For the fourth time in school history, the Gibault Hawks are state champions.
With a thrilling 2-1 victory over Herscher on Saturday night, the Hawks completed a dream season, and left Normal with the championship trophy in hand.
Herscher got on the board first after a slow-paced first 20 minutes, scoring on a rebounded free kick. The Hawks, as they’ve done all season, responded quickly, tying the score just six minutes later. Senior Frank Mantia lobbed a ridiculously accurate free kick into the box, where classmate Wes Degener headed it into the back of the net to even the game at one apiece.
Herscher had a chance to take the lead just before the half when the Tigers received a breakaway, but defenders Ethan Shields and Andrew Reinholz hustled back to break up the play.
Reinholz would make an even bigger impact on the game eight minutes into the second half. The play started with Frank Mantia, who broke through several defenders before being taken down in the box, drawing a penalty shot for Gibault. The senior-laden Hawks turned to Reinholz, a junior, to take the kick. He coolly fired his shot into the upper right corner, giving the Hawks a 2-1 advantage.
The final 32 minutes were frantic and heart-pounding, with both teams threatening to score. The teams went back and forth. For every chance that Herscher had to tie the game, Gibault responded with their own scoring chance, looking to put the game away. Both defenses stood strong, and goalkeeper Austin Gregson was able to keep the Tigers at bay.
As the minutes ticked down, the Hawk faithful began to sense that this was indeed their year, growing increasingly louder. The sound of the final buzzer was drowned out by the roar of the jubilant crowd, and the players hugged on the field.
After the game, the team was all smiles, as comprehension of what they just accomplished slowly dawned upon the players.
“I can’t even describe it,” said senior Zac Epplin. “This is what we worked for all season long.”
“It’s amazing,” agreed Mitch Meyer. “It’s a dream come true.
A parade will take place through the streets of Waterloo at 2 p.m. on Sunday, followed by a pep rally in the school gym.
Gibault finishes its season with a record of 19-4-4.
For photos and full coverage of Gibault’s winning weekend, pick up next week’s newspaper.
Video of the Hawks receiving their state title in Normal: