showed his gratitude to the school for the support shown for the team at the send-off.
“We felt the campus and the communities’ encouragement and support this season. I think it’s huge just to know that people care. It’s nice that people came to this send-off and support the team like this,” he added.
A big next step for the program will be building the new outdoor athletic complex that they are currently raising money for, which includes a turf field. Over $1.3 million has been raised for the complex thus far. Pelletier believes that the success of the football team this year will lead to an increase in fundraising.
“I think this program will continue to improve because of the season we had this year.” said Muehling. He then added, “I don’t think it will be too soon, but I think we will continue to close the gap to where we will be able to compete with a team like [Hutchinson].”