Being humiliated can be a powerful motivator.
It also can lead to the kind of celebration that unfolded at Bates Field minutes after City High had hung on to defeat West High 14-7 in the annual Battle for the Boot.
The Little Hawks were determined to not only bring the boot back to the east side of town Friday, but they also wanted to show that last season’s 44-0 beatdown against West was an aberration.
“It was an unreal amount of motivation just because we had something to prove,” City senior quarterback Mitch Wieland said in between congratulatory hugs. “They were the favored team this year, too, and ranked higher than us and undefeated.”
One victory doesn’t make a season, but it can make a big difference in terms of momentum and confidence, especially when the victory comes against your undefeated crosstown rival.
Wieland has been overshadowed all season by West High senior quarterback Nate Boland, who won the statistical battle Friday with 147 rushing yards and 111 passing yards.
Statistics meant nothing to Wieland once Friday’s game ended with stopping West deep in Little Hawk territory.
“He can have all the flashy stats,” Wieland said of Boland. “All that matters is coming out on top and getting the boot back.”
The importance of Friday’s victory, which made both teams 6-1 overall, could be seen and heard on the field afterward. City coach Dan Sabers fought back tears while praising his seniors.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Sabers said. “They had to go through that tough year last year with everything that happened.
“They just came in and believed in themselves. And they brought some guys with them that two months ago didn’t know what commitment was about.”
For City senior fullback/linebacker Ivan Diaz, Friday’s game didn’t play out like he expected. He figured it would be an offensive shootout.
But instead, it turned into a meat grinder in the trenches with both teams playing smash-mouth football. City just played it slightly better and much cleaner. The Little Hawks only had one penalty, while West was penalized nine times, including one late in the fourth quarter that erased a potential game-tying touchdown.
“Last year, that was just a bad game,” Diaz said. “We knew we had to turn it around and we did it. We came out on top. The most physical team was going to win and that’s what happened.”
The only problem with Friday’s game is that somebody had to lose. It now screams for a rematch, which could happen in the playoffs. Friday’s game was so evenly matched that you hope the teams will meet again with more than just city bragging rights on the line.
It’s important for the West players to learn from the loss, but not dwell on it. The season is far from over and the goals are still the same.
It’s also important for the Little Hawks to keep the victory in perspective because now they become the hunted instead of the hunter. City is used to being the hunted in football.
What the Little Hawks aren’t used to is being on the wrong end of a lopsided score. Last season was a disaster for City as it went on to finish 4-6 overall, losing its final five games.
Injuries played a huge role in last season’s skid, but now the Little Hawks are healthy and hungry to end this season on a high note. Sabers preaches to his players to take it one game at a time, but Wieland admitted that Friday’s showdown received special treatment.
“We’ve been hearing stories about winning the boot since week one,” Wieland said. “We try not to overlook teams. But this game has been marked on our schedule since day one.”
It’s now etched in his mind his forever.