This has been 12 years and 363 days in the making.
For the first time since the 2000 season (Oct. 7), North Park walked off the football field with a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory under their belt as they held off visiting Carthage College 22-20 before a capacity crowd at the Holmgren Athletic Complex Saturday afternoon into early evening.
First-year head coach Mike Conway had to fight back tears because of how much this meant not only to the seniors of the football team, but the countless number of student-athletes that came through the football program before them that didn't win a single CCIW contest.
"I'm a little overwhelmed because we play every game to win," Conway said. "Even though we lost our first three games there were little things along the way that taught us how to win and that culminated here today. I can't say enough about our team in general, but especially our defense did an amazing job. Those guys fought so hard and fought through injuries. But this was something we set out to do, and we're definitely not finished yet."
The magnitude of Saturday's victory sent waves throughout the North Park community as well as the CCIW and on a national level that NPU Football will soon be a program to be reckoned with.
"We played with heart and desire at a level that may have never been played here before," Conway said. "Being a first year guy, I don't know that for sure but we put together a complete game and this has to be the best football played here in the last (12 years)."
North Park's defense was what truly won the game for the hosts as they held Carthage to under 300 yards of total offense and forced the Red Men to kick two field goals on a pair of scoring drives. The Vikings held a 10-0 lead through the first 20 minutes of the game after freshman quarterback T. D. Conway hooked up with his brother Dakota on a 17-yard touchdown pass, and later a Noah Moore 20-yard field goal with 10:02 remaining the half. The Vikings then pushed their advantage to a 16-3 margin after Conway fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Tyler Krebswith 12:53 left in the third quarter, but a pair of Carthage touchdowns allowed the visitors to complete a near insurmountable comeback which gave them a 17-16 edge just before the contest was delayed by lightning and rain for an hour and 18 minutes.
Carthage picked up right where it left off after the delay as it pushed its lead up to 20-16 on a 26-yard field goal from Brett Burkari with 2:40 left in the third quarter, but T.D. made sure the Homecoming crowd wasn't going to be denied a victory as he led the Vikings down field 80 yards in eight plays and culminated the drive with a 20-yard scoring pass to senior John Barnabee. Carthage did get the ball back with 4:21 left in the contest, but senior linebacker Bennett Dettlinger came up with a crucial interception to thwart the Red Men's chances on their third play of the drive.
"I'm just so proud of our team, our coaches, our kids and I'm proud to be a Viking today," Mike Conway said. "Our 17 seniors could've picked up and quit after being beat down for their first three years with the team but none of them did. They didn't quit and we've given them everything we have to make this happen and we made it happen."
T.D. finished the day completing 27 of 48 passes for a whopping 302 yards. Dakota was on the receiving end of most of them as he had 12 catches for 97 yards. Sophomore Drew Walkington led the Vikings' ground game with 10 rushes for 60 yards.
"This is a historic and monumental day for this program and our players," Mike Conway said. "I'm so proud of all the guys on this team and all the guys that stayed with us, and this is something that's life-changing maybe, but they'll never forget this and we made it happen because of them."