Friday night's contest between Hunter and Skyline could have been confused for a boxing match. Two storied heavyweights stood toe to toe and gave each other their best shots in a tough, physical matchup, until finally only one stood standing — in this case, the Hunter Wolverines.
The 35-34 win clinches the program's first region title since 2003 and cements a turnaround for a program that had struggled several years into the first few games of this season.
"What a gutsy performance by both teams," Hunter's emotional coach, Dustin Pearce, said after the game. "These fans and players deserve this."
The two teams found themselves in a dogfight through three quarters, with four lead changes and Skyline holding on to a 28-21 advantage.
The Wolverines then stuffed Skyline's Algernon Brown on a 4th-and-nine at their own 39, getting the ball back with five minutes on the clock. Instead of going to their usual running game, Lunceford found Fausia Tanuvasa again, this time for a 62-yard sprint to a 35-28 lead.
Not to be outdone, the Eagles then broke out an impressive passing attack. Two forty-yard plays — a bomb to Jared Hultquist, who wrestled the ball away in mid-air from the defender, and a touchdown strike to Andy Rounds — put Skyline in position to tie the game.
But kicker Andrus Jones' attempt was well short and to the right of the goal post, his second PAT miss of the night. The Hunter sideline erupted in celebration.
It was an unfortunate end to a game that featured strong efforts from both teams. Each team had to deal with players out of position due to injuries, yet there were few penalties or sloppy play from either side.
Much like the fourth, the three quarters the preceded it featured knockout punches that were absorbed by both teams.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first — Skyline on a halfback pass from Brown to Hultquist followed by a Tavita Bloomfield one-yard plunge from Hunter. Skyline's C.J. Ubani scored on a 34-yard run, but the PAT was missed, and a La'au Tanuvasa dive gave Hunter a 14-13 halftime lead. Hunter had a potential touchdown called back on a referee's inadvertent whistle after Jon Davidson stripped the ball from Dunford and had a clear path to the end zone.
Hunter jumped ahead on a 43-yard dash by Tavo, but the Eagles answered with a 55-yard touchdown reception by Brown. On the PAT the senior caught a high option pitch just in time to stiff-arm his defender into the end zone to tie the score at 21-21.
Skyline pulled ahead with another touchdown grab by Hultquist, this time from Dunford.
Hunter offensive lineman George Wolfgramm suffered through the team's recent downturn, and was understandably emotional after the victory. "Hunter football is turned around," Wolfgramm said. "From here on out, Hunter is back on the map. We'll take a week off, then come back ready to step up again."