John C. Longton III, Sports Editor
After the season got underway, it seemed apparent that head coach Mike Muehling and his staff won the offseason with a great recruiting class. The Vikings opened the season with a 58-13 win against the Utica JV team and prepared for a Lackawanna team that would finish the season ranked 5th in the nation. They soon realized that they had a lot to work on and were outscored 40-14. The following week wasn’t a walk in the park either as the Vikings got blown out for the second time in as many weeks by a margin of 38-14 against Dean.
Hudson Valley took Dean and Lackawanna off its schedule last year because in the two years prior the the teams combined to outscore the Vikings 191 to 12. But, with the combination of going to a bowl game and having a successful recruiting class the program felt as if they were ready to face the two teams and compete. They were proven wrong and the Vikings got off to a 1-2 start.
The season seemed to be slipping away just as fast as it started and if the players and coaches wanted to salvage it, they had to come together and put out a better product. That is exactly what they did.
“We didn’t start necessarily the way we wanted. Obviously we played two good teams early,” said Muehling. “Once we were sitting at 1-2 and we were looking at a five game stretch with some pretty good teams I thought we responded the way we wanted to and certainly got stronger as the season went on.”
After that rough start, the team went on the road to face a 2-0 Erie squad that could have put the Viking’s season away, but with their back against the ropes, Hudson Valley came out swinging. They beat the Kats 31-21 and started to build the momentum that they would carry with them for the rest of the season.
In that game, second year quarterback Rafael Hidalgo found his footing and threw for two scores, one of which came in the 4th quarter and sealed the win for his team.
“This year, it took us a little time to get together as a team. And then once we had the concept of playing together as a team and had team chemistry, we started clicking,” said Hidalgo.
After they got back to .500 the team would not look back. The game vs Erie would be the closest contest they would play in for the remainder of the season and it wasn’t even close. The next two games they cruised by East Coast Prep 34-13 then beat Monroe 45-21. It set the stage for a game against a team that Mike Muehling and his coaching staff had never beat – ASA.
The ASA Avengers have been a perennial powerhouse within the NJCAA and have been for quite some time. They’ve used the Vikings as a doormat and a record booster for several years. The teams did not play each other in the past two years, but the last time they squared off, the Avengers blanked the Vikings 40-0. Some thought Muehling and his program were crazy for scheduling to play them, but he had faith in his team and added the game anyway.
Not only did the Vikings beat ASA, but they avenged the losses of all the past teams and scored 41 unanswered points in the game. They went on to win the contest 41-7 and put their name back on the map and in bowl game conversations. In the game, the Vikings imposed their will, dominating both sides of the ball. Second year defensive back Chandler Foster, from Stamford, CT, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in the blowout win.
”That’s a top program and we beat them real good,” said Foster. It gave the team the confidence they needed at the beginning of the season. “It says that we can play with anyone in the country.”
They would host that “anyone” two weeks later in the season finale. Just like ASA, Mike Muehling had never beaten Navy Prep and that was the game that they would end their season on. And just like against ASA, everyone counted the Vikings out except themselves.
Last year, the Vikings also concluded their regular season with a game against Navy Prep. Heading into that game the Hudson Valley was 8-0 and had high hopes. They lost 27-0, but still received a call to go to the Salt City Bowl. This year, the game was played on Halloween and Hudson Valley tricked Navy Prep into into thinking the Vikings were a lesser team. The Vikings then treated themselves to a 43-9 win. In that game, freshman running back Jaylen McIntyre, a CBA graduate, had 121 yards on 28 carries.
“Going into that game we had a mindset to get revenge on Navy after last season,” said McIntyre. “Beating them brought a special feeling to all of us, and to end the regular season on a good note was very special.”
They ended this year’s season season on a five game win streak and righted a Viking ship that looked as if it were sinking just three weeks into the season.
“I was pleased with how things went and I was certainly pleased with how things finished,” said Muehling.
This Viking team finished the season defeating two teams they never beat by a combined score of 84-16. Their backs were against the wall, and they responded in a way that only championship teams do. They leaned on each other and got the job done. Last season was a great season, but they didn’t play the same quality teams that this year’s squad did. Mike Muehling and this football program took a risk of strengthening their schedule to make them better, and it could have backfired. Instead, it put Hudson Valley on the map and should be rewarded with a bowl berth.
McIntyre said, “I hope we did enough to clinch a bowl game appearance. We have proven to every person we are better than our two losses show. We just need one more chance to prove ourselves.”