With a picturesque desert sunset backdrop, lights beating down on manicured grass, and electricity in the air, the stage was set for the much-anticipated rematch with the San Diego Lions. Given the blowout in their first contest of the season, the Hawks looked to this game as the culmination of months of training, recruiting, and development. Like San Diego had done when the Hawks visited in June, players were asked to don the opposing guernsey to help fill in, which allowed the game to be a full 18-man a side contest with four-20 minute quarters. In the end, the result did not disappoint as the game ended in a thrilling final quarter and a narrow San Diego win.
Qtr Time: Hawks 2.1.13 to Lions 2.0.12
The Hawks came out swinging in the first quarter with a strong performance from the forward line kicking through the uprights twice and keeping the pressure on the Lions throughout. The prolific scoring of the Lions was kept at bay by the physical presence and speed of Daniel Hall, Colin Davis, Greg Owen, Matt Hall, and Barry Mullen, with James Bingaman playing out of position in a tagging role on San Diego Captain, John Carpenter. The middle was patrolled by newcomers Darren Bateman and Donald Okeye, with veterans Phil Mann and Jason “Pony” Wilhelm keeping the ball moving smoothly up and down the field. Unlike the first game, the Hawks were able to keep up with the Lions in all aspects of the game, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Half Time: Hawks 4.4.28 to Lions 2.3.15
At the half, the Hawks had grabbed a two-goal lead over the Lions after the lockdown defense from the backline kept the opposing side to just two behinds. On the attacking end, Travis Johnson, Preston Linser, Nick Bacon, Andrew Garcia, and Alex Fernandez helped the home side slot two more goals as they offered continuous options for the midfield and wing to kick to. Contributions in this quarter came from all over the field with Aussies Lukan Biggs and Kent Chamberlain adding some much-needed stability on the wings and forward flank. The Hawks were in high spirits as they kept the game close for the first half, even when Greg laid a bone-crushing hit on his own teammate (James was okay).
3 Qtr Time: Hawks 6.4.40 to Lion 4.7.31
This quarter continued in the same way as the first two, with solid play coming in the middle and forward line with Sean Hanekom, Ben Luong, Benjamin Spear, Justin Williams, Joshua Crenshaw, Michael “Scissors” Whetzel, and Justin Muilenberg, all contributing and showing how much they’ve improved in the last few months. David O’Sullivan, now playing for the Hawks, played a crucial role in the middle, with Darren “Dad” Henderson providing a surly veteran presence in the backline. The Lions worked their way back into the contest thanks in part to the Hawks players that had switched sides at the half; another positive to take away from the game.
Final: Hawks 7.4.46 to Lions 7.11.53
In the end, the experience of the San Diego Lions was too much for the Hawks as they booted three majors to the Hawks one. Fatigue was definitely a factor as this was the first full game for most on the field. Coupled with the relentless Arizona heat (even at night), it was clear that that the Hawks had lost their edge. However, they didn’t give up. The main theme of the season has been hustle and heart, and while the result wasn’t what the Hawks wanted, they showed exactly what hustle and heart are all about. Coach Henderson said that he was “incredibly proud of [the] club and the men and women that make it up”. It’s hard not to feel the tides change in Arizona as the Hawks clearly improved from their first outing against San Diego. There are a lot of positives for the Hawks moving forward, and even after a narrow loss, it was hard to find players who were not beaming with positivity. The Hawks are rising, and this game further proved that they will be a force in the coming seasons.
In his first USAFL game, Donald was named best-on-ground for the Hawks as he showcased his athletic ability all over the field, marking anything that came remotely close. Other notable players were Colin and Joshua who Darren noted as being the difference makers in the backline in the first half.
A special thank you goes out to Joe and Fredi who umpired the game brilliantly, and Mel, Leigh, Cassie, Kelly, and Candy for goal/boundary umpiring. The Hawks would not be able to play if it weren’t for the efforts of the umpiring crew. Once again, a huge thank you to the boys of San Diego for coming out to Mesa for this contest. The Hawks are proud to be aligned with a stellar club and the future contests should be exciting for all involved. Finally, the Hawks would like to extend their appreciation to the fans that showed up and barracked hard on the sidelines for the entirety of the game. None of this would be possible without the support of loved ones.
Although this was the final match for a lot of the players, continued support is needed for those who are traveling to Wisconsin for Nationals. Also, the club will be hosting the annual Grand Final Party at the Thirsty Lion (Scottsdale) starting at 8 PM on September, 28th. If you would like more details, please reach out on social media or directly to a member of the club.